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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 9/17/2003

Getting in the Lineage Group

A significant number of genealogists got their start in genealogy because of their interest in joining a lineage organization, typically the Daughters of the American Revolution ( ) or the Sons of the American Revolution ( ). There are a large number of lineage-based organizations, ranging from descendants of seventeenth century immigrants to those who came over centuries later. Many state and local genealogical societies also have pioneer certificate programs as way to honor early settlers in their state or area. This week, we'll take a brief look at these societies and how one gets started on the membership process.

Are You Eligible?
The membership application should somewhere clearly state the membership requirements of the organization. Some will be pretty clear. Some may not be so clear. In these cases, contact the sponsoring organization with additional questions. Two groups whose eligibilities are cut and dried are the Illinois State Genealogical Society's pre-statehood certificate and the First Families of Ohio.

The Illinois State Genealogical Society Prairie Pioneer Certificate is given with a gold seal and a ribbon if you can prove your Illinois ancestor was in Illinois prior to statehood (3 December 1818).

The Ohio Genealogical Society's First Families of Ohio application form indicates that proof of actual residence by 31 December 1830 in Ohio must be shown.

Just because you think the ancestor qualifies does not mean that he actually does. You will have to prove it to the committee. And that's not all you will have to prove.

Can You Show You are Eligible?

Showing eligibility can be broken down into two parts:
--- Proving the "ancestor" meets the eligibility requirements
--- Proving your descent from that ancestor

Proving the Qualification
Most applications will list some specific documents and general types of records, which can be used to show residence. Land records are one frequently used record, but they must clearly indicate the person lived in the state. A significant number of early landowners in many states were speculators who never actually set foot in the state. In some cases, an entry on a property tax roll may also not be considered sufficient proof of residence. If your only reference to the ancestor's date of settlement is in a county history, additional documentation will likely be required. Contemporary records are preferred.

Proving the Descent
This is typically the bulk of the work. The descent portion of the application must clearly show all relationships and may require that all dates of vital events (birth, death, and marriage) be documented (or if estimated, with reasons for approximate dates given). The amount of rigor with which the documentation is judged can vary greatly from one society to another.

Regardless of what is required, this area is where many applications fall short and one link in the chain cannot be clearly proven. Keep in mind that the approval decision is likely resting on a committee of genealogists who are operating under a general guideline created by the sponsoring organization.

Rules will vary, but the following are fairly typical:
--- Family tradition is not proof.
--- Material authored by the applicant may not be accepted as proof.
--- County histories may not be accepted as proof of events taking place a century before they were written.
--- Bible entries must be reasonably contemporary to the events the bible entry is being used to prove.
--- The birth of a child means the mother was at the birth location, not necessarily the father.
--- Person B is not necessarily person A's child just because person B owned person A's property after person A's death.
--- Being neighbors in the census does not prove a relationship.
--- Family group charts are not acceptable proof.

Make certain you read and understand the rules of proof before submitting an application.

General Guidelines
There will be variation from one application to another, but the following are very likely to be necessary:
--- Source citation. The exact format may vary, but copies with no indication of the original source will be frowned upon and very likely refused. You will have to show where the original copy of every document was located.
--- Copies only. Do not send originals.
--- Patience. Applications are read by humans who are frequently volunteers for the sponsoring organization. Do not expect them to rush a reply the next day. It should have taken you a while to compile the application. Give the committee adequate time to peruse your material.

Those with a serious interest in genealogical standards would do well to read the manual put out by the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG). While some societies do not require this level of rigor for their applications, a good study of the book will help you see how to "prove" a case when the records are not crystal clear. If your line of descent is muddy, the BCG Genealogical Standards Manual may give you some ideas on how to prove your case. Keep in mind, though, that most societies do not want a two hundred-page application. You may also wish to ask the sponsoring organization if they have any members who can help you with your application or if they have representative samples of applications available.

Why Join?
Some join settler societies because of an interest in the area where the ancestor settled or because they still live in that same area today. Some want their ancestors to be remembered. Others want to show others that their lineage is "correct." Whatever the reason, most are hoping to get that approval letter in the mail.

Getting Started
Make a working copy of the application to use while gathering your materials. If you've researched for a while, it may be necessary to go back and "re-research" part of your lineage. This is especially true for any links for which documentation is scant. If you have never completed a lineage society application before, it may be best to start with one that requires a more recent ancestor. You may also wish to get advice from any local genealogical society members who have proven ancestors for similar organizations.

Invitation Only
Some societies offer membership by invitation only. That is, you must already be fairly well known to a member. Typically though, the lineage groups sponsored by genealogical societies offer lineage group membership (or certificates) to paid society members who are able to prove their case. That's all! Of course, showing your lineage may not be that simple.

It is possible that your membership application will be denied. Most groups allow you to "clean up" and resubmit your application. Keep in mind if your proof is sketchy and the records are truly scant, you may have difficulty proving your descent.

For many, the fun in lineage societies is in the proving and getting that letter that says someone else agrees with our conclusions and that we have proven our case to someone else.

The following links are a representative sampling of pioneer certificate and lineage societies from across the United States.

Daughters of the American Revolution

Sons of the American Revolution

National Society Daughters of the British Empire in the United States of America

Arizona Genealogical Advisory Board--Arizona Pioneer Certificate Project

Hereditary Societies of Connecticut

Society of California Pioneers

Cook County, Ill., Pioneer Certificates

Florida Pioneers

Illinois Prairie Pioneer Certificates

Iowa Genealogical Society - Statehood, Pioneer and Century Certificates

First Families of Ohio

Utah Pioneer Certificates

Additional links can be found at:

Cyndi's List

The Hereditary Society Community site

Pioneer Certification Message Board
(For a list of organizations, by state, which offer pioneer certification programs, click on "Links & Announcements")

Copyright 2003, 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 Michael regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Used by the author on his website with permission

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