Second Biennial Booker and Southern Kin Reunion held in Repton
Published 7:49 pm Saturday, December 18, 2021
The second Booker and Southern Kin reunion was held on Oct. 22 and Oct. 23 at Beulah Campground in Repton, Ala. There were 21 family surnames represented at the reunion, of which several have connections to Butler County.
The 21 surnames that those in attendance came to pay honor to and learn about were Andrews, Anthony, Brooks, Booker, Cater, Champion, Dees, Ellis, Griffin, Hawkins, Hardee, Harper, McClammy, McPherson, Pipkin, Riley, Skinner, Salter, Snowden, Stuckey and Waters.
The very active Booker and Southern Kin Facebook page, which was a catalyst for the reunion, came to be when in early 2016, Caryl Booker of Ohio came across Linda Luster Strickland’s name while doing some research on findagrave.com and reached out to her with some genealogy questions. Strickland was raised by her grandparents, Edward Melvin Booker and Maggie Texana Stuckey Booker, who were both from Pine Orchard in Monroe County. Although Strickland lived in Ft. Benning, Georgia, growing up, where her grandparents retired after her grandfather’s 20-year army career, she spent every holiday in Pine Orchard visiting with the family still living in Monroe County. Her association with family in the area remains firm. Thus, she was able to connect Booker with relatives and help him fill in some genealogical blanks.
Booker’s grandfather, Frank Melton Booker, lived in Midway in 1911 when he heard from a cousin that there were very high-paying jobs available in Ohio. Very few opportunities were available in south Alabama during that time, so Frank Booker hopped on a train and hoboed his way to Ohio, where he began working with Firestone, manufacturing tires. Eventually, Frank Booker began taking yearly trips to Alabama on his shiny Cadillac that he purchased brand-new and loved to show off. Eventually, three of his sisters, Minnie, Texanna, and Viola and one brother, Andrew Jackson Booker, joined him in Ohio, where they were able to make a very good living.
After a few weeks of Strickland and Booker working together on research, Booker suggested they create a Facebook page where cousins and those connected to the Bookers and/or Salters could facilitate discussion, collaborate, learn from each other, and most importantly, capture the knowledge of ancestors before being lost forever. The group was created in May 2016 and is now 837 members strong and consists of people from all over the country as well as members from Australia, Canada, and Spain.
According to Linda Luster Strickland of Niceville, Florida, from whom the idea of the reunion originated, the Booker and Salter families are what she refers to as the group’s founding families.
“Our Facebook group, Booker and Southern Kin, began by focusing on the Booker and Salter families, but Caryl Booker and I quickly realized that the Bookers and Salters that he and I are connected to from Pine Orchard, and Burnt Corn, had a bit of intermarriage as most families did way back when due to the lack of transportation 100 plus years ago. You can’t just pull one family out and toss it aside. All of the clans represented at the reunion have some kind of connection to the Booker or Salter name,” Strickland said.
Linda Strickland was the organizer for the reunion and said she has always been very interested in family lore. The life of Strickland’s four times great grandfather, Trustin Stuckey, and where he came from has always been a mystery, a mystery that she said caused her intrigue in genealogy and family history to grow.
“Trustin Stuckey was a bit of a mystic character. He died before I was born, but one of my uncles and a few other people in the family remember him. They say he was very tall and had horrible scars all over his back, perhaps from a whipping or a knife fight. He married a Native American woman that was a Delaware native, and they lived in South Carolina before coming to Alabama. It has always been an interesting story and made me want to learn as much as I could. I really believe that God picks at least one person from each generation of a family to be the keeper of family history and the teller of family stories,” Strickland said.
Strickland’s grandfather, Edward Melvin Booker, said just before he died that he did not want to be forgotten. He told Strickland that he hoped his family would mention his name on occasion so he would be remembered. Strickland is proud to hold up her end of the deal and thoroughly enjoys sharing her family’s lineage.
As a retired middle school teacher, Strickland used genealogy to help children that were struggling with various issues to see their connection to the world. According to Strickland, research has shown that children familiar with how they fit into a family or community have a lower chance of getting involved with gangs or participating in other destructive activities that may create an artificial and harmful substitute for family.
“We are all broken pieces in this not always so friendly world. I think it is a beautiful thing when humans discover a little bit about how they contribute to the whole picture of life. Whether that is through finding new cousins or unearthing details of their family’s biography, or even settling into a purposeful career– I think it is healing, and reunions are a way in this fast and crazy world to stop and remember that we do indeed fit into something bigger than ourselves. So many people put in so much hard work on this reunion, and I am forever thankful for those that made this possible and I hope they enjoy and benefit from the reunions as much as I do,” Strickland said.
T.J. Jernigan grew up in the Industry community southeast of Georgiana. He and his wife, Jodie Brewer Jernigan and their three daughters, Sarah Austin Garrette, Emma Cate Jernigan, and Maggie Jernigan, attended the reunion. 10-year-old Maggie assisted with emceeing Saturday.
Jernigan learned of the reunion from a distant cousin he came across on ancestry.com. Jernigan said the reunion was unlike any other he has attended. Jernigan knew he would not have any closely related cousins at the event. Because he enjoys exploring even the distant branches in his family tree and intertwining his explorations with new family connections, this certainly did not deter him from attending. Jernigan said that the reunion was extremely informative, well organized, relaxing and fun. He is happy to have connected with a group of people so enthusiastically willing to assist with research. Jernigan also likes to help others with new discoveries and enjoys doing his part to preserve his family’s heritage, uphold the kindred spirits of his ancestors, and share the knowledge he obtains with members of his own close clan.
