I’ve been hesitant to rock this boat, hoping this ship would right itself, but I’ve decided that this vessel needs to be swayed a bit with the hope of providing encouragement and perhaps positive motivation for change.
Based on my ancestors, I qualify to join multiple lineage societies, including both the DAR and the Mayflower Society.
I checked the qualifications for both, and did not apply to the DAR, but did inquire about membership to the Mayflower Association for several reasons:
- 2020 is the 400th anniversary of Plymouth Colony, meaning there should be lots going on next year.
- I descend from Pilgrims; William Brewster, Patience Brewster, William’s wife Mary Brewster, Stephen Hopkins and Gyles Hopkins.
- I felt that my expertise might be beneficial to the organization, in multiple ways, especially given the upcoming opportunities to recruit new members in 2020.
The first thing I ran into was a brick wall, not an ancestral brick wall, but an organizational one.
Lineage societies require your birth certificate.
Birth certificates are the most personal document you will ever have. Birth certificates are utilized for passports and are the premier document, meaning the most highly prized, for identity theft. Once compromised, you can never obtain a different birth certificate. It’s not like a credit card that you can cancel and have reissued.
Furthermore, you don’t actually need a birth certificate if you have tested the appropriate parent – and I have.
In fact, here’s my predicted relationship to my deceased mother at Family Tree DNA.
My mother is deceased, so her identity can no longer be compromized. I don’t have any problem providing her birth and death certificates in addition to an obituary that states that I’m her daughter – plus the genetic evidence of course. In fact, I could join the Mayflower DNA Project, and as administrators, they could see that relationship for themselves.
Furthermore, birth certificates are sometimes wrong – very wrong.
When Birth Certificates are Wrong
Birth certificates are wrong or misleading in the following circumstances:
- People who are adopted and don’t know it
- People who are adopted and know who their relevant biological parent is but have no access to a birth certificate showing their biological parents
- People whose parent is not who they believe it is
In some circumstances, the child’s birth certificate isn’t incorrect, but the lineage may be incorrect when people’s ancestors beyond their parents are not the recorded individuals. Yes, I’m referring to the dreaded NPE, non-paternal event or not parent expected. You can read more about that here.
Aside from the issues above, there’s the issue of security when storing the birth certificate and privacy associated with the parents named on the birth certificate, especially if they are living.
Security and Privacy
Let’s take the issue of privacy first. Let’s say, for example, that an applicant’s parents weren’t married. The relevant parent is the applicant’s mother, not the father, so the identity of the father (or lack thereof) is irrelevant for lineage society membership.
The father’s privacy is compromised, along with the fact that the society now knows that the applicant’s parents weren’t married at the time the applicant was born. That’s entirely irrelevant to the application, and an invasion of the privacy of all 3 people involved.
Requiring applicants to submit a birth certificate, especially when genetic forms of identification are now readily available, forces the applicant to disclose information not relevant to joining a lineage society.
Frankly, anything beyond confirming an applicant’s connection to the relevant parent is none of anyone’s business.
Second, the applicant has absolutely no idea who is going to have access to their birth certificate in the future, once submitted, where it will be stored and security precautions taken, if any.
When inquiring about birth certificates at the Mayflower Society, I was told then are kept in locked cabinets but would probably be scanned soon.
While I’m sure this was supposed to make me feel better, it struck terror into my heart.
Often, organizations are slow to adopt technology as a whole, and when they do, they often aren’t aware of and don’t utilize safety and security precautions. Organizations owe it to their membership to stay current with security requirements and maintain up-do-date security measures. So, while I was already concerned enough about who has access to the filing cabinet key, I’m terrified about savvy hackers taking blatant advantage of an ill-secured or unsecured computer.
The sad part is that today, this is really a moot point because with DNA, many times we don’t need birth certificates for proof – and the only reason to continue doing what has always been done is ignorance, inertia and resistance to change.
Because birth certificates without genetic evidence are considered as the only accepted proof of a relationship to the applicant’s parents, this means that many adoptees have joined believing they are a linear descendant of the ancestor in question. Legally, they are.
Each organization needs to consider whether they want to honor linear paper descent as membership criteria or whether they are looking for linear biological descent. Or perhaps both.
Today, some adoptees who discover their biological parents would be eligible if they had not been adopted – but they are not eligible for membership because they don’t have a birth certificate with the biological parent’s name as their parent.
This creates an awkward situation, at best.
People who should be able to join, can’t, because of the birth certificate issue. And some people who are not biological descendants can join with no problem.
Is this the intention?
This is not small consideration. According to the University of Oregon, 5 million living people in the US are adopted, with 2-4% of all families having adopted, and 2.5% of children under the age of 18 being adoptees.
The DAR requires direct linear descent from a Revolutionary War Veteran. Like with the Mayflower Society, I won’t provide my birth certificate, so I’m not eligible to join.
The DAR has for many years accepted Y DNA at 37 markers as a portion of proof. According to this document, one close relative of the application must match the Y DNA of a descendant of an already “proven” patriot exactly at 37 markers.
This protocol is flawed in multiple ways.
Let’s say we have 2 men who descend from a common patrilineal ancestor, but we’re not sure which ancestor.
Today the Y DNA of these men matches at some level. STR mutations do not occur on a schedule and the reality of when/how often mutations occur varies widely. It’s certainly possible, and even likely, that in the roughly 9 generations, using a 25-year generation, since that patriot was born, that a marker mutation occurred. That would disqualify the applicant from using DNA evidence.
