By looks alone, it was a regular family reunion. Beside the washer pit, a game of dominoes broke out, and between the swatting of flies and the clanking of dominoes on the wooden picnic tables came the drone of brotherly trash talk.
“Look at this,” said Charles Williams as he made a play. “Keep reaching for the stars.”
His brother George shook his head and looked to his older brother Addison, then gestured back to Charles.
“All roads lead to him,” Williams said.
Guests of the Wilson/Clark Family Reunion traveled from as far as Colorado and as close as Columbia to celebrate the reunion Saturday at Cosmopolitan Park.
Across the shelter from the domino table, Traci Wilson-Kleekamp created an improvised family tree for the families in about 15 minutes. The chart contained more than 100 names and was done by memory. The puzzle is not complete, but Wilson-Kleekamp has brought many pieces of the past together that were once apart.
“I remember asking my dad all those questions, and no one knew,” Wilson-Kleekamp said. “I’m enthralled with how connected we are and how perfect it all is.”
Wilson-Kleekamp has spent the better part of a year coordinating the families that descended from slaves Thornton and Mahala Miles. Both were owned by the Tutt family in Bunceton, which is in present day Cooper County, before the Civil War.
“It’s amazing how far we’re spread out,” said Marjorie Thomason, who is from Colorado. “Traci is the connecting link between these families.”
Wilson-Kleekamp, a substitute teacher for Columbia Public Schools, pours over records and documents to add to her knowledge of her genealogy at night after her children have gone to bed.
“I do work whenever I can,” Wilson-Kleekamp said. “I’m a mad hatter.”
The research is difficult because few records were kept on slaves. Wilson-Kleekamp often tracks slaves through their owner’s will or Civil War pension requests.
Since information is hard to come by, descendants often share new information.
“This reunion was a validation to me because people are interested in their families,” Wilson-Kleekamp said. “Families were thirsty to find out their histories and how they were connected.”
Not surprisingly, many of those histories were explored during the gathering. Addison McClure Williams Jr. VII told how his ancestors escaped a plantation in Kentucky and walked 790 miles, heading for the unsettled territory west of Kansas, until a 14-year-old known as “Sarah O” gave birth under a wooden bridge in what is now Boonville.
The older generations strive to impart a healthy respect for the past to their children and grandchildren.
“We raise our families and bring history forward not for our own satisfaction but for our kids,” said Daniel Wilson, Traci’s uncle.
But for those who have lived without knowing their roots, the family reunions can provide both closure and security.
“You don’t feel like you came out of a cabbage patch,” said Linnie Kerr, a relative from Boonville. “I know I have an end, but now I have a beginning, too.”