Sunday, January 9, 2022

2022 Prompt - Foundation - 1969 Johnston Family Reunion

 1969 Johnston Reunion



The foundation of my genealogy quest was a family reunion in 1969. In June, I had just married my childhood sweetheart, Howard Roberson, and had moved to East Lansing, Michigan to start a teaching job. My husband had enrolled at Michigan State University and since there was no housing available on campus, we moved into our cozy mobile home behind Tom’s Party Store. Our first big family gathering to attend, as a newly married couple, was Howard's Johnston family reunion. A tradition was that the family would gather on the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day. The year 1969 was the 83rd consecutive year the reunion occurred in the small town of Samaria, Michigan.


The Joseph Johnston family had moved from Virginia to Samaria in 1886 and held their first reunion that fall. My husband was the fourth generation to attend the Johnston Reunion and here we were attending as the most recently married couple. In the past, the reunion was at the Methodist church but recently due to the growing number of family members they moved across the street to the township hall. Howard and I arrived early with his parents and his three siblings. The small kitchen in the hall was bubbling with women heating and prepping their food as the men were putting up the tables and chairs. Then at noon, after the prayer, family members filled their plates for a Thanksgiving feast. Family members selected their seats as they chatted with aunts, uncles, and cousins. As the newest family member, I was impressed with this Johnston tradition. I had attended a small family reunion as a child in a park in Illinois with my grandmother's family but nothing like the multitude of cousins attending this reunion.



Another tradition at the reunion was the ritual of cleaning up after dinner. The women jump to their feet and begin to clear the tables, they filled the sink with soap and washed and dried the dishes all while the men pull out the cards, set up their groups of foursomes, and start dealing the cards for a competitive game of Euchre. The young boys grabbed their coats, footballs, basketballs and headed outside to play ball in the park and the girls herded up the younger children and head outdoors to the swing sets.


 (Picture taken after Joseph died)

The next event took place 40-60 minutes later when the women hung up their aprons and gathered in groups around the remaining tables. The room permeated with talk, laughter, men teasing each other over cards played, and children were running in and out to play with all their cousins. About two o'clock, the cards were set down and everyone focused on one family member standing at the head of the room. The Johnston family reunion was called to order by the reunion president. What was this? A big family meeting! Exactly!


Heads of families at 1969 Reunion

The meeting started with a roll call and a list made of all who were in attendance. Then the heads of each family listed the births, deaths, and marriages, and the type of work the men of their family were engaged in that year. The secretary read the treasurer's report and a plate for donations passed to pay for the hall. Next was the election of officers for the 1970 reunion. Having never attended a Johnston reunion, I was not sure if it was a tradition to elect the newly wedded or we were just in the wrong place at the right time, but the family elected Howard as reunion president, and they elected me as secretary. Shortly after the meeting was over the men dealt the cards for another competitive game of Euchre and Howard's grandmother sat down next to me with a black three-ring notebook. It was the Johnston reunion's book of minutes from the past years to the present. The black notebook was in my hands for safekeeping until Thanksgiving 1970 when I would record the minutes. What a treasure!


Black Three-ringed Reunion notebook

I carried the notebook home to East Lansing and days later showed it to a friend, explaining to her about this family reunion I had attended and how I obtained the notebook. She was impressed and told me she had something I needed to use with the notebook. She ran home and came back with a family pedigree chart and a family group sheet. 

My first pedigree chart - JOHNSTON FAMILY 

Since I had never seen such forms, she explained the forms were to organize family data and that the Johnston reunion notebook contained volumes of family data. Days later I made copies of the forms and started transcribing all the family data onto the various forms. It was the beginning of my heartfelt hobby of genealogy. Little did I know back in the fall of 1969 that I was establishing a foundation for my future family and building a foundation for a lifetime of family research.


I have made innumerable family discoveries on my husband's family in the past 50 years. Roland Johnston immigrated in the 1840s from County Louth, Ireland with his second wife and four children. His son Joseph Johnston married Hepzibah Chapman in 1845 in Summit County, Ohio, and had twelve children. 

First, very rough, notes on the JOHNSTON FAMILY

Hepzibah's family goes back nine generations to John Howland, a passenger on the Mayflower. Lemuel Johnston, the eighth child of Joseph Johnston, married Myrtie Willard in 1888 and, Myrtie's family dates to Major Simon Willard. Simon was born in 1602 in County Kent, England and, arrived in Boston, Massachusetts in 1634. He is known as one of the founders of Concord, Massachusetts and, fought in King Philip's War. The foundation of my genealogy research was firmly established years ago at that family reunion and 52 years later I continue ardently to work and research to discover and build both Howard’s family tree and mine.

 starting with Howard's grandmother

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