The Ongoing Evolution of the Revolutionary DAR

The Ongoing Evolution of the Revolutionary DAR

By Jennifer M. Aguilar

If you grew up in the United States, and specifically in the south, then you’ve likely heard the term “DAR” before. You might even know what those letters stand for, the Daughters of the American Revolution, but for many there is a lot of confusion about what the DAR actually does, and what makes people continue to join a national organization that was first founded well over a hundred years ago in an attempt to help honor the patriots who had died earning America its freedom.

According to the DAR’s official slogan, the organization’s mission is simple. It is “actively supporting preservation, promotion of education and patriotic endeavors.” But for Collin County residents, it seems the draw of such a historically-minded organization hits a lot closer to home. It creates an opportunity to learn more about one’s own heritage, while also playing an active role in paying tribute to – and preserving – America’s incredibly rich history.

For Elizabeth Smith, one of over 200 members of the McKinney chapter of the DAR, her first introduction to the organization came from her grandmother, who was also a member. It was through her grandmother’s studies that Smith first became aware of her own family’s role in American independence and became excited to learn more about her family’s history, as well as her country’s.

“My grandmother was working on compiling our ancestry in the ’80s with the goal of joining DAR, and learned we could be traced back to the earliest era of America. She would show me old family Bibles and other records from the 1800s which fascinated me,” Smith said.

Many don’t realize that while the DAR is open to any women over 18-years-old, it does require that all its members be able to prove their lineal descent from patriots of the American Revolution. Fortunately, for those who must start this process for themselves, the DAR provides great resources.

“I had heard that becoming a member was challenging due to all the records required. I felt fortunate that my grandmother was a member, and that I was a ‘legacy,” Smith said. “For those who aren’t a legacy, the organization has a wonderful team of people, in the form of local volunteers, some of whom are also professional genealogists, to assist you in finding records and documents you never knew existed.”

In fact, learning more about their families’ histories seems to be a big draw for many of the DAR’s members. That was certainly true for Anneliese Griego who knows firsthand how helpful the DAR can be at uncovering one’s genealogy, since she was first introduced to the organization after having become curious about her own family’s history in the United States.

“I first learned about the Daughters of the American Revolution through a visit to the State Fair of Texas. My father had provided me with some rudimentary genealogical information on his family when I became curious about my roots a few years earlier.  In my research, I had discovered that I had a patriot who fought in the Revolutionary War. When I visited the Jane Douglas historic DAR home located on the State Fair of Texas grounds in downtown Dallas, I knew that I wanted to join this historic body of ladies committed to service,” she said.

After meeting a few DAR members there at the State Fair, Griego said they put her in touch with members of what would become her local chapter, in McKinney, who helped her complete the necessary paperwork to become a member.

“I began working immediately with a lady who has become a dear friend, Cathy Peterson, on the official paperwork to join the chapter. She made the process so easy, helping to find missing documents and preparing the official form,” she said. “While I knew that I had a patriot ancestor, I had no idea what his service was, or where and how my family entered the country. Cathy laid it all out, and shared with me the details surrounding his service,” Griego said.

McKinney resident Jolie Williams was also attracted to the DAR because of its great ability to connect members to their families’ roots. Yet her first exposure to the organization was via thoroughly modern means, namely a distant relative’s posts on Facebook, of all things.

“She had completed our family tree back to the Mayflower, and had come across a few Patriots from The Revolutionary War. If it hadn’t been for her knowledge and dedication to discovering the family tree I would never have known the interesting history of my family,” Williams said.

Like Smith and Griego, Williams said she’s amazed at how much she learned about her family while in the process of joining the DAR. “It is amazing the family history you never hear about. I learned that many of my ancestors came to America on the Mayflower, which means I am related to three presidents (Franklin D. Roosevelt, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush), and several other notable figures (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Humphrey Bogart, Christopher Lloyd, the Baldwin brothers…),” she said. She also learned of family members who walked the Trail of Tears, and a female doctor that served the royal family in Austria up until a hostile change of power in the 1800s when she then fled to the United States.

Of course, it’s not just basic or even historical information that people tend to uncover while learning more about their lineage. For many, their family’s histories begin to come to life, and in some cases, old mysteries are finally solved.

