Let the fireworks and frolic begin!

Many people know that the Fourth of July holiday, formally called Independence Day, celebrates the tempestuous formation of the United States, and also was when three American presidents famously later died. They were Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Monroe. Calvin Coolidge, the 30thpresident, was born on July 4, 1872.

It might surprise you to learn that some of your own genealogy may relate to the holiday. Ancestors were often married on July 4, possibly because it was one of only two days a year formally designated nationally as work holidays, with the other being Christmas. The Fourth was also a handy wedding day because family members were likely to be present, and a readymade celebration was ongoing. Thus marriages within a few days of, or on, July 4 or Christmas were common.

Peek into the family tree to see if your own great-grandparents were married in the midst of such civic history or religious celebration. It was only after about 1910 that marriages (except for the well-to-do) became increasingly complex ceremonies with multiple events leading up to them. Marriages were earlier often solemnized at home with small lists of attendees. Ceremony was not on display; marriage was considered a hallowed life event that provided family continuity. (Look for marriage certificates, newspaper announcements, and anniversary announcements if you’re not sure when marriages occurred.)

If you can locate wedding photos of your ancestors’ weddings, they often contrast greatly with more modern weddings. Last year, weddings cost from about $17,000 in New Mexico to $77,000 in New York City, with “average” being about $33,000. Opulence and add-ons are standard, and weddings have become showier social occasions than important family religious or civil ceremonies.

It’s interesting to identify this trend in family trees, as it often indicates that families’ economies are in full flower (or perhaps debt is growing!). Bible Belt states like Arkansas, with its heritage of Protestant fundamentalism, are less prone to this change, retaining longstanding traditions.

Also, if you’re wondering if your own family connects to the American Revolution and the holiday, it’s good to learn that the advent of genetic genealogy means that many who were unsure about lineage or who were traditionally excluded from organizations like DAR or SAR (Daughters, and Sons of the American Revolution) are now gaining membership. Leadership too, is becoming more diverse. It’s this month that the first African-American woman on the governing board of DAR will serve, and Wilhelmina Rhodes Kelly will become the head of the New York state organization, another first.

READ MORE: Finding Your Arkansas Family History Identity

Supercharging Family Reunions

It’s the 200th anniversary of the Arkansas Territory this year, and in addition to summer holidays and the wedding season. Arkansas family members are often involved in family reunions. The fellowship is wondrous, and the opportunity to meet new relatives and learn more about family lines mixes with contests, family tee-shirts, cookouts, and other activities. The Trotter Family Reunion that will occur in July in Little Rock features a tee that says “Though our branches grow in different directions, our roots remain as one.” The Trotters have met in many cities, and they normally work some heritage tourism into the schedule. Seeing is believing.

Heritage tourism isan enjoyable way to revolutionize, provide context and value for, reunion members about where their families developed and thrived. If you’re hosting a reunion in central Arkansas, why not add in sites like Central High School, The Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, the Clinton Presidential Center, the Old Mill in North Little Rock, and other locations to round out the contextual part of the family experience? Mount Holly Cemetery – the “Westminster Abbey of Arkansas” is home to many prominent and historic ancestors.  Pulaski County also offers historical associations, libraries, lineage societies and the Arkansas State Archives if your reunion members want to dig into family research. If your family has roots in Hot Springs, there’s an active historical society and the Garland County Library along with the city’s fascinating gambling, racing and spa history.

If you’re in Northeast Arkansas, in addition to Civil War-related sites in Jonesboro and Arkansas State University museums, your family members can also see Oaklawn Cemetery where Senator Hattie Caraway and Arkansas Governor Francis Cherry are buried. Caraway was the first woman to be elected to serve a full term in the United States Senate. Your family may have relatives buried at Oaklawn.

The Johnny Cash Boyhood Home is about 50 miles from Jonesboro, intertwined with the Dyess Colony established by President Roosevelt during the Great Depression. Then in Historic Powhatan State Park, your family can find the Northeast Regional Archives, a compact facility with priceless information about a 16-county region (If you don’t make it all the way up to Powhatan, the genealogy section at the Craighead County Jonesboro Public Library is well known). Don’t forget Crowley’s Ridge’s natural beauty.

Northwest Arkansas reunions offer opportunities to explore art, Native American, and Arkansas history museums and cultural offerings in Bentonville, Fayetteville, and Eureka Springs. If you want to learn more about your family’s ancestors ahead of the reunion and need help, contact the Northwest Arkansas Genealogical Society. The Bentonville Public Library houses the Society’s more than 3,000 local history resources. There is a volunteer schedule to assist patrons who need help with research on a limited basis, and there is a genealogy conference in Springdale in September.

Reunions are also highly valuable and memorable when group photos of various types are taken, labeled, and shared. This pays it forward by helping descendants, and having videos of important reunion events will help great-grandchildren experience the 2019 family atmosphere.

Genealogy Workshop July 20

If your family reunion is timed in late July, some members could take advantage of an all-day free workshop by an outstanding African American and Native American genealogist, Angela Walton-Raji, originally from Fort Smith. An author, she also specializes in women’s genealogy and does research about benevolent societies. She will be appearing at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies located at Library Square in Little Rock on Saturday, July 20, from 9:30 (doors open) to 3 p.m., with a break for lunch. Summer is definitely the time for rejuvenation and “revolution” when it comes to family history.

Jeanne Rollberg is a genealogist with American Dream Genealogy and Research who serves on the boards of the Friends of the Arkansas State Archives and the Arkansas Genealogical Society. She teaches genealogy classes at LifeQuest of Arkansas.

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