This interview was conducted by email with Karen Batchelor, the first African American member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
How did you get started researching your family history?
I started my family research in January 1976 as a result of a New Year's resolution. My son was 5 months old and I wanted to learn more about my family to pass on to him. And it was the bicentennial year. I had never done genealogy before but took to it like a duck to water. I've been hot on the trail of ancestors every since then.
When you started, did you already know that your family was multiracial?
Yes. I always knew that my maternal great grandmother, Jennie Daisy Hood was White. She was from Waterford, [Pennsylvania,] and married my great grandfather, Prince Albert Weaver who was Black, maybe mixed according to oral family history. Jennie or "Dom" as she was called died when I was a toddler. But the family always talked about how her siblings didn't want to be around her Black family so I think that deterred anyone from looking into family history on that side. That is until me. It's Jennie's lines that led to my DAR ancestors.
My paternal great great grandfather was Isaiah Parker, the son of a slaveowner in Harris County, [Georgia]. He and my [great-great-]grandmother, Charity Ann (she was a slave) had 17 children together and lived as man and wife although they couldn't ever legally marry. The youngest of their children was my g grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Parker. I actually have a picture of my g grandfather in one of those bubble glass frames.
Why did you decide to pursue membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution?
Once I started my family research, I got back to the American Revolution with[in] 10 months. One of the librarians at the Burton Historical Collection, Margaret Ward suggested that I look into membership in DAR. It was never a goal of my research but an obvious conclusion to that particular line of research. So I applied.
Did you experience any difficulties joining the DAR because of race?
I was the first African American member so it's hard to know what DAR members thought about that. To be honest, I can only speculate that my race was initially an impediment to my becoming a member. I contacted 2 local chapters, was candid about my race and ancestry, and received no response. I think it was in the summer of 1977 that another local chapter, Ezra Parker DAR in Royal Oak, [Michigan,] contacted me and offered to sponsor me for membership. I was admitted to DAR in October 1977. Shortly after, there was a chapter that wanted to challenge my admission, I assume on the basis of race.
What lessons has your experience taught you about genealogy research?
I think the biggest lesson is like that quote from the movie, Forrest Gump - genealogy is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you'll get!!! The ancestors I have found are so far beyond what I ever expected when I filled out that first pedigree chart. I also learned that I come from strong stock, especially strong women - my ancestors on both sides went through life experiences that weren't for the faint of heart. They endured, they persisted and they persevered. I take that lesson and apply it to my life every single day!!
How important is genealogy research to understanding your heritage?
Critically important! Through my genealogical research, I have learned that my heritage isn't defined by just the color of my skin. It's that and so much more. I have ancestors who came here to find freedom and ancestors whose freedom was ripped away from them. My family was part of the great migration of Blacks to the industrial cities of the North after slavery and also part of the Great Migration of Puritans from England (the earliest landed in 1630). What started out as a search for all of my great grandparents has led me back into the earliest moments of this country and beyond. And it's not done yet!! An American story continues...