Historic Preservation, Education, and Patriotism
JeanEllen Melton talks about honoring American history on July 4th weekend
JeanEllen Melton is a longtime friend of ours. She and her husband Jonathan and their sweet little daughter have been in front of our cameras for many years (picture below is from 2020), and in that time I have grown to appreciate her knowledge of and stories about Daughter os the American Revolution (DAR for short). So, in honor of Independence Day I thought I'd share a quick interview with JeanEllen to learn more about DAR and the American history that is so woven into her life and the lives of DAR members.
The Daughters of the American Revolution of more than 1,000,000 women that was founded 130 years ago. It honors history and ancestry while being relevant in today's world. DAR members join to honor their heritage as well as make a difference in their communities across the country and the world.
Abby Laub: When did you learn about DAR and that you had the lineage you did? Who were your ancestors?
JeanEllen Melton: I actually learned I was related to Daniel Boone in third grade. We were learning about him in school, and my mom told me he was my cousin. She already belonged to DAR at that point so she'd done the research. Living in Central Kentucky, I periodically run across names I recognize from her research like the Barnhills and Swopes, in addition to the Boones.
AL: What does it mean to you on a personal and professional level to have this unique involvement in American history?
JEM:. It's neat to hear stories of the people who blazed the trails west and to think that those are "my" people. I'm a pretty twenty-first century person, so to think about their hardships or having a spouse gone for months or even years in pretty unfathomable to me. What's neat about being almost 250 years removed from the American Revolution is that many, many people have connections to our nation's founding that don't necessarily realize it. It's cool to know with certainly that my family was here for it, but that applies to so many of us, and there are stories to learn in every family.
AL: Were you always a history buff?
JEM: Definitely not! I was more into Sweet Valley books than history books. The DAR was founded on three objectives: Historic Preservation, Education, and Patriotism. I found my passion in the organization in the objective of Education - we support education in so many ways. I often say that if my mom hadn't been a member, I probably never would have joined because I wouldn't have dug into our family history. That said, I do love the stories. When we started dating, I looked up my husband's family in the DAR Ancestor database. I expected to find a man, but instead found a woman who was a widow at the time and who gave a gun to the county militia. That fascinates me! I want to know more about her!
AL: What unique things have you learned about American history through DAR? Or just general interesting observations?
JEM: We're actually celebrating our annual conference this week, and this is one of my favorite weeks every year. We're virtual this year, but even so, there are so many amazing speakers! In the past, I've had the opportunity to hear from military veterans like U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, who incidentally is a Daughter, and Bob Dole; we had the cast of Hamilton one year and the guys who started Story Corp. Back when I was first getting involved Charleton Heston came. It didn't mean much to me, but the older ladies were very excited!
AL: If you could teach kids today something about history, what would it be?
JEM: I think that the idea of history sounds so huge and dull, but making connections is so important. In high school, we had to ask our parents where they were when Kennedy was shot. My dad said he was standing in the parking lot of his high school (which later became my middle school) on a smoke break with his buddies when they heard it on the radio. That made it so real to me. I can picture that! At some point, I can imagine having the same conversation with my daughter about where I was on 9/11. I think if kids can connect with the stories that make up the dates in a history book, and relate those stories to how and why we live the way we do today, that is where history gets interesting. I would point out here that the DAR sponsors an American History Essay Contest every year for children in fifth through eighth grades. The topic every year prompts children to do some research and then write their own story as if they were living in the time period or situation of the prompt. The national winners are invited to read an excerpt at our conference every year and I'm always impressed!
AL: What does celebrating July 4 mean to you? How do you celebrate?
JEM: So I probably complain about the neighborhood fireworks a little too much, but I do love to get together with friends to cook out and play with sparklers. And I love a good community parade! I think that's what the Fourth is about - getting together with friends and neighbors of our choosing to celebrate our freedom and right to gather when and how we like.
AL: How can people get involved?
JEM: Anyone who is curious about their own ancestry should absolutely visit dar.org to do some research! If you're interested in learning more about the work of the DAR, you can find so much information on the website. The organization is 130 years old and over 1 million women have joined since our founding. Today's DAR is focused on community service (Daughters made and donated more than 1 million masks and other pieces of PPE during the pandemic!), preserving history, education, and supporting current and past service members. There really is something for anyone!
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