Conversely, if I’m a male Estes applicant and I want to apply to the DAR based on my descent from George Estes, my Y DNA may match the descendants of George at some level whether or not I’m descended from George or George’s brother, father or uncle. Y DNA really can only disprove a direct paternal relationship, not prove it.
In other words, there’s no or little analysis involved, simply a rule that doesn’t make sense.
Let’s take a look at this example.
George Estes is the patriot, born in 1761. George had 3 brothers, Josiah, Bartlett and Winston.
George’s father, Moses II, had two brothers, John and William, who also had sons.
I’ve shown only one son’s line for both John and William, and I’ve named each man’s descendants the same name as his – for clarity.
John R. Estes, descendant of George was our original tester, and therefore, every other person who applies and submits Y DNA MUST match John R. Estes exactly at 37 markers.
George’s other descendant, George, comes along, but he does not match John R. exactly, having had one mutation someplace in the line between the patriot and George the tester’s birth. Therefore, George the tester’s Y DNA cannot be used – even though he is a descendant of George the patriot.
Based on my experience, it’s more likely that they won’t match at 37 markers, after 8 or 9 generations, than they will. That’s certainly the case in the Estes surname project.
In reality, in colonial families, everyone named their sons after their father, grandfather and often, brothers – so the names in all of these generations are likely to be the same, meaning John, William, George and Moses would likely be sprinkled in each generation of every line – causing confusion when attempting to genealogically connect back to the right Estes ancestor.
We see in our example chart, that by chance, William actually does match John R. exactly at 37 markers, even though George doesn’t. Therefore, if William was trying to use DNA to prove descent from George, even though that’s inaccurate, the Y DNA evidence would be allowed. So would Winston, descendant of George’s brother.
The only three that were accurate, based on the full 37 match rule is John, who does not descend from George, Josiah who was adopted and Bartlett who does descend from the same Estes line, but has too many mutations at that level to be considered a match to John R. Estes at all.
In other words, the only real descendant of the patriot is excluded, where 2 men not descended from the patriot would be included if they thought they descended from George.
Furthermore, one can be descended from George through a daughter and still qualify for DAR membership. If I believed, due to the Estes surname and other evidence, like a mention of a grandchild by name in George’s estate, that I descended from George’s son, but I actually descend through George’s daughter who was not married and gave her child the Estes surname – I would still technically qualify to join but the non-matching Y DNA would disqualify me today.
Another issue is if the original tester had been adopted or descended from a non-Estes male, every future tester would be compared to the wrong Y DNA and while the incorrect Y DNA would continue to be the reference sample for the patriot – even after it could be proven that was inaccurate due to multiple matching tests from multiple sons of George.
Rules without thoughtful analysis simply don’t work well. We know a whole lot more today than when these rules were put in place.
Parental Autosomal DNA is Definitive
Parental autosomal DNA is definitive unless you are dealing with an identical twin.
In addition to the actual match itself, you can see that parents and children match on the entire length of every chromosome.
Here’s my Mom’s chromosome browser match with me. There is no question that we are parent and child. Furthermore, looking at DNAPainter’s shared cM project tool, we can see that there is no other relationship that has the same match level as a parent/child relationship. My match with my mother is 3384 cM.
Could someone go to a great deal of trouble to change a siblings name to their name or change their child’s name to their parent’s name to “fake” the identities of the people involved? Yes, they could if they had proper access to all accounts.
However, I can do exactly the same thing with a paper birth certificate, even with a seal.
My DNA test matching my mother, in conjunction with my mother’s birth and death certificates, in addition to her obituary identifying me as a child is about the most definitive evidence you could ever produce – far, far, more reliable than a birth certificate which would state that my mother is my mother even if I’m adopted.
This scenario works for adoptees as well in multiple scenarios, such as full siblings who clearly share both parents. In this case, if the non-adopted sibling is a lineage society member, then based on a DNA match at the full sibling level, the adopted individual should qualify for membership too. This isn’t the only example, just the first one that came to mind.
Thoughtful analysis and understanding of DNA is required.
Distant DNA is Not Black and White
While a parent-child autosomal relationship is evident, other autosomal relationships require analysis by someone experienced with that type of evaluation.
Furthermore, Y DNA can be deceptive as well, because the extent of what Y DNA can tell you is that two men descend from a common ancestor, not which common ancestor, nor how long ago, with very few exceptions. The exception would be when the actual Revolutionary War veteran experienced a SNP mutation that his sons have, but his brothers don’t.
However, no lineage societies that I know of utilize Y DNA SNP or even autosomal DNA evidence – even at the most basic level of parent/child.
With increasingly advanced testing, analysis versus line-in-the-sand rules needs to be implemented.
If lineage societies are going to utilize DNA testing, they need to stay current with technology and utilize best practices of genetic evidence.
Lineage Society Suggestions
Lineage societies need to re-evaluate their goals with applicants’ privacy and security in mind, in addition to how they can utilize genetic and other evidence to replace the existing birth certificate requirement – both in terms of traditional applicants like myself, as well as adoptees.
