by Marielle Payton
Brenda Reid is the Director of International Student Services. Well-beloved by international, missionary kids and “third culture kid” students, she manages and oversees “everything international students.” But she also has a secret specialty; she has an avid interest in history and has been doing personal genealogy research for over 15 years.
Through her research, she uncovered an inspiring story of faithfulness. From fleeing religious persecution to planting churches for marginalized communities, her family has a fascinating history of ministry and service.
Reid always enjoyed learning about history. She majored in history during her time as a Cedarville student from 1984 to 1988. However, it was through conversations with her parents and extended family that her curiosity really began to grow about her own history. “Tell me about your grandparents,” she asked. Her mom knew a little bit about her side of the family tree, but her dad didn’t know much at all. It was after he died that Reid began to dig into some of those questions.
Reid’s father grew up very humbly, spending his summers in the South, barefoot and picking bugs off of tobacco plants. Her mother’s side, however, has a legendary history. Most notably, she remembers hearing about a grandfather who’d died at Andersonville prison in Georgia. But through research, she discovered it wasn’t her grandfather, it was his brother – her great-uncle. It turns out that her grandfather did die but it was during the Civil War – killed during a battle.
A lot of her research throughout the years has been done slowly by carefully sifting through records via online genealogical sites. The service Reid uses is FamilySearch, a popular free genealogical record website that includes both United States and international records. She’s also made use of Ancestry.com. She loves cross-referencing and researching on both websites.
“My siblings always enjoy hearing the tidbits, but they haven’t pursued it as I have,” Reid said. “I’m definitely the family historian.”
She discovered a lot of fun facts while working on this project. Her family is related to the Breyers of Breyer’s Ice Cream, as well as possibly related to the Heinz of Heinz’s Sauces and Condiments. She hasn’t been able to completely verify the latter due to a lack of sufficient records, but she has a fond memory of attending a Heinz family reunion and coming away with a lot of cool souvenirs, including a pickle pin and t-shirt.
However, following the thread of faith and service in her family is what she’s really passionate about. One example is the story of her third great-grandfather, Elial Joslin. Joslin was an oyster fisherman from New Jersey and a faithful member of the local assembly, Dividing Creek Baptist Church. One day, however, it was discovered that he’d been fishing on Sunday and the church promptly kicked him out for violating the Lord’s Day. Reasonably, Joslin was upset and didn’t go back to the church for several years. But eventually, he decided to apologize and the church happily welcomed him back into fellowship.
Joslin’s family didn’t stay long at the church after making amends. Instead, that experience became the catalyst for their family leaving and starting a church for sailors and seamen. He and his family founded Mariner’s Bethel Church, a floating seaman’s missionary church in Philadelphia, a place where all who “fished their ware” for a living were welcome.
“The one thing for me that’s been really neat to see is the history of believers in my family, generations back,” Reid said.
Reid particularly loves looking at census records and seeing what people did for a living. A lot of her dad’s ancestors were textile workers. They jumped back and forth between North Carolina and Virginia, looking for work. One ancestor who was kicked out of Scotland due to being on the wrong side of the Jacobite rebellion became a silversmith in Williamsburg. He went from living in a castle to living in a brick house and working for a living.
“When you stand in the ruins of a castle that was built in the year 800, all of a sudden you start to realize how much more history there is that you don’t know, and how many people came behind you to build the life and the experiences that you have now,” Reid said. “That’s really humbling. The guy who was kicked out of Scotland, started an entirely new legacy for his family, living honestly and working hard and not depending on status or name. It’s been neat to see those kinds of stories unfold.”
Not everyone in Reid’s family has been a believer. She’s found some grievous stories as well, about choices ancestors have made and causes they’ve supported that go against everything she believes. But it also makes her grateful for redemption and grace, and thankful that their mistakes haven’t carried forward. Learning about the history of believers in her family has inspired her. It’s given her a greater appreciation for scriptures that talk about the generations serving the Lord and how it really does make an impact.
“I don’t think these people necessarily thought three, four, five generations ahead what their life choices and faith choices would impact future people,” Reid said. “And we often don’t. We think of the first generation that’s visibly in front of us but not six, eight generations beyond.”
Reid loves looking at her history and seeing the faithfulness of God through the generations. It influences her to be more mindful of how she lives and what legacy she is going to leave for those who came after her.
She enjoyed having a few conversations with international students about their genealogy as well. She loves hearing about their family history and heritage, and it’s amazing to see how God works through people through generations and locations.
Ultimately, all of her ancestors were immigrants at some point. When she reflects on the courage that it took for them to leave their country, it gives her a greater appreciation for the struggles international students face. Doing genealogical research and finding all these other countries and nationalities in her background has helped her connect with students and realize there is so much more to her than her American heritage.
One of the items on Reid’s bucket list is to tour all the places in her family ancestry, both in the States and abroad. She was able to visit Ireland to visit her daughter who was doing the Study Abroad Program. While there, she visited the ruins of a castle and only found out when back in the states that the exact castle had been the dowry for her 25th great-grandmother’s wedding. Now, she always makes sure to check addresses in census records and look them up–maybe some of them still exist.
Marielle Payton is a sophomore. She has a passion for genealogical research, as well as all things vintage and history-related.