A native of Mercer County and a Hamilton resident since age 5, Diana Ricigliano-Crannage got interested in her ancestry after her mother’s mother came to live with them.
“We would go to the Ewing Church Cemetery and visit the graves of family; all the graves near the church are relatives,” she says. These trips inspired her to do genealogical research—before the Internet and databases—by visiting churches and cemeteries, and she learned that she had connections to more than one Revolutionary War patriot.
One patriot was John Burroughs, founder of the First Presbyterian Church of Trenton, who fought in the Battles of Princeton, Monmouth, and Somerset and is buried in the Ewing Church Cemetery. Another, Houghton Mershon, founder of the Lawrenceville Presbyterian Church, provided supplies for the Battle of Princeton. Ricigliano-Crannage explains that to be a patriot did not require fighting in the Revolutionary War, but, as with Mershon, who supplied the fighters in the Battle of Princeton, it meant the person had to provide positive support for the American Revolution. Her ancestor Robert Lanning founded the Ewing Presbyterian Church; and her relative Charles Burroughs was mayor of Trenton from 1832 to 1847.
“I’m very proud of my ancestors,” she says, and finding them impelled her to join the DAR in 1996; her mother joined after her.
Ricigliano-Crannage says she has held every office in the General Mercer chapter, including regent (president) in the 1990s and co-regent three years ago with current regent Ellen Fayre, who she mentored. The chapter was named after Brigadier General Hugh Mercer, who came to America from Scotland in the mid-1700s, was mortally wounded in the Battle of Princeton, and died nine days later in Princeton Battlefield’s Thomas Clarke House.
One important activity of the DAR is historic preservation. “The Old Barracks is only there because the DAR made the difference,” Ricigliano-Crannage says. “There are a lot of old homes and buildings that are there because DAR members made the effort and restored them.”
The Isaac Watson House is one example of the DAR’s preservation efforts. Having served as a docent there, Ricigliano-Crannage says, “It is really fun for children to go through to see how people lived in that area and to hear their stories.” For example, they will see that shoes for the right and left feet were identical. And from the size of the beds, they will learn that people weren’t as big then as they are now.
The DAR also supports schools around the country, including American Indian schools and schools in Appalachia. It also works for veterans, for example, Ricigliano-Crannage’s chapter has collected and made items for veterans.
Another important activity of DAR’s 180,000 members (in about 3,000 chapters, in the United States and other countries) is community service. “DAR ladies donate over a million hours a year in community service,” Ricigliano-Crannage says.
Members are encouraged to log their hours and details of their service activities on the DAR website, even though there is no required number of hours.
Ricigliano-Crannage’s volunteerism within the DAR has included holding every chapter position as well as serving as state librarian and state organizing secretary.
Her more private service has included visiting a childless aunt who joined the WAVES during World War II after Ricigliano-Crannage’s uncle, her mother’s brother, was killed in the Battle of Midway. She was able to get her aunt into the Menlo Park Veterans Home and visited her there most Sundays for two years. Spotting an empty glass case near the front door, Ricigliano-Crannage got permission to do a display about her aunt and uncle and later found another glass case where she did the history of the WAVES. Other people followed suit and did displays about their own relatives.
One of Ricigliano-Crannage’s service activities ended with the recruitment of a new DAR member. Anna Mae Bakun, who had been president of the Yardley Historical Society for 35 years, was a friend of Ricigliano-Crannage’s mother when they were teenagers. As Bakun aged and started to lose her sight, Ricigliano-Crannage would drive her to lunch or breakfast, take her on errands, read to her, and write letters for her.
One day she said to Bakun, “Your family has been here for generations. I’ve done 27 women’s genealogies to Revolutionary War ancestors—there must be someone.” Ricigliano-Crannage did indeed find an ancestor-patriot who lived in Ringoes, and Bakun became a DAR member at age 80, joining the General Mercer chapter.
Ricigliano-Crannage invites anyone interested in researching their ancestry to join the DAR to contact General Mercer chapter regent Ellen Fayre at email@example.com.
“We help people with the research if they think they have an ancestor; we must prove and document every piece of the ancestor and his service,” she says, adding that a DAR member has to be 18 years or older and that the organization includes women from all races, religions, and ethnic backgrounds.