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Researching Your Revolutionary War Ancestor

Researching Your Revolutionary War Ancestor

The GFO Library has hundreds of books to help you research Revolutionary War Ancestors

The confrontation between British troops and the Massachusetts militia at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, on 19 April 1775, marked the beginning of the Revolutionary War. It is unknown how many people served in the Continental Army, the state troops, and the local militias, but many genealogists can claim a veteran of the Revolutionary War as their ancestor

The "American Army"was composed of the soldiers of the Continental Army and militia, volunteers, and others who served with them.

  • The Continental Congresses created many companies, and the extant records are in the National Archives.
  • The States created companies, and their records are in state archives or in the custody of the state Adjutant General.

IMPORTANT ITEM: A fire in the War Department in November 1800 destroyed most of the earliest service and pension records. A fire in August 1814 in the Treasury Department destroyed more records. Over the years, records have been reconstructed.

Background Reading:

The GFO Library patron is fortunate, for the Library contains a number of guides and histories for the Revolutionary War era.

  • Neagles, James C., and Lila L. Neagles. Locating Your Revolutionary War Ancestor: A Guide to Military Records. Logan, Utah: Everton Publishers, 1983. [973/A000/How-To]

This handbook contains more information that you ever thought you needed to know.

It is a guide to the records used in identifying a soldier. It includes chapters on military organizations, the National Archives, patriotic societies, and state resources.

  • Lossing, Benson. The Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution. Two Volumes. New York, NY: Harper Bros, 1850. [973/A000/Military/1775-1783]

In 1848, Lossing traveled throughout the United States, visited battlefields and historic sites, and interviewed the "old timers."He illustrated his narrative with over 1100 wonderful engravings.

  • Boatner Mary Mayo. Encyclopedia of the American Revolution Bicentennial Edition. New York, NY: David McKay, 1974. [973/A000/History]

This is an easy-to-use guide to the Revolutionary War.

First Step: Determine If Your Ancestor Fought In The Revolutionary War.

Service records.

  • White, Virgil, comp. Index to Revolutionary War Service Records. Four Volumes. Waynesboro, TN: National Historical Publishing Co., 1995. [973/A000/Military]

During the 1890s, the War Department prepared "compiled" military service records for the volunteer soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War. The sources used were: muster rolls, pay rolls, rank rolls, returns, hospital and prison records, accounts for subsistence, ration and ordnance records, receipts for pay and bounties, clothing returns, and other records. Virgil D. White abstracted the service records from Record Group 93 and published the abstracts in four volumes. The abstracts include the soldier's name, unit, and rank.

  • Military Service Records: A Select Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications. Washington, DC: National Archives Trust Fund Board National Archives and Records Administration, 1985. [973/A000/Military]

Muster rolls and payrolls may contain additional information on your ancestor. For instance, the names of deserters, of people in the hospital, and the dead are listed in muster rolls.

Use this guide to determine which microfilm reel would have the muster or pay rolls associated with your ancestor's service.One can go to a local Family History Center and order the microfilm. A list of Family History Centers is on the bulletin board over the photocopy machine. The FamilySearch website has a list of FamilySearch Center Libraries - 

  • Hatcher, Patricia Law. Abstract of Graves of Revolutionary Patriots. 4 volumes. Dallas: Pioneer Heritage Press, 1987-88. [973/A000/Cem]

The US government places tombstones on the graves of soldiers. This book gives an alphabetical list Revolutionary War soldiers and the name of the cemetery and the place of the cemetery.


These were colonists who did not fight for the American side, but some did fight in the Revolution - on the British side. A "title" search in the library catalog for "Loyalist" shows 63 volumes on the Library shelves.

Look for a Pension Record

Pensions were granted for service, for disability (invalid), and to widows. Two fires destroyed the earliest Revolutionary War pension application records: the fire of 1800 in the War Department, and the fire of 1814 in the Treasury Department. Some pension records pre-dating 1800 survive in Congressional Reports. See the note in the box for information about books that contain abstracts of these Reports.

The first set of books that the genealogist should check is Virgil White's abstracts of the Revolutionary War Pension files that are in the National Archives. The abstracts are in three volumes, and a fourth volume contains an every-name index for 350,000 names.

  • White, Virgil D.Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files. 4 vols. Waynesboro, Tenn.: National Historical Publishing, 1990-92. [973/A000/Military]

If you do not find your ancestor in White's book, it may be because the pension was filed before 1800 or 1814. Check these two volumes for abstracts of pensions from the Congressional Reports.

  • Clark, Murtie June, comp. The Pension Lists of 1792-1795 With Other Revolutionary War Pension Records. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1991. [973/A000/Military/1792-1795]

Contains a transcription of the 1792-1795 Congressional reports.

  • Clark, Murtie June, comp. Index To U.S. Invalid Pension Records, 1801-1815. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1991. [973/A000/Military/1801-1815]

Abstracts a ledger book that survived the 1814 fire.

  • Clark, Murtie June, comp. Pension List of 1820 [U. S. War Department]. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1991. [973/A000/Military/1820]

The pension law of 1818 allowed soldiers who were unable to earn a living to apply for a pension. This book shows the rank and service of soldiers on the lists in 1820.

  • The Pension Roll of 1835. Indexed Edition. 4 volumes. 1835. Reprint. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1992. [973/A000/Military/1835]

The pension act of 1832 allowed soldiers who served and the widows of soldiers to apply for a pension. This list was prepared in 1835.

  • A Census of Pensioners for Revolutionary and Military Service as returned under the act for taking the census in 1840. Washington, DC: Blair and Rives, 1841. Reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1974. [973/A000/Military]

In 1840, the census taker was to ask who in the household was a pensioner. This book lists the 25,000 Revolutionary War pensioners who were still living in 1840. It shows their ages and the names of the heads of families with whom they were living.

