In August, I joined my paternal relatives at the Hendrick/Mayo/Boyd/Harrison Family Reunion in Baltimore, MD. To my surprise, this event has occurred annually for the last three or four years. When I arrived at the park I was amazed by the outstanding number of people present and the diversity of the group. In age, appearance, speech, and education, our family demonstrated the breath and complexity of African American culture. It was incredible to look around and notice some relatives who appeared to have stepped out of an episode of “The Wire” and others a Ralph Lauren ad. And somehow, I seemed to fit in.
My grandparents and the relatives of their generation had a funny way of explaining how these four families fit together. When I asked “How are we related?”, they simply replied “That’s family.” Eventually, I met a distant cousin who could provide a clear explanation of our ancestral ties. She explained that the families married into each other over several generations and all of them traced their roots back to Mecklenburg, VA.
My grandfather’s first cousin, Anna Lee, later explained that our extended family was very large and it would be easy to accidentally meet a Mayo, Harrison, Boyd, or Hendrick in Baltimore City. I thought – half jokingly – that as a single young woman I should get to know some of the older folks in the family to avoid dating a distant cousin. I scrolled through my mental Rolodex of single men in Baltimore and D.C. No Mayo, Harrison, Boyd or Hendrick…Whew! As relieved as I was, avoiding the romantic advances of a distant cousin, however, was only a minor motivation to begin this genealogical journey.
My grandfather’s battle with cancer ended in September 2010. He would be the third of my grandparents to pass away. I was fortunate to have seen him during his last days. Although he was incoherent, I felt comforted in the thought that he knew my love for him. I have fond memories of my grandfather, but I still believe that I could have known him better in some ways. In fact, there was so much more that I could have learned about all of my grandparents and their families. Although I am thankful for the time I have spent with each of them, I feel compelled to document what I do know about their lives so that I may continue to learn from them. I hope that as I better understand them and their ancestors, I will learn a little more about myself.