I’m Black, but I Want to Join the DAR. Help!

Bishop Jabez Pitt Campbell and Mary Campbell
State Archives of Florida, Forida Memory
Bishop Jabez Pitt Campbell and Mary Campbell
State Archives of Florida, Forida Memory

Dear Professor Gates:

I have reason to believe that I can connect myself to the Daughters of the American Revolution. I am just having the toughest time making the provable connection. My great-great-grandfather Nicholas Jackson Jr. (born around 1865 in Howard County, Md.) was married to Nettie Derrickson (born around July 1872). Derrickson’s mother was Nellie A. Shockley (born around 1844), and Shockley’s mother was Nettie Jane Young (born around 1814). Young’s sister was Catherine Young (born March 6, 1796, in Slaughter Neck, Sussex, Del.), who was married to Anthony Campbell. They had a son named Jabez Pitt Campbell (born Feb. 15, 1815, in Slaughter Neck). Jabez Pitt Campbell was the eighth bishop of the African American Episcopal Church. 


Because of his high title in the church and the community, Jabez had several things written about him. He was quoted as saying, “I was born in Slaughter-Neck, Sussex County, Delaware, February 5, 1815. My father’s name was Anthony, the son of Frances by Sydney Campbell; my mother’s name is Catharine, the daughter of Phillip, by Rosanna, sometimes called Townsend but more commonly called Young, being the names of two masters successively. Both of my grandfathers were soldiers in the Revolutionary War. My father was converted at an early age, also my mother, both of whom were the children of pious parents.”

Jabez Pitt Campbell would be my first cousin, five times removed. If this is true, then can I become a member of the DAR? —Ky’a Jackson

Meet Jabez Pitt Campbell

According to Colored Conventions at the University of Delaware, Jabez Pitt Campbell was a venerated leader of the AME church and “an advocate of African American civil liberties.” Though born free to formerly enslaved parents, he was nearly enslaved himself. Writes Colored Conventions:

Campbell’s parents were previously owned by a Methodist Minister, whose aid passed and left in his will that the Campbell family be given freedom … Captain Pierce, a slave owner in Delaware attempted to buy Jabez as his slave. Because Jabez’s parents denied the offer, Pierce misleadingly sold Jabez’s parents a condemned yacht, taking Jabez as a security deposit. When the boat came apart during its first voyage, Pierce had legally become Jabez’s owner. In the midst of Pierce’s plan to send Jabez to a different plantation, Campbell overheard the plan and escaped on a vessel to Philadelphia two days before the plan went into effect.

In Philadelphia, Campbell worked odd jobs during his teen years. At one point he was “bound out by his father” to a merchant tailor named Spencer Dewees, according to an 1886 article in the Christian Recorder, an AME newspaper. Around 1832 he managed to buy “the remainder of his time” and put himself through a Quaker high school. Soon after, he became a minister.

Campbell’s career highlights included being the second editor of the Christian Recorder and president of the trustee board of Wilberforce University in Ohio (the oldest private HBCU), and receiving honorary degrees from Wilberforce and the University of Pennsylvania. He died in Philadelphia in 1891.


How to Join DAR

Step 1: Establish your ancestral line.

You have already taken a great first step in applying for membership in the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution by researching your paternal and maternal lineages. Since membership in the NSDAR requires a direct, lineal link between an applicant and a blood ancestor who fought for or played a role in the establishment of American independence, establishing an ancestral chart (sometimes called a pedigree chart) will help uncover any possible qualifying ancestors. Since you have determined that Phillip Townsend/Young was a soldier in the American Revolution, he would be your qualifying ancestor.


Step 2: Document your ancestral line (birth, marriage and death dates and locations).

More work is necessary to properly document your line of descent from Phillip Townsend/Young. We recommend creating a qualification outline to organize information for your NSDAR application. A qualification outline is an excellent way to organize information for each generation in your line of descent, which in your case would span eight generations. Begin with your generation (including vital information for your spouse if applicable) and state your place and date of birth (and place and date of marriage if applicable). Your generation would look something like this:

Generation 1

Ky’a Jackson, b. in [town/city, county, state] on [date of birth]. She married in [town/city, county, state] on [date of marriage], [name of spouse].


