Top 7 Websites for Revolutionary War Genealogy

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog post, Gena discusses—and provides links to—seven top online resources for researching your American Revolutionary War ancestors.

Do you have a Revolutionary War ancestor? Maybe you have always heard that your ancestor was a soldier or a patriot during the American Revolution. Perhaps you have a female ancestor who was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Do you have copies of your ancestor’s military records but are not sure where to go next with your family history research? It’s time to make a genealogy research plan.

Painting: surrender of British General John Burgoyne at Saratoga on 17 October 1777 to American General Horatio Gates, by John Trumbull

Painting: surrender of British General John Burgoyne at Saratoga on 17 October 1777 to American General Horatio Gates, by John Trumbull. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

When thinking about researching your Revolutionary ancestor, consider what records may be left behind that result from his military service, death, and even his legacy.* Also keep in mind where such records may be held. While it’s easy to assume that the majority of records will be found at the National Archives or a subscription-based website, there are various online repositories with historical Revolutionary-period records useful to your ancestry research.

Ask questions of each record you find and then look for documents that answer those questions. While some of the research you do will involve looking for documents that include his name, there will be general histories about events your ancestor was involved in—which don’t specifically mention him by name—that you will also want to consult to learn more about his day-to-day life in the battlefields and political developments of the time.

Not sure where to start? Begin first with an overall search of newspapers and digitized books.

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1) Newspaper Articles and Historical Books

In my previous article Tracing Your Colonial & Revolutionary Ancestry in Newspapers, I wrote about articles that can be found in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for finding your Revolutionary War ancestor. Whether you are just starting your research or have been at it for years, you should begin with newspapers to see what more you can learn. Because GenealogyBank is constantly adding newspapers, searching just once is not enough—keep coming back, to search the new material. A helpful feature of GenealogyBank’s Newspaper Archives search page is that you can narrow your search to an “Added Since” date so that you are not going through the same results you viewed previously.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's Historical Newspaper Archives search page

Obviously, one of the newspaper article-types that you will hope to find is an obituary. An obituary may provide key information including family members’ names, military service, occupation, and the cemetery where he is buried.

One resource researchers might not be as familiar with is GenealogyBank’s Historical Documents & Records collection, which includes the American State Papers. These federal government documents can include mentions of Revolutionary War soldiers—and their widows—as they applied for things like pensions.

Search Tip: As you search the GenealogyBank collections, make sure to keep in mind name variations. Don’t just stop after searching one version of your ancestor’s name. Write out a list of various name combinations that take into account their initials, name abbreviations (Jno, Benj., Wm.), and nicknames—as well as possible misspellings of the first and last name.

2) Online Grave Listings

In addition to newspaper articles and historical books, there are several online resources available for lists of Revolutionary War soldiers’ graves. To read more about these resources, see the article Revolutionary War Cemetery Records on the FamilySearch Wiki.

screenshot of FamilySearch's page for American Revolutionary War records

Source: FamilySearch

3) Daughters of the American Revolution

Want to verify that your ancestor was a Revolutionary War patriot? Maybe you have a copy of a female family member’s DAR application. Looking to become a member of the DAR or the SAR (Sons of the American Revolution)? Even if you aren’t interested in joining these groups, they have a vast collection of resources that can help you with your research. According to DAR member and chapter registrar Sheri Beffort Fenley, there are two resources all non-DAR members should use.

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The first is the Genealogical Research System. According to their website, the Genealogical Research System (GRS) “is a collection of databases that provide access to the many materials amassed by the DAR since its founding in 1890.”

screenshot of the Daughters of the American Revolution's Genealogical Research System website

Source: Daughters of the American Revolution

The second resource Fenley recommends is the DAR Library.

screenshot of the Daughters of the American Revolution's Library website

Source: Daughters of the American Revolution

While you are looking at the DAR homepage, make sure to click on the Resources tab. Here you’ll find the Revolutionary Pension Card Index as well as a great eBook entitled Forgotten Patriots: African American and American Indian Patriots of the Revolutionary War: A Guide to Service, Sources, and Studies.

