Documenting the Line


Module III - Documenting the Lineage

Module II "Finding a Revolutionary War Patriot" discussed the steps involved in identifying an ancestor in your lineage who aided the Americans during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783).  Once you identify an ancestor, the next step is to gather documents to prove the parent-child relationships in each generation in the lineage.  

The First Three to Four Generations

  If your goal is to join the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), you will need to gather COPIES (you keep the originals) of the following documents for the first 3 or 4 generations in your family:

  • Your birth certificate (must list your parents)

  • If your father is still living, his birth certificate

  • If your father is deceased, just his death certificate

  • If your mother is still living, her birth certificate

  • If your mother is deceased, just her death certificate

  • If you can get it easily, their marriage certificate.  If not, don't worry about it.

  • Your grandfather's death certificate

  • Your grandmother's death certificate

  • If you can get it easily, their marriage certificate.  If not, don't worry about it.

  • Your great-grandparents' death certificates (if obtainable)


Vital Records & Probate Records

  There are a large number of birth, marriage, death, and probate records available for FREE online.  Click the link below for links to these resources.


  If you do NOT know the exact date and/or location of your ancestor's death, provides links to many free and fee-based death indexes, obituaries, and cemetery records.  This site may help you to determine a date and location of death, which in turn will make it possible for you to order your ancestor's death certificate.



Ordering Vital Records

  If you know the date and location of birth, marriage, or death for your ancestor and you need to order a vital record, visit the CDC Vital Records page.  This site offers information on obtaining vital records and provides links to the state entities responsible for issuing records.



Beyond Generation Four

  Federal census records are most often used to prove parent-child relationships for ancestors living between 1850 and 1940.  The 1850 census is the earliest census that can be used to document a parent-child relationship for a DAR or SAR application because it is the first census that lists the names and ages of all of the people living together in a household.  The 6 federal censuses prior to 1850 (i.e., 1790-1840) only list the head of household by name. 

Thus, usually the most difficult parent-child relationships to prove are the ones that occurred before the 1850 census.  Typically these are the three earliest generations in the line from the patriot ancestor (i.e., linking the Revolutionary War patriot to his child and the linking patriot's child to the patriot's grandchild).

For those interested in joining DAR or SAR, the easiest way to get around this problem is to hope that someone else has already submitted an application that proves the same parent-child relationships for the earliest two or three generations in the line.  Module II of this tutorial discusses how to search the online DAR Patriot Database to determine whether a previous DAR application has been filed for your patriot through the same child and grandchild as your lineage.

If you are a woman interested in joining DAR, get in touch with your local DAR chapter as chapter members can help you find and document your lineage to your patriot ancestor.  To contact a local chapter, complete the online Membership Interest Form or find a chapter and contact them directly.  For list of DAR chapters in the United States and overseas, click here

If you are a man interested in joining SAR, contact your State Society for assistance.


Family History Library Catalog

  If you descend through a DIFFERENT child and/or grandchild of your Revolutionary War patriot than all previous DAR applications (for men - DAR & SAR applications), you will need to prove the parent-child relationships in these early generations.  The easiest way to do this is to find microfilms of original records in the Family History Library Catalog.

The Mormons have microfilmed original records from courthouses, churches, and archives all over the world.  When proving parent-child relationships in these early generations, the most important records to focus on are vital records, probate records (wills), land and property records (deeds), and church records.  Most of these microfilms have been digitized, and they are available online for FREE.  Although you can view the images on many of the microfilms from home, in some cases you must visit your your local Family History Center or library affiliate to view them.  To locate a Family History Center or library affiliate in your area, click here.

To find microfilms, you will need to search the Family History Library Catalog. The Family History Library Catalog is organized by place.  You MUST know the name of the county (and sometimes the town) where your ancestors lived and died.  This site will tell you the county where a town was located during a specific time frame.  Be aware that county boundaries frequently changed.  When researching your family, it is important to find out when a county was formed and what county served as its parent county.  For example, Fort Lauderdale is located in Broward County, FL.  Broward County was formed in 1915 from Dade County and Palm Beach County.  A record for a marriage that took place in Fort Lauderdale in 1911 would be located in Dade County rather than Broward County.

Click here for a demonstration on how to search for microfilms in the Family History Library Catalog.

To search for microfilms of vital records, probate records, deeds, etc. in the Family History Library Catalog, first print out the instructions at this link.  After printing the instructions, click the link below to search the Family History Library Catalog.




County and Town Histories

  From the late 1870s to the early 1920s, many counties (particularly in mid-western states) published county histories which included detailed biographies of their citizens.   Many of these histories are now available online for FREEIn addition to your direct ancestors, look for biographies for your ancestors' brothers, uncles, nephews, etc. as their biographies will often mention your direct ancestors.

County histories can be very helpful in documenting parent-child relationships for DAR applications.  In general, the DAR may accept a county history as documentation of a parent-child relationship 1) if the subject of the biography appears to have been the informant (i.e., the subject was living at the time the history was published), and 2) you are using the county history to establish a parent-child relationship that is no more than two generations removed from the subject of the biography (i.e., subject's parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, children).

