This homecoming was particularly special because the Church has been busy this past year digitizing the existing old church records and organizing some of them into a book for sale to the general public. More information on the book is available here. We had a display of some of the documents and member rolls, a slide show of pictures of some of the old church buildings and members through the years, and Representative Miller commemorated the Church’s 176 years of service on the floor of Congress. Turnout was good. Still a good representation of the older generation (i.e. the generation older than me!). So many have gone on over the last few years that it is hard not to worry who won’t show each year. The food was plentiful and good. Hard to beat good, Southern comfort food!
Being a family historian who is better with dead ancestor’s names than with living people’s names, I tried to make my rounds and meet everyone then ask them who their parents and grandparents were. That usually allowed me to connect them to the names I’ve spent the last year reading and studying as I put the book together. And truthfully, many of them were second or third cousins. I often had to connect my ancestor to theirs (“your great-grandmother was my great-grandfather’s sister”) and then the smiles would appear and we would be instant family. Of course, in that part of Okaloosa County you usually just have to say one of your ancestors was a Steele, a Campbell, a Stewart, a Barrow, a Hart, a Helms or a Baggett and you will likely have a connection, or two or three. If your family was in the area before 1860, you are likely kin to anyone else who can claim the same.
Thankfully there was no rain and the troublesome DVD player settled down nicely after we prayed over it. The singing was good. I remember as a kid attending with family when we were visiting my grandparents and the congregation singing with Ms. Lillie playing the piano. She had played the old pump organ for years before she decided it was time for a piano (likely because it is a bit of a marathon to play a pump organ) and bought one and donated it. Singing was good then too. Or maybe it is just me feeling at home and at peace. Or maybe I’m just getting old and sentimental. The latter is okay, I’m not ready to admit the former. At least now we had the benefit of air conditioning and ceiling fans. I remember those ever-present paper fans with advertising on them (funeral homes, hardware stores, etc.) that moved the warm, humid air when I was a kid.
The church has a new pastor and there are plans to continue a focus on documenting the church’s history and place in the Okaloosa County and Florida panhandle history, as well as extend the cemetery onto some new property the church recently acquired and being more active at Stewart Cemetery and working with the community and the property owner to clean up the Old Yellow River Cemetery (commonly known as the black cemetery) well back toward the river. Those 18 or so souls were members of the early church or community members of color that could not be buried elsewhere and their final resting place needs some attention. And we are moving toward putting the pieces together to apply for a historical marker for the church.
At one point, as I wiped some perspiration from my forehead I looked back toward my grandfather’s grave and smiled. There were several times this past year when the book project was particularly trying that I could hear him encouraging me to stay with it. I’m glad I did. Now we have some new exciting projects coming up. He would be pleased. Stay tuned.