Lineage Societies – What gives?!

I am trying hard not to make this a rant so I’ll let you know up front that I’m very frustrated with many of the lineage societies’ directions and interpretations of what they consider acceptable.

In the past year, I’ve completed a number of society applications for clients and myself.  It seems each time there is something a society had a problem with that I couldn’t see was an issue.  In the past month alone, I’ve had to have lengthy discussions with their genealogist over several sticking points.

I could certainly understand if the problem was lack of a record for proof of relationship.  I could also understand if it was because the person could not have been in two places at the same time; in other words, analysis of existing records couldn’t determine which John Smith was the John Smith who would be a qualifying ancestor.  If the application directions were completely disregarded, I could also understand a rejection.  I cannot understand the following:

  •  Applying for membership that says “send proof of [military] service”  and when more than one proof is sent, such as the enrollment application, pension application, 1890 veteran’s census, newspaper clippings, and family letters to two different organizations for two different U.S. wars and being told in one situation that the sources were “a little thin” and in the other, that a record that was housed at the National Personnel Records center were necessary.  So, they never heard about the 1973 fire that destroyed the records they wanted?  Makes you think twice of the level of genealogical understanding of the organization.  How can a pension application, enlistment paperwork and veteran’s census be considered “a little thin?
  • Applying for a designated individual and then being told that the ancestor doesn’t qualify because he was a nobleman and not royalty.  Had to initially laugh at that one because one of the sources for this disputed ancestor was titled, “The Interim King.”  I was able to obtain qualification based on the nobleman’s wife’s father but for the life of me, I don’t understand the difference between a nobleman serving as king and someone who inherited it from his father.  The individual who inherited the title came from a line that at one point had the first ruler.  What made that person royal?  I just don’t understand.  The organization has yet to explain it to me.
  • Being told the application was being rejected because the year for sources was omitted.  When I asked the application number that purportedly occurred I didn’t get a response.  I always keep a copy and I couldn’t find anywhere where I missed a date.  A week later I received an email that no further information was required.  I understand people make mistakes but own up to it.
  • Being told that your application was accepted and two weeks later receiving an email stating that your application wasn’t accepted.  Huh?  In that situation, the membership chair had obtained a list from the genealogist and assumed that names placed on the list had all been verified but evidently that wasn’t the case; the list was for everyone who had submitted an application.  I understand errors happen but you’d think that the board would all be on the same page.

I’m not knocking lineage societies.  I think they serve a tremendous purpose.  Not only is there fraternity and hopefully, camaraderie, the ideals and promotion of the area of history they represent is important.  They are also a wonderful place to save genealogical information and honor our ancestors.  That said, I really wish they would get their act together.

Lineage Society Application Tips


Most of my client work this past summer has been for assistance in joining a lineage society. The reasons for the interest varied; one elderly gentleman wanted to give memberships to grandchildren as holiday gifts, several had affiliating with an organization on their bucket list and decided the time was right to pursue membership, and a few wanted to memorialize an ancestor.

In most of the cases of the clients who contacted me, they didn’t need much help. They actually didn’t need me at all which I told them. Joining a lineage society is not difficult although some have more stringent requirements than others in validating the provided evidence.

If you’re thinking of joining, you will first need to establish a relationship from yourself to the ancestor who would qualify for the society. That means, proving you’re connected to your parent and your parent is connected to your grandparent and so on until you reach the qualifying ancestor. For most people, obtaining vital statistics aren’t difficult; they just require completing a form, submitting payment and being patient to wait for the document to arrive. Creativity comes into play when the ancestor lived prior to required vital records being available. In those cases, church, Bible, cemetery, immigration, pension, and wills might be used to prove the relationship.

If you have a known relative who is a member of the lineage society you wish to join, most of your work is already done for you. All you need to do is prove your connection to the member.

What seemed to be my clients’ biggest hurdle was in following the direction of the society’s application. One individual told me he had once had a high security clearance for his job and that paperwork was simple compared to a state lineage society application. If this is your roadblock, here’s some tips to get the job done:

1. Make sure your ancestor meets the society’s requirements. This sounds silly but it isn’t. If you’re trying to join a county Pioneer Program, for example, your ancestor must have lived in that county during the years the program stipulates. Boundaries change and that may make your forefather ineligible. West Virginia was once part of Virginia, Pinellas County in Florida was once part of Hillsborough County. Check out the area’s history before beginning will save you time and money.

2. Make a copy of the application and use a pencil to print the information it requests. This way, you can eliminate the worry of a web fill in the blank document not saving and you can have a hard copy to verify each connection. It’s much simpler to have all the information on one handy dandy form to type into the society’s online application than to try to flip pages of all your proof documents to find the required data and input it at the same time.

3. I recommend checking off each name, date and location that you recorded on the hard copy application by looking back at the record used. For example, if the birth certificate states the name is Mary Ellen then that name should be recorded on the application and not Elle, the individual’s nickname. Nicknames should be included if they are found in official documents. I had a several times great grandmother that completed a War of 1812 widow’s pension under her nickname, Polly. Her birth name was Mary. She was illiterate and didn’t sign the pension application but Mary and Polly were used interchangeably on the document. In situations like this, I would write Mary Polly on the application.

4. If you have questions as you complete the form, simply email the society’s contact person. In most cases, they will be helpful as a good society values new members. My opinion, if they aren’t helpful then why would you want your ancestor’s name affiliated with them?! Save yourself grief and memorialize in a different way.

5. When you submit the application, make sure you’ve kept a copy as there may be a question or two and you can readily have your own set to refer to as you respond to the question.

I have found that awaiting confirmation of membership is often a slow process so patience is required. Most societies are composed of volunteer members so your application is reviewed around their spare time.

Not sure what lineage societies are available? Check out this Wiki list. Warning – that is not a complete list as many more societies are available. Contact historical and local genealogical societies for additional opportunities.