I have the following suggestions to be implemented as steps in a comprehensive solution:
- Decide as a matter of policy whether applicants are allowed to join based on their paper trail descendancy, or their biological descendancy, or both. Paper trail only, meaning no additional evidence would be considered, would allow membership by children adopted into descendant families, but not children adopted out of descendant families. If genetic descendants are accepted, this allows children adopted out of descendant families to join once the relationship is discovered. If both types of membership are embraced, that avoids the issue of how to handle people who have already joined and subsequently discover they or their ancestors are/were adopted.
- Determine the course of action when a line discovers that their Y DNA does not match that of the ancestor in question, especially given that the person could still potentially be a linear descendant through a female who gave the child her (the patriot’s) surname.
- Obsolete the requirement for birth certificates at all when possible. If a DNA test proving a relationship can be substituted in lieu of a birth certificate, accept that as the preferred form of evidence.
- Obsolete the requirement to physically submit any applicant’s birth certificate. Two individuals viewing a certificate with the relevant parent’s information exposed, and the non-relevant parent obscured, should suffice when no other avenue can be utilized. This eliminates the storage and privacy issues and requirements.
- Implement a system that records the fact that current members and applicants have submitted a paper birth certificate that includes the parent of interest, then shred the existing birth certificates for anyone living. Without proof of death, this is presumed to be anyone under 100 years of age.
- Allow additional proofs like parents’ obituaries instead of children’s birth certificates. This can easily be verified using publicly available sources such as Newspapers.com., etc.
- Utilize Y DNA primarily to eliminate a line, and only when the descendants don’t match at 111 markers or are a completely different base haplogroup, such as haplogroup C versus R. Evaluate Y DNA matches along with other evidence, specifically looking for a mutation trail, if appropriate.
- Remove the out-of-date requirement for future descendants to be required to match the Y DNA of an already “paper proven” ancestor. Paper can easily be wrong.
- Revamp the DNA policies and procedures to incorporate qualified analysis. Provide guidelines instead of rules.
- Retain a competent genetic genealogist to analyze applications that include DNA evidence, understanding that a CG, certified genealogist, certificate has no bearing on or evidence of the competence of that individual in DNA analysis. There is no genetic genealogy certification and many people who consult in the autosomal space are not experienced in the Y and mitochondrial DNA arenas.
The Alternate Future
Many older genealogical organizations are struggling for life. For the Mayflower Society, 2020 is a banner year. I hope they take advantage of the opportunity by not hobbling themselves with out-of-date requirements that are unnecessarily risky to applicants.
Younger people won’t join otherwise. Out of date and unreasonably burdensome membership requirements will cause membership to shrink over time until the organization shrivels and dies, going the way of the dinosaurs.
I would like to join multiple lineage organizations, but that won’t happen until the organizations update their policies to utilize widely and inexpensively available technology, along with associated best practices.
If you’d like to see these suggested changes implemented, and especially if you would be willing to help, make your voices heard to lineage societies, especially if you are already a member.
These organizations play an important role in the preservation of the records and information of our ancestors. I hope they choose to adapt.
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I just requested information from tbe daughters of the War of 1812. I asked specifically about birth certs as my father is living…. The will not accept anything else to prove our connection, or any parent child unless it’s prior to certificates being issued. They even want my mother’s BC (non war line) and mine and my parents marriage certificates.
When asked how It was used and stored the state registrar reviews tge application and sends it to the national club, and Does Not Know how it’s all used, stored and accessed.
I have not pursued this any further now. Too many risks.
This happened just last week, so seeing your article today was timely. I hope all societies read this too!
Really interesting reading.
Nice summary Roberta, I’ve had similar experiences and concerns. You took the words out of my mouth in regard to these societies on life support and who would want to join given the issues as you’ve spelled out! Thanks I love this one.
My female ancestor gave birth to 7 Bartlett children. The Mayflower Society won’t accept her because she was not of Mayflower lineage, yet they accepted the original Bartlett who arrived late, 3 years later. His first wife was from the original families, so he was allowed in. It’s ridiculous because his DNA isn’t Mayflower, so he shouldn’t be counted, but is! My female ancestor, his second wife is not counted. This a society still living in in the 17th century, when women were property, not persons. I wrote to the society, strongly suggesting they change their qualifications. They are stuck and therefore their “lineages” are wrong. Misogynistic.
All lineage societies have strict rules for joining. It makes no difference if it was a man, woman, or child, as long as they have living descendants who qualified as a “Mayflower pilgrim.” There are no Bartletts who are qualifying Mayflower descendants. “The Mayflower Society is a hereditary organization of individuals who have documented their descent from at least one of the 102 passengers who arrived on the Mayflower in 1620 at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts.” For a list of the qualifying ancestors see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayflower_Society. The Mayflower Society is definitely NOT misogynistic!
As a current active member in DAR, I know our organization would welcome someone involved in genealogy such as yourself. The current application now states “biological” child in hopes of keeping membership in the correct lineage. There are ways around the applicant submitting a birth certificate – however that is indeed the simplest method. The archives for DAR have diligently been improved in keeping up w/ technology. Access to applicant-submitted citations for living individuals has been kept private except to those assisting the organization. If you are interested in joining DAR, please contact NSDAR online for membership info and a volunteer will be assigned to assist you, especially w/ your concerns for confidentiality w/ your personal information. DAR will celebrate 129 years of existence this month – education, preservation and patriotism still are vital to our growing organization. I am a volunteer w/ Task Force 250 working in anticipation of increased growth upon the celebration of our country turning 250 years old. A member such as yourself would find many areas to assist our awesome organization! Oct 5, 2019, our 1,000,000 member will be accepted, NSDAR would welcome questions concerning membership requirements!
