The History of the GRS

Written by: Darryn Lickliter, Director of Genealogy and Library
August 25, 2016

For those of us who prepare, submit or review member applications and supplementals, the GRS is an indispensable tool that we use on a regular basis.  For those of you who may not be as familiar with the Genealogical Research System or GRS for short, it is a portal to a number of different DAR digitized databases created and maintained by DAR.  Three of these databases are the Ancestor Database, the Member Database and the Descendants Database. Technology links these databases together through the Ancestor Number of each ancestor and the National Number of each woman who has joined the DAR.   Through these databases we can search transcribed data from each of the 1.5 million approved applications and supplementals.  We can also use the Build-An-App utility to start new applications and supplementals using data found in these databases.  For those of us who have been involved in DAR Genealogy for a long enough time, we know that it wasn’t always so easy. 

The Ancestor and Member databases have their origins in card indexes that were created in the early days of the Society by the staff of the Office of the Registrar General.  Digitization of these records began in the latter half of the 20th century from information found on the card indexes.  The Descendants Database, without which Build-An-App would not be possible, didn’t even exist until the 2000s.  References to the cards can be found in the Proceedings and in the DAR Digital Magazine Archive. 

In the November 1901 issue of the American Monthly Magazine, Registrar General, Mrs. Minnie Mickley, penned an article titled Routine Work in the Registrar General’s Office of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Just 10 years after the founding of the DAR, this article provides insight into the early verification process.  Of interest though, is this tidbit:

“The applicants entering under service already filed are referred to card catalogue, where if found to be same are verified as—(“Service same as National Number -------“), and papers filed as verified.”

As the Society continued to grow the staff of the Office of the Registrar continued to work with card indexes. In the Proceedings of the 19th Continental Congress we find that then Registrar General, Grace M Pierce, reported:

“The work of combining the ancestral card catalogues, begun under the former Registrar General, Mrs. Eleanor Jamieson, continued under my predecessors, is being still carried forward and fully one-half of this work is at present completed.”

In the April 1933 issue of the Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine, Registrar General, Mrs. Winifred Elgin Reed, describes how the member and ancestor cards were created and updated. 

“The applications are first examined carefully for the signatures of the chapter officers, or State Regents, the proper endorsements of members and the attestation before the notary. A card is then typed, bearing the applicant’s name as she signed it in her attestation, husband’s name, her address and the name and State of her chapter, these last being omitted of course in the case of an applicant at large….The applications are then taken to our catalogue of ancestors for comparison with the cards of our accepted ancestral records. If the paper is filed on a record already accepted, a slip containing data to aid in its examination is made and it goes to a genealogist for comparison with the paper of some member descending from the same ancestor who has been credited with his record.”

The procedure that Mrs. Reed described in 1933 was virtually the same procedure in place when I started working in Genealogy in November 1999.  Mrs. Reed goes on to discuss the importance of providing complete applications and documentation.  She advises the reader that applications of other lineage societies are not acceptable proof, including those of the Sons of the American Revolution.  She then describes what happened to the cards after the applications were verified.  The ancestor card would be removed from the catalogue and updated to include the new member’s National Number and the names of the child of the patriot and the child’s spouse through whom the member descended. The member’s individual card, created when her application was first received, would be updated to include her National Number and the date of her acceptance by the Board. The card would be then transferred to Office of the Organizing Secretary General, whose job it was (and it still is) to maintain the member’s record.  

One of the first forays into making the data in the Ancestor Cards accessible to the public was the publication of the Patriot Index. In January 1966, the Executive Committee authorized then President General, Mrs. William Henry Sullivan, Jr., “to establish a Special Committee to be known as the DAR Patriot Index Committee.” The purpose of this committee was to create an index to the ancestor cards.  At that time, it was estimated that there were some 105,000 ancestors recorded on the cards.  The Patriot Index went through a number of editions, the last being printed in 2003. 

By the time I joined the staff in 1999, there were two searchable databases available to the staff.  The records of active members from 1985 forward were digitized and included names, date of admittance, address and other official information.  In the mid 1990s, staff of the Office of the Registrar General began editing the Ancestor cards for data entry. The database created from this effort included all of the ancestor’s information, name, dates and places of birth and death, residence, spouse information and service information. The database also included the National Number, Add Volume (if a supplemental), and the names of the child and child spouse through whom the lineage followed. While this was innovative for its time, this database was not linked to the member database. 

Under the Watkins Administration in 2001, plans began to begin digitizing DAR’s wealth of genealogical records, particularly the applications, supplemetnals and supporting documents.  In order to facilitate the indexing of and the access to these, the need to link the member and ancestor databases became apparent.  The solution turned out to be quite simple. The Ancestor Database was migrated to the same database platform as the Member Database. Once this was accomplished, it was easy to link each member’s record to her related ancestor record(s) through her National Number. This early version of the GRS was at first available to staff only.  Each member application was indexed by the National Number and Add Volume for supplementals. This allowed the images to be easily linked to both the Ancestor and Member databases. 

Digitization of the Ancestor cards and Member cards was also completed under the Watkins Administration. Today, those with Image Access can see these images in the GRS. Volunteers worked to index the cards by Ancestor Number and National Number, respectively. Once the Member cards were digitized, volunteers were able to create the All Member Index, a complete record of the National Number and name of each woman who had been accepted into membership of the Society.  DAR was using crowdsourcing long before the concept had a name.

Volunteers were also instrumental in creating the Descendants Database. As mentioned above, the previous database searches allowed us to search for the patriot or the patriot’s children’s generation.  One of the goals of the digitization projects was to include the next generation down from the patriot, the grandchild of the patriot, in the database searches.  But thanks to our hard working volunteers, the Descendants Database includes all generations from the patriot to the member.  The countless hours of volunteer time put into this project saved the DAR $2.5 million!!!

I hope you enjoyed learning about this history of our genealogical records. It is amazing to see as technology evolved how we were able and continue to be able to make more of these resources available. Since the GRS was made available to the public in 2006 the GRS has been enhanced by the inclusion of the DAR Library Catalog, the GRC Index, the Bible records index and most recently, the Patriot Records Project.  DAR can be very proud of this tremendous resource. 

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