Lineage Societies

Lineage Societies: How to Join Them (and Why You Should)

Lineage Societies: How to Join Them (and Why You Should)

When people get involved in genealogy, a lot of them will eventually become interested in lineage societies. What are lineage societies? They are clubs, groups, and organizations that you are allowed to join (or not) based on your ancestry. For example, Daughters of the American Revolution (one of the better known lineage societies) accepts applications for membership from women who can prove they are descended from someone who fought or provided assistance to the colonial cause in the American Revolution.

The General Society of Mayflower Descendants is open to anyone who can prove they are the direct descendant of someone who traveled to America on the Mayflower. There are lineage societies for all kinds of things, such as societies for people who are descended from Civil War soldiers, War of 1812 soldiers, colonial immigrants, people involved in the Salem witch trials, people who were among the first colonists of Jamestown, and societies for people with royal ancestry. The list of potential lineage societies you could join is very long, indeed.

Why Would You Want to Join a Lineage Society?

Most people who join lineage societies do so for the prestige of being able to prove their pedigree. A lot of research goes into lineage society applications, so you know when you are accepted into one, you really are descended from a prestigious, prominent, or famous person. It gives you bragging rights on your family tree, and that’s a very enticing thing for a lot of genealogists. Many of them even get other family members to join lineage societies based off of their own applications.

It’s not just prestige that gets people to become interested in joining lineage societies, however. Some societies have genealogical libraries that are only open to members (or only open for free to members). The opportunity to network with other people who have similar ancestry to you is also nice. There is also a very strong possibility of you meeting a genetic relative in a lineage society (someone who is descended from the same person as you), which gives you the opportunity to exchange family information, and maybe even discover new family artifacts, documents, records, and photos that you never knew still existed.

Other reasons for joining a lineage society include bringing awareness to the particular group or time in history that the society celebrates, participating in the society’s charitable endeavors (some engage in charity and public service, while some do not), getting that coveted membership certificate for your wall, being able to contribute your own genealogy research to the society, the thrill of accomplishment when you are accepted as a member, and the opportunity to get out and socialize with people of similar interests to yours at meetings.

How Do You Join a Lineage Society?

Do a Google search for “lineage societies.” You will find a long list of individual society websites, and probably a site or two that lists all of the ones that are active (which is convenient for choosing which ones you’re interested in joining and/or qualified to join.

Most lineage societies have similar requirements for joining. You must prove your descent from a person who was involved in the particular thing the society celebrates. You do the proving through careful documentation that definitively connects each generation from you back to your qualifying ancestor. Depending on how long ago the event the society celebrates took place, you could be looking at a lot of documentation, some of it harder to find than others.

While there are a few exceptions, nearly every lineage society will ask you to prove the birth date, death date, marriage date and spouse, and parents for each generation starting with you, and going back to your qualifying ancestor. Most societies accept both primary and secondary sources. The difference is that with primary sources, you usually only have to provide one piece of evidence. Secondary sources typically require at least two and sometimes more pieces of evidence to prove the relationship.

Primary sources are documents or artifacts that were created at the time the event occurred.

Examples of primary sources include:

  • Birth, death, and marriage certificates
  • Headstones
  • Newspaper obituaries, birth or marriage announcements
  • Wills (to prove parent/child or spousal relationships)
  • Baptismal records
  • Family Bible records
  • Census records
  • Court records (such as probate records)

Secondary sources were created after the event in question.

Examples include:

  • Family history books
  • County history books
  • Oral interviews
  • Compilations of records or indexes
  • Old letters

The good news is that once you get back far enough with your research to join a lineage society, you will likely run into someone who has already joined the society using your ancestor. Most lineage societies maintain records of applications that new applicants can use. If you find an old application that was approved decades ago from someone who joined using your ancestor, you can use their research to complete your application. All you have to do is connect your family line through appropriate documentation to the generation on their application where you both begin to share ancestors. After that, you just submit the previously done research of the accepted applicant to complete your own application.