Joan, I have tried joining the DAR by proving my relationship to my father through DNA. It is not accepted at this time. I encourage you to work within the organization to correct this oversight.
I appreciate your recommendations, AND, you will be pleased to know that DAR already shreds BCs and other documents in the first 2 or 3 generations once the staff genealogist has confirmed the paper trail link. They do scan and save the later generation proofs but not the first 3 generations. In addition, you may be relieved to know that DAR started the NSDAR DNA Project at FTDNA a few years ago. At first, it was focused on y-DNA but the standards were so high only one application, if my knowledge is correct, was ever proven via y-DNA. Finally, the new national administration has recently announced that their goal is to begin using autosomal DNA within the next couple of years, which many of us have applauded and actually pleaded for ! An interim experiment has illustrated the strength of autosomal. Those of us who have joined the project now are provided a list of DNA cousins we have within the project. Am delighted that I now have several dozen cousins ranging from 2nd back to 5th-Remote in the project.
Sounds like forward movement!!
Thanks for this detailed post, Roberta! I will pass it along to my local lineage society chapter. I hope we can make a difference.
I hope so too. Thank you.
In 2010 I asked the then chief genealogist of the DAR if she was interested in seeing evidence that some approved lines of descent were incorrect. Her eyes lit up. However, as soon as I mentioned the other 3 letter word starting with “D”, it was like she mentally covered her ears so that she would hear no evil. Basically some individuals who had been admitted to the DAR based on the patriotic service of my 5th great-grandfather were not even in the same yDNA haplogroup with him and could not have shared his patrilineal line of descent for at least the last several thousand years — long before any of us had surnames. As she regained her composure she assured me that the society would welcome DOCUMENTARY evidence but could not consider DNA results. Fortunately she retired soon thereafter and the society as made some steps forward in that regard but much remains.
You identified the key issue when you said the societies need to “decide as a matter of policy whether applicants are allowed to join based on their paper trail descendancy, or their biological descendancy, or both.”
The DAR DOES NOT EVER EVER EVER require you to send in your original birth certificate —– and they DO accept autosomal DNA testing —— there is a new DAR project/cohort of current DAR volunteers/members — a prospective member can test their autosomal DNA against the cohort — if they are a match then hopefully they can complete their application down the same family lines —- the first accepted member using autosomal DNA occurred earlier this year —- the woman was adopted and had been trying to find her family and join the DAR for years —— I WAS THERE —— it was amazing!! Contact the DAR and they will get you in touch with a Chapter — they will help you!! DAR.org
That’s in direct conflict with what I was told about birth certificates. Maybe the key word here is “original.” I’m not sending a copy either.
I agree completely with not sending an original birth certificate to ANYONE — I was born in the Territory of AK — my birth certificate can never be duplicated — I paid for a ‘copy’ from the State of AK — that’s what I sent in for my passport proof — DAR does not want originals of anything –L:)
Lori, the national membership director just informed my local DAR membership chair that autosomal DNA would not be an acceptable “proof” for membership. Perhaps you could give us the contact name and number/email of the DAR representative that enabled this DNA-proven member to join?
The hoops the societies require are a farce. You have outlined one. A long time ago I saw a society descendant chart for a known ancestor. It was not right and the person named had been proven not right many years before but since that person had already been approved new members were being accepted based on the previous “proof”. And that’s when I decided there were other clubs I could join where membership actually meant something. My other reason is paying for a piece of paper that says I’m – what? A Very Important Person? Maybe there are places/people who think this is a big deal. What are the latest figures for Mayflower descendants? Thousands? Millions? Who will I impress with that piece of paper? I have ancestors on both sides of the Revolution. Does anyone care? Do I need a piece of paper on the entry way wall proclaiming my background? I won’t waste my time and certainly not my money proving I’m worthy of joining a very exclusive club that has no benefit to society.
I was hoping for educational opportunities relative to the Mayflower passengers. I went back to Leiden and Rotterdam where they were. Next year I go to Scrooby. I’m also going back to Plymouth Plantation and I thought with the 2020 big year there might be good opportunities.
My sentiments exactly, Roberta! The Mayflower Society, along with many lineage societies, offer excellent opportunities for reasearch and for experiencing history at a deeper level. I also, for one, like, as an adoptee, to be linked formally to these brave men and women who served as the founders and defenders of our country. Those who join these organizations appear to have similar feelings, making them wonderful communities of which to be a part.
If Lineage societies were to modernize, they might gain new membership and survive. I’ve never contacted them for multiple reasons. My sister was interested and I heard enough through her.
I come from Elizabeth Fisher, Stephen Hopkins’ second wife through their daughter Damaris Hopkins. Stephen & Elizabeth were my 12x great-grandparents. We’re half something or other.
I also come from Damaris’ father-in-law Francis Cooke and 6 other pilgrims. James Chilton, his wife and daughter Mary Chilton, William Mullins, his daughter Priscilla Mullins and her husband John Alden.
I was working on Francis Cooke’s line for the Mayflower Society about 2 years ago but ran into 3 missing gaps. I closed one, working on closing the other two. 🙂
Thanks Roberta. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately too. Time for a big change in the lineage societies’ procedures. As usual, you covered the topic very well.
