Genealogists who can trace their American ancestry to the Revolutionary
era frequently hope to locate a record of an ancestor's military service.
Not every researcher will encounter ancestors with active military service
during this time. This does not mean the individuals played no role in
the Revolution. Many individuals took active roles in committees or the
Revolutionary government. Others provided support behind the scenes and
behind the lines.
History texts frequently focus on military battles and the importance
of generals and other high-ranking politicians in the war effort. There
is no doubt of the importance of these efforts. However, others supported
the Revolution by donating money or supplies (some were repaid after the
war), or by signing oaths of allegiance to the new government. Some individuals
risked their personal fortunes and others risked possible retribution
had the Revolution failed. These men (and women, too) were patriots in
a very real sense. Some of these individuals were unable to physically
support the cause, yet felt compelled to show their sympathy in some fashion.
While not as utilized, records for this service exist as well.
How Can You Learn About Non-Military Service?
Few of my own ancestors actively served in the Revolution, even though
I had many ancestors living in Virginia and Maryland during that era.
None of my eight ancestors of the correct age had a record of military
service. Remember that some service records are no longer extant, so the
lack of a record does not necessarily imply the individual did not answer
a call to arms. However, there are in many cases records of non-military
support. As I researched each of these individuals more completely, I
learned that four of them had evidence of support of the Revolution. One
provided wheat to soldiers in Virginia, another signed the "Maryland Association
Perhaps the easiest way to learn of such patriotic service is through
the Patriot Index of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). The
DAR has long allowed individuals to join whose ancestors provided "patriotic
service" in support of the Revolution. Their Patriot Index includes many
men (and a few women) who gave such service. While the Index only includes
those individuals for whom a descendant has proven the service (and their
lineage), it is an excellent starting place for learning more about an
ancestor's possible involvement in the Revolution.
In some cases, you can obtain copies of DAR applications. Note that more
recent applications are more thorough and contain more documentation.
You can find more information at the DAR
web site, including the Dar's online genealogy library catalog which
includes some published records of patriotic service.
Records of patriotic service are frequently at the state and county level.
Some of these records have been published, but many have not. State archives
or libraries in any of those states involved in the Revolution may have
such records. There may be local records of such service as well. The
bulk of these records are claims for reimbursement for goods provided
to the military. Researchers should be cautioned that these records frequently
do not contain extensive genealogical information. Many of these original
records from the colonial era have been microfilmed. Some have also been
abstracted and published. Larger genealogical libraries may have such
materials in their collection. Reference the card
catalog of the Family History Library for similar materials.
You may also find published compiled materials focusing on this time
period, created from a multitude of sources. Revolutionary Patriots
of Baltimore Town and Baltimore County, Maryland 1775-1783, by Henry
C. Peden, Jr. was particularly useful in my own research. The introduction
provided me with a brief history of the Revolution in that area, complete
with sources that might provide more detailed historical background. The
author's foreword provided excellent information about who signed various
oaths (and who did not) along with probable reasons.
Be sure to read the prefatory materials in published works. There may
be terms used in the book with which you are not familiar, and reading
the introduction may prevent you from misinterpreting a key word or phrase.
As an example, in the Baltimore County book, the term "non-juror of the
1778 Oath of Allegiance" appears in many entries. The introduction indicates
that members of certain religious groups refused to take any oath (regardless
of the reason) and that soldiers were not required to take it either.
This and other information was crucial to not misinterpreting various
entries in the book.
The introduction also made a passing reference to the residents of "My
Lady's Manor" who were concerned about the sale of manor lands that had
been confiscated during the Revolution. I already knew from other records
that an ancestor had leased property on this manor. The introduction footnoted
two sources for more information about the manor and the land confiscation.
Further research determined that the ancestor signed a petition opposing
the sale. Such a situation might have affected whether or not the individual
signed an oath of allegiance or similar action.
Virginia has a statewide index to these public service claims which is
available at its Web site. If you use
this web site, read the pages on the site containing information on these
claims. In my case, the statewide claims index helped me to determine
that there were several individuals with my ancestor's name scattered
throughout the state.
How to Use These Records
Frequently, these records are merely lists of names and this presents
difficulties in using the records. The most frequent difficulty is in
tying the individual named on the record with one known to be an ancestor.
However, this does not render the records useless. For example, original
records may contain a signature or mark which could be compared with other
records of the known ancestor. Also, in some areas, all men over eighteen
were required to sign an oath of allegiance and such records may assist
your in approximating the age of some individuals.
Relationships are infrequently given on these records. However, upon
occasion an individual is referred to as "John Smith of Harold" and this
can be extremely useful in sorting out various individuals. However, in
many cases this identifying information is not included and you may need
to consult additional records, such as land, court, and probate records.
For example, contemporary tax and census records may help in determining
if there were other individuals with the same name living in the same
location. Once you have established that it is your ancestor who is mentioned
in the records, you can use them to document your ancestor's involvement
in the Revolutionary War effort.
When you are remembering those who bore arms in the American Revolution,
don't forget those whose service was "behind the scenes." If your ancestry
can be traced to the American Revolutionary era, chances are you descend
from a few of them.