Friday, September 24, 2010


America has experienced a phenomenal interest and growth in family reunions. In the African American community that interest literally has become explosive and revolutionary. It is explosive in that the dynamics of discovery make history a living reality. It is revolutionary in that the feeling of isolation and having no significance is replaced by group life and meaning of historical and personal relationships. Reunions are the by-product of the growing phenomenon in the study and practice of genealogy. Today genealogy is the leading hobby in America.

Great credit must be attributed to Alex Haley’s book, ROOTS: THE SAGA OF THE AMERICAN FAMILY, published in 1976. (“If Alex Haley can be called the Father of Family Reunions, Dr. Ione D. Vargus can be called the Mother of Family Reunions.”) (See blog/posting #22) It raised the conscious level of black families regarding their origin and descent; it reversed the “funeral” as the occasion for family gathering to a “family reunion” as the central focus of group renewal and the black family has not been the same since.

Slavery threw a “monkey wrench” into black genealogy by treating the enslaved as property and not as humans. It disrupted the role of the family and its value structure. It supervised the loss of black group life, personal identity and important records essential to the black experience. (i.e. the results of being uprooted from the homeland “Africa,” being the victim of inhumane activities and witnessing Jim Crow-ism as a key way of life.)

Since emancipation, African Americans have attempted to reconstitute their family structures. Even today, black families are reaching back to their heritage to ensure that the crucial function of the family is revived, group and personal identity is regained, racial contribution and pride are restored and group potential is realized.

In your “nuts and bolts” session, you will learn about the specifics of having a family reunion, like:

Getting organized, money and finances, communication, food, children’s interest, making history, finding people, etc.
which Barbara Brown outlines in her book, FAMILY REUNION HAND BOOK, published by Reunion Research in 1992.

But my purpose is to focus on the broad scope and benefits of a reunion today.
Looking at the constant growth pattern of reunions, one quickly asks…why? What is the root cause? What is the definition of a family reunion? What is the program agenda?

Let us look at a definition first. A family reunion is the planning and execution of a gathering of collateral relatives and friends for the express purpose of renewing kinship ties and social acquaintances for information, fellowship and support, and to crystallize those relationships into cultural and spiritual bonds.

The agenda of family reunions runs the gamut of activities which may be structured or unstructured, formal or informal. The gamut runs from a presentation of family history to a dance; from a credit union report to stardom entertainment on a boat ride; from a worship service to a banquet; from a flea market pavilion approach to picnicking in the park.

Please note, that the African American family reunion is “more than a picnic.” It is serious business; it is organizational life at work; it is history in review; it is economics under consideration; it is an educational process in continuum; it is fellowship abounding; it is spirituality upon us. When a family programs beyond the “picnic,” liberating meaningful program activities and action plans come into focus. The search for meaning, the significance of family membership and the development of a support system are all part and parcel of the equation for reunion programming.

Family reunions should support five functions: a rediscovery of family history; the development of a support system; the rites of affirmation, projection and celebration.

The effect of a system of slavery was the destruction of black family history. A reunion is a means by which family history is rediscovered. It allows kinsmen to experience the emotions of that history and to vicariously live the lives of their ancestors, gaining an understanding of the struggle behind their achievements. Updated history lends support to the appreciation of history even before the enslaved period. Reunion then is a tool by which we educate.

Family history is the story of your ancestors but can also include living relatives. It should give factual accounts of family chronology. This is where you get the benefits of attending a Workshop, Seminar or a course in genealogy.

Speaking of family chronology, my family history informs me that my great-grandparents, Richard and Minerva Herron constituted the first known structured Herron family of African American decent in the Piedmont region of this tar heel state in 1870. That’s family history!!!

A good “griot” (pronounced GREE’OS} helps to make the above possible. According to the venerable Charles L. Blockson, “ in Africa, each family had a griot or an archivist who committed the family’s entire history to memory. Each griot in preparation for death, would hand over his entire log of historical stories to a younger man who became the new historian. In this way, a family could always trace its history back hundreds of years.

Recently, I observed ten family reunions. Eight of those reunions spent 95% of their program agenda time in socialization and only 5% in study of their history. Two families used 25% of their program agenda time looking at their historic perspective.

The development of a support system means the empowerment/enablement is directed toward the development and strengthening of family members. Please note that empowerment may be moral, psychological and/or financial.
With support, they move from being the objects of charity to become the subjects of charity. Reunions ensure that the support/empowerment role is revived.

Affirmation means to validate and to state positively; to assert as valid or confirmed. Affirmation takes place when the questions of identity, purpose and destiny are raised and resolved. Three questions answered will help us to confirm affirmation.

Question one, who am I? This is a question of identity. Answer. I am Sam Joe’s great grandchild who blazed freedom’s trail and died for voting rights in Mississippi. I am the Black but beautiful child of the Rose of Sharon as portrayed in Solomon 1:5. History gives me identification.

Question two, why am I here? This is purpose. Answer. I am here to reach self potential and to make a difference in my community, the nation and the world.

Question three, where am I going? This is a question of destiny. Answer. I am in pursuit of efforts which improve self, the race, the nation and the world.

