By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
ALLEN PARK – With genealogy workshops, veteran service and scholarship programs, the Downriver Monguagon Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution is nothing like the stereotypical image of upper echelon tea drinkers.
The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, a non-profit, non-political women’s service organization, promotes patriotism, preserves history and supports education, with chapters worldwide. Founded in 1890, the national organization celebrated its 125th anniversary last year.
For more information about the national organization, go to dar.org. Michigan chapters are listed at Michigandar.org, and include the Downriver group, monc.michdar.net, and a Dearborn group, the Colonel Joshua Howard Chapter, joshua.michdar.net.
The DAR is open to all women, 18 years and older, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity, who can prove lineal descent from an ancestor, male or female, who helped the cause of American independence through military, civil or patriotic service.
The Downriver DAR, which meets once a month September through May, has two upcoming free genealogy workshops, from 5 to 8 p.m. March 29 at Bacon Memorial District Library, 45 Vinewood in Wyandotte, and 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. April 23 at Southgate Veterans Memorial Library, 14680 Dix-Toledo Road.
Nancy Chascsa of Wyandotte said joining the DAR gave her a way to honor the patriots in her family tree.
“Many of us that do genealogy are the historians of the family,” Chascsa said. “I have pictures of my great, great grandparents. I wanted everyone to have copies of these ancestors they’d heard about, or they may be named after. They are treasures, and you want to pass them down to the next generation.”
Chascsa urged Lugene Flores of Taylor to join the DAR, and helped her learn how to research her lineage.
Flores felt it was important to find and document her patriotic ancestors, so their names would not be lost to their descendants.
“Whether it’s a male or female, either one could be a patriot,” Flores said. “Those names are now recorded, and I am tied to them.”
While Chascsa had heard family history, Flores had only a general impression of her lineage until the two started tracing her genealogy.
Flores was able to tie into a relative’s research. She said when people start from scratch to prove a lineal connection, birth certificates often only go back for a few generations, and were not required until 1911. Wording in legal documents, like land deeds and wills, sometimes provide a familial link.
“If you have to prove a new patriot, it is a very time-consuming and complicated system,” Flores said. “You must have absolute proof that each generation is connected to the next.”
Lisa Lesley of Allen Park already knew her ancestry had been traced to patriots by older relatives, and said she joined the DAR because she was impressed by the service elements of the group.
She encourages local high school students who exhibit good citizenship, leadership, dependability and patriotism to apply for DAR scholarships, which includes optional essay competitions. Local scholarship winners are forwarded to the state and national level for additional consideration. Eligibility is not linked to patriot lineage.
Lesley said the stereotype of the DAR as being composed of “old white ladies” poses a problem when attracting new members to the organization.
“This is not your grandmother’s DAR,” Lesley said. “It’s not a lot of white gloves and tea parties. It’s down and dirty. On April 23, I’m going to be going to the Great Lakes (National) Cemetery (in Holly) with a 5-gallon bucket and a scrub brush to go clean graves of our fallen veterans.”
Flores said black Americans who were servants to American Revolutionary War military personnel, or who contributed to the war effort through their labor or trade have been recognized as patriots, and their descendants have become members of the DAR.
Mary Ellen Vangoff of Dearborn said the family stories she had heard were inaccurate, and it took her three years to trace her lineage to a patriot and find accurate information about her genealogy.
“I stuck with it, and I liked the hunt,” Vangoff said. “It’s like solving a mystery. I had a good time and met some wonderful people.”
Vangoff said that while some people join the DAR to research their lineage, the friendships and service keep them with the group.
“It’s the camaraderie, the things we do for public service – these things are rewarding,” Vangoff said. “I met these wonderful ladies, and we travel and take two or three trips a year just to do research.”
Lee Anne Briese said she found out she liked discovering her family history more than she thought she would after family members pushed her to join the DAR.
Her mother, Marjorie Bryan of Allen Park, was a DAR member-at-large before the Downriver chapter formed in 1993.
Jacqueline Crandall of Allen Park, a 30-year DAR member, originally joined an Oakland County-based DAR chapter.
She said her son and two daughters joined the Children of the American Revolution, an offshoot of the DAR, and she was glad to have an activity all three could attend.
“It gave me an outlet where I could work and do service and still raise a family,” Crandall said.
Briese said the chapter’s service work includes baby showers for female veterans of limited means. They also support national DAR schools for at-risk children through donations, and recognize local Vietnam veterans whose service was under-recognized in the past.
Vangoff said members place flags on veterans’ graves in local cemeteries, clean up graveyards, and put veteran markers on previously unrecognized graves.
The Downriver chapter will hold a Mexican Fiesta buffet and trivia game night fundraiser at 6 p.m. May 6 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 15603 Wick Road in Allen Park. Admission is $20, and reservations can be made through [email protected]
Briese said the DAR reminds people that ancestors shaped the nation’s present and future.
“Our patriots are why a lot of people are here in this country now, and you’ve got to thank them,” Briese said. “It recognizes and honors our country.”
Crandall said the DAR has been called America’s cheerleaders.
“Almost everybody who joins comes out with a greater feeling of patriotism and love of country,” Crandall said. “It never fails.”