Last Saturday, April 22, I concluded my second-and-a-half term as Registrar of the Lake Minnetonka chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. I thoroughly enjoyed my five years in office, and am happy to hand over my responsibilities to my successor, Shirleen Hoffman, who is also a professional genealogist and a colleague in the Northland chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists.
For those of you not familiar with lineage society terminology, registrars are the officers responsible for helping prospective members complete their membership applications. In the case of the DAR, this entails assisting prospective members to research and document their lineage to a patriot of the American Revolution. Registrars are also responsible for helping chapter members prepare supplemental applications, documenting lineages in addition to the one they proved to become a member. In addition, registrars maintain the membership records of the chapter, recording transfers into and out of the chapter, along with deaths of chapter members.
I have greatly enjoyed meeting and working with prospective members of our chapter–a great group of bright and interesting women of all ages–and facilitating membership workshops. Much of the time I have been prospective members’ first contact with the chapter. Some prospective members are accomplished genealogical researchers who come with thoroughly researched and well documented lineages, while others are new to research. Some are able to piggyback on the applications of relatives, while others must prove all the generations of their lineage to their patriot, or even document new patriot to DAR standards. Still others are not especially interested in family history research but want to become DAR members so they can enjoy the fellowship of other chapter members, participate in chapter activities, and support the DAR’s missions of promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and supporting education.
Serving as registrar has challenged me to broaden my research experience and enhance my research skills. I have helped applicants whose patriot ancestors served from most of the original thirteen colonies and whose families migrated through New England, New York, Kentucky, Tennessee, and many other states where I had little or no research experience. In the process I learned a lot about researching in areas that were new to me.
The applicants I have worked with, as a group, have needed the most help identifying and locating documentation for pre-1850 ancestors. This has challenged me to develop my own skills in working with the records of the colonial period and the early nineteenth century.
The DAR has outstanding resources for this kind of research in the records of the more than 950,000 women who have joined the DAR since its founding in 1890. Although registrars have enhanced access, much of this information is available free to the general public through the DAR’s Genealogical Research System. This is a collection of databases on the DAR’s public website that provide information about the patriots whose Revolutionary War service has been documented through DAR applications, the lineages of DAR members, and many unique unpublished resources (including Bible records) collected by DAR chapters throughout the U.S. (If you’re not familiar with the GRS, do check it out–it’s a tremendous resource!)
The DAR has also published a series of source guides for genealogists and historians for many of the thirteen colonies. These provide detailed information on manuscript and archival materials and published studies available for each colony during the period of the American Revolution. So far the series, available both as books and as PDF documents, includes publications for Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts and Maine, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Virginia. You can purchase copies in the DAR’s online store.
The third way in which working with applicants has made me a better genealogist is the process of checking lineages–making sure that each lineage we submit not only meets DAR requirements for documentation of births, marriages, and deaths for each person in a generation, but also ensuring that the links between generations are adequately demonstrated. Today’s DAR’s genealogists insist that applicants provide proof of their lineages with original source materials; in cases where exhaustive research has not produced direct evidence for facts or relationships, they may also accept analyses based on indirect evidence or (in limited cases) DNA evidence.
I am very glad that I have had this opportunity to serve as a registrar. I hope that those of you with early American ancestors will be inspired to take advantage of the DAR’s research resources and apply similarly rigorous standards of original-source research to your own work, even if you have no desire to join a lineage society.