Family reunions give us affirmation but it also gives projection which is planning for the future in light of value questions. Reunions enhance the role of transmitting value. This can be done through education, economics, occupation and dedication. Through a Family Association, a scholarship fund is established; a credit union is established; guidance is given in career choices; and commitments are made toward economic development. This is family helping family in the transmitting of values for growth and development.

Even though reunions are more than a picnic, one must admit that picnicking is a part of celebration, so is worship. We celebrate by performing publicly with appropriate rites or to honor and demonstrate satisfaction in observing a notable occasion.

The rediscovery of family history, the development of a support system, affirmation and projection form the basis for celebration. The latter follows the former.








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Sunday, September 12, 2010

# 34 Family Relations

# 34 Family Relations
Vernon M. Herron

( Let’s Do Genealogy)

Genealogical research is serious business and its compensations are rewarding. To search for and identify one’s own family among the myriad of human families can be a herculean task yet a startling and a healing revelation. It is equally rewarding to learn something about the times and places in which our ancestors and succeeding generations lived.

When I look at my family’s pedigree chart consisting of ten generations and 748 names, I am amazed that we all are related having descended from a common ancestor. The basic purpose of genealogical research is the identification of people and their relationships.

A story of a young lady ready for marriage said to her father, “Tom and I are in love and we are seriously thinking about marriage.” Where upon the father said, “you can’t marry Tom. He is your half brother but your mother doesn’t know it. To keep confusion down, select someone else.” A year later, Miss “eager” said to her father again, “Richard and I are in love and are seriously thinking about marriage.” Again her father said, “don’t marry Richard. He too, is your half brother but don’t tell your mother.” Later, Miss ‘hopeful’ said to her father once more, “Harry and I are in love and we are seriously thinking about marriage.” Dad said to the daughter for the third time, “Jean, you can’t marry Harry either. He is your half brother but your mother doesn’t know it. Select someone else.” The distraught daughter confidently shared this information with her mother. Jean inquired as to which course she should follow. Where upon the mother advised Jean to “pay no attention to those declarations because he thinks that he’s your father but he’s not. So marry whomever you wish. Neither Tom, Dick nor Harry is related to you.”

Perhaps the first and most important principle of genealogical research is that one always works backward from oneself, in other words, from the known to the unknown. As you look at your pedigree chart, you should know the terms for describing various family relationships. Consanguinity is the blood relationship that exists among individuals who descend from a common ancestor. Lineal relationships are those that exist between individuals who are in the same direct line of descent. Those relationships include parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, children, grandchildren, etc.

Collateral relationships are those that exist between individuals who descend from a common ancestor but who are not related to each other in a direct line. Collateral relationships include sisters, brother, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins. Now it is clear what the late Mom’s Mabley meant when she said, “I hang out only with young folks. If you ever see me hanging out with any old folks, they will be my collateral relatives.”

Full cousins are individuals who descend from a common ancestor by the same number of generations. First cousins have grandparents in common. Second cousins have great-grandparents in common. Third cousins have great-great-grandparents in common. Individuals who descend from a common ancestor but are of different generations are cousins REMOVED. “ONCE REMOVED” indicated a difference of one generation, “TWICE REMOVED” a difference of two generations, etc. Your first cousin’s child is your first cousin once removed; your first cousin’s grandchild is your first cousin twice removed. Half relationships exist between individuals who share a common ancestor but descend from different spouses of the ancestor. Step relationships and in—law relations occur as a result of marriage and therefore are not consanguineous or blood relationships.

Remember the “Jean” story quoted earlier? Here is a marriage prohibitive table published in 1562 by Archbishop Parker for any other “Jeannies.” It prohibits marriages due to consanguinity and affinity:

1. Grandmother
2. Grandfather’s wife
3. Wife’s grandmother
4. Father’s sister
5. Mother’s sister
6. Father’s brother’s wife
7. Mother’s brother’s wife
8. Wife’s father’s sister
9. Wife’s mother’s sister
10. Mother
11. Step-mother
12. Wife’s mother
13. Daughter
14. Wife’s daughter
15. Son’s wife
16. Sister
17. Wife’s sister
18. Brother’s wife
19. Son’s daughter
20. Daughter’s daughter
21. Son’s son’s wife
22. Daughter’s son’s wife
23. Wife’s son’s daughter
24. Wife’s daughter’s daughter
25. Brother’s daughter
26. Sister’s daughter
27. Sister’s son’s wife
28. Brother’s son’s wife
29. Wife’s brother’s daughter
30. Wife’s sister’s daughter

1. Grandfather
2. Grandmother’s husband
3. Husband’s grandfather
4. Mother’s brother
5. Father’s brother
6. Father’s sister’s husband
7. Mother’s sister’s husband
8. Husband’s father’s brother
9. Husband’s mother’s brother
10. Father
11. Step-father
12. Husband’s father
13. Son
14. Husband’s son
15. Daughter’s husband
16. Brother
17. Husband’s brother
18. Sister’s husband
19. Son’s son
20. Daughter’s son
21. Son’s daughter’s husband
22. Daughter’s daughter’s husband
23. Husband’s son’s son
24. Husband’s daughter’s son
25. Brother’s son
26. Sister’s son
27. Brother’s daughter’s husband
28. Sister’s daughter’s husband
29. Husband brother’s son
30. Husband’s sister’s son