By Douglas W. Wesner
More than 270 years after the birth of an American pioneer and explorer, 73 ancestors of Daniel Boone returned to his birthplace in Exeter Township, eager to learn more about the family history and the time period in which Boone lived.
From June 14 to 17, the internationally-known Boone Society Inc. held its biennial conference and "family reunion" at the Sheraton Hotel in Wyomissing. Delegates from places like Missouri, Kentucky, North Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia and Pennsylvania shared ancestral stories, took part in genealogy workshops and family history roundtables, and toured the Daniel Boone Homestead, Morgan Log Home, parts of Lancaster County and Valley Forge Park.
Boone was born in 1734 to parents Squire and Sarah. As a child, he played with his 10 brothers and sisters in the countryside of colonial Berks County. His family walked to North Carolina and then eventually into the wilderness of Kentucky and far beyond.
Membership in the Boone Society is open to the public, but the majority of its members have family ties to Boone or his immediate relatives, said Gene Ray of Atlanta, Ga. "There are thousands of identified relatives from every state in the Union, including Hawaii," Ray said.
Ray identified himself as a great-grandson (five times removed) of Boone's brother Edward. He founded the society more than a decade ago.
Brothers Daniel and Edward Boone married sisters. Current society President Rochelle E. Cochran of Hot Springs, Ark., is descended from the union of Martha Bryon and Edward Boone.
The original family name has been adapted, with alternate spellings including Boon, Bohon, deBohun, Bown, Bone and LaBoun. People with potential ties to the family's ancestry number in the millions, Ray said.
Every two years, the members meet in a different locality with Boone family historical significance. In 2008, the society's members will converge on Lexington, Ky.
Both Ray and Cochran said the historians and colonial period experts within the club are constantly sifting through legend and factual data. "The Boone Society strives to separate fact from fiction, to help identify and preserve literature, research relics and historic sites of, by and about the Boone family," the society's mission states.
However, when John Philson became Boone's publicist, the line between fact and legend became harder to distinguish, much like in the case of Davy Crockett of Tennessee, Ray said. Boone's exploits were read widely in Europe as a result.
Society membership has been a source of family pride, togetherness and purpose for the three widowed Van Bever sisters from Kentucky, said middle sister Emily A. Cronin. The sisters took the "long drive" together from Kentucky, where two of them still reside. Their return trip will be sweetened by a side excursion to Hershey Park.
"Keith [given a family surname by her mother] Ann and I have been to St. Louis and ceremonies and conferences in our home state," Emily added. The trio was delighted to visit the beautiful 500-acre tract where their ancestors originally grew up. They were also impressed by the friendly reception given to them at the Homestead, including representatives from the Berks County Historical Society.
Cochran and Ray worked with "old friend" and park director James Lewars to coordinate a visit to Reading and the birthplace of the "man who helped to shape America as we know it today."
"Pennsylvania in general has done a great job in preserving its rich past," Cochran said.
Daniel Boone "was the quintessential pioneer who optimized the adventuring spirit that has become an important part of American Culture today," Cocharan said, adding that the scouting movement originally took its image from Boone's life and accomplishments.
For more information visit www.boonesociety.org or write the Boone Society Inc., 316 Fox Run Circle, Hot Springs, Arkansas.
The Boone Society has considerable resources at its disposal to help possible relatives determine aspects of their lineage.