Glad to see that the DAR is now accepting biological and not just legitimately born children. I always thought it wrong to not accept someone for membership that had “ancestry” – even if adopted/illegitimate, if they shared the values of the organization and wished to be a member. I used to be a member but dropped out because so many members seemed snooty based on how many ancestor bars they had on their ribbon, and I didn’t like a couple of the things they were using my membership fees to lobby for politically. I also know of a relative of mine that added a line that was not proven yet and then was disproved. I doubt if that was ever corrected.
Your dues could not have been used “to lobby for politically,” as the “DAR is a non-profit, non-political volunteer women’s service organization dedicated to promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and securing America’s future through better education for children.”
Bravo Roberta! Both an interesting and timely article. I greatly enjoyed the read. Thank you.
This should apply to death certificates too when used to verify a blank space for the father in a birth certificate. Relatives fill in the deceased’s father only as they think they know, similarly in obituaries. My own fathers unknown father an example. They used his stepfathers name which all descendants now use. We will forever continue unknowingly with the wrong name even though relatively recent. DNA proof by elimination of other lines would be the only way except, only my female mt & FF DNA is done. Unfortunately all lines from England. Males all deceased except 2 of his male grandchildren who won’t test. 3 years trying to identify from my low number of matches. Almost impossible. Could even be endogamy or end of his line. I would like to join a name group purely to prove we are not who we were told we are. Stepfather to young to sire my father.
The days of not wanting to rock boats are long gone. Your feedback is appreciated and welcome. I’m one of the Vice Chairs on the NSDAR DNA Network Committee. Your post was shared in our Facebook group this evening and I just want you to know we hear you. We are listening and we hear that our members and prospective members are hungry for the inclusion of autosomal DNA and a broader set of DNA guidelines. It is a work in progress.
I joined DAR in 2016 as a challenge. I knew there was a major issue with my maternal grandfather’s birth certificate which named a fake father. My grandfather was born in the segregated South and there was no way they were going to pair the name of a white man and an unmarried black woman on the same legal document together. So my grandfather’s birth certificate was potentially the only thing standing in the way of me becoming a member of the NSDAR. Except, what if – they (the NSDAR) were willing to consider the Y-DNA I had collected on my uncle and my grandfather’s half nephew who outwardly claimed that “Uncle Bubba” was indeed the son of his grandfather.
Fast forward to the happy ending… Although my application was not considered an “official” NSDAR DNA verified application by the current guidelines, DNA analysis was included with my application along with affidavits from my uncle and half 1C1R. You could say it rocked the boat at HQ as well, not to mention my patriot ancestor, James Collins was a Commander for the Privateer Cumberland. I guess boat rocking runs in my DNA. 🙂
I hope that you will join someday too, Roberta.
I love this! Carry our torch!
When my great grandson was playing sports on the /elementary/middle school level, a birth certificate was required. This is 2010. i protested…
I definitely hear you on this — and partly from the other side. I once considered joining “The General Society of the War of 1812”. This was on the basis of a man named John Weaver, who was supposedly my 3rd great grandfather. What’s more, I wouldn’t have too difficult a time documenting all the links.
The links are these. From John, we have his son James Albert Weaver (Sr.); James Sr.’s son James Albert Weaver, Jr.; James Jr.’s son Milford Pearl Weaver; Milford’s daughter Marilyn Pearl Weaver; and Marilyn’s son — me.
The only problem is, DNA evidence strongly suggests that James Albert Weaver, Jr., was *not* my great grandfather, nor was his wife Effie Sarah (Koch) Weaver my great grandmother.
In fact, the same evidence makes it pretty clear just who my biological great grandparents — my mother’s paternal grandparents — actually were: George Edward Babcock and his wife Hannah Louise (Muncy) Babcock.
And not only do I not *descend* from James A. Weaver, Jr., I don’t appear to be related to him or to his wife *at all*. And that being the case, John Weaver was not my 3rd great grandfather. So while I could probably still submit a “provable” application to “The General Society of the War of 1812” — why would I?
I suppose the lesson is, documentary evidence is great if you have it — but only if it’s actually the truth. For my money, DNA evidence is much better — even if it isn’t necessarily accepted by the various societies. Go where the truth takes you, I say, or else don’t leave the house.
Couldn’t help but guffaw! Someone earlier asked rhetorically how many descendants of Mayflower passengers there must be today . . . easily in the tens of millions. Just think of the outside range . . . Women regularly had more than ten kids for many generations and, at least in my case, eleven generations between me and several Mayflower passengers. 10 raised to the 11th is . . . 100 million? Sure, it may not be that large but it demonstrates how exclusive the potential group isn’t.
I also chortled at the fact that you noted the errors that might creep into a birth certificate. I may have missed it (I stopped reading after a bit) but you don’t mention the many errors in both *death certificates* and obituaries. When my mother died and I was the informant for her death certificate, the funeral home director said he was amazed at my knowledge because most people can’t come anywhere close to the full information. He then proceeded to make errors in the information when he typed it up. And for Pete’s sake . .. do they really accept obituaries as “proof” of descent? Sigh . . .
And if you really want to have fun, just look at the proof provided for membership in the Sons of the American Revolution – you can find them on Ancestry. But I don’t have to worry, all my ancestors had left for Canada prior to the Revolution so I don’t qualify anyway. 😉
Aren’t there lineage societies in English Canada as well? Roberta’s comments should probably be heard on the north side of the border as well.
