Given Name(s) Last Name

from the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 7/3/2002

July 4th

Some genealogists begin their ancestral search in an attempt to document a relationship with a patriot in the American Revolution. My own list of Revolutionary War ancestors is extremely short—just one serviceman. I have little control who my ancestors were since I choose to research my family as accurately as possible. Of course if I were to have little concern for accuracy or documentation I could probably choose whatever ancestors I wanted.

There were other ways to support the war effort in addition to taking up arms. For example, other family members might have signed oaths of allegiance, or given supplies. Sacrifices may have not always been direct and many are undocumented.

Neither a Borrower nor a Lender Be
Several of my Virginia forebears did not actually serve in the Revolution, but provided goods or non-military service to the cause. In some cases, these men were too old for traditional military service or for whatever reason chose not to serve. Later, these individuals were generally compensated for the donated materials. While these public service claims do not provide exhaustive genealogical information they are relevant to family history. These claims document on a certain level an ancestor's support for the American Revolution (or at least the ancestor's hope in being compensated). In Virginia, commissioners in each county were appointed to issue certificates or receipts for materials as they were supplied to the revolutionary cause. More information on Virginia Revolutionary Claims can be found at the Library of Virginia site.

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign
The most well-known act of defiance is the signing of the Declaration of Independence. But not all of us can descend from a signer of that well-known document. Besides the declarations, there were a variety of oaths and allegiances that were put forth before and after the 4th of July. Many of these documents have more signers than the Declaration of Independence.

My ancestor James Rampley signed the Maryland Association of Freemen in Harford County, Maryland in the 1770s. Three of my other Harford County ancestors did not sign the declaration. Interestingly enough, the ancestor who signed was also a British convict transported to Maryland in 1761.

The document begins:
"The long premeditated, and now avowed design of the British government, to raise a revenue from the property of the colonists, without their consent, on the gift, grant, and disposition of the commons of Great Britain; and the arbitrary and vindictive statutes passed under colour of punishing a riot, to subdue by military force, and by famine, the Massachusetts bay; the unlimited power assumed by parliament to alter the charter of that province . . ."

Membership Has Its Privileges
Some research their family tree in order to join a lineage organization such as the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Those ladies whose ancestors saw active military service generally qualify for membership. However, there are other things an ancestor could have done in support of the cause that would allow a direct line descendant to qualify for membership.

There are other types of qualifying service for DAR membership. An ancestor could qualify by having provided civil service by serving as a state or provisional government official or by having been elected to a governmental body. An ancestor who served on a committee that provided support for the war effort usually has qualifying service. Ministers who gave sermons supporting the war effort and those who signed oaths of allegiance are also generally considered to have provided patriotic service. Those interested in the DAR and what "qualifies" as patriotic service should visit the DAR website.

Your ancestor might have supported the war in ways other than taking up arms.

The war effort might have caused your ancestor to rethink about the entire process . . .

They Took My Farm
Another ancestor of mine, Thomas Galloway, was impacted by the war effort in a way slightly different than most of my family members.

Thomas had a lease to a portion of My Lady's Manor in Baltimore and Harford Counties in Maryland that he obtained quite a while before the American Revolution. The owner of My Lady's Manor was actually a British subject. And therein was the problem. During the Revolution, the state of Maryland needed money to pay its soldiers, money it did not have. It was decided that an excellent way to raise funds was to sell property confiscated from British subjects. Consequently My Lady's Manor was on the auction block and the tenant farmers were not happy. They had what they thought were lifetime leases to the property and suddenly that changed.

The farmers leasing property on the manor petitioned the colonial governor, indicating they had supported the cause of the revolution, but had no idea that it would mean their farms would be sold out from underneath them. It was to no avail and the property was sold. Thomas did purchase his farm a short time later from the individual who purchased it. However, the confiscation and sale was unlikely something any of the residents of My Lady's Manor foresaw when they supported the cause of the revolution.

The farmers did petition, but there was no violence or bloodshed over the confiscation. One would imagine though that there was a fair amount of cursing.

This action did not bring the war effort to its knees. But it does provide a different perspective on the war effort and gives one cause to think.

Where are Some of These Records?
They can be in a variety of places, but an excellent starting place is the state archives in the state where the ancestor lived. Since many of the acts discussed here are not federal acts they are not located at the National Archives. Of course, records of military service may be found at the National Archives.

Will We All Find a Patriot?
Let's face it. Not all of us will find Revolutionary War ancestors. We have no control over our family's history and its origins. We do have control over how accurately we record and document that ancestry and how we share it with other researchers. Accuracy is what genealogy is all about --- not about trying to prove claims that have no basis in fact.

Our research may lead to Plymouth Plantation settlers, Revolutionary patriots, indentured servants, slaves, Civil War veterans, or post- World War II immigrants from a war-torn Europe. All are a part of the American fabric. It is important to remember that many of our ancestors have supported the spirit of July 4 long after the last Revolutionary patriot passed away.

Michael John Neill, is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at: or visit his website at:, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Copyright 2002,

This article used by the author on his website with permission.

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