4) Google Books

I would also recommend using Google Books to look through books and periodicals involving the DAR and their various chapters, as well as other genealogical information from the Revolutionary War. It’s a great place to find lineages and transcriptions.

screenshot of the Google Books website

Source: Google

5) Sons of the American Revolution

The Sons of the American Revolution Genealogical Research Library in Kentucky also may be of use to your research. To learn more about their collection and their SAR Patriot Index, see their website.

screenshot of the Sons of the American Revolution's Research Library website

Source: Sons of the American Revolution

6) National Archives & Records Administration (NARA)

The National Archives holds the records of our federal government, including military records. For the Revolutionary War you can find everything from Compiled Military Service Records to pensions and bounty land records. (Please note that NARA is the caretaker for federal records; they do not have state records such as state militia records. For those records, you need to contact the appropriate state archives.) Click here to see a list of NARA Revolutionary War records. A good tutorial for learning more about obtaining military records from NARA is on their web page: Genealogy Research in Military Records.

screenshot of the National Archives and Records Administration's American Revolutionary War records website

Source: National Archives and Records Administration

7) FamilySearch Resources

There are also several Revolutionary War databases available from the free website FamilySearch, including the searchable United States Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Applications, 1800-1900. Most people automatically think of service records and pensions when they think of military service—but what is often missed are bounty land grants. Military Bounty Land was offered to men in return for their military service. This served as both an enticement and a reward for longer service. Your ancestor may have received much more from his service than just monetary compensation. To learn more about bounty land and how to research it, see Christine Rose’s book Military Bounty Land 1776-1855.

The United States Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783 from FamilySearch “contains images of muster rolls, payrolls, strength returns, and other personnel, pay, and supply records of the American Army during the Revolutionary War.” This collection is not searchable; you have to browse it, and you need to know the state your soldier fought for. Make sure to utilize the FamilySearch Family History Research Wiki to learn more about other Revolutionary War documents available from FamilySearch.

screenshot of FamilySearch's Family History Research Wiki website

Source: FamilySearch

Wherever you are in your search for your Revolutionary War ancestor, make sure to have a plan and a list of genealogy resources—and then go through each one. Using a combination of sources including newspapers, digitized books, and military records, you can start to put together the story of your Revolutionary War ancestor soldier’s life.

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* Because the majority of soldiers in the Revolutionary War were men, I’m going to refer to them as “he.” However, women did fight alongside their male relatives on the battlegrounds. To learn more about the women of the Revolutionary War, see the book Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence by Carol Berkin.

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National Archives Launches Crowdsourcing Site for Transcription

The National Archives has launched a Transcription Pilot Project website to enlist the general public in transcribing old documents to make them easier for researchers to find. This will be a tremendous help to historians and genealogists everywhere.

screenshot of the Transcription Pilot Project website launched by the National Archvies

Credit: National Archives

This transcribing is easy to do and there are a variety of documents online needing transcription, requiring a range of skill levels from beginner to advanced, needing the ability to work with old handwriting.

This is a practical project for genealogists to give back to the community.

Here is a typical example: a multi-page Civil War regimental casualty list with the names of the troops killed, wounded or missing.

screenshot of a Civil War casualty list, an example of the documents that are part of the Transcription Pilot Project launched by the National Archives

Credit: National Archives

As a volunteer, your task would be to read and transcribe documents like this old Civil War casualty list.

Your document transcription work will be reviewed and then published on the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) website, making it easier for other family researchers to read this document thanks to your full-text transcription. Having the names typed in electronically makes them easy to search.

Click here to see the documents being worked on in the National Archives Transcription Project.

Notice that there are two sets of documents that you can work on transcribing: beginner level and advanced level.

If you want to suggest documents to be added to this project, click here to alert NARA to your suggestions.

This is a great public service.

Your effort will help others find their ancestors for decades to come.

Consider helping out—visit the Citizen Archivist Dashboard today to learn how to volunteer.

Researching State Archives for Genealogy Records

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary talks about how valuable state archives can be for your family history research, and describes how to access them.

If you’re looking for an exciting resource to help with your genealogical research, I recommend visiting your State Archives as soon as possible. Although archives are supported by open records laws, they are vulnerable to budget cuts—so don’t take state archival research for granted, as shown by the close call that recently happened to Georgia’s state archives.

On 13 September 2012 the governor of Georgia made this announcement:

“The Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget has instructed the Office of the Secretary of State to further reduce its budget for AFY13 and FY14 by 3% ($732,626)…To meet the required cuts, it is with great remorse that I [Gov. Nathan Deal] have to announce, effective November 1, 2012, the Georgia State Archives located in Morrow, GA, will be closed to the public.”

After this state government announcement, the Georgia archival research community provided a strong response, including letters, petitions and a FaceBook page at www.facebook.com/GeorgiansAgainstClosingStateArchives.

Faced with this public opposition, the governor made an online announcement using Twitter on 19 September 2012:

“In proclaiming Georgia Archives Month today, @GovernorDeal said he’d find a way to keep the archives open to the public.”

The archival research community welcomed this follow-up announcement from the Office of the Governor on 18 October 2012:

“Gov. Nathan Deal and Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced today that the state will restore $125,000 to Kemp’s budget to keep the Georgia State Archives open to Georgians for the remainder of the budget year…Georgia’s Archives are a showcase of our state’s rich history and a source of great pride…I worked quickly with my budget office and Secretary Kemp to ensure that Georgians can continue to come to Morrow to study and view the important artifacts kept there.”