Name of spouse, b. in [town/city, county, state] on [date of birth].

For each statement of vital information (birth, marriage and death), you should include a scholarly citation. For the first three generations, these statements can usually be proved by a birth, marriage and death certificate. You can typically locate these modern vital records with the town or city clerk in which the event occurred or the appropriate Department of Vital Statistics. The NSDAR has compiled a list of telephone numbers, specific to each state, where you can obtain vital records.


Next, on a separate sheet of paper, you would include your parents’ generation, also known as generation 2:

Generation 2

Name of your father, b. in [town/city, county, state] on [date of birth]; d. in [town/city, county, state] on [date of death]. He married in [town/city, county, state] on [date of marriage], [name of spouse].


Name of your mother, b. in [town/city, county, state] on [date of birth]; d. in [town/city, county, state] on [date of death].

You should continue this process for each generation, concluding with generation 8. You will need to provide evidence for each name, place and date for generations 1-8, starting with you, Ky’a Jackson (generation 1), through Phillip Townsend/Young (generation 8). Your qualification outline will consist of eight separate sheets of paper.


To provide evidence for each name, place and date, we first suggest locating all of the possible vital records (birth, marriage and death) for each generation. Vital records often provide information about an individual, such as the place and date of birth, as well as information about his or her parents.

Since the NSDAR is a lineage society, establishing proof of each generational connection is essential. There are several different sites that have large collections of digitized vital records, such as the subscription site Ancestry.com. There are also free sites, like those maintained by FamilySearch in Salt Lake City. Use variant spellings when searching for your ancestors, since spelling in the 18th and 19th centuries was not as uniform as it is today. 


For example, we examined FamilySearch’s database New Jersey, Marriages, 1678-1985 to locate a marriage record for Nicholas Jackson Jr. and his wife, Nettie Derickson. According to the indexed record, Nicholas married Nettie in Camden, Camden County, N.J., Feb. 27, 1888. The marriage record also indicates that Nicholas was born in 1864 and Nettie was born in 1871. Note that your great-great-grandmother’s surname was spelled “Derickson,” not “Derrickson.”

Since the 1888 marriage information was extracted from an index, you must locate a copy of the original record. The NSDAR does not accept indexed records as proof of lineage, since the full record may contain more genealogical information. Therefore, to locate the original 1888 marriage record, you could order the microfilm (film No. 495707) from FamilySearch for $7.50 and have it shipped to your local Family History Center or the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston. Locate the closest Family History Center on the FamilySearch website.


If you are unable to locate a specific vital record, we recommend exploring alternative records, such as cemetery records or inscriptions, obituaries, probate records, census records, Bible records, local histories and well-documented genealogies. Some examples are below:

Cemetery records and inscriptions: Several national cemetery databases offer free access to tombstone inscriptions and photographs. Generally, the NSDAR will accept photographs of tombstones as proof of death (and sometimes marriage). If you are using a tombstone photograph as evidence, include a clear photo of the stone as well as a broader, landscape photograph that shows the surrounding stones. This will provide the NSDAR with context and demonstrate the age of the tombstone. Sites include Find a Grave, BillionGraves, Interment.net and Locate Grave.


Obituaries: Several sites have large collections of digitized newspapers, such as the subscription sites Newspaper Archive and Newspapers.com. There are also free sites, like the Google News Archive and the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America Collection. If you are using an obituary as evidence, be sure to include a clear clipping of the article, as well as a photocopy of the entire page in which the obituary was printed. This will provide the NSDAR with a better citation for your source.

