|Siler Family Meeting 1911|
William Siler circled two big dates on his calendar for 2016. On June 23, he celebrated his 100th birthday at his home in Morro Bay, California. And Saturday, he hosts the 165th annual meeting of the Siler family in Macon County. "I've been a strong supporter of this family and our heritage in this part of the state ever since I was a small boy," Siler said. Siler planned to catch a flight to Atlanta where his daughter would drive him to Franklin and his old home place. "I was born seven miles west of Franklin back when there were just dirt roads. Getting to Franklin was an all-day affair and you could figure on getting stuck in the mud. Now it takes just a few minutes."
|Early Family Meeting at Cabin of Albert Siler|
There is recognition for the oldest family member attending — Bill Siler has that honor sewn up for 2016 — as well as the youngest. Whoever has traveled the farthest also gets recognition. "I've probably missed just one year when I was overseas," said Richard Jones of Asheville, who serves as the Siler family president this year. "It's pretty much a command performance. With all your cousins coming from California or New Jersey or New York, you certainly better make the effort to be there, especially if you live in Asheville."
Jones remembers as a kid going down to the creek to wade and search for frogs and salamanders while the adults held their meeting. But as he grew older, he became intrigued by the family's long history.
|1893 or 1896 Meeting|
In 1853, Jacob Siler invited his three brothers, William, Jesse, and John, and their families to join him and his wife for a New Year’s celebration in Macon County. The family “partook bountifully of the good things spread before them,” according to letters. Jacob was named the chair of the meeting and speeches were made.
No official minutes were taken at that first meeting, but Jesse Siler wrote his son, Leonidas, or Leon, who was studying in Chapel Hill, about the meeting. Leon Siler became a Methodist minister and Franklin's postmaster. He served as the family secretary for years.
Even a bloody Civil War couldn't keep the family from their annual feast, which was moved to the summer. In a letter dated July 17, 1862, Leon Siler painted a portrait of war-torn times: Capt. Thaddeus P. and Lieut. Jesse W. Siler are my brothers, in the cavalry…. Thomas and Thaddeus are Sgts in the same (company). James W. was in same company. but died at Petersburg, about the 8th of April. Albert Siler is commissary to the 39th N.C. Partisan Rangers which will soon leave for the seat of war. T.P., Jesse W., and Julius T., are my brothers; the others are cousins. I am the only Siler, between the ages of 18 and 35 that is now at home. And I should have been in the war long ago; but in 1839 I lost the use of my right arm and am hence unfit for service."
That connection to family, ancestors in a distant century, still matters in America, experts say.
Edith Wagner, editor of Reunions Magazine in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, estimates there may be 200,000 family reunions held annually across the U.S, but "that's only a guess," she said. "No one really knows for sure."
Family reunions cut across rural, urban, ethnic, racial and religious lines. "People want to reconnect with their roots. The family are the people who make up the first important group for any individual. It's who you are," said Larry Basirico, a professor of sociology at Elon University.
Ross Zachary of Charlotte has been organizing the event on behalf of Bill Siller, and the descendants of Arthur Lee Siler, one of the seven brothers or branches of the family
"My mother and father were both from Franklin. My mother was a Siler and she was very dedicated to attend these meetings," Zachary recalled. He grew up in Charlotte, but his family lived in Franklin for a couple years when he was in the sixth and seventh grades.
"I was like a lot of kids, kind of forced to attend," he laughed.
Zachary recalls traveling to see some of his mother's kin in Washington State where they had migrated with the timber business. "One of my mother's brothers was a logger. I remember visiting out there and marveling at the size of the trees."
He would not attend another meeting for about 40 years, but started coming back after his retirement, reconnecting with old classmates and cousins.
"I guess there is a certain amount of pride to have that connection to the original settlers in Macon," said Nancy Siler Scott, who lives in Franklin. "Sometimes, we share an excerpt from the minutes at the meeting."
An undated photo shows the Siler clan gathering at the cabin built by The cabin was built by Albert Siler, a great grandson of Plikard, in the 1880s. The cabin was later the birthplace of Lucy Morgan, the founder of the Penland School of Crafts.
Scott recalls coming to the meeting since she was little. "I remember I was about four and all these people were saying 'You look just like your daddy' or 'you look like your mother.' I don't think I was that impressed. I'm told I said I was just going to go sit down on a rock," she laughed.
Later on she didn't want to miss the meetings where she re-engaged with teenage friends.
The first Saturday of each August is sacrosanct on her calendar. In recent years, she and her husband, Franklin Mayor Bob Scott, missed the occasion only once, for the birth of a granddaughter the day before the picnic.
And Scott's grown children are regulars, with a son and his family coming from Columbia, South Carolina, while her daughter, Joanna, is delaying her return to England for the family meeting.
The gathering comes with the usual trappings of Southern summer get-together with the usual array of meats, casseroles, deviled eggs, desserts and sweet tea. Scott remembers her father used to bring a leg of lamb and a cousin always had her lemon sponge cake at the picnic.
"Everybody brings their favorite dish," Bill Siler said. "There's plenty of food, but I always look forward to the meeting itself."
As a centenarian, Siler knows this will be the last year he can play host. But he's also certain that a family that's gathered every year for 165 years can keep up the tradition into the future. "It's an impressive record."
Source: Dale Neal, firstname.lastname@example.org Published 10:25 a.m. ET Aug. 5, 2016 | Updated 10:29 a.m. ET Aug. 5, 2016.