The Zink-Graff Reunions: Who, What, Where, When and Why
By Peter Bush
For more than fifty years, spanning both World Wars and the Great Depression, the descendants of two German immigrants to western New York -- John Zink and Jacob Graff -- held a joint family reunion each August. The records of those reunions, which can be viewed on this web site, provide a valuable chronicle of the two families during a period of rapid social and political change.
John Zink was born in 1807 in Morschheim, a village of about 750 people in the Palatinate region of Germany. He married Mary Elizabeth Klingenschmitt in Morschheim in 1829. They emigrated to the United States in 1837 with four children born in Morschheim. They settled near Wendelville in the Town of Pendleton in Niagara County, New York, where they had five more children. The family moved to the nearby Town of Amherst in Erie County, New York, in the 1850s. In 1871 they moved with most of their children to the City of Monroe, Monroe County, Michigan, where Mary Elizabeth Zink died in 1887 and her husband in 1889.
Jacob Graff was born in 1817 in Lambsheim, a village near Mannheim, Germany. He emigrated to the United States in 1839, and his mother and five of his brothers and sisters also came to the United States. Jacob settled initially near Niagara Falls and later moved to the Town of Amherst. He married Anna Mary Wagner in Niagara Falls in 1842, and they had eleven children, of whom three died young. His wife died in 1895 and he died eight years later in the Town of Amherst.
The Zink and Graff families were part of a sizeable community of German-speaking farmers who emigrated from the Palatinate prior to the American Civil War and settled in the Towns of Pendleton and Amherst. The hamlet of Wendelville, on the north side of the Erie Canal, served as a focal point for this community. It was the site of a bridge over the Canal linking Pendleton and Amherst, and a brick church constructed in the early 1850s which most of the German families attended. (The church exists today as St. Paul's United Church of Christ).
Unlike many of the German families near Wendelville, who had come from Morschheim or towns near Morschheim, the Zinks and Graffs probably did not know each other in Germany. However, in western New York the two families quickly became connected through marriage, which is not surprising considering that they shared a common language and heritage, lived close to each other, and attended the same church. Three children of John Zink married children of Jacob Graff, and two other children of John Zink married a niece and nephew of Jacob Graff. As a result, many Zink descendants are also Graff descendants, and vice versa.
In 1912, Peter Zink of Toledo, Ohio, and Otto Graff of Flint, Michigan, decided to organize the first Zink-Graff reunion. They sent a letter to other family members (a copy of which is attached to the “Other Reunion Documents” page of this web site) inviting them to assemble on 5 August 1912 at Belle Isle Park in Detroit. Their initiative was clearly prompted by concern that the family members had become scattered and were losing touch with each other:
We have taken up this matter for the purpose of organizing a family reunion that we may come together every year, for the purpose of getting better acquainted and have (sic) a good visit and nice time. You know that in the past we have only met occasionally at a funeral for the purpose of paying our last tributes of respect to one perhaps we never saw but once or twice in our lives.
The first reunion was a resounding success, with an attendance of 145 people. There are detailed minutes of the business meeting at that first gathering, at which bylaws were adopted, officers were elected, and committees were established.
Over the years the reunions followed a consistent pattern. They always included time to visit and socialize, lunch, a business meeting, and games.
The business meetings were surprisingly formal. Matters were decided by motion and vote, officers were nominated and elected, expenses were scrupulously reported and documented, and committees were established for various purposes. Sometimes there were speeches. The meeting minutes recorded the names of the officers, the dues collected from each family to pay the reunion expenses, and the members of each committee. In most years the minutes also listed births, marriages and deaths that had occurred since the prior reunion, and this information over a period of forty years provides a valuable history of the two families.
We know relatively little about the games and entertainment except for the 1927 reunion. If that reunion was typical, there were games for adults as well as children. They included traditional races as well as some games with intriguing titles (e.g., a “shoe contest” for boys ten to fifteen years old, and a “ball and umbrella contest” for “boys and girls 60 years and over”).
Though lunch was probably an important part of the reunions, there aren’t many details in the records. It appears that lunch was a pot-luck affair at most of the reunions, with ice cream, coffee and sometimes cigars being provided. (The expenses of these and other items were covered by dues assessed at each reunion). But in 1925 and 1926, lunch was taken at the Boechman Hotel in Olcott Beach, New York, and the Casino in Belle Isle, Michigan, respectively.
The reunions were usually in a public park and were rotated among sites in New York, Michigan, and Ohio to accommodate the clusters of family members that lived in those three states. At each business meeting there was a discussion of where to hold the next reunion, often punctuated by good-natured bantering among the New York, Michigan, and Ohio contingents. The most common locales for the period 1912-54 were Detroit, Flint, Niagara Falls, and Toledo.
More than 200 pages of records survive for the reunions held from 1912 to 1954. Most of these are the formal minutes of the business meetings together with associated documents such as treasurer reports and lists of dues paid. The remaining pages are miscellaneous documents for some reunions including mailing lists, invitation letters, and news articles.
In the mid-1970s, the records of the 1912-1954 reunions were given to me by Robert Zink, who had served as secretary of the reunions for many years. The reunions continued until at least 1965, but I do not know whether records still exist for the reunions after 1954 and, if so, where they are located.
On this web site, the reunion records are separated into three groups – the minutes of the business meetings and associated documents; the 1927 reunion records; and all other records. Each group has its own page, which you can access via the navigation bar to the left.
So, travel back in time and picture your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents as they attended the Zink-Graff reunions. Use the every-name index to go directly to the pages that mention them when they paid their dues, volunteered for a committee, or were talked into serving as an officer. But take time also to just browse through some of the other records. They may make you nostalgic enough to wish the reunions were still being held.
© 2009 Peter J. Bush. All rights reserved.