We have family and genealogical associations in Quebec, but it’s not a snobbish thing. It’s about the love of history, which is probably a better approach to genealogy, and I don’t **think** that the admission requirements are a security risk.
Belonging to a lineage society is exclusive in the sense that a lot of work is often required to get that far in building a family tree, especially if the descent is matrilineal. It’s way to make an achievement official, and it’s a way to contribute to the database so that this research isn’t lost if the worst happens to the genealogist.
Got excited earlier this year when a Badge appeared on my FTDNA webpage saying “Mayflower Descendent”. Wow, I thought, how neat! Thought it was going to tell who I descended from – it didn’t. Further investigation into the organization on how to become a member revealed I would have to submit my birth certificate. I didn’’t feel comfortable with that requirement and didn’t pursue the matter any further. Seems though, if DNA suggest or says that I descend from a person that was on the Mayflower that would be proof enough. Maybe not.
“Excellent article!”, says this member of DAR. And as Adrienne said above, the DAR DNA ship is “righting” itself. But like everything else, it is a process. Your suggestions are timely and have caught the attention of DAR at the national level. Thanks for being such a wonderful educator and instrument of change.
I have been trying to apply for my Mayflower membership but I can’t find my grandparents marriage certificate. They are both on moms birth certificate and they are shown as married in the census and I have dna matches to both sides of their family so I don’t know what to do. I am not rich and can’t hire a researcher and even if I could they may not find what I need. I wish there were alternatives for other documents or evidence in lieu of the things they ask for.
I loved this one!
As a non-American I have always viewed the urge by my American colleagues to belong to this type of society with a wry smile. Unlike Roberta, most I’ve come across didn’t join to aid the group, but as a status symbol, as if having an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War or arrived on the Mayflower makes them someone special.
I feel the same about Americans who are forever trying to prove that their family has the right to a Coat of Arms. My research of Heraldry for an article for the Lost Colony Research Group (never finished or published as the newsletter ceased to be) revealed that George Washington himself said he was against Americans having Coats of Arms, pointing out that it was liberation from the British class society for which they had fought. But the Americans didn’t listen and today have their own Heraldic Society — so there’s another one you can join.
And I haven’t yet touched on the idiotic criteria needed to prove you belong which is the topic of Roberta’s blog..
Here in Canada we have the United Empire Loyalist Society of Canada for those whose ancestors living in what is now the United States of America remained loyal to their King and moved to Upper Canada rather than become a traitor. While membership may be granted to an applicant who supports the aims and purposes of the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada you can also apply for a Certificate. The criteria are outlined on their website (http://www.uelac.org/membership.php) . And they clearly state that “Being a proved Loyalist descendant confers no special status in Canadian or other society, but many members use the post-nominal letters “UE” after their name, in consequence of Lord Dorchester’s Order in Council in 1789, conferring recognition of the service of the Loyalists in defense of “The Unity of Empire.”
Maybe the DAR, the Mayflower society etc. could learn something from this organization.
Somehow I’d rather brag I was descended from a Loyalist than a traitor. There’s always two sides to every coin.
Canada does have a Loyalist lineage society. It’s REALLY difficult to break those walls since the documentation for those generations is very thin, so the society certainly is important. Maybe you should consider joining in order to finance a good cause.
I don’t know what this lineage society’s culture is. You could check it out for comparison. 🙂
Sorry, I had not finished reading your post. It is weird that the U.S. has so many organizations that emphasize class. Look at all the VIP events, for instance.
European starts who make movies in Hollywood have mentioned this on many occasions. If you are not an A-lister, there are different events for you. They are Brits, and even though they still have that class structure in their society, they call it weird.
It should be enough that you are so accomplished as a genealogist that you broke through X walls and managed to prove your ascent to this particular person. That’s how you attract people who do real research and care about history, and that’s how you build a membership that will continue the work.
I do not qualify, Marie. My English parents immigrated to Canada with their families after WWI. However, I would be proud to call myself a descendant of a United Empire Loyalist as they are the backbone of the part of Canada I live in.
In many states in America, maybe all, it is illegal to copy birth certificates, driver’s licenses and social security cards. And yet it is being done by employers, medical facilities staff and apparently by organizations who have no legal right to request a copy. They are violating the rights of perspective members. The obit stating you are your mother’s daughter is as much as they can ethically request. And should be more than enough proof. Actually your word should be enough to prove your mother!
Thanks for bringing this matter to attention. Maybe someone is reading who will listen and correct the requirements. I would never join a club that asked for my birth certificate, etc. Not even a copy. And these organizations really are clubs. They take themselves too seriously to think they have the right to request your personal documents!
Members should stand against such invasiveness!
Very interesting article. I have not applied to any lineage societies. I have considered it and may qualify for one or more but I don’t know if it’s worth the cost and trouble to me. Now, after reading this, it could be that some members who have gone through the trouble and expense of “proofs” may find that the “proofs” could be inaccurate. Accurate or not, membership means a great deal to many and I hope that they are all happy with their memberships. It could be that at some point requirements might change for some societies. The paper trails showing descent from ancestors (but NOT DNA) may eventually be enough for most societies.
