From afar, a family gathers

July 11, 1999

ReunionBy ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer

photo: MARLA BROSE / staff photographer

MYERSVILLE, Md. - The limbs of the Ostertag-Easterday family tree may branch out across the globe, but they meet at the trunk.

Every six years.

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More than 100 Ostertag descendants from two European countries and 15 states reunited Sunday at the ancestral German family's original American homestead in Frederick County.

The family picnic at Donald and Wanda Easterday's historic Ostertag Farm near Myersville marked the last event in a three-day international family reunion, which has been held in Frederick County every six years since 1975, Donald Easterday said.


"We're just pleased to have all these relatives from all over the world here to visit us," he said.

The ingredients of a successful international family reunion?

"Perseverance, maintenance of a routine and interesting ingredients at each function," Easterday said.

The family spent a weekend of fellowship dining at area restaurants and touring such historic sites as Antietam National Battlefield, he said. But it takes more than good food and a tour bus to make a memorable international reunion.

Don't forget the name tags, bilingual relatives, family band, ham sandwiches, video cameras, United States and world maps dotted with family locations - and the helicopter.

"This is something grand," distant cousin Delight Easterday LaBarbera, of Fort Wayne, Ind., said.

At the sound of whirring blades, family members bolted from tables inside the renovated barn to watch the small chopper land in the nearby field. Family friend James Grimes, who is the mayor of Frederick, Md., stepped from the helicopter to join the festivities.

"This is great," said Eric Ostertag, of Strasbourg, France. "I will talk to the man to see if I can trade my car for his helicopter. It might make traveling to the United States easier."

Eric Ostertag, who is a professor with a branch of the Louis Pasteur University, traveled to the reunion with his wife, Joana Carvalho, and teenage children, Frederic and Mathilde.

"I'm finding out our family is very learned," said LaBarbera. "The Easterdays were industrious and smart."

An original reunion founder, Hazel Easterday, kept extensive files on the family's history. This genealogical information, which is now published in books and in quarterly newsletters, forms the heart of the Ostertag-Easterday Association of America, said event organizer Mary Shields, of Peoria, Ill.

Many of the family members present on Sunday are card-holding members of the association, which helps sponsor the reunions, Shields said.

While world travelers such as the Strasbourg Easterdays and West Germans Klemens Ostertag and his daughter, Christine, visited Ostertag Farm for the first time, many of those present at the picnic said they had deep connections to the more than 200-year-old property.

"This barn was raised on the day I was born - July 1, 1926," said Siebert Shifler, of Hagerstown. Shifler and his family moved from Ostertag Farm to Washington County when he was 7 years old, he said.

Donald Easterday pointed to the dots on the U.S. map marking the paths taken by other members of the Ostertag-Easterday family. From the Maryland homestead, family members migrated to Pennsylvania, California, Arizona, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Tennessee, New York, New Jersey, Alabama and Virginia.

Some family members will travel from these states to the next family reunion, which will be held in Germany in 2002, Easterday said. The family tries to meet overseas every three years, he said.

Despite financial barriers, Easterday said uniting relatives from across the globe is "a worthwhile activity."

"It's important to be aware of your roots," Easterday said. "It helps to know where you're going if you know your past."

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