It is very rewarding to join a lineage society. Your relatives will be impressed that you did it, and even more impressed with knowledge of their own ancestry, even if they are not normally into genealogy. The pride of accomplishment when you’ve proven your ancestry, and the certainty of your line are also terrific reasons for joining as many lineage societies as you can. It took me nearly a year to complete the application for my first lineage society, but it was definitely worth it when I got that membership certificate. Now, I’m a member of two lineage societies, and will probably join more. You should, too. You’ll be really glad that you did. It’s an amazing genealogical journey to take, with many definite rewards at the end of it. Try it and see!

Will founded Ancestral Findings back in 1995. He has been involved in genealogy research for over 20 years. The thrill of the hunt, the adventure, and the excitement begin when he started investigating the meaning of his Moneymaker surname. Why I Love Genealogy (And You Should, Too!)


  • Is there someone who could help direct me to information on the Plymouth settlement and Jamestown . I have family who were there, Edward Winslow for one and don’t recall others as I’m writing. I had 13 family members on the mayflower and am a 12 th grandson to one of them. My contact info is:

    Thank you

  • I really didn’t mean to step on anyone’s toes or to imply that I was only interested in this line of the family for “prestige”…. I was just saying that after being “stuck” trying to find even one ancestor that contributed to this fine country has been very hard for me. Almost every line I have in my tree was documented as being arrived on these shores in under 4 generations, and several less generations than that! Every family has a story, and everyone is entitled to that story. If your individual part of the American story dates to pre-Plymouth Rock entry, that is absolutely wonderful!! I am happy for you!! I hope you can appreciate how hard it has been for me where most of the records for my lines have been lost due to European continent wars, or religious persecution in Russia, or the Irish potato famine . It has been a pleasure to finally find records that are not like pulling eye teeth by hand to find. So, Earline, my family, too, is mostly hard scrabble farmers, early loggers, miners, etc. Those lines do not always yield those records we like to see pop up in our search for our families stories.

  • I totally agree with Cindy has said. However, I rather take exception to your comments, Vicki, that my ancestors who were mostly poor farmers, were anything less important to the formation of this country I call my own, than your Edward Doty, Mayflower descendant. Many of my ancestors were here long before the Mayflower, and they are heros who panted VERY strong roots.

  • So true, Cindy, so true! I am finally starting down that path of joining as a 12th generation great-granddaughter of Edward Doty, Mayflower Descendant. For me, it isn’t “prestige” but delight in knowing that at least ONE side of my family line has actually been on the North American continent for more than 3 or 4 generations! When you call yourself an American, but have no real connection with the history of your country other than that a few ancestor’s immigrated, but rarely participated in anything other than hard scrabble farming or logging and barely kept the family gene pool alive, it is enticing to know you have some pretty strong roots in this fabulous country! Even though Edward Doty’s English heritage/genealogy is still to be determined, we have clear records of 11 generations of us being born, marryin’, and dying in this country and serving in wars and conflicts and representing churches and towns and becoming doctors, lawyers, candlestick makers… that is exciting!

  • Will, as a DAR member, a Mayflower Descendant, an Associated Daughter of Early Amearican Witches member, as well as a regular reader of your column, I agree with most of what you said with the exception of joining on the basis of the “prestige” factor of our ancestor. Each of these applications is founded upon a different ancestor, and each of the ancestors upon which each application was based was an average, every day person: a Virginia farmer, a London merchant, and a pious great-grandmother. Their personal prestige or the prestige of the organization never entered into my decision to join, except in that it l was the first to document the complete lineage in each case. My desire was to establish that marker for my family for future generations, and to facilitate my future research using otherwise closed resources. Each of these ancestors is our personal HERO, our family HERO, and that is where they derive their prestige. The certificate on the wall is my diploma; that and $4 buys me a cup of coffee. It’s about the journey, not the destination.

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