A family tree featuring more than 500 names stretches across several tables at James Island County Park. Steps away, a deejay spins popular tunes as guests, some of whom are meeting for the first time, take to the floor and break into the Electric Slide, a line dance.

Family reunion facts, tools

Facts from Reunions Magazine:

About 200,000 family reunions are held in the U.S. each year.

Half of U.S. families holding reunions meet every year.

Many families return to the ancestral homestead, town or village for every reunion.

Fourth of July is the biggest reunion day of the year.

Many chambers of commerce have people on staff who interview family contacts and request bids from hotels and other providers.

Reunion planning aids:

Some of the more popular tools for planning family reunions include:

Family Reunion Organizer software, by Roots Magic.

“Family Reunion Planning Kit for Dummies” by Cheryl Fall.

“Your Family Reunion: How to Plan It, Organize It and Enjoy It” by George G. Morgan.

“Family Reunion” by Jennifer Crichton.

Guidelines and ideas also are found in Reunions Magazine (www.reunions magazine.com).

The dancers, who span four generations, each adds his own moves to the dance. But despite those small bursts of individuality, they are all doing the same dance.

Those gathered at the park’s Edisto Hall are descendants of Scipio and Lucillia Smith of Kiawah Island, and they came together last weekend for the first Smith family reunion.

The program for the 87 registrants included a banquet, tours, cemetery visit and worship, says Tim Gourdine, who was raised in Summerville, but lives in Virginia. He was reunion chairman and serves as family genealogist.

Scipio and Lucillia, ancestors who many family members recently expressed a desire to know more about, were born around 1835 to 1841, according to the 1880 U.S. Census, which counted them living on Kiawah Island, Gourdine says.

He has been researching them and their descendants seriously for two years and hopes sharing discoveries with other descendants will inspire them to do the same. He envisions them collaborating to assemble various parts of the family’s story.

Seeds of reunions

Edith Wagner, editor of Reunions Magazine, says this first Smith reunion reflects that of other families in two ways.

“Most reunions start at funerals when people say we have to meet under happier circumstances. Or, someone in the family has been doing genealogy and needs a captive audience. If the genealogist is doing it, a lot of the reunion concentrates on the family’s history.”

Wagner estimates there are about 200,000 family reunions annually in the United States.

“The average number attending a (family) reunion is 50,” she says. “It’s not unusual to have 300 attend and many of them have well over 100.”

About the ancestors

Gourdine, who is Scipio and Lucillia Smith’s great-great-grandson, found information about them by studying documents in the South Carolina Historical Society, Register of Mesne Conveyance, censuses and magazines. He also consulted a 19th-century family Bible and interviewed family elders.

On Oct. 28, 1862, Scipio, who was enslaved by E. Vanderhorst on Kiawah Island, was one 18 slaves who ran away.

Caught by dogs, a document says, Scipio was sent to work in the coal fields of North Carolina. Vanderhorst was to be paid $5 a month for Scipio’s labor.

Labor agreements with freedmen, dated 1866 and 1867, include Scipio Smith’s name as a worker.

The 1900 U.S. Census records Scipio and Lucillia living on Kiawah. They had been married 22 years and she had given birth to 10 children, seven of whom were living.

In a handwritten document in Arnoldus Van derHorst V’s papers dated Nov. 1, 1904, Scipio Smith is noted as living two residences away from the “big house” on Kiawah.

Gourdine has concluded they were sharecropping.

Modern family ties

Having such information means a lot to Sonia Glover of Charleston, also a great-great-grandchild of the Smiths.

“The reunion means unity, but I also want to know how we have evolved,” she says. “I want to know what their daily lives were like. Did they work the fields? Did they have some kind of trade? Were they basket weavers?”

Edward Bell of Rhode Island, son of Edward Brown, was born in Charleston but grew up in Boston. The reunion brought him to Charleston for the first time since 1970.

“It took this to bring me back here,” he says. He planned to call others who did not make the reunion, including a nephew in Tennessee, to express his wish they could have shared the experience.

Pam Gourdine Scott, also a great-great-granddaughter, lived 19 years in Maryland, but has moved back to Charleston.

“I want my five children to know them (ancestors). I want them to have the sense of the kind of family I grew up with. I want them to know that these are people who will support them.”

As for Scipio and Lucillia, she wants to know how they met, where they were married, where Lucillia came from, who her parents were and whether she had siblings.

“I wish I had a picture to see what they looked like,” Scott says.

One unplanned event during the reunion was a tour of Kiawah Island with Mayor Charles R. Lipuma, Gourdine says. Lipuma and Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley signed a proclamation honoring the gathering.

While they could see the grounds of the plantation their ancestors worked, they did not visit the site, which is privately owned.

“We were happy to be that close to the ancestors. We just wanted to actually go in.”

The Rev. Isaac Gourdine of Summerville hopes everyone attending learns to appreciate family more.

“I think that our family has a good history, we just don’t know it,” he says. “We need to know where we come from, to be able to tell our children ‘This is your family. This is who we are.’ ”

Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.