Several years ago when I began to create my tree and investigate my ancestry, my Father let me in on a secret. His “Father”, the man I knew and loved, was not his biological Father! His Father, my Grandfather, was his Mother’s second husband and he, my Father, was a son of the first husband! Well, I can see how that could exclude me from any number of societies! OTOH, I have no idea if either man was a descendant from any acceptable society ancestor any way. It’s Mother’s ancestors who fought in the various wars. This means that I could probably qualify for a few societies through Mother. Father’s ancestors (of both men) were all Europeans anyway. Maybe I can qualify for some Foreign War societies – Lol!
I belong to the Jamestowne Society. In February 2015 their “DNA Policy” was adopted and is listed in their July 2019 Register of Qualifying Seventeenth Century Ancestors and states: “DNA may be used only as collateral or supplementary evidence.” My Jamestowne Society Qualified Ancestor Joseph Bridger’s line is in question as the Register states: “DNA evidence questions the NC Bridger lines as descendants of Joseph.” That is because there are two distinct and unrelated groups of men who are members of the Bridger Y-DNA project who have been tested who state that they both descend from Joseph Bridger, and of course that cannot be possible. So it then becomes a matter of documentation. The two different groups of descendants believe that they have provable documentation. However, the NC Bridger line is “closed” for membership in the Jamestowne Society.
Someone mentioned the Mayflower Descendant “badge” on FTDNA and that the “DNA should be enough”. That isn’t so clear cut, either. They gave me one of those Mayflower Descendant badges, also, based on my mtDNA. Although it provided me some mildly interesting info, it isn’t actually true that I’m a Mayflower Descendant. Instead, it seems that I and one of the Mayflower Passengers share a common ancestor in the more distant past. Looking at my other exact matches, quite of a few of them also have the Mayflower Descendant badge, but their families appear to be much more recent immigrants, or never left Scandinavia, which is where the evidence suggests our MRCA hailed from – well before the Mayflower set sail, it would seem.
I know what you mean. My father and grandparents always were proud we were descendants from the Mayflower BECAUSE my great Aunt Olive had “done her work as a genealogist”. Come to find out that, no, somehow she crossed lines, and OUR ancestor actually was the BROTHER of said passenger, but that does not COUNT. Then I found out we had several other “brothers or sisters” that were also on the Mayflower, BUT – NOT DESCENDED!!1 Oh well. Doesn’t matter. My brother had his Y test done, and we ARE direct descendants of Richard Pace of Jamestown, the “Man who foiled a Jamestown Massacre” (read the book). As a matter of fact, both my father AND brother have the name of: Richard Pace, and in MY book, a settler who came here in 1607 sure beats one on a boat that came in 1620! SO… Jamestowne Society here I come….
Thanks for writing this. In the past few months I’ve run into some of the problems you brought up, myself. I have 2 Revolutionary War ancestors on my mother’s side, through her mother’s line. My mother, however, was formally adopted by her father’s 2nd wife. The process removed her birth mother from her birth certificate. That removed my ability to provide a paper trail of descent. My mother, her birth mother, and I have all taken autosomal tests, so descent could easily be proven that way if it was permitted. I had hoped to surprise my daughters with a membership at Christmas this year. At least now I know, thanks to one of the comments above, that I may be able to use DNA in the future.
I have maternal lineage that would qualify myself and my daughters, grandchildren, for SAR, DAR, Mayflower Society, War of 1812, and more.
However, as a late in life discovered adoptee, none of us will ever be able to join unless my DNA connection to my birth mother is allowed. A birth certificate is NOT and option for me because NO ONE born in and adopted in Washington, D.C. prior to 1960 that I am aware of, has EVER obtained an OBC from this jurisdiction.
I’m 100% with you in that these Societies need to do some soul searching, and decide who they want as members.
Since I was adopted AND my original birth certificate is incorrect because my mother falsely identifed her husband as my father which was disproved by DNA, I cannot apply based on official records. Also I cannot obtain a copy of my original birth certificate as it is sealed by the State of Calif. However, because my adopted mother’s famiily is documented back to the Mayflower and the Aldens, I could apply on that basis. Seems very backward.
Thanks for the interesting article.
Thank you for exactly this topic. I have been doing genealogy since 1992 (I started as a research buddy with my grandpa). On my birth certificate, it says unknown for father. Obviously, they certainly weren’t married. I have since proven with dna and research who it was and am now in contact with that side of my living family. I’d really like to join a few lineage societies based on my personal historical interests and have felt stymied to even attempt it.
DAR allows paternity tests in case you have traced your father’s linage back to a Patriot of the Am Rev. You can also join via your mother’s lineage if she has known ancestors that far back and you can prove patriotic service, civil service, or military service for the American Revolution. If you choose to go through your mother’s line, a simple note from you along with your proof of birth parent(s) would allow you to leave off your father altogether. In a couple years or so, autosomal DNA will become part of the proof process. Details on that are yet unknown.
And, if you can find a female patriot (I have a couple I have proven), that is even more fun!