NOTE: Whenever you copy or download information from a county or town history, be sure to obtain the title page and publication information as well.




Cemetery Records

  Cemetery records often provide valuable genealogical information.  Volunteers at Find A Grave have photographed and/or transcribed millions of headstones and markers throughout the world.  To search for a grave for a specific person, click here.  To search for a cemetery, click here


  For more than 100 years, DAR members have been researching, transcribing, and compiling thousands of "reports" containing vital records, cemetery records, family Bibles, military records, court records, obituaries, and probate records.  Known as the DAR GRC (Genealogical Records Committee) Reports, the entire collection is housed at the DAR Library in Washington DC. 

Over the past decade, DAR members have been transcribing every name in the reports and entering the names in the DAR GRC Index.  A search of the Index for your ancestor may reveal a family Bible record or cemetery record that would not be readily available anywhere else. 

Click here for a demonstration of the DAR GRC Index.

To search for your ancestors in the DAR GRC Index, first print out the instructions at this link.  After printing the instructions, click the link below to search the DAR GRC Index.




If you locate one or more GRC Reports about your ancestors, you may order up to 10 pages of records from the DAR Library.  The fee for DAR members is $10.00.  For nonmembers, the fee is $15.00. 

For information on ordering records, click here and scroll to "Photocopy Service."  Be sure to provide the entire citation for the record/records of interest.  This would include the name in the index, the state, series number, volume number and page for the specific book in which that name appears.   You may order several different GRC citations at the same time as long as the number of pages (including the title page for each citation) does not exceed 10 pages. 

  For more information about the DAR GRC Index as well as other databases available through the DAR Genealogical Research System, click here.

FamilySearch Historical Database Search

  The collection includes hundreds of free databases for the United States containing vital records, census records, probate records, military records, and court records.  Many of these databases are linked in this tutorial under Vital Records and Probate Records

It is usually best to search specific databases based on where and when your ancestors lived.  However, if you are unable to find a record by searching specific databases, try searching all of the FamilySearch databases containing historical records at once.

Usually, the best way to find a record is to search using a first name, a last name, and a place of residence (county and state OR just a state).  Click here for a demonstration.

If you cannot locate a record by searching on a name and place of residence, the next strategy is to remove the place of residence and search using a first name, a last name, fatherís first name, and motherís first name.  This strategy will be helpful in locating a census record with your ancestor living as a child in his parentsí household.  If your ancestor lived somewhere in New England, this strategy could locate a birth record.  Click here for a demonstration.

Next, try searching on a first name, a last name, wifeís first name, and wifeís maiden name.  This search method may locate a marriage record.  If that does not work, expand the search by removing wifeís maiden name and searching on a first name, last name, and wifeís first name.  Click here for a demonstration.

If your ancestorís name is common, each of the above strategies can result in a large number of returns.  This is especially true with FamilySearch because the search engine automatically returns results with a variety of different spellings.  You can narrow the search in a number of different ways.  For example, you can:

  1. specify an exact match for the spelling of either the first name or the last name or both names. 

  2. choose a range of years to search for any of the life events (i.e., birth, marriage, residence, or death).

  3. indicate a location (e.g., county and state or just state) for any of the life events.

Click here for a demonstration of the above 3 strategies. 

Finally, wildcard searches can be very helpful when dealing with misspellings or incorrectly indexed records. Wildcard searches can be performed on FamilySearch and  A wildcard is a character that is used to replace unspecified letters in a search term. The asterisk (*) is used to replace multiple letters in a search term. The question mark (?) is used to replace a single letter in a search term. 

The wildcard can be used at the end, at the beginning, or in the middle of a search term.  For example, the search term Whitm* will return Whitmer, Whitman, Whitmire, and Whitmore.  The search term *linesmith will return Klinesmith and Clinesmith, and the search term Jo*ner will return Joelner, Joalner, Jollner, and Joriner.  To narrow results so that only one letter is replaced, use the question mark rather than the asterisk.   For example, the search term Jo?ner will narrow results to Jolner, Josner, Joiner and Joyner.  NOTE: The search term must contain at least 3 letters for a wildcard search. 

To search all of FamilySearch's historical databases at one time, first print out the instructions at the link.  After printing the instructions, click the link below to search.




Online Genealogy Books

  In the last few years, thousands of genealogy books have been digitized and are available online for free.  Three excellent resources for searching digitized books are Google Books, FamilySearch Books, and Internet Archive

Some family history and other types of books can be used to document parent-child relationships for DAR or SAR applications if they include references regarding the sources of their information.  To determine whether a book might be accepted, show the information to your chapter Registrar.  NOTE: Whenever you copy or download information from a book, be sure to obtain the title page and publication information as well.


Continue to Module IV

  Continue to the next module "Joining the DAR."

Copyright © 2009 - 2024 by Debbie Duay, Ph.D., Fort Lauderdale, FL. All Rights Reserved.