Revolutionary Relatives

Today I gave a talk on “Revolutionary Relatives” at the New Canaan Library.  It was an entry level exploration of the resources available to research Revolutionary War ancestors.  The emphasis was on free or nearly-free websites that are widely available to most researchers. 

The collections on Ancestry are the best place to start to look for your Revolutionary War ancestors.  Ancestry is a subscription site, but most people have access through their local library.  We reviewed how to access specific collections by using the Card Catalog and the keyword "Revolutionary War," as opposed to just entering a name in Ancestry's main search engine. 

Heritage Quest is another subscription site that offers Revolutionary War pension records (as well as census records and digital books), and it is free for use at home with a Connecticut library card (access via

The FamilySearch wiki ( is a great place to go to search for more detailed information on the subjects we covered today -- or any other genealogical question for that matter.


“U.S., Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783” – Muster rolls, payrolls, etc. for Continental forces (excludes militias unless they were under the control of the Continental army for some reason).  Data from War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, Record Group 93; National Archives, Washington. D.C., microfilm publication M246.


U.S. Compiled Revolutionary War Military Service Records, 1775-1783” – Individual service records, data from the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, RG 93; National Archives, Washington, D.C., includes microfilm publication M880, Naval Personnel and Members of the Departments of Quartermaster General and the Commissary General of Military Stores, and M881, Soldiers who served in the Continental Army.


“U.S., Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1900” – Some 80,000 disability, service, widow’s, and rejected pension application files from the records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15. National Archives, Washington, D.C., microfilm publication M804.


“U.S. Revolutionary War Pensioners 1801-1815, 1818-1872” -- Treasury Department pension payment records. The original data comes from two different sources at the National Archives, Washington, D.C: Ledgers of Payments, 1818-1872, to U.S. Pensioners Under Acts of 1818 Through 1858 From Records of the Office of the Third Auditor of the Treasury, 1818-1872. NARA RG 217, Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury, 1775-1978, microfilm publication T718, and Pension Payment Roll of Veterans of the Revolutionary War and the Regular Army and Navy, 3/1801 - 9/1815. NARA RG 15, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1773–2007, microform publication M1786.


“U.S., Sons of the American Revolution Membership Applications, 1889-1970” – National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution membership applications approved between 1889 and 31 December 1970.  Each application contains multiple pages, so it is useful to scroll through the entire document.


2.      American Archives (Peter Force)


This collection was assembled in the early nineteenth century by Peter Force, an antiquarian and printer, who later became the mayor of Washington DC. (It is completely distinct from Internet Archive, which is a website that collects of out-of-copyright books on all subjects.)

Force’s collection includes proceedings of the colonial legislatures, as well as newspaper articles, documents, and broadsides from the Revolutionary era, much of which is not available any other place. The Northern Illinois University has transcribed the material and put it on their website, and it is every-word searchable. This is especially useful as a way to find your ancestor’s signature on a petition, or his service as a member of a patriotic committee.


3.      Digitized books


Books that were published before 1923 are in the public domain and many have been digitized.  The primary websites to use are Internet Archive, Hathi Trust, and Google Books.  (, This is where you go to put the flesh on the bones, and find the stories of your ancestor's lives.  The list below is just a sense of what is available:


·       Individual states’ published military archives (especially useful for information on militia service)

·       Genealogies and memoirs

·       Proceedings of fraternal or historical organizations

·       County and town histories

·       State laws

·       Law journals and historical periodicals

·       NARA microfilms

·       Vital Records indexes the group “Reclaim the Records” have won in FOIA lawsuits


4.    National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution  

The DAR’s genealogical research system database: ( includes the current list of approved patriots and their descendants, as well as a catalog of bible records and other data collected by DAR members.  Copies may be ordered from the DAR library.  Instructions on how to do this are on the website.  

5.  Digitized newspapers

These are freely available for many states from 1789 through 1922 at the Library of Congress' Chronicling America website (  Sometimes your area of interest may have a local digitization project that has not been included in the larger online collections.  In this case, check for the latest updates at the Ancestor Hunter blog, which focuses on tracking newspaper digitization projects around the country (  

Of course the subscription sites Genealogy Bank and Newspapers will also have useful information.  If you are thinking about subscribing, always check their coverage maps ahead of time, to be sure they offer newspapers in the locality you are researching. ( and