What brought about such organizations? Beginning in 1876 with the centennial of the Declaration of Independence, a series of centennial events focused America's attention on its history and heritage and inspired to search for their roots which led to the formation of patriotic and hereditary organizations. Establishing family links to the past as pre-requisites for membership in these patriotic societies encouraged people to get involved in genealogical research.
It became all the rage for those in high society to trace their lineage. Newspapers published genealogical columns. Men and women browsed libraries and collected the names and dates of ancestors from tombstones in cemeteries. Soon, genealogical research trickled down to the upper middle class and became a popular hobby throughout the country.
As a result of the nation's centennial in 1876, a group of men who were descendants of Revolutionary War veterans gathered in San Francisco to celebrate. This group, calling themselves the Sons of Revolutionary Sires, became the first organization of descendants of Revolutionary War patriots. Their objective was to have a fraternal organization that saluted those men and women who pledged their lives, fortunes and honor to America's battle for independence, including the descendants of the men who fought in the Continental Army, signed the Declaration of Independence, served in the Continental Congress, or otherwise supported the cause of American Independence from 1774-1783. Today, there are no ties between the Sons of Revolutionary Sires and the Sons of the American Revolution, except that the latter allowed members of the former group to join the SAR after its founding in 1889.
The SAR's history isn't without controversy. Before there was an SAR, John Austin Stevens founded another group, the Sons of the Revolution in New York in 1883. He based the charter of his organization on that of the Society of Cincinnati. By 1889, William Osborn McDowell, a New Jersey financier and businessman, organized the New Jersey Society of the Sons of the Revolution but was unwilling to accept the New York organization's requirement that other state societies bow to them, accepting them as the national group.
Stevens founded his group as an elite fraternal association. But McDowell wanted the Sons of the Revolution to be open to all descendants of Revolutionary patriots. So McDowell formed the Sons of the American Revolution at Fraunces Tavern in New York on April 30, 1889, the centennial of the inauguration of George Washington as the First President of the United States of America in 1789.
On June 6, 1906, Congress passed an act formally granting McDowell's organization a charter. President Theodore Roosevelt, who was a member of the organization, signed it into law. One of the first things that the SAR did was petition Congress to store Revolutionary era documents in a fire-proof area and make them available to the public. This led to the creation of the National Archives in 1913. The SAR Headquarters, located in Louisville, Kentucky, houses a Revolutionary Museum, their Genealogical Library, and offices. Today, the SAR's Genealogical Library is in the process of moving to a newly renovated building along Main Street in downtown Louisville, Kentucky.
If you think you may have a patriot ancestor, the SAR offers the services of New Member Helpers within state chapters to guide you through your ancestral research. And even if you don't have an ancestor who participated in the struggle for American Independence, you can still search for information on your ancestors.
For information on SAR membership, go to the organization's website at Sons of the American Revolution.
Next Time: The Daughters of the American Revolution