Joan Barnes, a retired teacher, gently unwraps something - gracious pity, it’s a brick - and hands it across the kitchen table.
Orange and crumbly, this brick is straight out of Barnes’ heritage. It comes from the ruins of Malvern Hill, built in Virginia more than 300 years ago by Barnes’ first ancestor in America. He was Richard Cocke, who emigrated to Virginia about 1630.
“My first ancestor built a mansion across the James River from John Rolfe and Pocahontas,” Barnes says. Cocke’s grandson, Roger Bailey Cocke, fought in the county militia in the Revolutionary War.
The brick is a tangible piece of her family history.
“Let me tell you I cried when I got it,” she says. Some day, she’ll pass it on to her daughter.
Welcome to the Daughters of the American Revolution, a network of women who trace their way across seven generations or more to an ancestor who fought in the War of Independence.
The Veradale Chapter of the American Revolution formed about a year ago, an offshoot from a larger Spokane chapter. About a dozen members belong to the Valley group. Meetings are monthly, September through May.
Women come to the DAR to learn whether family legends are true and sometimes to realize a dream their own mothers may have talked about - but never found the time to do.
In the process, members of DAR encounter a new family of women, a vast one, rich with traditions, camaraderie and an enormous collective memory of our nation’s history.
“The others know 10,000 times more than I do,” says Robin Oos, a new member.
“When I was a child,” Oos says, “my family was always saying we had an ancestor who crossed the Potomac River with George Washington. But as it turned out, we had an ancester who spent the winter with George Washington at Valley Forge. My mother was always going to get around to joining DAR, but she never did. It takes lot of work.”
“Members of my family have fought in every war in United States history, except the War of 1812,” said Barnes, who has belonged to DAR for just a year.
Barnes is training as a docent. She hopes to give short talks with slide shows for senior citizens or Girl Scouts or schoolchildren. An array of slides of DAR historical materials arrived in her mail recently. DAR collections include colonial toys, footwear, ceramics, florals, silver, you name it. The quilts just send her.
“Here’s a petticoat,” she says, offering a slide. The white-on-white work is intricate. “Can you imagine the time it took?”
Talk to Linda Shiflett, another DAR member from the Valley, and you’ll catch a glimpse of the fast-paced inner workings of the DAR. Shiflett, an agent for US Travel, handles travel arrangements for the DAR on a national level. It’s a day in, day out job. And a manic schedule.
“I live, eat and breathe the DAR,” Shiflett said. At the moment, she’s immersed in a DAR tour that will take national dignitaries to Scotland, London and Paris this fall.
Shiflett is bird-dogging every detail: Get to Chicago a day ahead of time, to welcome each participant. Try to do the impossible - fit extra London theater arrangements in for a few septagenarian and octogenarian members. Wait and see if Prince Charles will entertain the group. Shiflett’s not holding her breath.
“I’d rather shop at Harrod’s,” she said.
Now in its 107th year, the DAR’s mission is to preserve history, promote education and patriotic endeavor.
Its women offer scholarships, volunteer with veterans hospitals and offer their expertise in geneology and Americana. At its national headquarters in Washington, D.C., its owns Memorial Continental Hall, DAR Constitutional Hall, the DAR Museum and the DAR geneological library - the largest block of property in the world owned entirely by women.
Still, DAR deals with a thoroughly modern world. Today’s concerns include a sagging membership and negotiating with the IRS over two years of tax audits. The group woos extra bits of cash, offering special DAR credit cards, mugs, calendars, luggage tags and more.
But for the women of the Valley’s DAR group, those concerns are secondary. They are more concerned with helping each other with their genealogical research. That sometimes takes years.
“I’m down to one missing link,” says Valley resident Barbara Wold. “We just have to prove that the fourth generation (ancestor) is the son of the fifth ancestor.”
Until Wold can document that, through birth certificate, marriage license, death certificate or census records, she can’t become a member. She can, however, attend meetings.
Barnes got a great head-start on her research when, one birthday, her mother gave her a genealogical book about their family line. She also had belonged to a group called Magna Carta Dames for years before she joined DAR.
Then, a few years ago, her sister traveled east and visited the estate where the original Malvern Hill was built. The spot is not far from historic Williamsburg.
Owners of the present-day home invited Barnes’ sister to see the remains of the mansion - just a chimney and scattered bricks.
She came away bearing three of the bricks, one for herself, one for her daughter and one for Joan.
“It was a real thrill to know this was a real piece of history, and it belonged to my family,” Barnes said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Photos (1 Color)
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