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They arrived as strangers and left as relatives at Founding Families Weekend

06/04/2017 6:13 AM |

When Carolyn Smith started to research her family history, she learned many of her ancestors were part of Southold’s founding families. Ms. Smith, who grew up in Mississippi and lives in Oklahoma, became fascinated with her family’s past and saw the hamlet as a far-off place she would never get the chance to see.

On Saturday she attended Southold Historical Society’s first ever Founding Families Weekend and was finally able to visit the places she had only read about.

“It has been amazing,” she said about the event. “Almost everybody here is my cousin.”

Ms. Smith said she was excited to learn more about her ancestors and also meet distant relatives, which was one of historical society’s goals for the weekend.

Bus tours, special guest speakers and colonial demonstrations were also among the day’s activities. 

Southold Historical Society director Karen Lund-Rooney said the information gathered through the event will be used to update the historical society’s archives.

Families were also given a tour of the Old Burying Grounds in Southold. (Credit: Krysten Massa)

Many participants, including those who traveled from different parts of the country, brought old photographs and family trees.

“It’s a really good meeting of people who haven’t seen each other for years and also people who are just discovering their different family branches here in Southold,” Ms. Lund-Rooney said.

One way families connected was through the historical society’s “family tent” where each table inside featured a different founding family’s name.

Descendants of those families left notes on the tables, as well as family tree diagrams and photographs.

Stan McGroary of Patchogue found his way over to the Benjamin table. Doug Benjamin, who was displaying photographs he brought from his home in Seattle, walked over to introduce himself.

“I knew you were a Benjamin,” Mr. McGroary said, adding that he could tell by his appearance.

The two men spent the next few minutes sharing different stories about other Benjamins they have met over the years.

Doug Benjamin, right, shows his family photos to Stan McGroary, who is also a descendant of the Benjamin family. (Credit: Krysten Massa)

Another part of the weekend that helped families connect was a tour of the Old Burying Grounds in Southold led by Melissa Andruski of the Southold Free Library.

As families searched through the rows of gravestones, some stopped to take photos of names they recognized. 

It was during this visit that many participants realized they were connected to the Horton family.

History questions were directed toward Jacqueline Dinan, a Brooklyn resident who published a book two years ago titled “In Search of Barnabas Horton” and was one of the event’s featured speakers.

Many visitors told her their own Horton story and asked if she had come across anything similar in her research.

“It’s like a patchwork quilt that you’re putting all together,” Ms. Dinan said. “You talk to someone and say ‘I know this part of the story’ and somebody else knows another part of the story.”

Theresa Schwab of Ligonier, Penn. said she read the book to learn more about her family’s history. Her great-grandmother was a Horton and she said “back in the old days” the family would host large reunion parties. She was excited to come to Founding Families Weekend because she thought it would be similar to the family gatherings from her past.

“It’s been a great weekend,” she said, adding that she hopes to continue to connect with more relatives. “I hope they keep developing this.”

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