1. Parenting
Send to a Friend via Email

Discuss in my forum

Researching Your Revolutionary War Ancestor

By

The Revolutionary War lasted for eight long years, beginning with the battle between British troops and local Massachusetts militia at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, on 19 April 1775, and ending with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. If your family tree in America stretches back to this time period, it is likely you can claim descendency from at least one ancestor who had some type of service related to the Revolutionary War effort.

Did my Ancestor Serve in the American Revolution?

Boys as young as 16 were allowed to serve, so any male ancestors who were between the ages of 16 and 50 between 1776 and 1783 are potential candidates. Those who didn't serve directly in a military capacity may have helped in other ways - by providing goods, supplies or non-military service to the cause. Women also participated in the American Revolution, some even accompanying their husbands to battle.

If you have an ancestor you believe may have served in the American Revolution in a military capacity, then an easy way to start is by checking the following indexes to major Revolutionary War record groups:

  • DAR Genealogical Research System - Compiled by the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, this free collection of genealogical databases contains data for both men and women who provided service to the patriot's cause between 1774 and 1783, including an ancestor database created from verified membership and supplemental applications. Because this index was created from lineages identified and verified by DAR, it does not include every individual who served. The index generally provides birth and death data for each individual, as well as information on spouse, rank, area of service, and the state where the patriot lived or served. For those who did not serve in a military capacity, the type of civil or patriotic service is indicated. Soldiers who received a revolutionary war pension will be noted with the abbreviation "PNSR" ("CPNS" if the soldier's children received the pension or "WPNS" if the soldier's widow received the pension).

  • Index to Revolutionary War Service Records - This four volume set (Waynesboro, TN: National Historical Publishing Co., 1995) by Virgil White includes abstracts of military service records from National Archives group 93, including each soldier's name, unit and rank. A simliar index was created by Ancestry, Inc. in 1999 and is available online to subscribers - U.S. Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783. Even better, you can search and view the actual Revolutionary War Service Records online at Fold3.com.

  • American Genealogical-Biographical Index (AGBI) - This large index, sometimes referred to as the Rider Index after its original creator, Fremont Rider, includes the names of people who have appeared in more than 800 published volumes of family histories and other genealogical works. This includes several volumes of published Revolutionary War Records, such as Historical Register of Virginians in the Revolution, Soldiers, Sailors, 1775-1783 and Muster and Payrolls of the Revolutionary War, 1775-1783 from the collection of the New York Historical Society. Godfrey Memorial Library in Middletown, Connecticut, pubishes this index and will answer AGBI search requests for a small fee. The AGBI is also available as an online database at subscription site, Ancestry.com.

  • Pierce's Register - Originally produced as a government document in 1915 and later published by Genealogical Publishing Company in 1973, this work provides an index to Revolutionary War claim records, including the veteran's name, certificate number, military unit and the amount of the claim.

  • Abstract of Graves of Revolutionary Patriots - The U.S. government places tombstones on the graves of identified Revolutionary War soldiers, and this book by Patricia Law Hatcher (Dallas: Pioneer Heritage Press, 1987-88) provides an alphabetical list of these Revolutionary War soldiers, along with the name and location of the cemetery where they are buried or memorialized.

Where Can I Find the Records?

Records related to the American Revolution are available in many different locations, including repositories at the national, state, county and town-level. The National Archives in Washington D.C. is the largest repository, with compiled military service records, pension records and bounty land records. State archives or the state's Office of the Adjutant General may include records for individuals who served with the state militia, rather than the continental army, as well as records for bounty land issued by the state.
A fire in the War Department in November 1800 destroyed most of the earliest service and pension records. A fire in August 1814 in the Treasury Department destroyed more records. Over the years, many of these records have been reconstructed.
Libraries with a genealogical or historical section will often have numerous published works on the American Revolution, including military unit histories and county histories. A good place to learn about available Revolutionary War records is James Neagles' U.S. Military Records: A Guide to Federal and State Sources, Colonial America to the Present [Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry, Inc., 1994].

Next > Is He Really My Ancestor?

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.