Probate records: Some probate records, such as wills, can provide researchers with information about the deceased, as well as the name of his or her spouse and children (and sometimes grandchildren). The NSDAR will accept original copies of probate records as proof of lineage. Several probate-record collections are available for free at American Ancestors (affiliated with the New England Historic Genealogical Society, for which this column’s co-writer works) and FamilySearch. However, most of these collections are not searchable. Therefore, the researcher must browse through these digitized collections, using the information gathered during research.


Census records: Census records can provide information about an entire family, often individually listing the names of each member of the household. This can allow researchers to make a connection between two individuals when vital records or tombstones are unavailable.

However, before 1850, the U.S. census did not enumerate each member of the household. The head of household was named, and the other members of the household were designated by tally marks according to their age range and gender. As a result, pre-1850 census records can be less helpful (and often unacceptable) records for applications to the NSDAR. The Family History Library, Fold3 and Ancestry.com have searchable collections of the census from 1790 to 1940. Some state census records are also available.


Bible records: Family Bible records can be rare but significantly helpful when located. Bible records are often maintained by a historical society, archives or genealogical society associated with a family. For example, George Washington’s family Bible is maintained by the Mount Vernon Estate, Museum and Gardens.

To locate a family Bible specific to your ancestors, you should contact local historical societies in the town or region of your ancestors. Additionally, you can search the Internet Archive, a collection of more than 2 million archival-material descriptions, to locate specific locations that may maintain family papers or Bibles pertaining to your ancestors.


Local histories and well-documented genealogies: Although local histories and genealogies are not as widely accepted as other primary-source documents, well-documented or properly cited resources can provide adequate information to prove lineage. Several free sites have digitized older genealogies and local histories, including the Internet Archive, Google Books and Family History Books.

Step 3: Document your ancestor’s service in the American Revolution.

Once you have located evidence for the births, marriages and deaths of generations 1-8, you must locate a service record for your ancestor Phillip Townsend/Young. It should be noted that the NSDAR does not limit acceptable service to military service. Other examples of eligible service are civil service, being a member of the Boston Tea Party and being imprisoned on the British ship Old Jersey. A complete list of eligible service is located on the NSDAR website.


Because you have located evidence that Phillip Townsend/Young was a soldier in the American Revolution, you should aim to locate documentation of his service. The best place to start is with the digitized records of the National Archives and Records Administration maintained at the Revolutionary War Archives. The site has searchable collections of American Revolutionary War pension records, service records and military rolls. If you were able to locate your ancestor on one of these documents, you should have sufficient proof of service.

It should be noted, however, that war service records and rolls often provide only the name of the soldier and his place of residence. Therefore, if more than one man was living in the same town and county, with the same given name and surname, you would need to provide additional proof to the NSDAR that the individual listed on the record is, in fact, your ancestor.


Using pension records is how genealogists discovered that one of Professor Gates’ maternal fourth great-grandfathers, John Redmon, a “Free Negro,” served in the Continental Army between 1778 and 1781. Gates; his brother, Dr. Paul Gates; and Paul’s son Aaron Gates have been inducted into the Sons of the American Revolution, and the professor’s daughters into the NSDAR. The Gates family is actively researching the names of black men who also served during the war.

Step 4: Application.

Once you have located evidence for each birth, marriage and death for generations 1-8, as well as the proof of service for your ancestor Phillip Townsend/Young, you can begin the application process. The NSDAR recommends using its website to locate a chapter in your area. Once you have determined the local chapter that fits your needs, you should complete the prospective-member form. The NSDAR will contact you in the future with information about your final application.


Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and founding director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He is also editor-in-chief of The Root. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Send your questions about tracing your own roots to TracingYourRoots@theroot.com.


This answer was provided in consultation with Lindsay Fulton, a researcher from the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Founded in 1845, NEHGS is the country’s leading nonprofit resource for family history research. Its website, AmericanAncestors.org, contains more than 300 million searchable records for research in New England, New York and beyond. With the leading experts in the field, NEHGS staff can provide assistance and guidance for questions in most research areas. They can also be hired to conduct research on your family. Learn more today.