Family Tree

High school reunions are way different than family reunions. I speak with great authority, and a weariness unto death, after having back-to-back reunions one weekend after the other. Mind you, it’s a wonderful weariness unto death, but I’m all talked out plus tons of encounters to process.

Over sixty members of the extended family gathered to celebrate Winnie’s 95th birthday, the matriarch of the Lake branch of the family tree, my husband’s maternal great grandparents. We came from all over California and as far away as Maine, Alabama and Texas. Some we have known all our lives, others we’ve met only in the recent past, some we’re were meeting for the first time even though their names have been duly recorded years ago in a computer genealogy program. 

A high school graduating class begins with a finite number of students and diminishes through death and disappearance over the years. A family reunion tree begins as a tender twosome and over time branches into a many boughed tree loaded with leaves and blooms. Many of us stood before the 4’x4′ family tree above and traced our branches backwards and forwards trying to figure out the interrelationships of who’s who in our zoo. The lighter to darker colored green leaves helped identify our children, our generation, our parents and grandparents. The pink and blue flowers represent our grandchildren. The white bloom represents the first great grandchild of our generation, but she is a fourth level great grandchild for the original Lakes, Maude and Charles. A genealogy relationship calculator was frequently necessary in figuring this all out. Nevertheless, our family tree continues to leaf out, thanks, in no small part, to our seven grandchildren.

Unlike high school alumnae who gather to celebrate a shared educational experience and milestone, family reunion members gather because of their shared blood lines and the DNA they’ve inherited. For some there may be shared experiences and milestones, but not for all. Certain limbs of the family tree have withered through death, distance and dispute. To look at them, you wouldn’t necessarily know some of these family branches are related. But if you trace the branches back toward the tree’s truck there is an alarming incident of cancers among the women. This is a shared experience that none had dreamed of or desired – an inherited potential for disease. Yet, with tenacity and grace, the current generations are dealing boldly and bravely with this shared experience.

A high school reunions offers abundant opportunities to reminisce about friendships, extra-curricular activities, dating, teen angst, the cultural milieu that shaped our early adulthood, and the teachers who inspired us. Our family reunion certainly offers similar opportunities for reminiscing about our shared lives, but it was Nanny that Winnie wanted to reminisce about. Gathered around her, under a large shade tree, at the end of the evening, we listened as Winnie shared about a grandmother who nurtured and inspired her. As our family tree grows more and more branches, and sprouts more and more leaves, she was keen for us to know the quality of root stock that had strengthened our original tree. It is an inspiring story of love, loss, hardship and perseverance – a story that influenced and sustained Winnie over the years. She offered each of us a leaf of Nanny’s life to press between the pages of our own stories…so we would remember what we have grown from.

If there is an inspiring person in your family tree, who is it and what are the stories you’d tell about them? If you were to create a similar family tree to the one above, who would be included in the trunk? On the branches? Who has disappeared through death, distances or dispute? How has that impacted the family tree?

Looking forward to your comments.



2 comments to Family Tree


    Your blog is wonderful, so I wanted to share the following. I am working on an email 100th reunion with a cousin at this time. There are seven of us left, so we are getting a blog from them and filling in for those who have passed on or unable to do it. We are doing the five aunts and two uncles as well as our grandparents. The Hunter family emigrated from Scotland in 1912-13. My grandfather and one aunt were on the ocean when the Titanic went down. They were on the Parisian and landed in Boston on April 20, 1912. In September my mother and a sister arrived. Finally, in July 1913 the rest of the family were able to come. I am really enjoying working on this, and hope to finish this fall. The family did the right thing coming to America.

  • Robin Rice

    My family tree is more like the family berry patch! Twenty years ago my sister started collecting information at a reunion – a previously unknown branch of the family -my great-uncles illegitimate daughter was celebrating her 70th birthday. How fun to meet so many new cousins. They were warm and welcoming in spite of the fact my uncle had never told anyone about his daughter. Even more entertaining was interviewing people for the family tree information. Such comments as “Oh no. He wasn’t really the twins’ father. She had an affair with his brother,” made for lots of squiggly connections. My recent discovery that my family is most likely part of the New Mexico “crypto-Jew” population has led to even more twists. The novel I have written, loosely based on this wonderful family should be available soon!!!!! Thank you Grandma Perfie. xx Robin

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