Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Five Reasons to Join a Lineage Society

Photo by Elijah Hail on Unsplash

Growing up in Virginia, I've always known about lineage societies. Who doesn't know someone with a family member in the United Daughters of the Confederacy or the Daughters of the American Revolution? It always seemed to me as quintessentially Virginian as Pecan Pie and Chicken-Fried Chicken (it's a thing - look it up!)

After all, Virginians have a deep fascination with our roots. Early settlers were sure to document connections to British royalty and - when it was no longer in vogue after the Revolution - they turned to find royal connections to Pocahontas and other Native American leaders. We see evidence of this with the "Pocahontas Exception" - a loophole in racial purity laws that allowed white Virginians to be considered white if they had as much as 1/16 Native American ancestry. But it's history like this that often keeps people away from exploring genealogy and joining lineage societies.

Plus, joining a lineage society takes a lot of work: documenting each generation along with proofs to previous generations, often for many many generations. So with all of the work it takes, what are some reasons that would make you want join a lineage society?

1. Peer review

The most convincing argument for joining a lineage society is the peer review process. In the sciences, academia and other professions, the peer review process allows a writer or researcher to have their work looked over by peers in their same field.

For those of us researching our roots through genealogy, our research can often be a lone job. We sit there looking at the same records over and over again and can easily overlook holes in our research or undocumented assumptions. Having another genealogist look at our research - along with the accompanying documentation - has the benefit of a fresh pair of eyes and a clear new mind to look at our work.

Anyone can claim a connection to someone famous. But can they prove it? The wall that divides history from genealogical fantasy is built by documentation and is confirmed by peers in our field. The application process for all lineage societies provides this peer review process that confirms - or possibly rejects - the research we present.

2. Access to resources

If I were interested in a particular topic apart from some general knowledge, I'd seek out a specialized library or museum. When we're at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., we don't go to the Natural History Museum to see the Constitution. And we don't head to the African American History Museum to see ancient fossils. But once we go to each of these museums, we find material and information we could find no where else! Lineage Societies too have resources that we might find nowhere else.

The Daughters of the American Revolution has an archives that holds records on families from around the United States. The General Society of Mayflower Descendants has documentation on generations and generations after the Mayflower passengers settled in this land. The Huguenot Society of the Founders of Manakin in the Colony of Virginia (the Manakin Huguenot Society for short) has a library documenting those first French refugees to Virginia. It's even situated on land from the original 1700 settlement in present Powhatan County, Virginia. Imagine what you could find in one of these archives!

When we struggle to find documentation for more distant ancestors, lineage societies and the resources they hold may be the key to breaking down brick walls and to proving our lineage.

3. Preservation of our research

The fear of many a genealogist is "what will happen to my research when I'm gone!?" While we hope a family member will joyfully preserve our research and pass it down to future generations, this might not be realistic or even possible. And our local state or county archives may not have the space or resources to preserve our research either (though they might - so do contact your local archives to see if this is a possibility!) But if we submit our research and it gets accepted by a lineage society, our research will be preserved for as long as that organization is continued.

In my home county of Powhatan, Virginia, we had many old churches burn in the 20th century. Many of my family members had given their old family Bibles to their churches to be kept safe only to have them burn along with the church building. As tragic as this has been, we don't have to see this happen in the future. We can apply to lineage societies and have copies of our documentation preserved in safe and secure archives in their libraries.

4. The challenge

One of the more exciting aspects of genealogy research is the challenge that it presents. If it were easy, everyone would do it. If it were impossible, we'd all give up. But with a healthy challenge, we're spurred on for more and more research and this leads to stronger evidence and clearer support of our arguments. When we apply to a lineage society, we're forced to present solid proof for generations that we may have had only shaky support for before.

Having a new challenge presented to us by a new lineage society we're applying to can be that fire that reignites our passion for good genealogical research. This challenge might be the thing that gives you the necessary experience to rethink that brick wall in another part of your tree. The challenge is what strengthens our research skills and keeps us moving forward.

5. Community

On a purely practical level, being a member of a lineage society means being part of a community. Whether it's called a "society" or an "association," a lineage society is a community of like-minded people with a common heritage or with ancestors who had a common experience. Community provides both relationships and support. In our research we can become overly self-dependent and isolated. Community through lineage societies can offer new friends and family members that we can connect with, and connections to break out of our research-induced isolation.

Being a member of a lineage society offers some benefits of community that a genealogical society also offers. When we are together with other genealogists, we can ask for help and receive advice from others who have similar interests and who might be researching similar areas. Two minds are better than one, and the collaboration that is borne from community may be that missing element in your genealogical research.


If you're considering applying to a lineage society, I hope I've inspired you to take that leap of faith to move forward in your application. Research the various lineage societies that are out there and see which of your ancestors could gain you membership with one of them. Don't miss out on this opportunity for peer review, access to established research, and a place to preserve your research. Take advantage of the challenge that comes from a new lineage society application and then enjoy the community that comes from that membership.

Have you joined a lineage society? Which of these five reasons have you found the most true for you? What is holding you back from applying to a lineage society?

Joining a lineage society is a tried-and-true way to encounter your ancestors through family history, and to remember the past made present for you and your family today.

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