What is a lineage society?
A lineage society is an organization made up of members who trace their lineage back to a certain person or family. Some societies are what The Hereditary Society Community calls "singular ancestor societies" tracing back to one specific person, such as the Nathan Hale Society. Others are based on places or events – such as the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), a society for descendants of U.S. patriots who supported the American Revolution, or the Descendants of the Founders of New Jersey.
Why should I join?
Establishing a lineage for membership in a lineage society is a rigorous process and will put you to the test as a researcher. "Most hereditary societies only accept primary documented sources," advises the Hereditary Society Community on its website. A list of research tips from DAR even cautions against using the books of lineage societies, since they may not have correct information. While every genealogist strives for accuracy, having your pedigree construction judged worthy enough for inclusion in a lineage society can be a great motivating goal.
Hereditary societies based on a singular ancestor open up your family tree immensely, and societies based on events, wars or places can also provide historical resources to give you a deeper understanding of a particular ancestor's life, beliefs and struggles. The work you accomplish will preserve and expand that history; "We provide a significant source of accurate, relevant historical data for generations to come," writes the Hereditary Society Community.
How do I find a lineage society?
To get an idea of what kind of lineage societies you may be eligible for, make a list of ancestors who have fought in various wars, who were from specific ethnic groups (Huguenots, for example) and who have deep roots in certain areas. The Hereditary Society Community has an extensive list of lineage societies in the USA that may match up to one of the places, events or ethnicities in your list.
If your research at this point consists mainly of relatives' accounts, you'll want to research further before contacting a lineage society. "An old story handed down verbally is family lore," cautions the Hereditary Society Community. "Notes jotted down by a relative may simply be very, very old family lore. The records probably exist . . . it is your mission to find them."
How do I apply?
Each lineage society has their own membership rules, including some (like the Associated Daughters of Early American Witches) which add members by invitation only. If the lineage society you're interested in is open to potential members contacting them, ask for an application form and make sure you understand the rules and requirements clearly.
Remember, although lineage societies are very diverse and have different application rules, nearly all will require primary documents. This is true even if you find one of your lineages already in their books from other members. You will still need to prove your particular ancestry with birth, death and marriage certificates, vital records, church records and census records.
The hard work will pay off, however, when your painstaking research shows not only that your ancestors accomplished something wonderful, but that their descendant is committed to tracing their history.