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The Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tenn., Sam Venable column

By Sam Venable, The Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tenn.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

July 04--Got big Fourth of July plans today?

Backyard cookout, perhaps? Ski trip to the lake? Company golf tournament? Maybe gather with family and friends for neighborhood fireworks at dark-thirty?

Lawrence M. "Laurie" Croft's agenda is a bit more modest. He'll just be doing some light reading. Should only take about 10 minutes.

But what he'll be reading -- not to mention where and why -- is the stuff of goose bumps.

At 5 p.m., Croft will rise to his feet at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pa., and read aloud the Declaration of Independence -- a document signed by his many-generations-removed grandfather, William Hooper.

"You can run out of 'greats-' trying to recite the actual lineage," Croft told me with a laugh as he conversed via phone from his office in Richmond, Va.

"He lived in North Carolina and, like all the signers, was not very popular with the British. His house was burned, and he stayed on the run for a year."

Croft, 68, an attorney who specializes in insurance benefits, holds the volunteer office of "president-general" of a tiny association called DSDI.

As in Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Compared to the hundreds of thousands of members in larger historical groups -- Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the Revolution and National Society of Colonial Dames to cite only three -- the ranks of DSDI are sparse indeed.

Currently 1,350 are on roll.

Despite this relatively small number, they come from all 50 states and several foreign countries.

It's one thing to have a distant family member who inked his signature on parchment in 1776. But to be recognized by DSDI, applicants must have a direct lineal tie.

Of the 56 signers, 14 left no progeny. That makes for significant trimming of potential family trees.

"Yes, it does come as a disappointment for some applicants," Croft acknowledged. "Certainly, many people can claim a legitimate link through ancestors like a brother, uncle or cousin. But for our purposes, they must be directly descended."

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Members gather at historic U.S. sites for spring and fall meetings, but their biggie always centers around July 4th in Philly. Croft said he expects about 100 for today's activities.

"We're not a political group," said Croft -- who, by the way, was a defensive end for the University of Virginia football team in the late 1960s. "In fact, our members represent political views from all across the spectrum."

(For details about DSDI, membership information, scholarship programs and commemorative activities sponsored by the group, see

And happy birthday to all Americans -- no matter who your forefathers were.


(c)2014 the Knoxville News-Sentinel (Knoxville, Tenn.)

Visit the Knoxville News-Sentinel (Knoxville, Tenn.) at

Distributed by MCT Information Services



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