I get a lot of questions at the History Junkie about finding a Revolutionary War ancestor. Many of you will ask me if I know of a specific soldier that fought in a specific battle. I understand the frustration when researching you ancestors. You don’t have much to go on and many of the records are unclear. So I decided to create a comprehensive guide to researching your Revolutionary War Ancestor. Hopefully this will answer your questions and point you into the right direction.
1. Know Your Family Tree
To get to your Revolutionary War Ancestor you will need to track a family line back from the current generation to the generation of 1776 which will be 9 – 10 generations. If you do not have your tree filled out or it has not been filled out in the past, then you need to stop what you are doing and slow down. To be admitted into the DAR or SAR you need to be able to provide extensive genealogical evidence that shows your line connected to your ancestors line and shoddy research will not do it.
Here are 5 quick steps to getting started with your family tree:
- Name your great-grandparents. This will give you a starting point. If you can’t do that, then interview your oldest living relative.
- Pick one of your great-grandparents as your focus ancestor and begin to slowly work your way back documenting everything. You can do this using a tool like Archives.com to research census reports, obituaries, newspapers, birth records, death records, marriage records, and even court records.
- Build out your ancestors children and get in contact with some of your distant cousins. There will be someone in your family that has researched this and will gladly share it.
- Create a Facebook group page for your cousins to share photos.
- Research military history with Fold3. Unless you want to manually do the research which will take a lot of time you will need to get a fold3 subscription. If your ancestor fought in the Revolutionary War, then you will be able to find them here. However, you need to know your tree well if you want to get the right ancestor.
2. Using Online Tools
10 years ago family researchers had to do everything manually. Today everything is at our fingertips. There are multiple online databases available for any research you want to do. Here is a quick list of tools I use for my research:
- Archives.com – Clean, Fast, and to the point. Research your census reports, birth records, death records, marriage records, and other vital records with this tool. It is a subscription website, but the cost will not break the bank.
- Fold3 – Fold3 is the best military database out there. I mentioned it above but will say it again here. If you want to know the details of your ancestors military career, then you will eventually have to buy a subscription.
- FamilySearch.org – A free database that is a lite version of Archives. If you want to get started and not spend any money, then this is the place to go.
- Google – Don’t underestimate the power of Google. Type in your ancestors name and their vitals and you may come up with something. I did to my Revolutionary War Ancestor and came up with a book written about different gunsmiths in the war and his name was listed.
3. Create a Group on Facebook
I have it listed above, but want to dig a little deeper here.
Facebook brings people, family, and friends together and should not be underestimated. I have connected with an entire side of my family that I did not know existed through facebook. That one connection led me to 25 more and each had different ancestors. It gave me access to pictures, wills, property records, and first hand accounts. This is information that I would have not been able to track down using an online tool but managed to do it through Facebook. I continue to use Facebook to make connections in my family. However, I want to go over some guidelines.
Facebook does not want you to add people you are not friends with nor do they like it when you message people you have no mutual friends with so you have to be respectful when you message a distant cousin. I always send a message stating who I am and what I am trying to accomplish. I’ve never had a problem when I approach my cousins this way. They are usually eager to help out.
4. Search For DAR and SAR Applications
One of the best ways to locate a Revolutionary War ancestor is to contact DAR and SAR. DAR stands for Daughters of the American Revolution and SAR stands for Sons of the American Revolution. These organizations have been around a long time and have had many members. Most likely you are not the first ancestor to seek information about a Revolutionary War connection. This is why it is important to fill out your family tree with your direct ancestors as well as their brothers and sisters. When you do this you increase the chance that you find the ancestor you are looking for. Always remember that your family has been around for generations and that you have many distant cousins who are directly tied to that Revolutionary War ancestor. If you can access their work, then it will decrease what you will be required to do.
5. Immigrant Names Probably Changed
My immigrant ancestor was Hans Casper Yost, but in the records he shows up as many different things:
- Hans Gasper Jost
- Hans Gasper Joust
- John Casper Jost
- John Casper Yost
- Hans Casper Youst
There are a few more, but you get the idea. The reason for this is the record is dependent on how the person writing the record spelled it. The name Hans is short for Johannes and can also sound like John. Remember it isn’t Hans writing his name down on the record. My immigrant ancestor spoke German and if he could read and write he did that in German as well. When they asked for his name and he said it with a German accent and it was interpreted by an English officer. This happened to each of our ancestors so you need to be familiar with the possible alternative names.
6. Don’t Get Discouraged and Have Fun
Don’t get discouraged if you run into road blocks. Take your time, get it right, and have fun. Make sure you get it right! Family History is one of the most addictive and rewarding hobbies. Each generation has their own story to tell so don’t just gloss over them because they don’t have the historical significance attached to them. There is a good chance that they influenced your family history more than anyone else.