Are you looking for a Revolutionary War ancestor? Perhaps family tradition or a biographical sketch you recently acquired says your 6th great grandfather served in the Revolutionary War. Maybe you tracked your ancestor to Colonial America making you curious whether he was involved in the Revolutionary War? Before starting your journey to find your Revolutionary War ancestor, you need a basic knowledge of the war and the records related to it. This is part one of a two-part blog designed to provide some of that knowledge.
There are two categories of records for patriots who served in the Revolutionary War. Namely: service records related to the soldier’s service in the war and benefit records related to benefits the soldier received because of his service in the war (i.e., pensions or bounty land). Part 1 of this blog focuses on service records and part 2 focuses on benefit records.
Facts to Know:
- During colonial times, local independent militias were formed for defense. All able-bodied men of the town or community who met the age requirement for the locality were expected to participate.
- The Articles of Confederation adopted by the Second Continental Congress created the Continental Army, a full-time regular army and it codified the militia.
- George Washington, having distinguished himself as a commander in the French and Indian War of 1754, officially took command of the poorly trained and under supplied Continental Army on 3 July 1775. Washington led the army to key victories that resulted in Great Britain surrendering in 1781.
- Manpower shortages prompted using militias as short-term support to the regular army throughout the war.
- Although they might be compensated for losses or expenditures later, militia members were normally expected to provide their own weapons, equipment, or supplies.4
- Those who fought for independence are commonly known as patriots or rebels and the British are called Tories, and Loyalists.
- African and Native Americans fought on both sides during the war. See “Forgotten patriots: African American and American Indian patriots of the Revolutionary War: a guide to service, sources, and studies,” two pamphlets published by the DAR and available to download for free on their website. Click here to access them.
- Your ancestor needed to be born at an appropriate time to serve. “Men between the ages of 16 and 60 [born between 1715-1767] may have served sometime during the war (1775-1783) in either the Continental Army, State Line Troops, or local militia mustered to help the Continental Troops.”
- You need to have proven your ancestor lived in one of the original British Colonies during the war? See map and lists of colonies below.
- You need enough details about your ancestor’s life to recognize him in the records? Time lines are a wonderful way to determine if you do. See “Case Study” section for an example.
- “Most of the earliest Revolutionary War era records regarding the American Army of the US War Department were destroyed by fires at the National Archives in 1800 and again in 1814. To compensate for this loss, in 1873 the War Department began their collection through purchases, gifts, and transfer of records from other agencies.”
- There is no central index for Revolutionary War records. In recent years many records related to the war have been digitized, indexed, and made available on the Internet. See tables provided in both parts of this blog for links to some of them.
- Rather than actively fighting in the war, your ancestor may have supported those serving in the war in other ways. Use link to dar.org to check on this possibility. In addition, for service in the Continental Army, a State Line Troop or a local militia unit, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) recognized people as a patriot for paying supply taxes, feeding, and providing provisions to the troops.
- Don’t discount the possibility your ancestor sympathized and fought for the British. If you suspect this is the case, see Loyalists records.
- Your ancestor may have chosen not to get involved in the war and will not be found in any record.
Service records do not have as much information of genealogical value as pension records.
Compiled Service Records 1775-1783 were created in 1894 using records from the War Department and the Pension Office. These records consist of information copied from original records of rank rolls; inspection, provision, and clothing returns; receipts for pay and bounty; accounts for subsistence, pay, rations, clothing, and ordnance; abstracts of muster and pay rolls; and correspondence.
Below are sample records from above resources .
Revolutionary War Ancestry Research – Case Study Part 1
It is not known who supplied the information for the statement on his tombstone about his Revolutionary War service, so it needs to be verified. Searches were made in the Service Record Online Resources table above looking for something to verify William served in the Revolutionary War as his tombstone implies. The following document was found.
Having found a document that indicates William Lyons received a Revolutionary War pension verifies he served in the war.
Follow up research will be discussed in Part 2 of this blog.
- Finding Your Revolutionary War Ancestor (Online: FamilySearch Research Wiki, 20 October 2021) viewed 1/28/2022 at https://bit.ly/3IJ66hT.
- Revolutionary War, 1775-1783 (Online: FamilySearch Research Wiki, 20 October 2021) viewed 1/27/2022 at https://bit.ly/3u7VZPW.
- Revolutionary War titles, (Ancestry Academy) viewed 1/27/2022 at https://bit.ly/3AHwIgM.
- YouTube Video: Washington’s War-General George Washington and the Revolutionary War [viewed 1/27/2022 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFvx8n_9s9M ]
 “List of United States militia units in the American Revolutionary War”
“Revolutionary War Service Records”
Washington Crossing the Delaware Emanuel Leutze, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Washington_Crossing_the_Delaware_by_Emanuel_Leutze,_MMA-NYC,_1851.jpg