04 July 2010

Revolutionaries in your family tree

Harborfest reenactors
photo from Greater Boston
Convention and Visitor Center
Alongside the main street in my town are white posts commemorating the march of the Minutemen on April 19, 1775 as they headed toward Concord, Massachusetts, at the start of the American Revolution. The minutemen were the early response teams for the colonial militia, highly trained and quickly deployed men prepared to attack when their homes, families, or rights were in danger.

In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, boys and men from ages 16 to 30 were required to participate in training exercises for the local militia. If you had colonial ancestors in New England, it’s highly likely that they participated in the local militia—or were fined for not doing so. But whether they served in the American Revolution could be a question of their age, their political views, and their location.

I have two Revolutionary soldiers as ancestors: John Gibson (1740-1797) and Medad Huggins (1746-1812). Neither received military pensions. But I found distant cous
ins who became members of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution based on their war service.

Both of my ancestors had source citations from the “56th-77th Annual Reports DAR. Senate documents (United States Congress, Senate). Government Printing Office: Washington, DC” but the third listing showed that someone had applied to the SAR under Medad Huggins’ military service. It’s always worth getting the DAR and SAR applications to see if there’s any family data in them that you didn’t have. For instance, the John Gibson application appended material from the Gibson family Bible. And that, I didn't have!

The older the application, the less stringent were the membership qualifications. In the last few decades, DAR has insisted—and rightly so—on thorough research and solid source materials. The newer applications offer great detail, including information on the applicant and her line.

Other Online Resources

HeritageQuest has selected Revolutionary War pensions as well as the U.S. Serial Set with rejected pensions, petitions for relief, and soldier memorials.

The New England Historic Genealogical Society offers free access to the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati database, a post-war membership society.

See also—in person and on the web—the Minute Man National Park, the Boston National Historical Park, the Paul Revere house, and of course the Freedom Trail.