Hereditary Societies: The Benefits of Membership and Research

Lineage Societies – the Well-Known, the Obscure, How to Apply Successfully by Carolyn L. Barkley, Ancestry.com’s Ten Reasons to Join an Ethnic Society, and Mary Ames Mitchell’s article on Joining Hereditary Societies are exceptionally helpful starting points for identifying the society that your ancestry is affiliated. The articles will help you understand better how to approach these groups and qualify for membership.

Ms. Mitchell’s article cited stunning information such as:

If you have uncovered a direct ancestor belonging to one or more of the twenty-six families who rode on the Mayflower to America in 1620, there are several clubs which would be happy to hear from you, particularly the Society of Mayflower Descendants. Theoretically, some 30 million people should qualify for membership in this society. There are currently 27,000 members worldwide.

Really? I’m one of 30 million who can qualify as a descendant from the Mayflower? That’s just plain frightening.

Why Join a Hereditary or Ethnic Society?

The article from Ancestry.com and Terry and Jim Willard of the PBS Ancestors series lists the reasons why you should join an ethnic or hereditary society. Key reasons were:

  • To better understand a group’s unique research conventions and characterizations to further your own research.
  • Access to invaluable and unique research libraries and collections.
  • Membership benefits such as training, workshops, classes, and other educational activities.
  • Networking with those familiar in that aspect of your family’s history.
  • Access to research guides and instructions to help you dig deeper.
  • A deeper understanding of your family’s history, culture, geography, political situations, and the events within their time period.
  • A chance for travel, opening up doors to people and resources in locations where language and cultural barriers might close those doors.
  • To preserve history for future generations. By keeping these societies and their collections subsidized, and maybe adding your own research to theirs, you help future generations learn more about their own ethnic past.

Hereditary Society Blue BookHereditary societies are supposed to be in the Hereditary Society Blue Book which is available on sale often for under $25, a small price to pay for access to a variety of communities that can help you connect with your past as well as uncover more about your family’s history with documentation and historical records and research. I’ve found that some of these societies have been more helpful in painting a picture of the life and times of my family than any other records I can dig up. They are invaluable resources, whether you join as a member or not.

The Federation of Genealogical Societies is key organization in the United States designed to support and connect genealogical, historical, and hereditary societies together, providing education, data, research, and access to experts across the industry. Their Society Hall page offers a way to search directly for the society you may need.

Lists of Hereditary Society Lists

I’ve put together a short list of groups offering their own hereditary society lists to help you track down your own, and further on in this article, I’ve listed a few that I might be eligible to join. While the Hereditary Society Blue Book is really your best and most thorough starting point, these may help. Unfortunately, most of these lists have not been updated and you will find many links to dead or inactive sites. Still, these help you track down the specific names of the societies associated with your family lineage, and a quick search through Google often turned up an updated link, so use these as guides.

Some hereditary society lists are organized by the founding year of the organization, not the year(s) associated with the event or reason for their founding. For instance, the General Society of Mayflower Descendants is listed under 1897, not 1620.

Some hereditary societies are fairly open, but others are strict on membership qualifications. As an example, in 2006, The Genealogue featured the world’s most exclusive hereditary society:

The Grand Dames of the American Colonies became the world’s most exclusive hereditary society on Friday when its only two members, Lillian Walthrup and Gladys Drew, amended the organization’s charter to exclude even themselves from membership.

“The amendment passed without objection,” says Mrs. Drew, a retired librarian now living in Fort Myers, Florida. “As soon as we’d voted, we escorted each other from the room. Needless to say, tears were shed.”

It seems that the society founded in 1856 by the wives of Know-Nothing politicians unable to campaign with their political husbands decided to create an organization that welcomed only the “right kind of people.” A review of their original charter in 2006 brought forth a ruling that required members to produce evidence that their immigrant ancestors entered the United States legally. To the same of the two remaining members, neither could. So in keeping with the integrity of their own membership rules, they banished themselves from the group. That’s a serious commitment. Unfortunately, the zero remaining members of the society have not opened membership.

While silly, if you are serious about joining some of these societies, bring substantial proof of supporting bloodline evidence.

Hereditary and Ethnic Societies for My Family

I dug through a ton of sites to find some of the societies that might play a role in my family’s history, and ones that I might consider joining in order to further my own research. I’ve included a few others that looked interesting, like the Order of Descendants of Pirates and Privateers. You never know where your family history research path could take you.

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About Lorelle VanFossen

Lorelle VanFossen hosts Family History Blog covering her ancestors and related family members. She is one of the top bloggers in the world, and host of the Lorelle on WordPress, providing WordPress and blogging tips for bloggers of all levels. A popular keynote speaker and trainer, she is also editor, producer, contributor, and official disruptive thinker for Bitwire Media which includes WordCast, Making My Life Network, Stories of Our Journeys, Life on the Road, WordCast Conversations, and the very popular WordCast Podcast.
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