If you’re not into family research, you might not know that genealogy—the study of your family’s lineage—is one of the hottest hobbies around right now. The Internet has advanced family research by light-years, with millions of records available to the family researcher online. It is now easier than ever to connect with distant, previously unknown cousins who are researching the same surnames as you, and may have interesting family tidbits to share. The Internet hasn’t eliminated boots-on-the-ground research, but it has made it easier to solve family puzzles. And it has made researchers aware of some interesting avenues open to them, such as joining a lineage society.
There are hundreds of lineage societies in existence, and their purpose is to document, honor, and perpetuate the history of a given family or group of people. Just about everyone is very familiar with the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Possibly less familiar are groups such as First Families of Virginia, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, and the Descendants of the Illegitimate Sons and Daughters of the Kings of Britain (The Royal Bastards), to name a few.
In order to join a lineage society, applicants must prove their descendancy from either a specific individual, or from someone affiliated with a certain category of people, such as soldiers in the Revolutionary War. This means that for each person listed in the direct line of descent, an applicant must produce proof of birth, marriage, and death.
Why would anyone want to join a lineage society? For one thing, earning membership in a lineage society is like getting the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” on your research, and that in itself can be a huge reward. Proving a lineage is no small achievement. More importantly though, it officially adds your research to the body of work already done about the society’s descendants, thereby expanding the larger family tree. This work is then made available to other researchers.
I became interested in lineage societies during my research to prove the information on a pedigree tree chart that had been passed down in my family for a couple of generations. The chart showed, among other things, that our family was descended from the Pilgrim John Alden. It was a source of pride in my family, but as I became interested in family research and turned my attention to this tree, I realized that the chart had no citations listing where any of the information had come from. How did we know it was right, or even true?
I set about the task of verifying the information on the chart, which meant searching out birth, marriage, and death records for the 18 people listed between John Alden’s name and mine. Unlike past generations in my family, I was fortunate enough to have a computer program to use for logging the information I found and for creating a number of different charts and graphs to help me analyze it. As my research progressed, I not only confirmed the information on the original family chart, but also discovered a second line of descent from Alden.
I decided to submit my findings to two lineage societies—the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants and the Alden Kindred of America. As I assembled the records needed for submission with my application, I realized that the records I had on my great-great-grandfather were a little shaky. I couldn’t find a birth record for him anywhere. I studied the information I had and realized that, since he and his siblings were orphaned at a young age, someone else must have raised them. After further research, I discovered a probate record where guardianship of my 2x great-grandfather and his siblings was conveyed to his mother’s cousin. Both lineage societies accepted this as proof of his birth to the parents I had identified, and the Alden Kindred issued me a “Genealogist’s Award” for uncovering this obscure bit of information.
While researching other branches on our heirloom family tree, I came across an online reference to one of my ancestors in a book about the Emperor Charlemagne. My curiosity was piqued, and I set about looking for records to see if my family might in fact be descended from the 9th-century king. I worked on it off-and-on for a few years, and this year decided to set myself a deadline by submitting a preliminary application for membership in the International Society for the Descendants of Charlemagne. I always work better when faced with a deadline and this time was no different: I finally found the last of the records I needed and submitted a package of documents that was at least an inch thick. I was very excited when my membership in the society was accepted. I had earned another “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” on my work.
I’m aware that membership in any of these societies, along with $1.75, will get me some hot java in a local coffee shop. But it’s a good feeling to know that after a lot of hard work, I got it right, and to know that I made a contribution to the body of research in each of them. (And it is fun to know who you’re descended from!)