My mom’s three different birth records knocked us out of joining anything. She (born in 1918) has first a midwife’s certificate (have the original) which has one variation of her first & middle names plus real father’s name but not her real mom instead her stepmom. Second is a Catholic church record which has her different first name, her father under a known alias he sometimes used & stepmoms name. Finally an official state birth record with seal & all under the first & middle & maiden surname she used all her life. That she had to get during World War Two when she married dad who was in Navy then & it was required for her to get any benefits etc., as his wife. So her real mom who died in 1919 of the influenza was never named anywhere until the recent years when the original records of the county she was born in were put online which led to her real mom’s & dad’s married record put online & her original birth record with both real parents & her name all on same record. It took forever but now its done correctly for all to see. As for joining societys we could if we wanted to join everything from the Jamestown Society (one indentured servant ancestor), to UDC, Sons of Confederacy, War of 1812 group, Defenders of the Alamo (which my brother did) & others. The only one I want to join is one for Americans who fought with Loyalist Militia Units from North Carolina in Revolution as we have at least three ancestors who did so & all had to leave for lands west of the original colonies right after the war was over. Most swore loyalty to Spain & got Spanish land grants in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi & Louisiana when those states were part of what was then Spanish West Florida & later Mexico as some migrated to Texas before 1830. We have done DNA test for both sides of family which have resolved some questions & raised more & made for some interesting family reunions.
Great article. I was adopted by my step-father and while I have always known and had a relationship with my bio father and that family, as I have become involved in genealogy, it has been a real bummer that I am excluded from joining any societies that I qualify for with my father’s lineage. I have struggled with the fact that my lineage has about as much weight as a story my old aunts would tell while shelling peas around the kitchen table- it’s just a story according to the many societies. I could go to them with my father in tow confirming things, his birth certificate and pictures of him holding me at my birth and the DNA and bloodwork to prove we are father and daughter and I’m still not getting in to the Daughters of the Confederate or Texas Revolution groups. Are there any groups that you know of that are helping to push changes to the current system? I would love to help any cause that helps those whose lineage was taken from them be able to claim it and participate in various historical societies.
I don’t know of any, but perhaps other people do.
I am donor conceived and qualified by biological descent on my paternal side to join SAR. I am in the process of applying for membership and will report back with my results.
The SAR guidelines currently state “DNA evidence can only be used as part of a proof argument that includes additional conventional proof of the lineage.”
The current roadblock for my application is establishing that my donor is who I say – even though we match at 50% on multiple sites it is not clear if SAR will require a formal legal document of him claiming me as a child. As you cogently delineate in your post this presents privacy problems for all involved. (It may also present a legal barrier that is insurmountable in many cases).
I would suggest in these cases that autosomal DNA be accepted for proving parental relationship based on a two-step test:
(1) Name of parent is specified on DNA testing site and there is ~50% DNA match.
(2) Triangulation of two ancestors (can be recent). This step would aim to use listed cousin DNA matches to confirm that the right parent is likely identified. As you also mention, I can’t see someone going through the trouble to create a bogus account to claim a fake father or mother, but perhaps this would alleviate that concern.
Essentially this should be an interesting test-case on whether SAR will accept conclusive autosomal DNA results in lieu of a birth certificate.
Thanks for the wonderful blog!
-A distant cousin (? – Mildred Cox nee Estes born apx. 1742 in Lunenburg)
Yes indeed, the Lunenburg Estes line descends from Abraham Estes, the immigrant. Good luck on your SAR endeavor. Let us know.
Following up – SAR has enacted a policy that requires the donor to acknowledge the relationship in writing. This would seem to preclude the vast majority of people in this category from applying. It’s too heavy of a lift for most donor-conceived people to have signed documentation. To me this indicates the direction SAR as an organization has decided to take.
In contrast the Jamestowne Society was totally cool and reasonable. The slog to get the documentation in order was several levels of magnitude greater than a SAR application given the additional generations that must be proven out, but this respondent is happily reporting back as a member.
Lineage societies are great in that they give a purpose of belonging and identity (albeit as a link to someone else’s works and accomplishments). The big problem with them is that they are portrayed in popular media as super-snobby cliques focusing on keeping people “not of their kind” out. There is some truth to this: my two inquiries to 2 different DAR branches and another lineage group have all resulted in silence. So this is basically pledging a sorority who doesn’t want YOU. Are you listening, DAR?
If the DAR and other lineal societies are only going to accept original birth certificates, they should be among the loudest voices pressing for open records in the USA. As hard as it is for African Americans to trace their families back through the injustices of enslavement in order to join the DAR , adoptees, especially those like myself of the so called “Baby Scoop” era have entirely closed records, we cannot even have proof of our parents, much less 5-10th great grandparents. My home state of Maryland will not open such without extreme cause (say medical) and though I know my birthmother and birthfathers family (he died before I could know him) and all the details in the said record, it is closed to me. It leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth about lineal societies in general.
Your comments are excellent. Problem with Mayflower I ran into was my mother was adopted, and I had to get her birth certificate unsealed and track it to her amended (adopted) certificate. Then there was no father (I don’t know my maternal grandfather) but the bloodline is through mother so I was told they could accept the application. But then my mother (not yet married to dad who was serving in Europe in WWII and couldn’t get home to marry her) put an alias (I guess) for her maiden name. Or the clerk made an error (unlikely). In other words, her legal adopted name was not given on my birth certificate. THis was a major, major problem for them, because genealogists are addicted to paper and official documents, accurate or not. I could prove her legal name but had to get many other documents to “prove” she was my mother. On ancestry.com I had 24 matches with 5th generation index ancestor, but the reviewer seemed to think that didn’t matter much. We’ll see what happens (they take forever) but honestly it isn’t worth the bother. DAS