POSTED: Sunday, July 28, 2013 - 2:40pm
UPDATED: Thursday, August 1, 2013 - 10:51am
St. James, LA (NBC33) — Saint James High School was a busy place this weekend. People learned a lot, but there were no students, no teachers, and no classes.
Members of the Emery family gathered for a biennial reunion. Approximately 800 people from several generations showed up.
"All I know is, everybody's kin to me," David Peck said. "I don't know who is who."
"I didn't know anybody 'til, like, now, " 11-year-old Aaron Lewis mentioned. "But I met at least 80 people."
The reunions have taken place every other year for nearly 20 years.
"We started out, the first reunion seemed like there were only 75 people there," claimed Shaderick Emery.
"There probably still are descendants down the line who aren't familiar with it," said Brian Adams, who organized this year's reunion. "Now, with social media, Facebook, and email, we get the word out to more and more people."
The Emery family traces itself back to Matilda and Joseph Emery, who lived in St. Francisville in the mid-1800's. They had five children, some of whom remained in West Feliciana Parish, and some of whom moved to Vacherie.
Many of the relatives remain in the Baton Rouge, Vacherie, and New Orleans areas, but the family has grown quite a bit as it reaches the tenth generation. Adams uses a genealogy program to keep track of as many of them as he can.
"In the software, with the line of Joseph and Matilda, I have over 2,600 names," he said.
"I've known some people that I didn't even know we were related," said Daphne Octave. "And so, it's good to see everyone together."
They gathered Friday night for a church service and choir recital, then spent all day Saturday eating, chatting, dancing, and playing games at the school.
"We're just having fun, doing family stuff," said nine-year-old Jaden Ross.
At the same time, conversations across generations allowed relatives to trade stories about each other and their common history.
"It's a blessing to continue to have this," Octave stated, "so our children, and children's children, will know their heritage. Because you need to know where you've come from before you can know where you're going."
Helping keep everyone fed and happy was Vincent Batiste, an Emery descendant who owns a restaurant. He spent all his time outside by his makeshift kitchen, but he didn't miss out of the chance to talk to his relatives.
"Everybody comes through here, because this is where it begins," he claimed. "This is the motor that drives the family reunion. Remember that! Cooking."
For the items he prepared, he said he brought 155 slabs of ribs, 2,000 chicken drumsticks, 150 lbs. of rice (for 800 servings of jambalaya), 150 lbs. of sausage, 150 lbs. of onions, 150 lbs. of pork, 100 lbs. of chicken, and 120 lbs. of catfish.
Even the most well-connected Emerys find they meet new cousins at the reunions.
"You know, it's surprising," said Sherman Stewart IV, "but that's the fun part about it."
"And I love my family. And I really didn't know they would have this; a lot of people here," agreed eight-year-old Janneh Trench. "It's like, there's a huge amount of people here!"
"It's amazing," Shaderick Emery added. "It gives you a sense of security and love knowing that you're not alone."
Because the reunion had grown so large in recent years, many family members said they found it hard to distinguish how everyone was related. This year, each member of the five branches wore shirts with distinct colors.
"There may be someone that I'm familiar with or someone that I've seen, or someone that I didn't even know I was related to, 'oh, okay, now I see the connection,'" Adams said.
Adams created a Facebook page ahead of the reunion as a way to connect people. He found that he could get them talking by posting a photo of one of their relatives, then asking them to name and discuss the subject.
"One of my great-aunts, I posted that picture, and we got comments back," he recalled. "One of my cousins commented back, saying she was the first person in the Valentine line to graduate from college. She was in the army, and she was one of the first ones they knew who was in a sorority, and how she sort of was an inspiration for them."
The Emerys say it is a very close family, not despite their size, but because of it.
"It's amazing. It gives you a sense of security and love knowing that you're not alone," Shaderick Emery said.
"It's nice to know that someone's always there for you, if you need them to be," added Alicia Rodriguez.
"Because if anything happens, you know they've got your back," agreed Ross.
They can keep in touch online, but Facebook cannot compare with face-to-face.
"It's even better to see everyone come together as one and show love," Ericka Bridges said.
"Because of love and unity," Shaderick emery added. "This is my family, this is who we are. And this is one of the most positive events you can do."