Using Ancestry: Captured! Stories in Revolutionary Records, by George G. Morgan

John Soards (Swords) listed in â��Pay Roll of Captain George Warleys company in the 6th Regimt of South Carolina continental Troops commanded by Colo Wm Henderson from the 1st of August to the 1st December 1779.â��Every beginning genealogist quickly learns that some informational sources are better than others. Granny’s recollection and oral description of a family wedding that occurred forty to fifty years ago may be slightly incorrect because of the passage of time, or even because she only heard about it from another family member.

Therefore, an exact image of the marriage license, the marriage return entered in the courthouse, a newspaper wedding announcement, or a descriptive letter written by a relative who attended the wedding (written immediately after the event) will all be more reliable resources. That is the case because they were created at or very near the time of the event. And even though there may be factual flaws, transcription errors, and other “problems,” these sources are essentially more reliable than Granny’s story–even though Granny’s account is most certainly a pointer toward the original sources.

I recently had one of those revelations with one of my own ancestor’s American Revolutionary War stories. Let me explain.

John Swords
My fourth great-grandfather was John Swords, born 19 March 1755 in York, South Carolina, and died 28 September 1834 in Anderson, South Carolina. He married Eleanor Swancey (Swancy) on 24 April 1782 in York, South Carolina, and they proceeded to have eleven children whom I have been able to reliably document.

John was a participant in the American Revolutionary War. According to one printed source, John Swords enlisted while residing in York District and was in the Snow Campaign. During the spring of 1777, he served under Captain George Warley and Colonel Sumter. He was on the Florida Expedition and in the battles at Beaufort and Stono. He was in the siege of Savannah under Captain Boyce. After being taken prisoner at the Siege of Savannah, he was held two weeks before he escaped. Next, he was under Colonel Bratton and was in the battles at Rocky Mount, Hanging Rock, and Eutaw Springs.

Revolutionary War Pensions
Well, that was all very interesting. However, a number of years ago I had ordered his Revolutionary War Pension File from NARA (#W8773), which dated from 1818. The pension file was rich in information. John Swords signed his ‘X’ on his affidavit sworn before the court. The affidavit attested to his having been taken prisoner at the Battle of Savannah. It was a fierce battle that commenced on 9 October 1789. Among the participants were Samuel Davis, father of future Confederate President Jefferson Davis; Polish Count Casimir Pulaski; and Major Pierce Charles L’Enfant, future architect of Washington. By the end of the day, 800 of the initial force of 5,000 American and French soldiers fighting the English lay dead. And, according to John Swords’ affidavit, he had been taken prisoner.

Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-83
During this Memorial Day weekend, I spent some time exploring the vast collection of military records databases at Ancestry. One database that particularly caught my attention was the U.S. Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783 that includes the Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M246, 138 rolls), and the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records (Record Group 93; National Archives, Washington, D.C.).

You must realize two facts about this database before you begin.

1. The records were indexed by Direct Data Capture, which probably generated their index by copying the index card file that exists to reference these files. These card files do contain transcription errors of names, and so you should try alternative spellings, initials, nicknames, and reversed given name/surname combinations.

2. A click on the View Record link will present you with the first scanned image of the roll of microfilm on which your ancestor’s record is located. You’ll therefore have to browse through each record until you find your subject.

My ancestor’s name is John SWORDS. However, my previous experience working with the index card file succeeded only when I “learned to misspell my ancestor’s name” as SOARDS. When my first search for the surname “Swords” in the index failed, I remembered this alternate spelling. Sure enough, when I entered “Soards” in the surname box, the first entry in the list was John Soards, a private who served from South Carolina and whose record would be found in roll box 89. A click on View Record or the View Images icon took me to a record from which I clicked and went to the digitized image of the title page of Roll 89.

There were 389 images on the roll, and I settled in with determination that I would find John Swords’ record. These records are essentially muster roll and payroll records. The first image is the outside of the document, containing identifying information about the unit and a statement by the paymaster; the second image is typically an abstract of the payroll–number of individuals by rank and the amount paid. The third page is a list, in rank order (and often in alphabetical sequence), of every soldier, including details about his service and pay rate.

The image accompanying this article (click on the image to enlarge it) of is the “Pay Roll of Captain George Warleys company in the 6th Regimt of South Carolina continental Troops commanded by Colo Wm Henderson from the 1st of August to the 1st December 1779.” Near the bottom of the page, I found John Swords, a private. His pay period commenced on 1 August 1779, with a subsidy on 13 August, and the pay was until 9 October 1779. His rate of pay and subsidy are listed, and a total amount of pay and subsidies in dollars is listed–what appears to be $32 and 30¢. Finally, however, is the corroborating evidence that so excited me. In the column labeled “Casualties” is the notation “Missing 9 Octo Savannah.”

This certainly is a lot closer to the actual time of the event of John Swords’ capture than is the affidavit sworn in 1818. I have no doubt that his being taken prisoner at the Battle of Savannah remained vivid in John’s mind, but the date may not have been exactly recalled. In addition, I believe that the records maintained by the paymaster were quite meticulous. While this pay report was prepared almost two months after the Battle of Savannah, by its very nature I would place substantial weight on its accuracy. I now have another excellent piece of source evidence about my fourth great-grandfather. It took some perseverance and patience, but this is exactly the type of research I enjoy.

Check the massive collection of military database records at Ancestry and you will not be disappointed. And, by the way, I especially recommend viewing the WWII newsreels. They are addictive too!

Happy Hunting!

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1 thought on “Using Ancestry: Captured! Stories in Revolutionary Records, by George G. Morgan

  1. Mr. Morgan,
    “It was a fierce battle that commenced on 9 October 1789.” The date should be 9 October 1779.

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