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Article updated: 9/10/2011 8:45 AM

Daughters of American Revolution preserve history, foster patriotism

By Joan Broz

Women were not allowed to engage in politics or enlist in the military at the time of the American Revolution, but that didn't stop them -- then or now -- from being an integral part of history.

During the fight for freedom, women raised money for the cause, boycotted British goods, made warm shirts for the troops, nursed the wounded, delivered messages across battle lines and provided food and shelter to soldiers at Valley Forge.

Today, service continues to be a cornerstone of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. DAR is based on preserving American history, promoting education and supporting patriotic endeavors. The organization was incorporated by an Act of Congress in 1896, and today has 3,000 active chapters in the United States and internationally. The DAR preserves local landmarks and historic structures across the country.

The National DAR Headquarters in Washington, D. C., houses one of the nation's premier genealogical libraries, a collection of American decorative arts including quilts, and an early American collection of manuscripts. Its Constitution Hall is a location for many large events.

Illinois has 110 active chapters with many resources and volunteer projects. According to the Illinois DAR site, ildar.org, members donated more than $1 million to the Statue of Liberty restoration and the World War II Memorial. The group also conducts genealogy workshops throughout the state and houses its extensive genealogy library at the Brehm Memorial Library in Mt. Vernon.

The Perrin-Wheaton Chapter of DAR is one of six in the DuPage area. Others are in Naperville, Glen Ellyn, Downers Grove, Elmhurst and Hinsdale. Members may select the chapter that is their best fit and may consider meeting times and activities.

Membership into the nonprofit and nonpolitical volunteer organization is restricted to women who can prove lineal descent from a patriot of the American Revolution.

If that sounds incredible, consider that there are 105 members in the Wheaton chapter. Going back 235 years in research is possible.

"It is amazing to me, too," said longtime Lisle resident Linda Wingstrom. "I started the way experts tell you to, with myself, and worked backward to find my ancestors."

Wingstrom said that many people know their first few generations consisting of their parents, grandparents and maybe even great-grandparents.

From there, Wingstrom encourages persistent digging through any and all records you find such as census, church records, wills, deeds, cemetery details and tax records. The first U. S. census was in 1790. From 1800 to 1840, the census included only the name of the head of the household. Starting in 1850, reports started enumerating everyone in a household by name.

"If you find ancestors who were in this country at the time of the revolution," Wingstrom said, "then you will be successful."

The knowledgeable genealogist found more than 20 of her own relatives from that era. She suggests those who may think their ancestors were all immigrants should consider that each generation you go back doubles the possibilities.

"If a generation averages 30 years, and say you were born in 1950, you would probably have 128 ancestors born by about 1740," Wingstrom said. "If any of them were born here, then you probably have someone who was in the revolution."

The national DAR society reserves the right to determine proof of lineage with its staff of professional genealogists. It also accepts inclusion of a few other services between 1775 and 1783, such as, civil service, signers of Declaration of Independence, medical personnel rendering aid to the wounded and other considerations under its guidelines.

Palatine member Susan Heitsch's ancestor was one of three young sisters who lived in Rockingham County, Virginia. The girls sheared sheep, made yarn and wove cloth for soldier clothing as well as cooked, baked bread and carried food to soldiers.

Wingstrom's ancestors came from Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Connecticut. One served with George Washington at Valley Forge and another as a guard of the Kingston guardship in Boston.

The Perrin-Wheaton chapter has a full calendar of events. Every year, it celebrates Constitution Week from Sept. 17-23 with displays in local libraries promoting the Constitution. Citizenship Day was established by Congress as Sept. 17.

The Wheaton DAR chapter offers scholarships, hosts a spring luncheon and Christmas tea, and contributes to many veteran activities. The group regularly helps the Wheaton Public Library's genealogical services to patrons. The group's other patriotic outreach includes publishing a manual on citizenship, participating in naturalization ceremonies and supplying flags to schools.

Each year, DAR has a Christopher Columbus Essay contest open to students in grades nine to 12, and an American History Essay Contest for elementary and middle school students. Winning essays proceed to a state level and then to a national level. For details on all contests and scholarships, interested students should go to DAR.org or the Illinois DAR at ildar.org.

The next meeting of the Perrin-Wheaton DAR Chapter will be Monday, Sept. 26 at which historian James Rowan will speak on the French and Indian War.

If you think you might qualify to join DAR, the local contact is llwings@attglobal.net. The Daughters of the American Revolution is an organization that recognizes the importance of women in active and responsible citizenship.

Joan Broz writes about Lisle.

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