Vanishing Georgia, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 16 December 1982

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 16 December 1982, page 16

This story has a happy ending, but based upon an informal survey I took at a genealogy presentation on State Archives, only about 20% of family historians have ever visited one in person, or online. This is surprising, since state archives accessions include a vast assortment of genealogical documents, such as:

  • census records (state)
  • diaries (ex. Civil War)
  • oral histories
  • grave registrations
  • land records
  • military records
  • naturalization
  • probate
  • vital records and certificates (birth, marriage, death)
  • Works Progress Administration surveys
Archives Given 'Yankee Diary,' Greensboro Record newspaper article 8 November 1967

Greensboro Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 8 November 1967, page 42

In addition to genealogical resources, state archives typically house historical state documents, state constitutions, governor’s papers, historical prints, and artifacts such as flags or maps.

The focus of state collections is similar to that of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), whose website is www.archives.gov.

NARA provides a summary webpage with contact information and links to all state archives at www.archives.gov/research/alic/reference/state-archives.html.

National Archives and Records Administration's state archives website

National Archives and Records Administration’s state archives website

As this is a hard-to-remember URL, I generally locate the page by entering “National Archives State Archives” into a search engine.

Many state archives’ online sites contain databases and digital images. Some highlights include:

  • Missouri: Anti-Slavery Alphabet, Maps, Confederate Pension Applications, World War I Statement of Service Cards, etc.
  • Pennsylvania: Land Records, Maps, Military Files, Patent Indexes, etc.
  • Texas: digitized records pertaining to the Republic of Texas including Republic Claims, Confederate Pensions and Passports, etc.
  • Virginia: Revolutionary War records (Bounty Warrants, Rejected Claims, Pensions), Cohabitation Registers (African American), Works Progress Administration Life Histories, etc.

Tips for Online Archival Research

  • Since every website is uniquely designed, keep a log of the steps taken in locating an online resource.
  • To find related digital projects, search the Library of Congress website for Memory Project websites, or visit www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/statememory/.
  • Some digital projects partner with others, such as the Mountain West Digital Library for Utah, Nevada, Idaho, and Hawaii.

Tips for Visiting State Archives in Person (generalities, as each location is unique)

  • Many archives partner with libraries, where you will have access to extended resources.
  • Some state archives offer access to popular subscription databases.
  • When requesting to examine original documents, expect to register with a picture id., which may be valid for one year.
  • Prior to entering the archival document room, you may be required to store personal items in a locker, except for paper and pencil.
  • Options for obtaining copies may be available, although some allow the use of digital camera photography (without flash).
  • Be respectful of all historical items, and keep items in the original order.

Key Historical Newspapers Online at GenealogyBank.com

With over 3,500 newspapers on GenealogyBank it might be difficult to be familiar with all of them.

GenealogyBank is packed with obituaries, birth records and marriage announcements – but here are some quick facts you might not know about some of our historical newspapers.

Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser (Maryland)
Although this prominent paper published some of Edgar Allen Poe’s earliest poetry, Poe was unable to secure a job on its staff as he had hoped. Includes 3,619 issues published between 1826 and 1838.

Blackfoot Register (Idaho)
The Register covers the Idaho mining boom and the run up to statehood. Publisher William Wheeler used his persuasive writing skills to bolster the population of the then-struggling Idaho Territory. Includes 255 issues published between 1880 and 1886.

Boston Journal (Massachusetts)
One of the first newspapers to conduct a census of its readers, the well-known Journal offered a balance of businessnews and general interest stories, especially those that focused on life in New England. Includes 14,438 issues published between 1870 and 1917.

Daily Alaska Dispatch (Juneau)
The Dispatch offers detailed coverage of shipwrecks, volcano eruptions and other dangers that settlers faced in the harsh northern lands. Includes 5,724 issues published between 1900 and 1919.

Frankfort Argus (Kentucky)
One of the first newspapers west of the Appalachians. Includes 283 issues published between 1808 and 1821. Alternate Title: Argus of the Western World.

Frederick Douglass’ Paper (Rochester, New York)
Including its predecessor the North Star, this powerful anti-slavery newspaper had a circulation of 4,000 readers worldwide. Includes 136 issues published between 1847 and 1860.

Hobart Republican (Oklahoma)
Founded the year Oklahoma achieved statehood, the Republican reflects conservative middle-American views on World War I and the Russian Revolution. Includes 7,438 issues published between 1907 and 1920.

Hokubei Jiji or The North American Times (Seattle, Washington)
This was the first Japanese newspaper in the Pacific Northwest. Includes 57 issues published between 1916 and 1918.

Jeffersonian (Thomson, Georgia)
The Jeffersonian was the official mouthpiece of Georgia’s controversial fire-brand Populist and former presidential candidate, Thomas E. Watson. Will include issues published between 1909 and 1914.

