During the English colonial period of American history, all able-bodied men generally between the ages of 17 and 45 years of age were eligible to serve in a local militia. These local militia units were organized to provide for local defense and safety. After doing carefully documented research into the life of your Revolutionary War Era ancestor or ancestors, You may need to begin your research to determine if your ancestor participated in one of these local military militia units. The relationship of these local militia units to the national military organization known as the Continental Army was complex.
The Continental Army was formed by the Second Continental Congress in June of 1775 to coordinate the combined military efforts of the thirteen colonies. Here is a quote from the Wikipedia article on the Continental Army.
The Continental Army consisted of soldiers from all 13 colonies, and after 1776, from all 13 states. When the American Revolutionary War began at the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, the colonial revolutionaries did not have an army. Previously, each colony had relied upon the militia, made up of part-time citizen-soldiers, for local defense, or the raising of temporary "provincial regiments" during specific crises such as the French and Indian War of 1754–63. As tensions with Great Britain increased in the years leading to the war, colonists began to reform their militias in preparation for the perceived potential conflict. Training of militiamen increased after the passage of the Intolerable Acts in 1774. Colonists such as Richard Henry Lee proposed forming a national militia force, but the First Continental Congress rejected the idea.From the standpoint of genealogical research, this once again points up the need to do careful research. The list of units that served during the Revolutionary War Era is quite extensive and individuals with similar names can cause a great deal of confusion. Here are some websites that list the various units of the War.
- List of United States militia units in the American Revolutionary War
- List of United States militia units in the American Revolutionary War from Wikipedia
- List of Continental Army units - Wikipedia
- Online Revolutionary War Indexes and Records
- Revolutionary War Service Records
- Genealogy Research in Military Records | National Archives
- U.S., Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783 - Ancestry.com
The Internet Archive has a significant number of published Revolutionary Ward records. See Archive.org. Further information can be obtained by searching for information about the participation of the individual colonies in the war effort.
Research into military records is explained as follows by the U.S. National Archives article on "Genealogy Research in Military Records."
There is no simple explanation for how to begin research in military records. Your research path will depend on aspects such as: what branch of service your ancestor was in, which conflict, what dates, whether Regular Army or a volunteer unit, whether your ancestor was an officer or enlisted personnel, and whether there was a pension application.However as the National Archives article explains, military records fall into three major categories:
Compiled Service Records:
Compiled service records consist of an envelope containing card abstracts taken from muster rolls, returns, pay vouchers, and other records. They will provide you with your ancestor's rank, unit, date mustered in and mustered out, basic biographical information, medical information, and military information.
Pension Applications and Pension Payment Records:
The National Archives also has pension applications and records of pension payments for veterans, their widows, and other heirs. The pension records in the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. are based on service in the armed forces of the United States between 1775 and 1916. Pension application files usually provide the most genealogical information. These files often contain supporting documents such as: narratives of events during service, marriage certificates, birth records, death certificates, pages from family Bibles, family letters, depositions of witnesses, affidavits, discharge papers and other supporting papers.
Bounty land warrant application files relate to claims based on wartime service between 1775 and March 3, 1855. If your ancestor served in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, early Indian Wars, or the Mexican War, a search of these records may be worthwhile. Bounty land records often contain documents similar to those in pension files, with lots of genealogical information. Many of the bounty land application files relating to Revolutionary War and War of 1812 service have been combined with the pension files.Many of these records are now available on major, online websites such as FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, and Fold3.com.
Here are the previous posts on this topic.