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All in the family: Gowanda family celebrates 110th reunion

Theodore Roosevelt was president and the Lusitania was getting ready for its maiden voyage, when the Prince family of Gowanda held its first family reunion in 1908.

That started a tradition that would continue for 110 years.

Revolutionary War veteran Job Prince and his wife, the former Rhoda Kibbe, had 10 children. Prince, who is buried in Reynolds Road Cemetery in Saratoga County, never set foot in Western New York, but all but one of his children ended up in Cattaraugus County at some point.

The first to arrive, Jonathan, had 20 children, and some of his offspring organized the first reunion at the John Riley Prince home in East Leon.

They've been getting together for a reunion every year since then.

"My mom went when she was a child, with my grandfather," Annette Blanchard said. "Probably in the '90s she decided she wanted to go again."

So Blanchard went with her, and now is one of the organizers of the event.

The 100th reunion of the Prince family in 2007.

This year's reunion is from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12 at the Gowanda Moose Club. In keeping with tradition, it will be a pot luck meal, with everyone bringing a dish to pass to complement barbecue chicken. Something not found at the first reunion: electrical outlets for crock pots. There will be music, games, food, raffle baskets to help defray the cost, information on genealogy, a guest speaker and a photographer.

Sixty family members attended the first reunion Aug. 31, 1908, where a "bountiful dinner was served" on tables set up in the yard, according to the Sept. 7, 1908 edition of the weekly Cattaraugus Times.  Family members elected officers, and a short program of speeches and singing, including a duet, followed. The meeting was adjourned after all sang "God be with you till we meet again."

The family's history, while sometimes fraught, is the story of determination. Job's son, Jonathan, was the first Prince to arrive in the Town of Persia with his wife, Polly, who was pregnant with their second child. They were in a rush to get there before the birth, and crossed a rain-swollen Cattaraugus Creek in 1831 to get to Polly's sister's home, where the baby was born. Polly died 13 years later, the same day their eighth child was born. Jonathan remarried and had 12 more children.

"Of Jonathan's 20 children, 18 lived to be adults and 18 had their own families," Blanchard said. "I guess that's pretty much why we have family reunions."

The Princes are in good company holding their reunion this summer. Most family reunions take place in the summer months, according to a survey of Reunions magazine readers by the Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management Department at East Stroudsburg University. The survey also found that 57 percent of those responding said reunions help keep them in touch with family members, and more than 28 percent wanted their children to learn about family history.

"I've always had an interest in genealogy. I loved listening to my father's mother tell stories about my great-grandfather," Blanchard said.

She was excited when a cousin recently gave her photos and original documents written by family members following each reunion, and she can't wait to share them with other family members at the reunion.


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