As family historians we all realize the need to get out from behind our computers and take our research into the world where our ancestors lived. If we truly want to understand the essence of their lives we know we need to move past internet research and spend more research time in the field. Any article I’ve read suggests 90% or more of the genealogy info we seek, past vital statistics, sits in newspapers, courthouse records and other local venues our family members participated in. With that in mind, I have a suggestion that may help with continuing research.
I belong to the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, 1861 - 1865 (DUVCW). It’s a lineage group where the requirement for membership is a direct ancestor that fought for the Union in the Civil War. The group was formed nationwide in 1885. My “tent” as the local chapters are called, was formed in 1908.
At a meeting not long ago our president brought minutes from 1940 and 1941. We are researching a banner that belongs to our group. We guess that it’s from the 1940s, though we’re really not sure. The main reason for our interest is the glaring error in the first word. Our tent is named after Lizabeth A. Turner, who helped sick and wounded soldiers in Boston during the war, not Elizabeth A Turner. I have to think the ladies of our group were appalled to see such a blatant mistake when their new banner was presented at a meeting.
As I read through pages and pages of minutes from those 1940 meetings looking for references to the banner, I couldn’t help but think what a genealogical resource these minutes were. I’m sure there are family historians who would love to know if their grandmother or great-grandmother was active in such an organization and believe me these women were active.
So how do you, the researcher, get to this info?
That is a bit tricky. The minutes from our tent are in storage. They’re accessible to members only. They are not indexed, only in chronological order and I’ll bet that holds true for many other groups as well.
My suggestion if you think your ancestor participated in such a group is an internet search of the group to see if they are still in existence. The DUVCW is active, so is the United Daughters of the Confederacy, but some like the Women’s Relief Corps or Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic (LGAR) are very limited in membership these days. If the group you’re seeking appears not active, check the location of their national headquarters, then that state’s archives, or the local museums or libraries where the group existed. Usually when a group disbands they send their charter, minutes, etc., to their national headquarters but if the entire organization is dissolved the remaining members may have donated the items to the nearest museum, university or state archives where you can start researching minutes, applications and so on there.
Now if the organization still exists, they probably have some type of internet presence. Most groups are always trying to recruit new members. If there is just a national or state website, email them in regard to the local group you’re inquiring about. I’m sure they’ll give you some contact info on the local group. If you are lucky enough to find or know of the local group your ancestor may have belonged to contact them directly.
Once you are in touch with the group you can ask about your ancestor’s membership. Providing names and general dates of membership can narrow the search. A quick check of past officers may produce some leads. If your ancestor wasn’t an officer, their name still may be buried in the minutes of the group’s activities or on an application form. So how do you get to those minutes and read them?
Obviously a group isn’t going to lend out their historical minutes for research. So if you live near the locale of the group ask if you can attend a meeting and perhaps read the minutes from the era you are interested in. Make sure you arrange this in advance so the minutes you are interested in are brought to the meeting. Also you might offer to meet the member at a public place like a library, or coffee shop. There you can discuss the formation of the group, why your ancestor was drawn to membership and look over the group’s minutes. Hopefully finding many mentions of your ancestor’s activities.
Why would a member of a small service organization help you in your genealogy quests? Many members of lineage groups are family historians too and understand your research and how important it is. Other groups welcome the opportunity to present themselves in the best light for recruiting new members. Often those older members have been around long enough to regale you with numerous stories of the group’s history and hopefully, through this persistent research, you’ll strike some genealogy gold.
Good luck as you take your research “on the road.”