Family Societies – Converting a Doubter

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.

Speak Family at St Mary 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!



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20 thoughts on “Family Societies – Converting a Doubter

  1. Thank you so much for teaching about DNA and what a difference it makes in genealogy work. The first time I heard you talk in 2005 at SFA in Grand Rapids I didn’t understand much of what you said. Your presentation last week in Richmond was awesome. I am so excited to tell people about our DNA project. I too come from Nicholas and Sarah however I come from one of those who migrated to Kansas. I have known a whole bunch of cousins all my life. Thanks again.

  2. Another great story with wonderful photo’s! Thank You so much for sharing and teaching us all about our DNA and the connections we make with distant cousins!

  3. Thank you for that lovely message. It was both educational and emotional. I too envy large family groups. I remember attending a Ripple family reunion in Pennsylvania in the 60’s.



    • I provide DNA Reports but they are for a person and not a group. I do custom consulting as well, but this would have been a significant amount of money had the association had to pay for the time. It would also require someone from the family to do the coordination and footwork and provide the genealogical information.

  5. Wow, what a great journey. My family was like your family, grandparents died before I was born… just no family to speak of It’s a little sad for me, although I have found many cousins through genealogy and dna testing.

    Thank you so much for all you share. I have read every word I could find.

  6. That is a very lovely story, Roberta. I have lost most of my family too and I’m not much of a joiner, either. I could really identify with your story. I’ve met so many cousins through genealogy. I’m meeting with one of those “found” cousins today for lunch. He was someone who I just thought was a family friend, then discovered through genealogy that he was actually a 2nd cousin.

    Also, I wouldn’t have met Richard Kenyon, PhD, but through genealogy. He and I are 7th cousins through a shared immigrant, John Kenyon, born 1655. Richard founded the FTDNA Kenyon Project in 2005, as you know, and later added me as Co-Administrator about two or three years ago. We share the genealogical connection, as well as the passion to explore DNA connections of all Kenyons throughout the world.

    I did join the DAR. I don’t attend very many of the their meetings, but I do enjoy access to the genealogical resources on their website, restricted to members only. My initial application was for a new Patriot – Barrett Phelps. I ordered the record of a descendant on a related line and discovered a somewhat rare book listed on the citations. I tracked down my “new” cousin from the DAR record, who sent me a copy of one chapter from the book on the Phelps lineage.

    The book was amazing, written by a distant cousin, now deceased, who documented her four family lines – Phelps, Anthony, Hulbert, and Renner. It really helped me to document my ancestry to get my application for Barret Phelps approved. It had information in there that I haven’t seen anywhere.

    I’ve since acquired three out of the four chapters from the book – which details the migration of the Phelps and Hulbert lines across New York State to Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa. It was compiled through family records. On the first page of the Anthony chapter was the lineage showing how we are related to Susan B. Anthony! The book provided clues to another cousin, an attorney, who now practices in New York City. He is the holder of the Anthony family Bible. He sent me copies of the Anthony Bible pages and a boatload of clippings and photographs he and his father took, while visiting places that Susan B. Anthony was known to frequent.

    You have experienced a wonderful connection to your Speak/e/s family. I might suggest you consider applying to the DAR, even if you only use their genealogical resources. You would make a grand addition to any club who would welcome your knowledge and expertise with open arms. Just a thought…

    Marilyn Kenyon, Psy.D
    DAR Member 874047
    Gold Trail Chapter

  7. What a heartwarming account of finding members of your extended family! I found so many commonalities in your story… not a joiner (although eligible), member of a very small immediate family (the term “reunion” wasn’t even in our family vocabulary), finding extended family initially in the 1970’s via the SASE, then later online and now through DNA. Other than FTDNA, are there other resources for locating family associations? Would be very interested in connecting with other surnames in my line. Thank you for all your wonderful blogs – what an exceptional learning environment!

    • Kim,
      Just discovered you, Kim Turnpaugh Anderson, by way of your note on the Find A Grave site of Magdalena Eberly Gockley. I have Gockley and Eberly ancestors, and have also invested many weeks in researching the nearby Anthon Dornbach family. Would like to get in touch with your directly.

  8. Wonderful reasons of why we love genealogy, finding those long lost family members! I would also strongly suggest you consider joining DAR. I joined almost 5 years ago and have loved the closeness of working with so many women all over the world, not just in the U.S.A. I had been doing research for about 33 years when I joined thru a new Patriot, Robert Kidd, whose three daughters married three Whiteside sons of Davis and Rachel Whiteside. I have since formed our local DAR chapter, Olde Towne, in Logansport Indiana and we have 54 members. We offer a great amount of genealogy records free both online and in Washington D.C. I’ve helped more people w/ genealogy research in the past four years than I would have thought possible. Our goals are education, historic preservation and patriotism. We aren’t your grandma’s DAR! Need help, I’m listed online. Joan England Burton, Regent Olde Towne DAR, NSDAR. Indiana Vice Chair Lineage Research. We will help you join! Note: I can research other families much easier than my elusive surname, England!

  9. That’s an awesome story of the power of groups. I’m a member of DAR and helping to start a new Daughters of 1812 chapter. While those are larger groups that can be, in all honestly, easier to get lost in, I have been very fortunate to bond with women I never would have met otherwise. Most are wonderful research partners who are great for bouncing ideas of off when I hit a brick wall, and there is even one friend who I know must be a cousin somehow just because we have so many lines that traveled the exact same routes and settled the same areas of various states at similar times. We aren’t DNA matches, but we always talk research and fun discoveries. I hope we finally discover a common line, so I can officially call her cousin.

    My great grandmother’s obituary says she was a member of several family associations like your SFA, and I have been meaning to track them down to connect with them for so many of the reasons you cite in this post. I have enjoyed my experiences so far, and I’d love to expand that to the already proven family lines. Plus, you know, promoting DNA testing with those family groups would be great, too.

  10. Thank you for your stories. I really enjoy them, and look forward to them. Please keep them up.

    I also have lost most of my ancestors, and would love to join a family association. I’m like Kim, don’t know where to find them.

  11. I have my own SFA story. In this case its the Sheldon Family Association. My Aunt belonged years ago but not being a joiner….but this summer the invited me to speak about DNA and well a very similar story to the one recount here.
    Kelly Wheaton

  12. Roberta, I first met you (online) through a distant cousin of mine. You had compiled the Moore deeds from Halifax Co., VA in an attempt to find your Moore ancestors and shared them with us. Ours was Patrick Moore from Mirey Creek, Halifax Co., VA. You are the genealogist who got me interested in yDNA testing and then atDNA testing all of my immediate family. I have read every blog you’ve posted for several years and usually don’t take time to let you know how much I appreciate all you do for the genealogical community. I LOVE YOU SOOO MUCH FOR ALL YOU DO! I hope to meet you one day and keep on “blogging.” Thanks, Janice

  13. Thanks for expressing so well the importance of family or surname associations. As a member of the Parke Society, and its current president (as well as admin of the associated Y-DNA surname project) I’ve seen numerous instances of cousins connected through our society. Y-DNA has connected me to a wonderful group of genetic cousins, and now atDNA is taking it to a new level!

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