Friday, February 22, 2013

The Family History Writing Challenge-Days 19-22-In Search of a Familiar Face

NOTE: Since several years have elapsed since this reunion and my memory has faded, the following draft was assembled by viewing digitized photos taken by multiple family photographers. I assembled them in order based upon groupings within the room, and used the variations of sunlight and darkness from the windows to attempt some sort of chronological order. I "tell" this story in its rough draft, but later on I will go back and develop the "show" element that is lacking in my attempt to reconstruct the events coarsely.

Sandwiches, chips, a variety of salads, two-liter bottles of soda and bottled water sat on a table to our left as we first entered the room, and family members (we had not yet met) were busy preparing dessert platters.
"Come on in, family. Help yourself."
Since so few relatives had yet assembled, we decided to take a seat and wait a bit; but, as people we knew entered the room, my husband and I got up to greet them. Dorothy and her daughter descend from Malachi Carter, who was my grandfather-in-law's younger brother by three years. She linked arms with me and beamed,
"Hello, Cousin!" 
Three years older than my mother, and like her, Dorothy does not show her age...a petite lady wearing a royal blue t-shirt and jeans, her short cropped black hair is only edged with gray.
"I want you to meet someone," she says, waving on a tall slender gentleman dressed in white to come join us. "This is your cousin, Walter. He comes from Elijah's line. He lives in Virginia." 
Our small group descends from three brothers: Hezekiah, Malachi and Elijah...born in that order. While there were only three years between the older brothers, seven years had separated the younger two of nine surviving children born to Isaac Carter and Martha Ann (George) Carter. When the family historian is visiting with living descendants, her mind becomes, at times, a whirlwind of attempts to make connections, but seldom is there time enough to capture those moments on paper. I had thought of recording conversations, but soon discovered that in this family it usually brings the natural flow of chatter to an abrupt halt.

The five of us gathered in the far corner of the room near a window, framed with burnt orange, jacquard drapes. Outside, the afternoon sunlight faded in a blue-gray haze of approaching dusk. We talked, catching up on recent family events, and at times looked off into the crowd, seeing new family faces entering the room.

Just behind my chair, along the wall, a man wearing a white polo shirt, khaki shorts & ball cap carried in several large pedigree posters. I had heard that a descendant of the Nathaniel Carter branch would be attending the reunion for the first time, and that he would be sharing his research with us. He sat the first two down against the wall below the banner: GEORGE FAMILY REUNION: Keeping the Tradition Going.

People were curious to see where their leaf of the branch connected from the trunk. One surprising note was that this genealogy confirmed my findings that the father of the five siblings was Theophilus George, as reported in my 2007 presentation, The Land Deeds of Theophilus George, father of Emanuel, James Bland, Nathaniel, Martha Ann and Nancy George. I had thought that the deed was proof enough that the children listed in deed were the children of Theophilus and not Emanuel. Apparently, family myths are hard to part with, and to this day, no one knows why our early family historian had written in his notes the parents of the "original" siblings as Emanuel and Matilda George.

Cousin Eula Mae walked over slowly to our little group in the of the matriarchs of the Moore family and my husband's third cousin. She appeared as always, very dignified...composed...well dressed, yet casual in her purple and white pants suit. Her smile expressed such love...and something was different in her eyes. A sort of tiredness...or pain, that she would never let on about...the same age as my mother, she carefully took her seat next to Cousin Dorothy.

After my husband posed for a few photos with his cousins, he ventured past our little group to the next one over...the family of the Nathaniel George historian. By this time, a few cousins brought in a large collage of family photos and placed it between the banner and the pedigree charts. I got up to look at them...but at a disadvantage. When you're an outsider...or, one married into a family...adopted, you might say...unless you have been living in the ancestral community or have close ties to your husband's kin, unidentified photos appear as just a collection of nameless...connection-less faces. How I wished I could just photograph every photo, and find someone to identify the faces I did not recognize...but people were more interested in spending time with those in the room than in looking at the collage. And if they did glance at it, they would comment on a few and then move on.

The same thing had happened at the Peter James Hyman Family Reunion we had attended in Beaufort, North Carolina. Our Cousin Margaret had enlisted my help to  preserve the photo collages with clear contact paper...working so closely with untold time to ask questions in a hurried frenzy of last minute activity.

As the night wore on, one of the cousins from the reunion co-historian's niece, assembled us to play a game of family history jeopardy. She looked about the room, trying to find volunteers and then selected Cousin Eula Mae's son-in-law, Billy...a tall, slender cousin dressed in green with a broad smile showing several gold teeth...and myself. How did I get selected? I have no idea. Certainly I would not have volunteered...perhaps it is a test to see how much this outsider knows about the family history.

The questions seem to be more related to black history for several rounds until finally, some familiar Craven County questions pop up...and then, finally, a few questions about family ties.

Written on each person's face is the weary of travel catching up with them as the night wears on, and soon after the game, we disband for the night, going back to our hotel rooms to rest for the next day's boating excursion, shipboard lunch, tour of Beaufort and Neuse River.

Word Count: 1065

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