Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - April 11, 2014

Proud heritage

Daughters of the American Revolution trace roots back to 1776

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Cindi Simmons Newbold, who was adopted as a baby in 1954, grew up feeling adrift not knowing her heritage. But in her search during the last 29 years, she has discovered not only her parents but ancestors dating back to the American Revolution, and beyond.

"Seven brothers came as indentured servants," Newbold said her research showed, including her ancestor, James Cornett. "Their port of entry was Jamestown, Va."

His son, James Jr., is listed as part of the Virginia Militia and in the roster for the Revolutionary War for Montgomery County in Virginia, which made her eligible for Daughters of the American Revolution. Last fall she contacted the local chapter, knowing that its members shared her interest in genealogy.

"It's definitely wonderful being part of a group where people have similar passions, not only knowing their heritage but wanting to preserve it and to find such pride in it," Newbold said.

Applicants must prove their bloodline descent from an ancestor who aided in achieving American independence. Documentation must be given for each generation going back to the patriot ancestor, as well as for the Revolutionary War service of the patriot.

"Our ancestor drove one of the wagons to get supplies to Gen. Washington," said Diane Groome, regent of the Jose Maria Amador Chapter, which is based in Pleasanton and was chartered in 1973.

Besides monthly meetings, the group has workshops to help prospective members trace their ancestors, Groome said. This casual setting is a good chance for women to bring what information they have on their ancestors and find out what a search might entail.

"We also have luncheons in December and in May," Groome said. "We don't actively meet during the summer, but we try to get together and meet with prospectives."

Carole Vercellino, chapter registrar, works with prospectives to get their documents together and then sends in the application back to the national headquarters.

The Jose Maria Amador Chapter held its March meeting at the Museum on Main, with about 30 in attendance. The gathering began with members reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, the American Creed and the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, and singing "The Star-Spangled Banner," in accordance with the DAR's mission to promote patriotism and respect for the flag.

Groome reported to the membership on the 106th California State Conference for the DAR, which she had just attended in Los Angeles with six other chapter members.

The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution was founded 123 years ago, in October 1890, by women who wanted to express their patriotic feelings but were excluded from men's clubs. It now has a membership of 177,049, and a record 13,906 new members were welcomed last year.

The Jose Maria Amador Chapter has about 60 members. Many work with veterans at the Veterans Affairs facility in Livermore, and they also hold two annual essay contests — one on American history for grades 5-8, and another on Christopher Columbus for high school students. Members also work at the East Bay Stand Down, a four-day event held at the Fairgrounds each year to assist homeless veterans with medical, dental and legal services, and more.

"One of the goals of the new president general is to get DAR out in the community," Groome told the members.

The women are perhaps most visible in Pleasanton as they march each year in the Veterans Day Parade on Main Street, led by the Young American Patriots Fife and Drum Corps. They also join the ceremonies afterward at the Veterans Memorial Building.

Jill Zollinger, a Pleasanton resident who can trace her family's roots back to the 1400s, was sworn in to DAR at the meeting by chapter chaplain Kathy Revak. Groome also announced that Newbold had just been approved for membership and would be sworn in the following month.

After the business meeting, the DAR members watched a presentation by Jennifer Amiel, the museum's director of education, who focused on the group's namesake, early settler Jose Maria Amador.

Nancy Wilhelm, a Pleasanton resident who is originally from Louisiana, has been a DAR member for one year and is now 2nd vice regent.

"You can't buy into it, you have to be born into it," she said. "My granddad from the south always told us, 'You're a Daughter of the American Revolution.'"

She finally pursued the matter, noting that even with the advent of the Internet, the ancestral search requires tenacity.

Ann Narciso, a past regent, said she is amazed that people managed to do their genealogies back to the Revolutionary War before the Internet. This was particularly challenging on the West Coast; DAR headquarters in Washington, D.C., has a huge research library, she noted, as does the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City.

"You must have one patriot who gave service during the Revolutionary War but you may have multiple people," said Narciso, a San Ramon resident. "Mine was a female in the Revolutionary War, but Mom has been able to find seven ancestors. My grandfather started our genealogy, and Mom picked it up from that."

Newbold said she had very little to go on when she began to search for her birth mother. After working long and hard to find her, she figured she might as well continue her research into her family background. Now, almost three decades after she began, she likens the quest to a treasure hunt.

"Probably one of the most incredible gifts as a result of finding who my birth mother is, was that I found out I am one of five sisters," she said. "My eldest sister has a love of family history as well. She actually lives in Southern California. She was the first person I met from my family."

Together they began their journey backward in time, laboriously climbing the family tree and even making several field trips to Virginia, where they stood on the Cornett land and saw their ancestors' graves. They found that James Cornett Jr. had a son named John Cornutt, who was a slave owner, attorney and abolitionist.

"He had three boys and one girl from a slave woman named Rebecca," Newbold said. "He was married to Mourning Bedwell, and they had no children. He and Rebecca had four children, and they all lived together."

She has a newspaper article that tells about a mob of vigilantes who tied John Cornutt to a tree and whipped him because of his abolitionist views. He, in turn, sued them.

"John Cornutt took all of the slaves to Ohio and freed them," Newbold said. "He stayed in Virginia."

One son, Tate Cornute, fought in the Civil War for the north. It was this branch of the family that leads to Newbold and her sisters.

"He was very well respected in his community in Ohio, according to newspaper clippings," Newbold said. "For a black man to have an obituary on the front page — he died a landowner and well respected — to do that in one's lifetime, I can't even imagine the determination. It totally changed the destiny of his life."

She also found relatives taking part in more recent history.

"My grandmother was Louise Walker Perkins, and she was instrumental in growing the Operation Breadbasket membership with Rev. Jesse Jackson through building the Youth Choir, which was paramount to the achievements of the civil rights movement in Chicago during the 1960s," Newbold said.

Her aunt Lovana "Lou" Jones was an Illinois state representative, who helped mentor a young Illinois state senator named Barack Obama.

"When I think back, here we are, descendants of a slave, and I'll bet he couldn't even imagine he would have a granddaughter who would be sitting with a future president," Newbold reflected. "We all are stewards of each other's destiny."

Newbold has three daughters and 17 grandchildren.

"It is so rich for them to be able to grow up and know that their family contributed to this country. To know that when you are young is an amazing gift," she said. "One of things I've done as well is take my grandchildren to Washington, D.C., and teach them about this country and show them monuments that have our ancestors' names on them."

"I'm very excited to be a daughter," she said, "not only a Daughter of the American Revolution but to be a daughter of James, John, Tate and all those behind him."

"Not only have I gained four wonderful sisters," she added, "but also these wonderful sisters in DAR."

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