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Find Clues in Reunion News (Smith-McGinnis example)

Updated: Nov 30, 2020

Old newspapers are a vital part of researching family history and finding more personal details about their lives. In the pages of the local news, you can find announcements of marriages, births, deaths, or funerals, social, legal, and other news. Items like the ones shown below, however, reporting family reunions, can provide many valuable clues about extended family, which can potentially help break down brick walls in your family tree.

In the past, it was common for family reunions to be published in the news before and after the event. In these you can find valuable clues among the names of the attendees. I was hoping to learn about the family of my 3rd great-grandmother, Catherine (Smith) McGinnis. After finding an article about one reunion, I performed a search using her children's names to locate any subsequent reunions and was able to find a few!

If you're interested in analyzing these tidbits, read on! Otherwise, click here to check out my list of sites for finding newspapers to see if you can find similar clues about your family!

ANNUAL REUNION of the Smith-McGinnis Families at Mrs. E. J. Dunbar's

The Smith-McGinnis families held their fifth annual reunion on Saturday at the home of Mrs. E. J. Dunbar on Academy St., twenty-one people being present. A bountiful dinner was served on tables set on the lawn and the day was greatly enjoyed by all. At the business meeting the following officers were elected:

President: Nicholas Smith

Vice President: Mrs. E. J. Dunbar

Historian: Rose Hollenbeck

Those present were: Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Smith, Mr. and Mrs. John Davern and Charles Smith of Newark Valley; Mr. and Mrs. Jasper Hollenbeck of Willet; Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Davern, sons, Clarence and Bernard of Cortland; Mr. and Mrs. Fred Turner, daughter Hazel and son Maurice of Groton; Mr. and Mrs. D. J. Underwood, Mrs. E. J. Dunbar, Miss Lizzie Wyle, Will McGinnis and Agnes Dunbar. [Cortland Standard, Aug. 28, 1911].


"The Smith McGinnis family reunion was held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Turner last Saturday. Guests were present from McGraw, Willet, and Texas Valley. Mrs. Turner's brother, Charles McGinnis and wife and two children remained for a visit over Sunday with them." [Cortland Standard, Aug. 5, 1912]


McGRAWVILLE...The seventh annual picnic of the McGinnis-Smith families was held Saturday at the home of Mr. and Mrs. D. J. Underwood. The tables were arranged on the lawn and 21 were present. The next reunion will be held the second Saturday in August, 1914, with Mr. and Mrs. Ed O'Brien in Lestershire. Music and recitations were listed to after dinner and a very enjoyable day was spent. Those present were Mrs. Edward O'Brien of Lestershire, Miss Ann Smith of Binghamton, Mrs. Mary DeLaney of Whitney's Point, Mrs. John McGinnis and son, Joseph of Syracuse, Mrs. Jasper Hollenbeck, and daughter, Rose, of West Willet; Mr. and Mrs. Fred Turner and daughter Hazel of Groton City, and Mr. and Mrs. Charles McGinnis and daughters, Catherine and Eleanor; Mrs. Grace Dunbar and daughter, Agnes, Mr. and Mrs. D. J. Underwood and Mr. and Mrs. Wm. McGinnis and son, Basil of this place.

A large number from this vicinity attended the Underwood reunion Saturday at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Floyd Rogers in Freetown and report a good time and about 120 in attendance.

John Dunbar, who has been visiting relatives here left Monday for his home in Adrian, Mich. [Cortland Democrat, Aug. 15, 1913].



Annual Picnic Held on Saturday - Many Present

Between twenty and thirty people were present at the Smith-McGinnis family reunion held Saturday at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Will McGinnis on the farm north of the village. The day was ideal for a picnic and the dinner the best possible, nothing being left out, from chick-pie to warm biscuits, and honey to ice cream. After dinner, music and visiting passed the time very pleasantly and at the business meeting the following officers were elected:

President - Arthur Davern

Vice President - Mrs. Charles McGinnis

It was decided to hold the next meeting the second Saturday in August with Mr. and Mrs. Fred Turner of Groton City. The historian reported that there had been no marriages or births and but one death, that of William Vallier, during the past year.

Those present were Mr. and Mrs. Fred Turner of Groton City, Mr. and Mrs. Homer Reynolds, son Robert and daughter Gertrude, of Summerhill, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Davern and children of Whitney Point, Thomas DeLaney of Newark Valley, Miss Rose Hollenbeck of Willet, Hugh Reagan of Syracuse, Mr. and Mrs. Charles McGinnis and daughters Catherine and Eleanor, Mrs. Margaret Underwood, Mrs. Grace Dunbar and daughter Miss Agnes Dunbar, Mr. and Mrs. Will McGinnis and son Basil, and Mr. and Mrs. George Wylie. [Cortland Standard, Aug. 11, 1919].


