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Researching Ancestors who were Loyalists in the Revolutionary War: Who Should Use this Guide?

This guide describes the primary resources for patrons interested in researching possible Loyalist ancestors. Guide by Susan Kriete.

Introduction

Notwithstanding its "United States" moniker, America has a long tradition of political division, stretching back to the nation's very formation. Two hundred years before states splintered off into red or blue, and a century before the Civil War tore the country in two, American colonists were bitterly divided over whether the nation should exist at all. The colonists split into two camps: 

  1. the Patriots, who favored—and ultimately won—the Revolution, and
  2. the Tories, or Loyalists, who remained loyal to the Crown.

A View of Fort George with the city of New York, from the SW.American slaves had a particular incentive to fight on the Loyalist side, because the British army offered enslaved men freedom in return for military service.

While the memory of the Patriots has been enshrined in American history, finding information on Loyalist individuals and families -- many of whom left the U.S. after the American victory -- can be more challenging. 

This guide identifies the primary resources for researching Loyalist ancestors. It is intended primarily for genealogy researchers who:

  • have reason to believe their ancestors were Loyalists
  • have been unable to locate American military records for Revolutionary-era ancestors (such "missing" ancestors may have participated on the Loyalist side)
  • are tracing African-American ancestors believed to have arrived in America prior to the Revolutionary war

This guide may also be useful to scholars conducting more general research on the history of Loyalist activities. It is organized into the following categories:

 

Image credits

A view of Fort George with the city of New York, from the SW, NYPL Digital Collections ID: 54695

Reference Librarians

Guide Author

Susan Kriete's picture
Susan Kriete
Contact:
Irma and Paul Milstein Division of
U.S. History, Local History and Genealogy
Room 121
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, New York, NY