Family Trees and Reunions

My childhood was filled with family reunions. And family, for that matter: Great-grandparents, Grandparents, parents, siblings, Great-Aunts and Uncles, Aunts and Uncles, their offspring, my cousins, first cousins, first cousins-once-removed, and second cousins. Those last two were hard to figure out. The conversation wound back a couple of generations and I’d be lost in the family tree.

There were, of course, the formal reunions like marriages, deaths, Grandpa’s ninetieth birthday, holidays, 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries. Those were big! But mostly we got together because we liked being together and there were enough families and enough reasons to make it happen often.

This is a Sunderland family reunion with “Grandma and Grandpa Walt.”” No one said just Grandma, unless you wanted something real bad. It was Grandma Walt. I learned a lot about cooking from her, my hands look like her’s when I’m kneading dough. And I have her name, the name no one ever said. And I don’t say. Because it’s ours.

scan0001 (3)
Grandma Walt, feeding family

That’s the Sunderland side of the family. Four to six brothers, I lose track, came to Missouri/Kansas. My grandfather’s father was one of those brothers and they settled in Marshall County, Kansas.

Then there’s the story of the Ellis and Moore families. That’s my mother’s side. Her great-grandmother, (my great-great grandmother) Lucinda Moore, came across the country in a Quaker migration and gave birth to my great-grandfather in a newly dugout home from a hillside, Jewell County, Kansas, above a stream is my guess. The dugout, not the birth.

And then there’s Mr. Ellis, my grandfather, a railroad man up from Kentucky who seduced a good Quaker girl…and married her…and had children, my mother the oldest.

How that whole family got from Jewell County, Kansas to Marshall County, Kansas is a more complicated story…my mother born in Jewell County…but it came down to Grandpa the Railroad Man getting a transfer to Frankfort, Kansas. Her parents followed with the rest of their children. My mother’s mother the eldest. And they all grew up in Marshall County.

The Bad Boy and the Quaker
The Bad Boy and the Quaker
Mother’s Parents and Grandparents


Now you understand why it became confusing to sort out the first-cousin-once-removed from the second. There were a lot of us.

All of which, in a round-about-way, gets me to our family reunions this summer on our road trip. We stopped along the way visit family in West Virginia and I got to hold my brand-new great-nephew and teach him how to suck his thump. Great-Aunties have prerogatives. But it was the first reunion for my primary group, grandparents, children, grandchildren. Well, there was one other when my granddaughter-in-law-to-be flew here one Christmas to check out her new boyfriend, my grandson’s family. I was impressed. This reunion was a family vacation, in cabin in the woods outside Blue Ridge, Georgia, on a lake. We played poker again just like the first time.

A grandson’s arms long enough to love us all

We laughed and we cooked and we ate. My daughter-in-law and I both take pride in feeding people. So does my granddaughter-in-law, although she and grandson more inclined to take people out to dinner, and now we take selfies.

My sisters and I, and the cousins, all adults, talk of when we could have the next family reunion, but we are so wide-spread, from New York State to Hawaii, and points in between, the task to organize becomes daunting.

At least we’re all on Facebook. The oldest of our current crop of babies, three so far, turned one-year-old yesterday, a girl. The two younger ones, boys, are less than six-months old. Another arrives early next year. The cousins’ babies.

So will they be second cousins? Or first cousins once removed? There must be a formula for that. I don’t think I learned it, growing up.



16 thoughts on “Family Trees and Reunions

  1. This breathes the essence of family. I love it. It was fun to encounter the definition of first cousin and the variations of second cousin. I know that a first cousin is the child of one of my aunts or uncles. A first cousin once removed is a cousin’s child and second cousins are the offspring of my first cousin once removed and the first cousin once removed of one of my siblings. That still doesn’t sound right! Anyway, I love your family story. ❤

  2. Oh, I miss those family reunions. Hard to reunite with people who all are gone, now! We had a very small family, or at least smallish, and I do envy those who still have family around. It was fun to read about yours. As for those “fringe relatives”? I never could sort them, either, but it never seemed important. Cousin was cousin, and that was enough.

    1. Thanks for writing. Out of all that family, I only have two aunts left and those aging quickly. It’s interesting to see how the “elders” are now us, my sisters and brother and we do see each other from time to time, last year the “Aunties” as we sisters are called, went to my sister’s in Hawaii for a wedding; and again, this spring, the Aunties showed up for a great-niece’s fifteenth year Quincenera in Houston, but we’re so big now and so far-flung, it’s hard to get the entire clan together. I am grateful, however, that we still consider all of us family and we still have the family farm that even the grand-kids don’t want to lose.

  3. My mother tried to explain the difference to me, but I never really got it. I’m not sure she did either (youngest of eight children).

    Hope all is well with you and Cliff – hope to see you soon. Sheila

  4. Janet! I loved reading about your incredible family and seeing the amazing black and white pics along with your great group selfie! I smiled when I saw your face..what joy and love in your eyes!!
    All my very best!!!

      1. It looked like a great trip and I’m sure the results of your time in the kitchen yielded yummy results!! Happy start to the new week and almost new month!

      2. Hi Lia. It was a great trip and then we came home and I began writing and dove into the memoir hardly coming up for air. Thursday, I head to Texas for a three day residency teaching writing in Bastrop, Texas, at the Lone Pines Arts Festival. I love Texas. It calls to the wild woman in me!! Although after five days in Texas, no doubt I’ll be happy to fly home and dive into writing again. Hope you’re doing well….

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