Did your ancestors fight in or witness the Revolutionary War firsthand? Family Tree Magazine contributing editor Maureen A. Taylor shares the records she’s found especially helpful in doing research for her forthcoming documentary “Revolutionary Voices: A Last Muster Film,” a project with award-winning documentary producers Verissima Productions:
- Diaries and letters: This is Eleazer Blake, an apprentice in a wheelwright shop in Rindge, NH, who kept a diary.
In his diary, he mentions the Battle of Lexington and Concord as well as details of his everyday life. These statements let you relive parts of his life. Though your Revolutionary War-era ancestor may not have been a diarist, the writings of his contemporaries will help you understand the tense times he lived in.
- Pension applications: While some men exaggerated their wartime exploits in their Revolutionary War pension applications, other documents make for painful reading. James Allen Jr. of Maine applied for a pension several times, but lacked proof of his service. Allen’s brother submitted a deposition with a plea on his brother’s behalf: “I have no doubt my brother served in the Army of the Revolution as he has always stated to me, and I know that he has for the last 20 years or more been trying to obtain a pension.” (The November 2008 Family Tree Magazine has online resources for pension and other military records, as does our Family Tree University course US Military Records: Trace Your Ancestor’s Service.)
- Memoirs: Seneca chief Chainbreaker, also known as Gov. Blacksnake or Tash-won-ne-ah, dictated his life story to a neighbor, relating how he served for the British in the bloody Battle of Oriskany in New York. George Avery wrote in his memoir that being taken prisoner at Royalton, Vt., in 1780 was a turning point. “I felt the evil of my life and the Divine Justice of Providence.” Use WorldCat, which includes the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (1986 and later), to help you find published and unpublished memoirs in library collections.
Don’t forget about women of the Revolutionary era: They left behind personal writings, pension documents and memoirs as well. The stories of their lives as daughters, wives and widows can also be found in materials left by their fathers, brothers and husbands. (Family Tree Magazine‘s Ultimate Tracing Female Ancestors Collection can help you learn more about the women in your family tree.)
You can hear more life stories about the Revolutionary War generation by following Maureen’s Revolutionary Voices: A Last Muster Film project. Find out how you can help make the film happen here.