Milwaukee Sentinel (Wisconsin)
The Sentinel provides national and international coverage as well as a glimpse into the northern fur trade. Includes 5,929 issues published between 1837 and 1866.

New-Bedford Courier (Massachusetts)
This important weekly newspaper from the U.S. whaling capital covers the industry at its height. Includes 181 issues published between 1827 and 1833.

New York Tribune (New York City)
For much of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Horace Greeley’s newspaper was one of the most powerful and successful in America. Will include issues published between 1856 and 1922.

Prescott Daily Courier (Arizona)
This early daily covered Arizona in the years before statehood, after the Desert Land Act significantly increased the territory’s population. Includes 2,173 issues published between 1891 and 1908.

Steamer Pacific News (San Francisco, California)
One of the most popular California newspapers, the Pacific News was shipped east during the height of the Gold Rush. Will include issues published between 1849 and 1851.

St. Louis Republic (Missouri)
This respected daily provided firsthand coverage of Midwestern events such as the Great Tornado of 1896 and the death of Sitting Bull. Includes 3,955 issues published between 1888 and 1900.

Territorial Enterprise (Virginia City, Nevada)
Nevada’s most important early newspaper featured articles written by young staffer Samuel Clemens, later known as Mark Twain. Will include issues published between 1874 and 1881. It will be loaded soon.

Texas Gazette (Austin)
The first English-language newspaper in the state, this important but short-lived title set the standard for frontier journalism. Will include issues published between 1829 and 1832. It will be loaded soon.

Die Washingtoner Post (Washington, Missouri)
This German-language title portrayed the lives of immigrants along the Mississippi River in the 1870s. Will include issues published between 1870 and 1878. It will be loaded soon.

Click here to see the complete list of newspapers on Genealogy Bank.

Give GenealogyBank a try right now!
Click here and see what you’ll discover about your family!

National Archives, Library of Congress Documents Go Online

The National Archives and the Library of Congress announced today that they have begun loading digital copies of their materials on a new site called the World Digital Library.

Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein and Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced today that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has become a founding partner in the World Digital Library (WDL).

NARA will contribute digital versions of important documents from its collections to the WDL, which will be launched for the international public in early 2009.

These documents include Civil War photographs, naturalization and immigration records of famous Americans, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation, and photographs by Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and Lewis Hine. Examples of the images that NARA is contributing to the World Digital Library are now available online.

Example of a naturalization document – Declaration of Intent of Maria von Trapp, 01/21/1944 – that was put online by NARA. NARA ARC Identifier 596198.

The WDL will include representative examples from these document categories – not the complete backfiles of these documents.

The complete run of the American State Papers is already available on GenealogyBank. See GenealogyBank’s Historical Documents collection where you will find military records, casualty lists, Revolutionary and Civil War pension requests, widow’s claims, orphan petitions, land grants and much more including the complete American State Papers (1789-1838) and all genealogical content carefully selected from the U.S. Serial Set (1817-1980). More than 146,000 reports, lists and documents. GenealogyBank has the most comprehensive collection of these US Government reports and documents available to genealogists online. GenealogyBank is adding more documents to this collection every month.

Proposed in 2005 by the Library of Congress in cooperation with UNESCO, the WDL will make available on the Internet significant primary materials from countries and cultures around the world. The project’s goal is to promote international understanding and to provide a resource for use by students, teachers, and general audiences.

“We are pleased that our fellow Federal cultural institution, the National Archives, is joining the Library of Congress in the early stages of this project,” said Billington.

“NARA’s participation not only will ensure that the World Digital Library contains a full record of the American experience, but it also will encourage archives around the world to join with their counterparts from the library world in this important initiative.”

“The mission of the National Archives is to make U.S. Government records widely accessible,” said Weinstein. “The World Digital Library will be a valuable conduit for us to share some of our nation’s treasures with others around the world. We look forward to working with the Library of Congress on this important project.”

In addition to NARA and the Library of Congress, the WDL project partners include cultural institutions from Brazil, China, Egypt, Israel, Russia, Saudi Arabia and many other countries. Click here for more Information about the WDL.

The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest Federal cultural institution, is the world’s preeminent reservoir of knowledge, providing unparalleled integrated resources to Congress and the American people. Founded in 1800, the Library seeks to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its magnificent collections. The Library seeks to spark the public’s imagination and celebrate human achievement through its programs and exhibits. In doing so, the institution helps foster the informed and involved citizenry upon which American democracy depends. The Library serves the public, scholars, members of Congress and their staffs through its 22 reading rooms on Capitol Hill. Many of the rich resources and treasures of the Library may also be accessed through its
award-winning web site and via interactive exhibitions on a new, personalized web site.
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