After hours of analyzing these clippings, I came to the conclusion that the attendees were all related to the descendants of William and Catherine (Smith) McGinnis, as listed on William's Bio & Scrapbook page:

William Vallier was related through Rose (McGinnis), who I believe was William McGinnis' sister (or possibly a cousin?) from Ireland. Rose married James Ryan and is buried in Cortland, New York. This discovery was made through my Ancestry DNA results. See my previous post for details. If you're interested in getting your DNA test, I highly recommend Ancestry DNA. Click here to get your DNA test on Amazon. (Affiliate referral).

To identify the connection between William Vallier and Rose McGinnis, I did some digging and came to learn that he was born March 1, 1891, in Virgil, Cortland County, New York [WWI Draft, 1917]. He married Rose Eliza Ryan, born about 1896, on January 3, 1914 in McGraw [Homer Republican, Jan. 8, 1914, page 5]. Her parents were Robert Ryan and Adeline White. [Findagrave]. Robert was a son of Rose (McGinnis) Ryan, and thus, the connection is made. See below for more info on William Vallier.

There were a few Smith clues, which may lead to identifying Catherine Smith's family: (Links to updates!)

  • Nicholas Smith, the "President" of the Smith-McGinnis "business meeting", attended the 1911 reunion.

  • Charles Smith of Newark Valley also attended in 1911. Charles born abt. 1865 was a brother of Nicholas, above.

  • Miss Ann Smith of Binghamton attended in 1913. Ann born abt. 1861 was a sister of Nicholas, above.

  • Mrs. Edward O'Brien of Lestershire attended in 1913. (Johnson City was originally incorporated as the village of Lestershire in 1892. It was changed to Johnson City in 1916.)

  • Mrs. Mary DeLaney of Whitney's Point attended in 1913. Mary born abt. 1859 was a sister of Nicholas, above.

  • Thomas DeLaney of Newark Valley attended in 1919.

While I have yet to find any reunions announced in the 1920s, two more were reported in the 1930s. They were held at the home of my great-grandmother, Rose (Hollenbeck) Leonard, probably on Leonard Road. Rose seemingly had an interest in family history and preservation. Tragically, her home in Willet burned down in 1949, undoubtedly destroying priceless records, heirlooms, and photographs.

The Cortland Standard reported the 1933 reunion as follows. Notice, there were relatives who came from Summerhill, Groton, Cortland, McGraw, Green, Whitney Point, Glen Aubrey, Binghamton and Johnson City to attend.

The following year, 1934, the reunion was held on August 19, again at the Hollenbeck home in Willet. There were 53 relatives present!

Stay tuned for my next blog to see what can be found with these clues, if anything. Smith is the number one, most popular surname in the United States, a nightmare for anyone researching the name! If you have any corrections, additions, or want to join in the search, use the comments below!


The following notes contain additional information I gathered about the Valliers while trying to determine who William Vallier was, for anyone researching his family:

William and Rose Vallier had four children in the six years they were together, before his death, which occurred on March 12, 1919, at the age of 28. He is buried in Marathon Cemetery in Sec. 23, Lot 27. His obituary, printed in the Cortland Standard, Fri., March 14, 1919, on page 8, says he was the son of William and Janela Madole Vallier and was born in Messengerville. It restates his birthday as March 1, 1891, adding that his father died when he was three days old. After the death of his father, his mother had remarried to Jasper L. Haley. The family was counted on the census in Freetown in 1900 with Jasper Haley (age 50), Jennie A. Haley (age 35), Almira L. Vallier (daughter, age 11), and Will H. Vallier (age 9). Jasper Haley was born 1850/51. He was living in Virgil with his mother "C. Haley" and grandfather, S. Hall (Stephen Hall) in 1855. Stephen Hall had another son, Lester Hall who married a woman named Louisa. William Vallier's obituary confirms that his mother's name at the time of his death was Mrs. Jennie Haley, and a sister, Mrs. Mina Johnson (Mrs. Frank Johnson), stating that both survived him. William Vallier's sister, Mina, was born abt. 1887 and married Frank A. Johnson on June 27, 1908, in Virgil. Frank was a son of Clinton C. Johnson and Ella Chaplin and Mina's parents are transcribed as Will E. Vallier and Julia Madole (FamilySearch: New York, County Marriages, 1847-1848; 1908-1936). Cortland Standard Dec. 31, 1915, p. 8 "McGraw...Mrs. Jennie Haley and brother, Frank Madole of Le Roy, Mich., visited Mr. and Mrs. Will Vallier of East Freetown, the first of the week." According to Frank Madole's 1946 death certificate, he was born in Cortland, New York in 1875 to Frank Madole and Charlotte "Lottie" Allen. Charlotte Allen was born in New York in 1852 and died in Michigan in 1893. The names of her parents on her death certificate are Anthony Allen and Annie Allen. Mina is short Minerva, as it is written on the 1910 and 1920 census of Cortland. Mina and Frank Johnson had daughters Helen and Edith Johnson.

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