9    Sep 20135 comments

Our Stories: Planning a family reunion

By his own account, Norwood Wayne Newkirk says that reading and history were not his greatest passions as he grew up. Today that has changed, as he was the project manager for his family’s reunion held August 1-4, 2013, in New Jersey.

He holds a degree in electrical engineering and worked as a loss prevention consultant. Today he creates risk management systems as a senior account executive and computer application developer.

So what I have done over the past two years [since the 2011 reunion] in preparation for our 2013 reunion is not a far stretch from what I do vocationally. I see the issue and try to develop a solution.

However, as he went through life, he began to recognize that something was missing.

I found a church with teaching ministry that filled the void in my spiritual life and became very active in leading the Media Volunteer Ministry (it is in my genes). Yet there was an area still lacking.

I eventually recognized I had become distant from my family, not because I wanted to, but life situations and circumstances caused things to happen just that way. In fact, there was a time when I truly could not remember a large chunk of my past.

As life would have it, things changed and there was a rekindling of his family history. As family members grew older and died, it offered occasions for the family to come together more frequently than they would like.

It was on those occasions that I heard stories about family members including myself. Stories that made you laugh and stories that made you say, “Did that really happen?” At that point I began to understand what I was missing. It was family. Cousins that I grew up were now distant relatives.

At his grandmother’s funeral, a family pastor talked about thing his grandparents experienced over 92 years of their life and the legacy they left behind.

The Starling family could have written “Roots.” This revelation showed me the importance of family.

Norwood began to think about the following things:

-The traits of a Starling.

-Our medical history and what we are going through now

-How we can network and get advisory support from within our family

-Building my legacy

It became clear to Norwood that history and family are two very important concepts that we should not separate ourselves from.

When I look at my cousins, I can see the character of their parents in them. The strong loving giant of Uncle Dee, the strong quiet storm of Uncle Short and Uncle Luscious, the beautiful comforting spirit of Aunt Lula and Aunt Ethel Aunt Marion, and Grandma Anna and Aunt Lucy, but look out that comforting spirit might blow at any given moment.

As he broadened his family circle through Facebook and the family tree, he began to see the same traits in distant relatives, including spiritual strength, the cooking sisters and a cousin that owns a Texas bakery. There are the fun-loving people and the entrepreneurial spirit of others.

There are nuggets of family history that have shaped each of us in this room; the preachers, singers, business owners, entrepreneurs, authors, educators and the like.

An important part of family history includes medical history, some of which was kept secret.

Think back for a minute and I am sure you can name at least one family member. At the same time you can think of a family member that has passed on from an illness that was not spoken about. It seemed that it was a secret. Secrets handicap us and our children.

I have learned that we need to talk to our children about our family and help them to know their family.

By communicating with family and seeing what ails them in some cases is similar to what ails me, I saw the importance of knowing my families’ medical history.

Understanding the past can help you shape your future.

The decision to create a family tree, says Norwood,  came from his attending the 2011 family reunion in Ohio, and not understanding how the attendees were related.

I thoroughly enjoyed all of the festivities and the people I interacted with, but had a desire to know more. Aunt Bone opened the door by requesting I manage the reunion hosted by our New Jersey family and I walked into the opportunity to link as many people together as possible for this reunion and find my family.

He set up a Facebook page and began inviting anyone with the surname Starling to join, hoping they were related. The page grew immediately to 406 members, most in East Texas. The networking began and continues.

I have met a person graduating college and desired to move from Texas to Florida looking for a job in childcare. They were able to talk to a family member. Another person was looking to relocate to Texas and was able to link up with family members to get information on various areas in Texas.

Norwood realized he needed a family tree site and found MyHeritage.com.

I chose MyHeritage.com because it offered free software, initial free website access and it was very easy to use.

As I added people to the tree, the software automatically invited those with email to join the website, which was set up to allow only invited family members to view it.

To get information on the family, I sent out a questionnaire, and with the help of relatives, we now have over 1,300 people in 471 families on the tree.

By actively working on the family tree and talking to so many people, Norwood found the joy he was missing and more:

-I gained knowledge of our family history.

-Opened a dialogue with family elders. Uncle Richard recently told me that I used to be quiet. I told him I was trying to make up for the 16,000 words/day I did not use for 20 years.

-I found the importance in listening to their stories.

-DNA tests can be ordered to connect with genetic cousins and discover more.

-I experienced a joy like no other while gathering information about each party of the family.

Norwood said, at the reunion, that he sees the family tree as enhancing the family legacy begun with the family reunion founder, Ester Cannon, and he hopes it will grow.

Communicating with the greater Starling family opens our world to a bigger picture of love, grace and fun, as well as knowledge. Show Love, Show Grace, Gain Knowledge.

An important part of the reunion was the presentation of the “Emerging Generation” award to Anjanee Starling, 16, who sent in her reunion registration and T-shirt order on her own (with her mother’s permission).

When I received Anjanee’s registration, I did not know what to do with it, because I did not know her and did not know how she would even get to the reunion. I talked to her mother only to find out that I met her father at the 2011 reunion and had a spiritual connection with him then. She indicated that Anjanee was so excited to attend the reunion and would be attending with her aunt.

Here is how Norwood worked on the 2013 reunion. It wasn’t the first he had organized and had a small part in the 1976 event, which was in New Jersey. The reunions are held every two years in a different part of the country.

How to spread the news of the reunion? He used snail mail of letters, word of mouth, email, a Facebook Group and emails from MyHeritage.com

How did he communicate with relatives about the event? He created a front page with the reunion information, and used MyHeritage to email blast the members.

As the project manager responsible for the 2013 event, he also had a committee of 10. They held monthly host family meetings for two years following the 2011 event. They communicated via the Facebook Group, as he built the MyHeritage page, researched the family tree, maintained the databases and contact list, as well as the product order list (such as T-shirts).

The eldest person attending was Norwood’s mother, Bennie Lee Newkirk, and the youngest was a 7-month-old baby girl, the fifth living generation on her side of the family.

People attended from California, Alabama, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, New Jersey, Long Island, NY; Syracuse, NY; Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Arizona and Ohio.

The person who travelled the farthest was Keith Wilson from California and the hosting families came from central New Jersey, and some from Philadelphia, just a bit farther.

Norwood has been researching the family for two years, since attending the 2011 reunion in Ohio. He’s gone back as far as 1830 when the family came from North Carolina.

MyHeritage really assisted Norwood in planning this event. It helped him research family members, produce interesting statistics and post them on Facebook to spark interest, helped him to obtain photos from family members, send emails and notices about birthdays, anniversaries and special events. And he discovered previously unknown relatives via Smart Matches in Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

Are you thinking of holding a family reunion next summer? Now is the time to start planning!

Did you enjoy Norwood’s story? Do you have a similar story to share? Send them to stories@myheritage.com

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Comments (5) Trackbacks (0)
  1. This is a GREAT article. Uncle Wayne and the NJ committee did a wonderful job. Love the Starling Family.
  2. It was wonderful everyone was really Blessed.
  3. Thanks for leading the way and setting the bar! As we prepare for 2015 family reunion in Florida, we will continue to build on this foundation of social networking and this Heritage Website!
    Thanks for a job well done!
    #2015SaintPetersburgFlorida
  4. Well done. you are one of a king. I thank God for you and your vision. Great work
  5. Thank you cousin Norwood for sharing your thoughts and works. Although I could not attend this year's reunion, I cherish the photos, dvd and this article. You provided a wonderful way for all to enjoy our history and memories.

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