Over the last two years, I have learned that something as simple (or as complicated) as putting together a multigenerational family tree can be a great way of getting the members of a large clan closer to one another—by bridging generations, locating and reconnecting with out-of-touch relatives, and openly discussing unresolved family issues of the distant past.
Two years ago, some senior members of our big clan got together and decided to produce our definitive family tree before our present generation of “elders” finally left the scene.
Being the “most senior,” still functional member of my generation, and there being no other claimants to this dubious honor, I was unanimously “elected” to lead and oversee this monumental task, which I reluctantly accepted.
For perspective, ours is a really big clan, with roots in Tarlac province and a history dating back to the original Tañedo family, our ancestors who were among the first families to settle in that “wilderness” way before it officially became a province in 1872 (mostly carved out of neighboring Pangasinan and Pampanga).
In truth, when my immediate family attended a grand reunion of the Tañedos in Tarlac in the early 1990s, about 1,800 family members came, most of whom were practically strangers to us.
So the next time we had a family reunion, we decided to limit it to a much smaller group, the descendants of Pablo Quiambao and Lorenza Tañedo. Their three daughters (and their spouses) are our more immediate ancestors.
Despite this contraction, we still had about 300 attendees in the reunion.
To be inclusive and accurate, we named our undertaking the Aquino-Quiambao-Estrada-Liwanag Family Tree.
The core of the clan are the three daughters of Pablo and Lorenza Quiambao—Petronila, Isabel and Guadalupe who married, respectively, an Estrada, a Liwanag and an Aquino. To keep it simple, our clan is descended from these three sisters and their respective spouses.
As in other families, ours has its share of single and multiple marriages, and even non-marriages, with offspring in every generation. We had learned that in other families who had undertaken similar family-tree projects, the inclusion or exclusion of some partners and their descendants had been a contentious issue.
To avoid this pitfall, we unanimously decided at the outset that our clan’s family tree would be inclusive—that all blood relatives, and the partners and offspring of blood relatives, would be included without discrimination.
Although this involved some recollection and research and was somewhat more complicated to execute, it was a positive, unifying way to start.
The next step was to look for relatives who had been out of touch for one reason or another (age, poor health, living abroad). Fortunately, we were able to contact members of the major branches, and they volunteered to secure the family trees of their various sub-branches. Another great way to reconnect among more immediate relatives!
Seldom-heard-from relatives also have an open invitation to join the bimonthly or quarterly meetings of the core organizing group. These occasions serve to renew ties among family members who seldom see one another.
More importantly, they serve to bridge the gap between the relaxed “golden oldies,” the “ripening” middle-agers and the present crop of restless, forever busy millennials who pop in and out of sight. So the project’s being open-ended in terms of deadline seems to actually be an unexpected benefit in terms of bonding time.
A family Viber group has been activated, where rare family photos, personal insights, inspirational messages, greetings on special occasions, get-well wishes during illness and expressions of sympathy during bereavement are generously shared.
The opportunity to openly talk about vague stories and unresolved family issues involving past generations is another development I consider positive. Such topics have caused some relatives unease and pain. But being able to express their views and feelings, and being heard with objectivity and understanding, I believe, has lifted some of the emotional weight they have been carrying as a result of conflicting versions of sad events in the misty past.
To make the family tree come alive and become more personal, we asked each one to come up with anecdotes about his/her immediate family, including close uncles, aunts and cousins, which are indelible in his/her memory. These anecdotes, which can be serious or humorous, historically impactful or trivial, are accessed by simply clicking on the name of the family member in the Family Tree’s dedicated and specially programmed website.
For example, here’s one of my anecdotes about my mom’s older brother, my uncle Benigno Aquino Sr. (Ninoy’s father) titled “My Fond Memories of Tiyo Benigno”—When I was three years old, my parents made me memorize the first few stanzas of Rizal’s “Mi Ultimo Adios.” One night, when Tiyo Benigno was entertaining some government colleagues, he asked me to recite before the group.
Like a parrot, I rattled off “Adios patria adorada, región del sol querida…” When I was done reciting, the group applauded warmly and Tiyo Benigno gave me a bunch of lanzones as my reward.
After eating them, and wanting more, I ran back to the room. Without any preamble, I again rattled off “Adios patria adorada…” to the group’s amusement. This time my uncle gave me some bananas.
When I had consumed the bananas, I rushed back to the room where the group was and began to recite again. With a warm, amused smile, my uncle interrupted me and said, “Hijo, there’s no more,” and he pointed to the empty bowl.
That was the gentle cue for me to bid everyone good night and leave the room. But at three years old, I wasn’t even embarrassed.
Spiced by personal anecdotes such as this, an inert, diagrammatic family tree becomes a dynamic, living record of a family’s intimate and unique history.
But with such a big family, it takes a lot of effort and follow-up. To help speed up the process, I “appointed” (coerced) my younger sister, Manette Cortes, to take my place. With the help of an IT-savvy family friend, Jay Ramos, I must say she has done an excellent job so far.
Today, we have a comprehensive, user-friendly family-tree website, which still has some gaps but to which new entries are constantly being added.
The next big step in our family-tree odyssey is the much awaited, excellently designed, hardcopy coffee-table version favored by the more traditional, low-tech seniors of the family. When that will happen is another story.
Meanwhile, our family’s enjoyable, bonding get-togethers go on in 2019.
“Family is like branches on a tree. We all grow in different directions, yet our roots remain as one.” —Anonymous —CONTRIBUTED