The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is celebrating 100 years. Over the past century, more than 110 million youth and 32 million leaders have participated in Scouting. Was your ancestor one of them? How has Scouting impacted your life?
Here are a few facts and links to help you get started researching your Scouting ancestors.
The Boy Scouts of America was founded in 1910 and the Cub Scouts in 1930. There are and have been many groups in the Scouting family including Air Scouts, Sea Scouts, Explorers, Venturing, and Lone Scouts. In addition to the millions of boy Scouts and volunteers there are also paid employees of BSA. Over the past 100 years, there have been 115 million merit badges earned and over 2 million Eagle Scouts.
Facts about Scouting
BSA 100 years timeline
Since 1972 the Boy Scouts of America has offered the Genealogy merit badge. As part of the centennial Generations Connection project, Scouts are encouraged to complete a family tree listing family members, relatives, and ancestors involved in Scouting.
From the beginning, BSA published books and periodicals that might be helpful in your research. Think of a Scout’s handbook like a family bible. It could list name, address, age or other descriptive information. The handbooks for boys and Scout Masters list more than 180 names of Scouting’s founders. Digital copies of original editions of both books can be found on Google Books. Boys’ Life (since 1912) and Scouting (since 1913) magazines can also include stories about Scouts. What if every issue of Boys’ Life and Scouting were available to purchase in searchable PDF format. I would buy the them. Just think of the historic & genealogical information they contain!
Boy Scout Handbook (1911)
Scout Master Handbook (1913)
Boys’ Life Magazine
In 1916, BSA was granted a federal charter to protect the name, uniform, and badges of the Boy Scouts of America. This charter also required them to submit an annual report to Congress.
“Title 36 > Subtitle II > Part B > Chapter 309: Boy Scouts of America”. United States Code. Cornell University Law School. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/36/usc_sup_01_36_06_II_08_B_10_309.html. Retrieved July 1, 2008.
The national headquarters of the BSA has been at 5 addresses (three in New York, 1 in New Jersey, and the current home in Irving, Texas) over the years. Next to the current address is the National Scouting museum that has over 500,000 items in its collection and has its own curator and archivist. There are other Scouting museums and libraries across the country. Many libraries have Scouting artifacts in their manuscripts and special collections.
National Scouting Museum (Irving, Texas)
Lawrence L. Lee Scouting Museum & Max I. Silber Scouting Library (Manchester, NH)
Do a Google search for “Boy Scouts of America” “finding aid” and you will get results from libraries such as The University of Texas at Austin:
Tom C. Clark Papers, Tarlton Law Library, The University of Texas at Austin
You can also search local newspapers for articles on the organization of Scouting councils and troops. Some of these can be found on Google News.
Rock Hill Herald – Google News Archive – Aug 19, 1910
Some early Scouting records might be contained in an archive at the National Council whereas most membership records are contained in archives at the over 300 local councils across the nation.
BSA is a private organization focused on Scouting’s mission:
“The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.”
Professional Scouters have little time to fulfill research requests from genealogists and volunteers often lack the access to the records. Access of youth membership records depends on the policy of each local council; as far as I can tell there is no official policy from the National Council.
There is an opportunity for local and national genealogical societies, FamilySearch, or commercial entities to work to preserve these important records and when the time is right make them available for public access. This might even be an additional revenue source for the Boy Scouts.
A final note about membership rosters held at the local councils. In order to find the roster, a researcher needs to identify which local council holds the record and then know the year and the unit number of the troop, pack, etc. In a similar way that county boundaries changed and counties were formed or consolidated, the same thing has happened with local councils. It can be very challenging to find the right council. What is needed is something similar to Ancestry’s Red Book, but for Scouting records. We could call it the Khaki Book.
The best way to find information about your Scouting ancestors is from Scouting artifacts they left behind. Collecting Scout memorabilia is very popular with various books to help identify when and where uniforms, badges, and insignia were made.
Here are two additional examples of Scouting records:
The honorary First Class rank advancement given to my grandfather for his work with the Scouting youth:
A Scout membership card for James Ross that I purchased from an eBay auction:
From the card we know James’ birth date, mother’s name, and where he lived in 1935. I found the family in the 1930 census and am in the process of trying to find the owner or a Scout-aged descendant. Let me know if you want to help in the search.
If you have an orphan Scouting artifact and you want to find the owner or a descendant, contact me and I will try to help.
There is much more to write about on this topic that I probably haven’t even thought about all of them. Let me know what you think. How else can we search for our Scouting ancestors? Share your success stories and even your frustrations. Let’s explore this topic together as we Scout out or Scouting ancestors.