Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG
Family Reunions have been in vogue for over 100 years and remain popular today, perhaps in part due to the increased interest in genealogy and family history in recent years. With family members today living all over the country and even the world, often a reunion or a funeral is the only time everyone gets together.
Family reunions held in the late1800s or early 1900s provide unique opportunities for family historians. The group photo taken at the 1921 Jenkins reunion includes my father at age seven, the only photo Iíve ever seen of him as a child. When the same family held their 1923 reunion in Erie, Pennsylvania, the Erie Times featured it and printed a photo I treasure of my 97 year old great, great grandmother Rozillar Jenkins in her rocking chair holding her Bible.
The Tunkhannock Republican (Pennsylvania) printed an address read at the Bates-Vosburg family reunion in1927. The author, born in 1861, provided a genealogy of the first three generations of the family that helped me prove my great grandmother Polly Vosburgís ancestry. I didnít know the maiden name of a great uncleís wife, until I found an article in the 1910 Scranton Republican listing them as attendees at her family reunion.
My father and his eight siblings initiated the annual Gant family reunion in 1966 after their father died when they realized that until his funeral they had not all been home together for years. The most poignant reunion memory I have is of the 4th get-together, 6 July 1969. In June of that year, my father was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. What a melancholy occasion that was as we all knew it would be his last reunion, and indeed, he died just two weeks later.
As I write, I am in Ohio for the 44th annual Gant Reunion. Five of those who held the first reunion survive and were in attendance, as well over 70 Gant descendants. Ages ranged from 85 to 11 months. A cousin who had lost contact with the family attended for the first time after her son found me on the Internet and asked if any of his grandfatherís siblings were still alive.
Reunions can be highly organized or completely unstructured, like ours. But, after so many years, we always know what to expect. The adults sit in the shade and talk, catching up on events of the past year. The kids shoot baskets, play horseshoes, ride bikes, play in the sand, blow bubbles, and sometimes argue or fall down, cry, have a cookie and go on about their business. Then we eat. Hamburgs and hotdogs hot off the grill always taste better when eaten outdoors with family. Each brings a dish to share, and itís all topped off by the "reunion" sheet cake with fresh strawberry filling. Yum!
When the mealís had time to settle, the serious business of reunion beginsóat least for the die-hard poker players. Once the annual game is underway, the rest of us are forgotten in favor of nickel bets and a chance to win a pocket full of change.
I fear our reunionís days are numbered. The younger generations arenít as interested as we older ones in getting together with family. Some drop in and stay a short time, obviously bored; others live in the far corners of the country and canít afford the trip or are unable to schedule time off from work. Perhaps Iím wrong, and as they grow older, they also will catch the reunion bug.
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23 July 2009
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