For Smith, the research revealed both the namesake for her brother’s middle name and that her family has a long history of a shared profession. “The process was exciting because these old records became more than just names on a page, but a living document of our family. For example, I learned that I come from a long line of dentists. My great great-grandfather was a dentist! Could you imagine going to a dentist in the 1800s?” Smith said.

For Williams, the process highlighted just how far recordkeeping has come over the years. “The most interesting and comical thing we found was on my mother’s birth certificate from the 1950’s. Her address is written ‘20 miles north.’ It doesn’t state north of what… We still laugh and joke about it on many occasions,” Williams said.

Though the paths to joining the DAR looked a little different for each of these women, and likely most every member, the draw to joining the group seems similar.

Aside from helpfulness in uncovering genealogy, the members say that the DAR provides them with wonderful friendships, as well.

“The minute I arrived at the chapter meeting, I was introduced to several ladies who were kind and inviting. As I participated in the recitation of the pledge and Americans Creed, and then listened to a presentation on the Marquis de Lafayette and heard the ladies talking about the work of the chapter, I knew I was in the right place,” Griego said. “I love the opportunity that the DAR gives me to meet ladies across the country who share my love of country and desire to help those around me.  At our annual State Conference, I renew friendships with ladies I have met over the course of my membership.”

Of course, she’s quick to admit that there remains a bit of a stigma regarding the DAR’s membership. “I think that the biggest misconception about the DAR is the composition of its membership,” Griego said. As Williams put it, “I had heard that DAR members were only little, old ladies.”

But that is hardly the case. “Today’s Daughters of the American Revolution are a mixture of younger ladies just beginning their families and careers, professional ladies at the pinnacle of their careers, as well as our more seasoned members who provide us with the rich context and traditions of our Society,” Griego said. “The truth is that this organization is comprised of members of Gen X, Gen Y, and Millennials in addition to our Baby Boomers and Traditionalists members, and this diversity is making a huge impact on the organization,” Williams said.

Even Smith, a legacy member, said she initially had some reservations about joining the organization as a younger woman. “One concern I had was in joining my grandmother’s group. What would I have in common with these more experienced ladies? Would there be women my age I could become friends with?” Smith said. Fortunately, she soon found that she didn’t need to worry. “…being new to Texas, this group of women from diverse backgrounds, with varied interests and hobbies has been a wonderful way to meet some pretty amazing women,” Smith said. In fact, McKinney’s chapter actually has a juniors group specifically for women between the ages of 18 and 35. These members participate within the larger group, but they also host activities specifically geared for the younger members. The juniors group has already enjoyed a trip to downtown Denton to see a historical costume exhibit, and is in the process of planning a dinner and dance to be hosted this fall.

And the juniors group is just one of the ways the John Abston chapter in McKinney are helping to bridge the generational gaps that can sometimes divide otherwise likeminded individuals. “The John Abston Chapter is actively moving forward by reaching out to younger generations through the increased use of technology,” Williams said. It uses technology to help give new members even more ways to get involved in its many missions.

Though Williams has only been a chapter member since 2015, she said she’s been glad to find ways to use her gifts and passions to help further the DAR’s cause. “I have a fly by night schedule, being in real estate. Once I found areas where my skills were needed, and didn’t require me to attend every meeting, I found a way to plug in. The John Abston Chapter excels in using technology through a variety of different platforms including Facebook Live, Skype, and FaceTime to work together collectively,” she said.

“In the short time I have been a member, one role I have taken on revolves around a bit of ‘public relations’ where I work to share important dates and events with the greater McKinney area. I like it because it helps our community learn about and participate in our activities including remembrances and other such community events,” Smith said. “It feels good when people who don’t know about the DAR thank you for the good work you are doing.”

It is actually that sense of working for a greater good that Griego credits with uniting all of the DAR’s many members, both now and with the generations of the past. “Today’s Daughters are motivated by a strong loyalty to our nation and are deeply involved in our communities, always finding new ways to protect and preserve our past, educate our future, and recognize and assist those who have made and continue to make sacrifices to keep our country safe,” Griego said.

The DAR continues to find numerous ways to further their mission each year, from helping teach kids how to say the Pledge of Allegiance to fundraising in order to help assist veterans. What seems to be particularly appealing to the McKinney members, though, is the fact that DAR groups can be found nationwide, yet each chapter centers its efforts on serving locally, in their own communities.

In this way, it becomes clear that the DAR is as much about service as it is about socializing. In fact, each of the women was quick to talk about the many wonderful ways the DAR has continued to serve its various communities.

