Descent groups may be lineages or clans. Common to both is the belief that members descend from the same apical ancestor. This person stands at the apex, or top, of the common genealogy.  How do lineages and clans differ? A Lineage uses demonstrated descent. Members can recite the names of their forebears in each generation from the apical ancestor through the present. (This doesn’t mean that their recitations are accurate, only that lineage members think they are.) Clans use stipulated descent. Clan members merely say they descend from the apical ancestor. They don’t try to trace the actual genealogical links between themselves and that ancestor.

From Bands and Tribes, Chapter 12 in the fifth edition of ‘Anthropology – The Exploration of Human Diversity’ by Conrad Phillip Kottak

Apart from the definition above, I think the word clan also calls to mind a close-knit, yet simultaneously vast group of people. Vast in terms of family and where the members find themselves. A group of people that may be spread over the world, but that will gather together for special occasions. And since we tend to use specialist words in everyday usage and mould them to our needs, this is how I use clan to talk about my family, or the Thomas part of it anyway.

The surviving members of the Thomas Clan may not be able to recite the names from apical ancestor through to themselves today, but we can stipulate with certainty that we are all descended from the apical ancestors. Our apical ancestors are Edward Alfred Thomas (1874 – 1952) and Hannah Thomas (1874 – 1965). Maybe we can’t recite all the names because we are modern people, too busy with moving our lives forward, rather than looking backwards. Maybe it’s because Edward and Hannah had ten children and at this stage I don’t know how many grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great great-grandchildren.

Early this week, at 01h19 on 21 July 2010 the last and youngest of Edward and Hannah’s children passed away. Beatrice Josephine Cooper (1918 – 2010) was exactly two months short of turning ninety-two. Aunty Joey (which is how everyone knew her) was our link to the past, to the stories of our family and to our understanding of who we are. So, thanks to Aunty Joey and some of her nieces and nephews (my aunts, uncles and father) we have been able to populate our family tree on geni. Even if we can’t recite the names from memory, we now at least have the names and dates of birth of all Aunty Joey’s siblings available online. This also allows us to connect to distant members of the Thomas Clan and to understand why we may recognise ourselves in their eyes, or our grandparents in the sounds of their voices, or my father in the my cousin’s smile.

Thomas Clan ca. 1930s

Aunty Joey is in the back row, third from the left and my grandmother is also in the back row, third from the right. Recently one of my cousins told me that I looked most like my grandmother of all the sisters in this photo. I was surprised by how that pleased me. I was also delighted and fascinated because in all my 39 years on this planet no-one had ever compared or likened me to my grandmother or anyone else from her generation. Even though my surname is now once removed from Thomas, the line continues in me.

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