As a 10-year-old, Mary Hegeman was curious about the family's box of old pictures. She began then trying to figure out who they might be.
It would be decades later before she was bit by the genealogy bug, as the Hartsburg resident put it.
Hegeman's search began purely to discover her namesake.
Ten years later, she continues to spend vacations at genealogy seminars and libraries. And she has joined the Daughters of the American Revolution Jane Randolph Jefferson chapter.
The local DAR chapter will share how others can discover whether they are eligible to join at DAR 101 beginning at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdale Room on St. Mary's Boulevard.
With both her parents and grandparents deceased, Hegeman's family search began at www.ancestry.com, looking through U.S. Census records.
Eventually, she found not only the name and location of her maternal grandmother, Mary Helen Crawford - she found a photo, too.
By then, she was too interested to stop looking further. That line led to Thomas Rutter, the patriot who made her eligible to join the DAR.
When she contacted the local chapter to proceed with an application, organizers were impressed with how much information and documentation Hegeman had gathered on her own.
Many times, applicants can benefit from the necessary proof already gathered by other descendants of the same patriot, Hegeman said.
Birth certificates, in particular, can be difficult to find as they were not required through most of the 19th century. But death certificates and marriage licenses often are enough to prove lineage, she said.
What often is the most difficult is proof of patriotic service, she said.
The website www.fold3.com has been a good resource for military records, she said.
But she warned, "a big mistake I made early on was trusting everything online."
By comparison, though, ancestry research today with the Internet is much easier than physically going to every library and institution, as was required decades ago.
"It's fun picturing those people and learning about what they did for a living or where they lived," she said. "It helps me feel connected to the past."
As a full-time professor at the University of Missouri and part-time teacher at Columbia College, Hegeman doesn't have as much leisure time as she would like to devote to her exploration.
In the future, she hopes to be able to prove other patriot lines, as well as discover more about the 700 individuals she has identified on her tree and the many more she hasn't found yet.
And the eventual goal would be to publish a family history.
"This is a way of honoring my ancestors," Hegeman said. "I can't imagine stopping."
Her pursuit of identifying where she came from took her to Baltimore, Md., this fall where she visited ancestral sites and returned with an original of a four-plot grave deed where her great uncle and grandparents are buried.
"It's cool - holding the same document my ancestors held and signed," Hegeman said.
And at the Maryland Historical Society, she held a lock of hair from a great-grandparent, which she said was both "moving" and "weird."
"My main goal was just to be there, to stand over their graves and find the landmarks," she said.
The sense of place Hegeman found there is similar to the kinship she feels with the other members of the DAR.
"I used to think of the DAR as little, old ladies wearing pearls and drinking tea," she said. "But I found out what it is today - we learn so much at meetings and it's a lot of fun."
Do you have a Revolutionary War patriot in your family tree?
The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) is a women's service organization that works to honor and preserve the legacy of our patriot ancestors.
The Jane Randolph Jefferson Chapter of Jefferson City will be hosting DAR 101, and introduction to the DAR, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdale Room on St. Mary's Boulevard.
Anyone interested in learning about this historic preservation society is welcome. For more information, please contact: Eva Yeager, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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