For those of you who don’t know me well, I’m not a joiner. I’m not a member of the DAR, although I qualify on several lines and all I’d really have to do is connect to another cousin who has already done the work. I’m a member of a small quilt group, but no large guilds. I’m not an alumni society member from the universities where I graduated either. I’m just not likely to become involved with organizations of any type. Yes, I know there are benefits, but I’ve just never been a joiner.
So, having said that, I’m going to tell you why family groups or societies are really incredibly important. Sound a bit odd? It took a huge, and I mean a HUGELY inspirational motivation for me to join….but I did and I couldn’t be happier. However, it took me more than 20 years to get to that point. Let’s hope it doesn’t take you that long.
I’ve been involved with research on several family lines with different researchers for many years, but there are collaborative benefits an organization can offer that just can’t be matched by individuals.
More than 30 years ago, back in the days of pen and ink letters that were mailed in envelopes with stamps affixed, I was introduced to my cousin, Dolores. She and I wrote back and forth sporadically for years. She suggested at some point that I join the Speak(e)(s) Family Association (SFA). I was hesitant, extremely hesitant, but she indicated that they had done rather extensive research on my, our, line and that it would be beneficial for me to receive the newsletters. I joined, albeit very reluctantly.
Sometime, and I really don’t know when, Dolores introduced me to Lola-Margaret, another cousin from the same line. I really don’t remember knowing Dolores and not knowing Lola-Margaret. These two cousins have been a part of my life now for more than half of my life. Although I’ve known them for a long time, I’ve only become quite close to them in the past few years. This is the story of how that happened.
Our common ancestor was the Reverend Nicholas Speak and his wife Sarah Faires who died in Lee County, Virginia in 1852 and 1865, respectively. However, during and after the Civil War, their descendants were scattered far and wide, and we didn’t know each other through family. We found each other through genealogy.
Over the past many years, we’ve shared the deaths of our parents. Not just one of our parents, all of our parents. We’ve suffered through the deaths of siblings and our own health issues. We’ve celebrated the births of grandchildren, marriages and more.
In the mid-80s, while I was raising young children, the Speaks Association had their yearly “convention” in Nashville. Part of the activities took place at the Grand Ole Opry. In the newsletter, there were a few photos and the group talked about how much fun they had, and the presentations…and for the first time ever, I actually wanted to attend one of those types of functions. I felt like I was missing out.
You see, my family was so small that we never had reunions. Three of my grandparents and my father were all dead before I was 8. I never knew my fourth grandparent. My mother only had one sibling who lived hundreds of miles away, so I never had close relations with extended family. I had no concept of what that was like. A reunion in my family was anytime there were more than two of us in the same room at the same time.
I wouldn’t be able to attend a Speaks Family Association “convention” until 2004 when the event was held just 100 miles from my home and I had absolutely no excuse NOT to attend. Plus, I had a new reason.
Yep, DNA is what got me there. We had established the Speak DNA project and we needed people to test. Cousins are much more likely to become DNA participants if they hear a presentation personally and have the opportunity to ask questions – and if they feel they can actually make a positive contribution.
That year, I asked for a small amount of money from the SFA organization to fund DNA testing for those who would be beneficial participants but might not be able to fund the testing themselves. We refer to these as scholarships, and the SFA has generously funded several for more than a decade now.
Seven years…it took 7 whole years – but our investment eventually paid off. In 2011, we discovered where our ancestors originated in England when a Y DNA participant from New Zealand matched our US immigrant Y DNA line. Our New Zealand cousin knew where his ancestors were from, exactly…as in had the church christening records. Two years later, in 2013, twenty of us, including that gentleman, would be standing on that very land. The photo below shows the group at St. Mary’s Church in Whalley.
The funding for the DNA testing and the trip planning and organization were all accomplished by the SFA – along with arranging for testing of three more Speak males from that part of England.
In 2014, the SFA funded another round of testing including 4 Big Y tests to help establish when and how certain lines dating back to the 1600s are related. We’ve made incredible discoveries with our genealogy that would never and could never have been made prior to DNA testing.
- Without the funding power of the organization, none of this would have happened.
- Without the organizational power of the group, none of this would have happened.
- Without the conventions that brought people together physically, none of this would have happened.
- Without the volunteers, none of this would have happened.
While genealogy was my driving force for originally joining the organization, and DNA my driving force for originally attending conventions, those things are no longer my motivation. You see, I’ve come to love my cousins, not just as research partners, but as family that is near and dear to my heart – my “sisters and brothers of another mother,” so to speak. My own siblings and family are all gone now. My husband, children, grandchildren, family of heart and my cousins are all that I have. I envy people with large families and siblings.
These next few photos explain this in a way I can’t even begin to. I can’t imagine life without my cousins and I can’t wait to see them again. Each time is richer and more meaningful and we’ve built something far more valuable than I could ever, ever have imagined. Our time together is utterly joyful, filled with laughter and love. I’m just sorry it took me so long to arrive.
We three cousins. This is not a “proper” society hug, but a full fledged “I am so glad to see you and I love you with all my heart” hug.
One of our cousins, Lola-Margaret, left, could not go on our trip to England. She is a missionary in India and was busy performing minor miracles like building an orphanage and a widow’s home. So, I bought fabrics and made her a quilt. (Ok, I made myself a quilt too, as well as one for Susan, our president, as a thank you for planning the English trip.) So Lola-Margaret was with us and now we and our trip are with her. This is her “English Flower Garden” quilt and each fabric has a story. We love Lola-Margaret and are so glad she is back with us this year at the convention! Thank goodness we can all stay in touch and “see” each other via Facebook! Above and below, the cousins at this year’s convention in Richmond, VA who were on the England trip gather around Lola-Margaret’s quilt.
Lola-Margaret, me, Dolores and another cousin, Susan, above. I’m telling the story of something. Just look at the smiles. We’re all so happy.
Me, Susan and Lola-Margaret. Discovering and walking on our ancestors land. Sharing our lives, our ancestors, and our DNA. Metaphorically walking through life together, united in the shadow or our common ancestor in so many ways.
Life just doesn’t get better!!! I just wish I hadn’t waited so long. Amazing what DNA begat and the discoveries we’ve made by all pulling together as a group!
The moral of the story – join, participate, test – and don’t wait! You could be the one person to make that huge difference!