Military Research Tips


Was Your Ancestor A Patriot?

by Anne J Lex - Records Editor

If you have traced your family tree back to the 18th century, there's a chance that you are related to a patriot. According to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Web site, a patriot is not limited to someone who served in the Continental Army or in the militia or an individual who was a privateer. A patriot is anyone who furthered the cause during the war (April 19, 1775 to November 26, 1783). This includes doctors, nurses and anyone who rendered aid or anyone who furnished supplies. Likewise, signers of the Declaration of Independence, attendees of the Boston Tea Party, members of the Continental Congress and civil servants of state governments are patriots.

Before attempting to establish your ancestor as a patriot, be sure to gather as much personal and identifying information as possible. This is necessary to distinguish your ancestor from someone with the same name. A search of the 1790 or an earlier state census could help identify individuals with the same name living in a particular geographical location. Once the preliminary research is completed, three types of records can be searched at the National Archives, Latter-Day Saints (LDS) Family History Centers and many libraries. These records include military service and pension records and bounty-land warrant applications. According to Kimberly Powell's article entitled Researching Your Revolutionary War Ancestor, Powell indicates that many of the original military records were destroyed in a fire. The destroyed records were substituted by using "muster rolls, record books and ledgers, personal accounts, hospital records and pay lists." These records could contain any or all of the following: name, state of service, date of appointment, date of separation, physical description, date and place of birth and residence. These records are available on microfilm and can be located by checking the appropriate alphabetically arranged indices. The National Archives has several indices. The call numbers for the two most comprehensive indices for Revolutionary War records are M881 and M860. Once the records are located, they can be ordered online or by preparing form NATF-86 at the National Archives. If the research is conducted at an LDS Family History Center or at another library, consult the card catalog to determine the location of these records. is a subscription based Web site that provides access to many of these records online.

Researching Your Revolutionary War Ancestor by Kimberly Powell  

Revolutionary War pensions were granted to widows and their children and to disabled veterans. According to Powell, pension applications often contain genealogical information including "details such as date and place of birth and a list of minor children, along with supporting documents such as birth records, marriage certificates, pages from family bibles, discharge papers and affidavits or depositions from neighbors, friends, fellow servicemen and family members." The original pension records were also destroyed in a fire. However, the remaining pension files have been microfilmed by the National Archives. Pension records can be located by researching call numbers M804 and M805. M804 consists of pension file applications and Bounty Land Warrant applications from 1800-1906. M805 consists of files that are "greatly decreased in size" and contain "only the most significant genealogical documents." These records can be ordered online or by preparing form NATF-85 at the National Archives. M805 can be researched at LDS Family History Centers or at other libraries. These records are also available through subscription based Web sites like and "If your ancestor served in the state militia or volunteer regiment, records of his military service may be found at the state archives, state historical society or state adjutant general's office."

If you are related to a doctor, nurse or someone who rendered aid during the war, establishing your ancestor as a patriot can be difficult. During the war, the army's medical department was still being organized. Medical treatment could have been rendered at medical units that were set up within the community or encampment or at a local hospital. Many doctors received their training in Europe and were working under the supervision of other doctors during the war.

Continental Congress: Hospital Reports ~ Medical treatment during the Revolutionary War  

Military Hospitals and the Thompson-Neely House   

Army Medical Department 1775-1818 ~ Army Historical Series  

If you are related to someone who furnished supplies, your ancestor may have filed a private claim requesting relief. According to a handout compiled by the Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP) entitled Government Publications, Laws, and Case Reporters, "the Private Relief and Related Actions" indices of the United States Congressional Serial Set and the CIS U.S. Serial Set index can be consulted to locate a private claim. For example, George Washington commandeered a fleet of boats so he could cross the Delaware River with his men. The business owner could have filed a private claim requesting reimbursement for the fleet of boats. The United States Congressional Serial Set can be found at most law libraries. Additionally, documents pertaining to the signers of the Declaration of Independence and other government officials, as stated above, would be located by researching Papers of the Continental Congress and Index: Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. Papers can be located on microfilm at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. Most law libraries and the David Library of the American Revolution would be likely to have microfilmed copies as well. Journals can be searched on the Internet at: .  

The United States Congressional Serial Set  

Using the US Serial Set  

Finally, it is important to remember that information may be found at many state and local libraries, historical societies and lineage societies. The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) are two national societies where recognition is given to an individual as a patriot when a researcher has submitted the appropriate documents to the National Society. Both societies have patriot indices that are available for research. The DAR will do a free lookup from their patriot index.* The SAR index is available on a CD that can be searched at many local libraries. SAR Patriot Index  

*(Update 2013:  The DAR is excited to announce that the Genealogical Research System (GRS), a combination of several extensive genealogical databases, is now available online! Please use this free resource to look up your Patriot. Because this information is available, the Patriot Index Lookup Service is now closed.

If you are not lucky enough to locate your ancestor on a national society index, never fear. You could find yourself surrounded by dusty books or viewing a microfilm reel that has been packed in a carton just waiting for you to discover that your ancestor really was a patriot.

For further reading:

Valley Forge Muster Rolls  

American Revolutionary War Soldiers' Websites

USGenWeb Pension Project

United States Internet Genealogy Society Revolutionary War Links   

The David Library of the American Revolution.

Previously published in the USGenWeb Newsletter
June 2007, Volume 4, Number 5





2000 Rhonda Stolte Darnell