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Testing Your Lineage


A great way to test the validity of your research is by preparing a report for a lineage society even if you have no plans to apply. This exercise will show you if you have done good research. If you end up applying later, you will have already done the bulk of the work necessary.

NOTE: Do not contact the registrar of the lineage society unless you plan on joining!  This exercise is how you can test yourself apart from applying. Registrars spend A LOT of time getting your documentation ready for submission so please do not contact them for help unless you plan to join.

See if you can trace your line from yourself to one of your ancestors. Pick a soldier that fought in the Civil War, a soldier in the War of 1812, or a Revolutionary War soldier. If you are lucky enough to claim someone on the Mayflower as an ancestor use him/her. These are the most popular lineage societies. 

It isn’t as easy as it sounds even if you think you have a lot of documents. Documenting a person's vital events is one thing but trying to prove the familial link from parent to child is another, especially the further back in time you go. How do you know that your Marmaduke Jowers is the same Marmaduke who is named in Mordecai Jowers’s will as a surviving son?  

Here is another example. 
Let’s say you have this family group listed on the 1850 U.S. Federal census:

David Merchant, age 30, farmer, born in Georgia
Ann Merchant, age 27, born in Georgia
Wesley Merchant, age 8, born in Georgia
Marion Merchant, age 5, born in Georgia
Janie Merchant, age 3, born in Georgia
Daniel Merchant, age 1, born in Georgia

It appears that this is a husband, wife, and four children but the relationships are not specifically named. This is NOT enough to say that the listed children belong to either or both of the listed adults. It is also not enough to say that the two adults listed are actually married. A lot of people make this mistake. In the above family, the man’s wife died and his unmarried younger sister moved in to help him with the kids. It looks as though they are a married couple but they are not. One of the four children is the son of a brother whose wife died in childbirth. The father of that child felt ill equipped to raise a newborn so he handed the child over to his brother and sister to raise. So three of the children belong to David, none of the children belong to Ann, and one of the children belongs to David and Ann’s brother.

Using the same family above I can create another scenario. Ann is David’s 2nd wife. Wesley and Marion are his from his first marriage. Janie is Ann’s from her first marriage but the census taker recorded David’s surname. Daniel belongs to both of them.

Back to my original example, let’s say Mordecai Jowers left a will and in it you find, “To my son Marmaduke...” Your ancestor is Marmaduke Jowers but do you have enough to say that he is Mordecai’s son? What if you find this in the will, "To my wife, Julia..." Is this enough to say that Marmaduke's mother was Julia? The answer in both cases is no. You need more evidence. How do you know that there weren’t two Marmadukes in that area at the same time? Even though this is an unusual name you still have to treat it the same way as if his name were John Smith. How do you know that Mordecai wasn't previously married and Marmaduke is a product of that marriage?  These are the questions you will have to answer if you were really submitting a lineage society application. 

A lot of researchers err here. They neglect to prove the relationship between parent and child. Many times you will not be able to do this with direct evidence and you will have to put together an indirect evidence proof argument ("circumstantial" case). Even if you have direct evidence (a will that says, "to my son...”) that still may not be enough evidence to prove the connection.

When I joined the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) I had to submit a comprehensive report including all of the documents I had used. My application passed the local registrar and was sent to Washington, D.C. for final approval. For one of the parent-child relationships I had submitted an indirect evidence proof argument. The national registrar bounced my application back and said, "What if...?" I then added the needed information to show that her What If scenario could not be true. My application was then approved. I was very grateful to that registrar for going through my research that thoroughly. 

DAR certificate
(click image to enlarge)

I highly recommend that you try this. You will need source citations for every fact AND for every child-parent link. If you don't have direct evidence then you will need to put together an indirect evidence proof argument. 

Learn more about evidence analysis

Learn more about the Genealogical Proof Standard

Learn more about lineage societies


Michele Simmons Lewis, CG® is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News. You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.



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My husband noted several soldiers in the American Revolutionary War with the last name of Betz which is not a common German name. How do you trace to see if he has any lineage with these soldiers? Should you go forward or start backwards?

While I agree with the thought, I would also caution those that have no intention of actually joining the Societies. The ones that help with the initial applications take a LOT of personal time. If very many people start applying only to have their work/research verified by another person, and then do not actually apply, the societies tend to lose their volunteers due to frustration. In some cases, the local chapters are small and struggle to keep volunteers in their chapters.

You need to be careful working from the Patriot forward in time. You will probably be setting yourself up for grief because you could do a lot of research and get nowhere. However, I would take a quick look at all of the Betz men and just familiarize myself with them as far as where they were born, the state they fought for, who they married, the list of known children, and where they died etc. If you haven't found the DAR Patriot Index that is where I would start. Here is the link

I did a quick search and they have no entries for Betz. They have 43 for Betts. 43 is a lot. I would just be skimming over these names just looking for place names and just keep that information in the back of your mind.

You need to concentrate on working your husband's Betz line backwards. There is no guarantee at all that your Betz line has a male that the SAR recognizes as a Patriot. Since this is your husband's line you will be following the guidelines of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) and not the DAR. If he is interested in membership he will have to find a direct-line Betz that is eligible (not a side relation like a 5th greatuncle)

If you have a membership to Ancestry, they have a database that will be helpful (once you think you have identified a Patriot)

U.S., Sons of the American Revolution Membership Applications, 1889-1970

There are 19 Betz entries. Why do they have Betz and the DAR only has Betts? Those names are interchangeable. Chances are you will find the name spelled both ways for each man when you examine the records. I found several men on both lists. The DAR has Betts and the SAR has Betz.

I would NOT ask for help from the DAR (or whatever society) unless you plan on applying. This exercise is to test YOUR skill not theirs. You can find out their requirements without applying. Some of these societies will do a lot of the work for you and that defeats the purpose of testing yourself.

I would also caution that a paper trail does NOT provide 100% proof that the documents are correct. There are MANY cases of non-paternal events where the paper trail does not match reality. For example, I was able to trace my paternal grandmothers line back to the mid-1700s. But DNA evidence is now showing that her father was NOT her father.

Lineage societies are just now thinking about maybe allowing DNA evidence. They are not quite there yet.

It appears the link to NEHGS is broken, I have been going in
Thanks for the alert to Gen Soc of Mayflower challenges.

I couldn't find the original article. When I did a search it only brought up the NEHGS commercial pages that offer to research your line for you which defeats the purpose.

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