“Last week, when my nephew and I were hunting, we came by Riley Cemetery, where many of my ancestors are buried. He has never really expressed any interest in family history when I have talked about it, but when I showed him the graves of his three and four times great-grandparents, it definitely sparked some interest and he began asking a few questions. Looking at genealogy on a computer just isn’t the same but being there in the cemetery, among the dilapidated headstones, made it all a little more real to him. I was glad Jodie and I could take our girls to the reunion. They enjoy hearing about the more interesting tidbits, like Abraham Lincoln being a distant cousin or our ancestry that we’ve traced back to The Mayflower, but having them at the reunion, among all the cousins, with so many pictures, documents and oral history being shared, and in the midst of conversations about genealogy, I think it made this kind of thing a little more concrete to them,” Jernigan said.
Jernigan thinks that it is important for everyone to know where they came from and how they got to where they are. Digging into some of the hardships our ancestors had to endure can make us more appreciative and influence a more positive outlook on life.
“I think that I often take a lot of things for granted. These days we are all making plans for tomorrow, for next week, for our next vacation and I think about my ancestors, even my grandparents, and they just lived day to day trying to feed the family and survive,” Jernigan said.
Jernigan remembers his paternal grandmother discussing days gone by and when he was growing up, his parents talked about family history a good bit. However, his first encounter with researching family history occurred about 35 years ago when he and his parents did a little digging for information on the military involvement of their ancestors. He enjoyed the investigation, but his fervor for family history grew after he and his wife married 16 years ago. His wife has always loved family history as well and they quickly found that they enjoyed being on the genealogy hunt together.
In more recent years, Jernigan’s passion for family history has really taken off and he says that he really gets into it now. One of his favorite things to do is to read very old wills. Jernigan said that the verbiage and handwriting within these documents are always impressive. There are often really interesting things found in these wills, and they help paint the picture of how things once were, according to Jernigan.
Joan Booker Sellers, of Georgiana, learned of the reunion when her sister saw the details posted on Facebook. She was not able to attend but hopes she can be at the next one and is looking forward to finding information on the origins of her Booker clan.
“I really love family history and find it so interesting. My father, Vivian Randolph Booker, who most called Bud, died when I was three. I have no memory of him and I really do not know much of anything about him or that side of the family. He’s buried at the Lone Star Cemetery in Monroe County and lived over in that area near Midway. I do remember my great-grandfather, Aaron Joyner, who owned a gristmill and was a blacksmith. I can still see him out there filling up the paper bags after he ground the corn that folks would bring to him. He was such a character and always so jolly. I wish I could remember more of the things he talked about. I really should have written that kind of thing down,” Sellers said.
Sellers said so much of her family on both her mother and father’s side have passed on, taking precious history with them. She was raised by her maternal grandparents, Hubert and Essie Booker, and said they sacrificed so much for her. Sellers said she would give anything to recall some of the information they shared with her over the years so she could write it down and pass it on to her children and grandchildren. She encourages young people to write down any family information they are told and to make a point to ask questions about family history.
Another upsetting matter surrounding family history for Sellers is the condition of some of her ancestors’ graves and headstones. She enjoys visiting the final resting places of those that came before her but said it is so sad to see the graves in such disarray. Sellers is pleased that the Booker and Southern Kin reunions raise money to repair these markers.
The money used for these repairs was obtained through a silent auction, raffle of a log cabin quilt done in batiks, made and donated by Renee Walls Scharning, and the sale of t-shirts commemorating the reunion. This year, $2,318.63 was raised, enough for five headstones. During the reunion, attendees could nominate graves to be repaired. The graves chosen to be honored and repaired this year were one infant grave at Lone Star, one infant grave at Mt. Pleasant, and two adult Anthony graves at Mt. Pleasant. Details of name and birth/death dates are being determined and will be shared on the Facebook page.
The reunion was a catered event with fried catfish, chicken tenders, and various sides served Friday night and Roasted chicken with side on Saturday night. There was a flat $5.00 per person reunion fee and meals were $15 per person. Love offerings were accepted each night to give to Beulah Church for their providing use of the building.
Those in attendance could participate in various field trips held on both Friday and Saturday. The outings included sightseeing in Burnt Corn where many ancestors of those on the trip lived- led by a native of the area, Butch Satler, a tour of the Monroe County Courthouse Museum, and cemetery tours of Ramah Baptist Church, Old Booker Cemetery, Lonestar, Midway Baptist Church and Mt. Pleasant Methodist in Skinnerton.
On Friday, Caryl Booker gave a history of the Bookers from England and Stephanie Salter gave a living history presentation where she was in character as an ancestor that was one of the pioneers of the Burnt Corn area. Salter had in her possession the journal of this ancestor. Sherry Johnston, a retired librarian from Evergreen, spoke about migration patterns of the pioneers from the East Coast into Alabama. She discussed the Federal Hwy and the Wolf trail that many ancestors took. There was a clan call where attendees stood when the surname they were associated with was called.
Stephanie Salter presented the 2nd part of her demonstration on Saturday, and later those in attendance viewed the many photographs and documents on display, mingled, made connections, and enjoyed the fellowship. Saturday evening Butch Salter sang a song he wrote about his grandfather and played the guitar. A clan call was once again made.
On Sunday, the option to attend church services where ancestors attended was available.
This year’s reunion averaged 67 in attendance each night, down from 110 in 2019.
Planning is already underway for the 2023 reunion and graves that need work are being identified as several very remote and neglected cemeteries have been discovered. New field trips will be added and a cousin, Sherry Scott, who is a muralist, will be offering an art class.
Anyone with ties to the families listed above wanting to attend future reunions or interested in genealogy can look up Booker and Southern Kin on Facebook. The formation of committees for the 2023 reunion has begun. If interested in being on a committee, contact the Facebook page.