America's Daughters: More than Ribbons and Pins

06/30/2015 05:58 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2016

As we remember our Independence, every American owes a debt of gratitude to the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Last week Washington D.C. was a center of attention for multiple reasons, yet rustling through the streets of Washington, D.C. nearly 4,000 proud women gathered for an annual weeklong event steps away from the White House. One's first impression of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) can easily be incorrect. Behind the formal attire and elegant sashes rests an organization with a live-stream of events, active Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook activity, huge numbers of active projects, scholarship and grant programs, and a digital resource for anyone tracing the genealogy or history of the American Revolution.

The 124th Congress of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) celebrated a number of new initiatives, the completion of more than 10 million hours of service, and 125 years of preserving the memory of our Revolutionary War ancestors. These amazing women, with a worldwide hierarchy from reagents to pages and everything else, ribbons and regalia, and of course, their hard-earned pins, carefully balance the tradition of our past with the promise of our future.

A Legacy of Service and Preservation

I first came across the DAR as a young genealogist, when at age 10 I learned of my grandmother's membership in the DAR. Her mother (my great-grandmother) was active in her state chapter, and her mother (my second great-grandmother) and grandmother (my third great grandmother) were also members. While their membership left a legacy of genealogical information, it also represented a much larger legacy of community service and work to preserve the memory of the American Revolution.

The DAR holds the most authoritative and exhaustive database of Revolutionary War soldiers and their descendants. They have safeguarded the lineage of America's founders, identifying more than 144,000 Patriot ancestors in the past 125 years. The Genealogical Research System can be searched online, for free, by anyone. The Genealogical Records Committee (GRC) reports can also be freely searched online, gathering thousands of records and names that have been preserved by DAR organizations across the United States for many years.

Beyond serving as an occasional backdrop for TV series like the The West Wing and others, the DAR library has played a role in telling the stories of America's past on Who Do You Think You Are? with actors Rob Lowe and Bill Paxton. Each year the library and museum welcomes thousands of visitors who learn about the nation's history, the DAR's founding, and enter a rich, unparalleled collection of family history resources. The library is one of the nation's best resource for genealogists, especially if tracing an ancestor born in the United States before 1830.

Broadening the Story of the American Revolution

Last week at their annual Celebrate America night, DAR President General Lynn Young announced the formation of the DAR Patriot Records Project. While this project will undoubtedly prove useful for those seeking membership in the DAR, it has a much larger impact for historians, genealogists, and indeed anyone interested in learning more about the Revolutionary War.

While most patriot ancestors are recognized for military service, others who contributed to the efforts are eligible and in desperate need of recognition. The men and women who supported the Revolutionary cause in other means, including financial and volunteer efforts. In looking to identify collections outside of their own collections, the DAR will also work with archival institutions and other repositories to help identify, digitize, and index collections, which document contributions to the cause for American Independence.

These are the stories that will undoubtedly be uncovered as the DAR works its way through the thousands of original materials that will present new ways of thinking about the war for America's independence. The DAR will allow America to tell a broader, more complete story of the very event we celebrate each July 4th as it gathers records that show the full scale of contributions to the American Revolution beyond the battlefield.

With a goal of completing 12 million service hours this next year, and a year full of celebrations and hard work planned, it only seems fitting to tip our hat to the Daughters of the American Revolution as we celebrate America's independence.