“Our volunteer work and fundraising goes directly back to the community. From scholarships, to cleaning up historic preservation sites, this group focuses on improving the area in which we live,” Smith said. “My favorite part is lending a hand to an organization who believes strongly in patriotism, the community, and education. These tenets have stood the test of time. And in these trying times globally, a renewed focus here at home is a welcome respite.”

The local involvement is what interested Farmersville resident, Loydell Seward, to become a member of the DAR as well. She has been an active part of the John Abston chapter since 2008, and served as Chair of the Historic Preservation Committee for many of those years.

“One of our big local projects is caring for the gravestones at the John Abston cemetery,” Seward said. Located near Wylie, the cemetery was first founded in 1856, and it is home to at least a few Revolutionary War veterans, including its namesake, John Abston. As one can imagine, the years have taken a toll on the headstones, which is why the DAR took it upon itself to ensure the gravestones received proper care.

“We hired a really good restorer to come. He repaired the broken stones and then cleaned them,” Seward said. And that is just one example of how the DAR continues to honor the history of this nation, specifically the fallen heroes who hailed from Collin County.

Of course, the DAR is also passionate about helping current veterans. “We do a lot with our current and retired military, such as hosting memorials, or attending honor flights welcoming home our veterans… Something that resonated most strongly with me was the sense of patriotism and the work they do with and for veterans,” Smith said. “One day soon, we hope our chapter may be able to arrange a ride service to our veterans for medical care… Things like this may be small on the whole, but contribute to the greater good of our society,” she said.

“We routinely collect items and raise funds for our active duty military and their families, recognize the service of our veterans, and plan and participate in ceremonies and parades to celebrate our nation’s commemorative events including Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and the Fourth of July,” Griego said

And those are just a few of the various ways the DAR continues to serve. “Through our three missions of historic preservation, education and patriotism, we are able to make a dramatic impact on those around us. We volunteer in local schools helping to teach children about the flag and our constitution, we recognize students for their achievements, and we award scholarships,” Griego said.

In fact, after joining the DAR Griego remembered that she had been on the receiving end of the DAR’s generosity many years ago.“I had actually been awarded a DAR Good Citizen my senior year in high school.  When I later learned about the organization, and more about what the award actually represented, I was really honored that I had been selected to represent Leadership, Dependability, Service, and Patriotism,” she said.

The DAR also works closely with immigrants. “We assist recent immigrants studying for their citizenship exams with the DAR Manual for Citizenship and celebrate with them when they are naturalized,” Griego said.

“While members are direct descendants of Patriots of the Revolutionary War, the service that today’s Daughters perform are very patriotic, supporting our armed forces, educating youth, and preserving the full range of our history (not just Revolutionary times).  The Daughters are focused on service in so many other areas from supporting American Indians and preserving their culture, conservation efforts to protect our planet, and supporting women from all walks of life through issues of family, career, and health… The core of the DAR is philanthropy, whether by supporting our service men and women, educating children and new residents in the areas of American History and Patriotism, or by preserving and revitalizing historical buildings and locations,” Williams said. “In Texas alone the DAR owns and operates the Continental House at Fair Park, DAR State Forest in Buna, Founders Memorial Park Cemetery in Houston, and the Power Home in Victoria.”

And that is in addition to the numerous local endeavors the various DAR chapters undertake, in order to help serve their area residents. “I hope to help make the lives of those around me better through my service in the DAR.  I also hope that by celebrating our past, we can all come together as a nation as we move forward,” Griego said.

Her sentiments were echoed by her fellow members. In fact, that seems to be why the DAR continues to draw an increasingly diverse group of women to its organization, women who are equally passionate about preserving history, and helping to shape it.

“There are so many wonderful parts of being involved in with the Daughters of the American Revolution.  I love being engaged and helping my community.  The best parts are the people, and the ability to build friendships with such a diverse group of ladies,” Williams said, “I hope to contribute a sense of community and progressing forward by learning from our past.

Collin County is already home to several chapters of the DAR, including ones in Garland, Rockwall, Richardson, Mesquite, Plano and Allen. For Wylie residents interested in joining, Julie Avedikian is currently in the process of organizing a new Chapter of the DAR. She will be hosting an open house from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday, July 8 at Wylie United Methodist church, 1401 FM 1378. You can also email [email protected] to learn more about this event, or joining.