A Family Affair
A hobby in genealogy leads to a fulfilling leadership role in Daughters of the American Revolution
By TERESA A. McLAMB
As children, Carol Nunalee Weiss and her cousins followed their grandfather through his farm fields. As he worked, he told them tales of his parents and grandparents. He told them what life was like in rural southeastern North Carolina in the 1800s and early 1900s. “He planted an early seed for my love of genealogy,” Weiss said.
Years later, when Weiss’ daughter was born, her grandfather was 80. The realization that her daughter would never know this man who had meant so much to her led to a concerted effort to record his memories and the tales he had told her decades earlier.
Weiss asked questions, he answered, and she wrote. She began to research his family line, and the research has never stopped.
Her research led to membership in many organizations, including the Old New Hanover Genealogical Society where a fellow member introduced her to Daughters of the American Revolution. Twenty-three years later, in June 2018, she was inducted as the state’s leading officer, Regent. She will hold that position for three years.
Weiss was born in Fayetteville. Her mother was a native of Brunswick County; her father a native of Pender. They moved briefly to Brunswick County when she was young, then to New Hanover County.
Wilmington was a small town when she was growing up. Families had lived there for generations and knew each other. “Getting anywhere took about ten minutes,” she said. There were few stop signs and fewer lights. “I walked to and from Chestnut School (now Annie Snipes). We used to ride our bikes to the beach and roller skate in the streets. The neighborhood was full of children. It was a nice place to grow up,” recalls Weiss.
As teenagers, there was the annual spring skip day when they all piled into her girlfriend’s VW van and went to the beach for the day. “Gas was a quarter a gallon. So as school kids, we could come up with that much money,” she said.
When Weiss and her husband moved into their current home in the 1970s, she could do a rolling stop at the end of the street and keep going. A trip to the grocery store took and hour and a half, because she encountered so many friends. “Now I pass the time [on the street] waiting for the break in the traffic by counting cars; so far I’m up to 22,” said Weiss. The grocery trip has also changed. “Some years ago I was in the line, and I didn’t hear any Southern accents. I realized I had gone through my entire shopping experience and didn’t see anyone I knew,” she said.
Research has changed as well. After retiring from teaching, Weiss’ efforts in linking the past intensified. In the early days, she spent many hours in primary research at the county’s library in the Light Infantry Building on Market Street. She’d drive to the courthouses in Brunswick, Pender and Columbus. Now, much of the material is online. “Most of the courthouses have sent their documents to the state archives. Brunswick still had their early books when I started doing research,” said Weiss. Her initial efforts paid off with the Pridgen family line in Pender County, which she used to join DAR in 1995. Other lines followed as family members became interested, and she helped them to find the documentation needed to prove direct lineage to a Revolutionary War Patriot.
While researching her mother’s line, she found a female Patriot. “That’s a real find,” said Weiss. Mary Buck married a Willetts in New Jersey where their families were early settlers and landowners. Later, in North Carolina, Buck-Willetts sold beef to the commissioner of Brunswick County. “They would write out on a piece of paper an IOU in the name of the person and what service or goods they provided and what it was worth. After the war, when our government had money, these people were told to turn in these IOUs at various towns, and they would be paid. She did, and they’re filed under the Revolutionary Army accounts in the NC Archives,” explained Weiss. When she discovered the account in local records, Weiss headed for Raleigh to review the document. “I was able to hold the piece of paper in my hand. That was a thrill. Less than a year later, I returned to Raleigh, and the records had been retired. I could no longer hold them,” said Weiss.
Weiss’ research has shown her that many of the people whose ancestors have been in Brunswick County for generations originated in New Jersey and the village of Hempstead, Long Island, New York. “The Washburns and Willetts were original land owners there,” said Weiss. The Willetts became Quakers, moved to Cape May and then south in 1740. Along with them came the Leonards, Swains and others whose families have deep roots here. When the Spanish invaded Brunswick Town, Willetts was there to defend the town.
Weiss has proven eight additional Patriot lines of her family and is working on others.
DAR is a service organization. Founded in 1890, it has more than 185,000 members in 3,000 chapters worldwide, including several in southeastern NC. Weiss belongs to the 97-year-old Stamp Defiance chapter in Wilmington, the largest in the state, and has previously served in several positions for that chapter.
“I had no intention of getting involved. I was busy raising children, but the more I got to know about DAR and the more I saw what they did, the more captivated I became,” she said.
Chapter and national activities are very broad, but all focus on patriotism, education and historic preservation. The organization’s headquarters buildings cover a full city block in Washington, DC and include a museum and an extensive library open to the public.
As Regent, Weiss has a theme for her term: Tying the past to the present is our gift to the future. Weiss explains, “That sums up what we do. We work with school children, veterans, active military. We have DAR-support schools in the Appalachian Mountains. We do school programs like good citizenship and history essays. We educate people about the constitution and the history of our country.”
Annual state and national awards are presented in several areas including history teacher of the year. Through the state’s 7,000 members, millions of hours of community service are logged. The recent Gold Star Family Monument dedicated at Hugh MacRae Park was a project initiated by a member of the Stamp Defiance chapter. “We do a lot of volunteer work for the schools, hospitals and the Historic Wilmington Foundation. We have a scholarship at UNCW for graduate work and at Brunswick Community College,” said Weiss.
As Regent, Weiss will travel the state many times over in the next three years. Her typical week could be from 20 hours to 60 hours. “It just depends on what we’re doing,” she said. District meetings across the state occur over a ten-day period in the summer, the state conference is almost a week, the national conference is another week or more in DC, and she regularly visits other chapters.
“I never thought I’d be this involved. I only took positions where I felt I had something to offer,” explained Weiss. Those positions have included several state chairmanships, district director, chapter regent, and chapter registrar responsible for helping prospects to prove their lineage and more. “When I was asked to do a job, I had a hard time saying no. I did what they asked me to do, and I enjoyed it and got more involved. I believe in its mission,” she said.
Weiss continued, “I was talking with some young girls recently. One good thing about DAR is that it brings all the generations together. Grandmothers bring in their grandchildren. There are mothers and daughters. My sisters and my cousins have joined. It’s a family affair. And we have chapters all over the world. It shrinks the world.”