Genealogy research crucial part of organization
Sequoyah Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution welcomed 13 new members at their most recent meeting. Pictured are (L - R) - Virginia Barkley, Katie Cagle, Anna Stevenson, Bay Cagle, Patsy Daniel, Carolyn White, Elizabeth "Snookie" McKinnon (seated), Kathy Ciomek, Debra Peal, Liv Taylor, sisters Sara Johnson and Nancy Orr, and Gina Haines.
As I listened to Annie Gunnin, registrar for the Sequoyah Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, discuss the research that led to the recent induction of a family of six women, it became glaringly apparent that genealogy is a skill that requires tenacity, precision, and creative thinking to build the most accurate picture of history.
Gunnin spent a month piecing together the branches of a family tree back from lifelong Pickens resident Patsy Daniel several generations to a Mrs. Jane Trail West, a female patriot from the Revolutionary War.
To become a member of the DAR, an applicant must prove they are directly descended from an ancestor who aided in American independence. That ancestor must have had a qualifying Revolutionary War service, such as direct military service, civil service, or patriotic service. A complete list of what qualifies an ancestor is listed on the DAR website. Jane Trail West qualified because she furnished supplies for the Revolutionary cause.
“This is a direct blood lineage society,” Gunnin said. “You can’t go back through an uncle or someone like that. I was so excited when I was able to connect this family back to a female patriot. There are so few female patriots. It’s rare - and the fact that we welcomed six women from three generations is rare as well.”
Of the local chapter’s 123 current members there are only three other members connected to a female patriot.
Tracking the family
Bay Cagle - Patsy Daniel’s daughter who is now a DAR member along with her own daughter Katie Cagle, her sisters Dana Daniel and Anna Stevenson, and Stevenson’s daughter Sydney Barnes - initiated the application process. She knew her family had a solid link to a male Revolutionary War patriot on her father’s side, but she wanted to make the connection on her mother’s side.
“I made a challenge to Annie and told her it would thrill me to find someone notable on my mother’s side, because my mother was convinced there wasn’t anyone,” Cagle said laughing, seated with her mother Patsy and Gunnin at her parent’s dining room table. Gunnin’s research led her back through a branch of Bradleys to a Mr. Benjamin West, on to the patriot Jane Trail West.
“You can have connections you know about, but the challenge becomes proving the lineage, because DAR won’t take your word for it,” she said. “You have to have documentation and prove each step along the way.”
Historic Welcoming: The Sequoyah Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution welcomed six women from three generations whose lineage stretched back to a female patriot. (Back Row L - R) Anna Stevenson, Bay Cagle, (Center) Patsy Daniel, (Front Row L - R) Katie Cagle, Dana Daniel, and Sydney Barnes.
She said here in Georgia some documentation can be tricky depending on which generation you’re researching. For example, death certificates were not required here until 1919.
“When you get back to a certain generation you’re not going to have a death certificate,” she said. “Sometimes you find wills that connect people, or Census records – and fortunately Census records that started in 1880 will name a relationship with a person in a household - but it can be hit and miss.”
Prior to the 1880 Census, people were listed as being part of a household, but the relationship was not included.
“Wills, church records, baptismal records are also used,” she said. “Land records can be a good source also. Some people may die intestate and you don’t have a will to go on, but you might have land that’s divided in a family. It can be frustrating, though, because sometimes a will may say they are leaving land to so-and-so, but it won’t identify them as the son or daughter, so it could be a nephew or brother. There’s specific language a document has to have to prove it.”
Cagle pulled out documentation from the 19th century that was used as proof of her lineage to Jane Trail West, and mentioned property records that show land transfer of her relatives who moved from Pickens County to Texas.
“You have to be quite the sleuth to read some of these documents,” she said. “You sometimes have to read it out loud to make sure you’re reading it correctly.”
In her research, Gunnin stumbled on The West Family Register, a crucial piece of connecting information. They discovered the West family dates back to Talking Rock (which was Gilmer County at the time) to at least the 1850s.
“What she was having trouble documenting was George West,” Cagle said. “She was trying to make sure these people from Spartanburg, South Carolina were the same people referenced around the north Georgia area.”
Other problems arose when they found the family had two Elizabeth Wests and two George Wests, which she said was common to have the same name across several generations.
Women are notoriously difficult to track, Gunnin added.
“They drop their maiden names at marriage,” she said, “and women were not typically property owners so in wills in the early 1800s or 1700s, if a father died and left property it was the son-in-law who received the property. It can get complicated.” Some information is already proven and logged in the DAR’s online database, which DAR’s researchers – as well as the public to a more limited degree - can use. Jane Trail West was already in the database established as a patriot.
“We did not have to prove Jane West’s service,” Gunnin said. “In that middle between her and Patsy was where I had to make the link, which is sometimes the hardest to get to.”
In addition to the DAR database, Gunnin uses resources such as Ancestry.com,. FamilySearch.org, FindingMyPast.com, Newspapers.com, as well as hard bound local history books like Our Family’s Book of Books, by Louise Dale Ray Jones, and Pickens County, Georgia Heritage 1853-1998.
“I use whatever I can think of. You have to think outside the box,” she said.
When Gunnin made the final connection through a lot of her own genealogical detective work and a little good luck, the family – especially Patsy Daniel - was shocked.
“It was a surprise,” Daniel said. “A big surprise. We knew we had patriots on [husband’s] side, but not mine.”
Cagle said while she’s not a genealogy researcher herself, she was raised to believe people need to know who their relatives are.
“Both my sides of the family were very interested in where we come from,” she said. “It’s always been very important for us to know our history. When you start looking into your past and find things out about relatives, it makes history real.”
How to join the DAR
Gunnin said Daughters of the America Revolution is not what many people think it is - a social club where ladies have lunch and chat.
“We are a hard-working service organization,” she said.
The week before the interview, over 40 of the members attended a wreath-laying ceremony. They also service veterans through a variety of programs, clean gravesites, and read the Declaration of Independence at the July 4th festivities. They hand out mini Constitution books on Constitution Day, have historical speakers at their meetings, and are involved in education including an essay contest they hold for local middle schoolers, as well as other initiatives.
“Our motto is ‘God, Home and Country,’” she said. “We’re not political, but very patriotic. The list is very long of what we do, and we have a very active membership.”
The same day the six female relatives were welcomed to the organization, seven other were welcomed – including 94-year-old Virginia Barkley, the second oldest woman to join the local chapter since it was founded in 2005.
“It was an incredible, historic welcoming,” Gunnin said. “Very special to have so many ladies join us.”
Learn more about DAR at www.dar.org.