  • Secretary Of War. Pensioners Of The Revolutionary War Struck Off The Roll: With An Added Index To States. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1989. [973/A000/Military/1861-1865]

Bounty Land Warrant

Money was scarce during Colonial times, and land warrants were the customary way of paying soldiers. The Federal and state governments granted land warrants to Revolutionary War veterans. Because both levels of government granted land warrants, it is important to check out both federal and state records.

The land that was awarded was in the western part of the United States -- on the frontier. Often, the recipient of the land warrant did not use the warrant to go to "the frontier." Warrants were often assigned to someone else, and after 1830, the land warrants could be redeemed for cash.

  • Hone, E. Wade. Land and Property Research. Salt Lake City, UT; Ancestry, Inc., 1997. [973/A000/Land] [Find this on the Ready Reference Shelf near the Reception Desk.]

Contains background information on Bounty Land Warrants. A "must read" for anyone who wants to understand the land warrant system -- and why he or she can't find their ancestor's land claim.

  • Smith, Clifford Neal. Federal Land Series. A Calendar Of Archival Materials On The Land Patents Issued By The United States Government, With Subject, Tract, And Name Indexes, Volume 2, 1799-1835. Federal Bounty Land Warrants of the American Revolution. Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 1973. [973/A000/Land/1799-1835]

Records of Federal Bounty Land Warrants made before1800 were destroyed in the fire in the War Department. This book shows entries after the fire -- mostly in Ohio. It includes the name and rank of veteran, land warrant numbers, range and township, quarter township and lot numbers, date of register entry and source of information, and a number of acres.

  • Smith, Clifford Neal. Federal Land Series: A Calendar Of Archival Materials On The Land Patents Issued By The United States Government, With Subject, Tract, And Name Indexes, Volume 4, Part 1 & Part 2, Grants in the Virginia Military District of Ohio. Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 1973. [973/A000/Land]
  • Bockstruck, Lloyd DeWitt. Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants Awarded by State Governments. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1996. [973/A000/Military/1775-1789]

The individual States also gave Bounty Land Warrants as pay for military service. This book not only gives the name, state of service, rank, date of record, and acreage awarded. It provides background for why bounty lands and which state compensated its veterans. For instance, the commonwealth of Massachusetts had its bounty lands in Main. North Carolina awarded lands in the area that became Tennessee. Virginia awarded lands in Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio.

Lineage Society Records

Organizations of descendants of Revolutionary War veterans were founded to commemorate the war. Each member was required to "prove" their descent, and abstracts of their lines have been published

The information in lineage society's collections must be checked against other records. Applications from 100 years ago did not have the type of documentation that we would currently hold as a standard. Often, there was no documentation. Errors crept in and were reproduced. Currently, people who submit membership applications to hereditary societies must document every birth, marriage, and death.

The National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution [D.A.R.]

  • D.A.R. Patriot Index. Centennial Edition. 3 parts. Washington, D. C.: National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, 1994. [369.13/D213]

These volumes contain an alphabetical list of over 100,000 patriots whose service has been established by the Daughters of the American Revolution between October 1890 and October 1990. The information was compiled from extracted data of membership applications and other sources.

Corrections to the DAR Patriot Index have been published in the DAR Magazine, starting with the May 1983 issue. Note: copies of the DAR Magazine are on the Library shelves.

  • Lineage Books, Daughters of the American Revolution. 166 volumes Washington, D.C.: D.A.R. 1895-1939. [369.13/D213]

Compiled lineages taken from membership applications with national numbers between 1 and 166,000. This covers the years 1895 to 1939. Each volume is indexed, and there is a compiled index for volumes 1 through 160. See the following index books

  • Rolls of honor (ancestor's index) in the lineage books of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution: Volumes 1 and 2, [volumes 1-80]Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1972. [369.13/D213]
  • Rolls of honor (ancestor's index) in the lineage books of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution: Volume 3 & 4, [volumes 81-160] Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1972. [369.13/D213]

A "record copy" of DAR membership applications can be obtained from the national headquarters. This is the application but not the supporting documentation. Currently, the fee is $10, but check before sending a request.

National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution
1776 D Street, N.W
Washington, D.C. 20006
Telephone: 202-628-1776
Fax: 202-879-3252

National Society of Daughters of Founders and Patriots of America

The eligibility requirements make this society unique among all patriotic-hereditary societies. Eligibility requires an unbroken paternal line of either the applicant's father or mother, going back to a "founder" who arrived in one of the Colonies between May 13, 1607 and May 13, 1687, and further stipulates that in this unbroken line there be an intermediary "patriot" ancestor who gave military or civil service in establishing American independence in the period of 1775 to 1784.

  • Index to Lineage Books of the National Society of Daughters of Founders and Patriots of America: Index, Volumes 1-25. Somerville, MA: Somerville Printing Co., 1943. [369.12/D32]
  • Lineage Books of the National Society of Daughters of Founders and Patriots of America. The Forum has Volumes 3, 6, 16 - 21, 22 - 36, 38, and 39. [369.12/D32]

Sons of the American Revolution

  • SAR Patriot Index, 1999 edition. Progeny Publications, 1999. CD [973/A000/Org] CD number: 973-108.

The National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution published a Patriot Index on compact disc with over 450,000 records.

For copies of the applications, send a request to the national headquarters. Ask for the current fee.

Sons of the American Revolution.
1000 South Fourth Street
Louisville, KY 40203
Telephone: 502-589-1776