If the image that comes to mind at the mention of the Daughters of the American Revolution is blue-haired ladies drinking tea and eating cucumber sandwiches, drop by the Jefferson Township Historical Society Museum to meet Jana-Lee Bair, the society genealogist.
Bair has been doing genealogy for 28 years. She knew she came from an historic family, literally descendents of people who came over on the Mayflower. She is a fourth generation member of the DAR.
Interest in genealogy also runs in the family. Her grandmother and great-aunt were interested and she possesses a family tree from the mid-1800s, which is quite unusual since genealogy wasn’t as popular a hobby in those days. She has proven the Mayflower connection and traced ancestors back to New Amsterdam, the forerunner of New York City, but she is still working on proving her family has connections to the Jamestown settlement in Virginia. She does have the name of the ancestor, but is still working on linking her family to the person.
“All of the stories proved out,” she said. “I’ve traced the family back to Virginia in 1620.”
A shortage of records isn’t the problem, but often people gave different variations of names, she noted.
Doing genealogy has become easier with the advent of the Internet, Bair said. She uses Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org, a Mormon organization. The problem with these sites is the same as the problem with most Internet sites, “anyone can post anything,” Bair explained. “You have to back it up with primary sources.”
Primary sources include birth and death records, marriage certificates, family Bibles, diaries, census records and draft records. Secondary sources include grave markers, letters and the like.
Bair has done genealogies for other members of the society, helping some join the DAR.
She also worked on the history of the Chamberlain family.
“They are an old solid family and they’re still here,” she noted. She is tracing Elizabeth Chamberlain’s history back to Massachusetts. “Women fall through the cracks,” she said. “Women’s maiden names are dropped, 50 percent of the time nobody remembers the maiden name.”
Bair is determined to do what she can to keep the women from disappearing.
Perhaps all of her research has given her a sixth sense, but Bair claims she can often tell when she is related to someone. It happened with someone who visited the museum.
“We had similar personalities, it turned out we were 13th cousins or something,” she said.
Bair advises would-be genealogists to start with themselves.
“Write down everything you know, ask your oldest living relative and write down what they say, document everything and collect original vital records. Don’t think you are going to remember where you heard something.”
You can even trace families back to Europe, Bair noted. There are often records of nobility or gentry or trade guilds and the Roman Catholic church and some Protestant churches keep good records.
Bair was a scientist by trade until back problems forced her into retirement, but she keeps very busy with her avocation.