3 Steps for Finding Your Revolutionary Roots

military records Jun 30, 2021

Many families have stories claiming their ancestors were American Revolutionary War heroes or even signers of the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately when working with these families on tracing their family lore... many of the stories do not survive genealogical scrutiny.

Only 15 of the 56 Declaration of Independence signers have male descendants today.

When looking to establish revolutionary roots you must:

  1. Identify ancestors born between 1710 and 1765.

  2. Establish through paper evidence how you are related.

  3. Find proof of their military service in the American Revolutionary War.

It's not an easy task, but if you are interested in discovering and celebrating your revolutionary roots this Independence Day, here are three steps to get you started:

Step #1 – Trace Your Lineage

Begin by gathering what you know about your parents, grand-parents, and great-grandparents. Start with yourself and reaching back in time, generation by generation to build your family tree. You will need to go back 6, 7 maybe even 8 generations. Do not start with a patriotic ancestor and work forward in time.

For each ancestor, record birth date, marriage date, and death date. Also note locations of these events to make sure you are tracing the same individuals. You can trace your lineage back in time on your father or mother’s side.

Search the following records to find your ancestors and to establish their parentage:

  • U.S. and state census records – start wit the 1940 U.S. census and work back to 1850. Census records prior to 1850 did not include the names of everyone in a household, so they can't be used as evidence of relationships. (Use city directories to fill in gap years.)

  • Birth and baptism records

  • Marriage records

  • Death records, obituaries, and headstones

  • Wills and probate records

  • Military records

You can find these types of records online at Ancestry.com and Familysearch.org. Fold3.com is the premier online source for military records. To celebrate Independence Day, they are offering FREE access to their Revolutionary War records between July 1-15.

 If you’ve identified your ancestor born between 1710 and 1765 who was living in the colonies around 1775-1776 continue on to Step #2.

Step #2 – Find Your Revolutionary War Patriot

SAR and DAR Databases

If you’ve identified an ancestor born between 1710 and 1765 who was living in the colonies between 1775-1776, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) website and Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) website are great places to start looking for your ancestral patriot.

Both SAR and DAR membership applications show in detail the lineage of members back to the patriot that served. The applications provide valuable lineage clues including names of family members, birth and death dates, marriages, the patriot’s regiment and rank, burial place, and sometimes biographical information.

If you find your ancestor listed as a patriot, that means another descendent has been approved for membership. You can piggyback on their approved application when you apply for membership, perhaps providing additional information you located in step #1.

Didn't find your ancestor in DAR or SAR?  That doesn't mean your ancestors didn't serve this country's fight for independence. These databases only contain patriots whose ancestors have applied for membership. Maybe you are the first to make this discovery! Think of the great legacy you will leave for future generations. 

Military Records

Military records generated during the Revolutionary War exist at the national, state, county and even town-level. You can find Revolutionary War records online at the National Archives, Ancestry.com, Familysearch.org, and Fold3.com. Begin by looking at the Federal Records then move onto records by state. (For a list of state by state online records, download my FREE Revolutionary War Records Checklist above.)

Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants

A Bounty-Land Warrant was a right to free land on the public domain. During the Revolutionary War in 1776, the Continental Congress promised bounty land to officers and soldiers as an inducement to continued military service. The bounty land warrant could be passed onto their heirs if they were killed in action. A private or noncommissioned officer was entitled to 100 acres of bounty land, an ensign to 150 acres, a lieutenant to 200 acres, a captain to 300 acres, a major to 400 acres, a lieutenant colonel to 450 acres, a colonel to 500 acres, a brigadier general to 850 acres and a major general to 1,100 acres.

Bounty land warrants continued for all other wars in which the United States engaged during the years 1812-1855. The records available vary, but generally they contain these details:

  • number of warrant

  • name of veteran

  • rank

  • date of issuance

  • number of acres

Revolutionary Pension Records

Pension records provide the most genealogical information and historical details not found anywhere else. They contain a treasure trove of information on their service and their family.

Unfortunately, not every veteran who served in the military received a pension. Veterans and their widows had to qualify under existing laws, complete lengthy applications, provide extensive documentation, and be approved by the government to receive benefits. It was a complicated process and many veterans and their widows were denied.

Pension records often contain documentation such as:

  • full name of the veteran

  • date of birth and location

  • residence when enlisted, previous residences, and current address

  • rank, unit, and name of company

  • dates of service and enlistment location

  • age at the time of enlistment and length of service

  • battles and injuries sustained during service

  • names and ages of of spouse and children

  • pension balances and checks

  • occupations

  • death dates

  • correspondences

Revolutionary War Service Records

Compiled service records vary and can include information from rosters, muster rolls, payroll records, and more. They include details such as:

  • full name

  • service number

  • unit

  • address

  • date enlisted, date mustered in and out

  • rank and final rank

  • basic biographical and medical information


If you’ve found your Founding Father, congratulations! If you want to celebrate your revolutionary roots, move onto step #3.

Step #3 - Join a Lineage Society

Once you've identified your patriot ancestor, you may wish to join a patriot lineage society such as  Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), Sons of the American Revolution or Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. It's a wonderful way to honor your ancestors and preserve your family's revolutionary roots forever.

What is a lineage society why might you want to join?
Ready my blog post "
4 Reasons to Join Lineage Societies"

To join, you will need to provide documentation that definitively connects each generation from you back to your revolutionary ancestor. So when doing your research in step #1 and #2, make sure to keep careful records. 

Documentation required will include birth certificates for yourself, parents, father, mother, grandparents, etc going back 3-4 generations in your family. You will also need as many death certificates as you can obtain. Census records and military records will be required. Family bibles, family histories, cemetery records, and obituaries can also be used as evidence.

Every lineage society has a different application process. Visit their websites and carefully review each application process. Many will connect you with a member who will help guide you through the application process. 




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