Family Reconnects as it Rediscovers Roots

By Allison Wright / May 22, 2008

Ten years ago, Cheryl Prater attended a family reunion where a family tree with 500 family members was presented. Ever since that time, Cheryl had always wanted to pick up that project and run with it.

family-tree.jpgWhen she completed Landmark Education’s Self-Expression and Leadership Program earlier this year, that wish became a reality. She enrolled about a hundred members of her family to be family tree assistants and go out and look beyond their own households, to talk to their extended families (second and third cousins, great aunts and uncles, etc.) and bring back the information to Cheryl. Out of their efforts, she has created a family tree of 2,500 member dating back to the 1800s, and during the process her family has become connected in a way it’s never been before.

Cheryl used to gather more information, and she put out inquiries on genealogy message boards. Through one board she found a family member that had actually been looking for Cheryl’s part of the family 10 years ago, back when the original family tree had been created. Partly through this connection, Cheryl connected to three family segments that her family had been separated from, including one family segment from Alabama that had become estranged over the years.

At one point, Cheryl helped a young woman get in touch with her grandfather who she had never met before and through him her extended family. This caused incredible healing in the family. The woman’s mother, who had become estranged from her father, has now visited her father and is open to the possibility of continuing the newfound relationship.

The work of the family tree assistants opened up all kinds of new lines of communication in the family. The work had them talk to a grandmother or a great aunt or other senior family member that they hadn’t spoken to in a very long time. Cheryl had some of the more senior family members write some of their earliest memories down for posterity.

Other discoveries of heretofore unknown family members were made. One extraordinary find came from the will of a slaveowner who wrote down who he left his slaves to when he died, which provided the slave names to trace back the family earlier in time.

On July 18, Cheryl is having a huge family reunion in Arlington Heights, Illinois, that about 200 family members are expected to attend, where she will present the completed project. In total, she has traced the history of about 2,500 family members. She is adamant that the discoveries and the connections forged during the project are not her work; they are the work of the whole family.

“It’s not my project; it’s our project,” Cheryl insists.

Prater’s family name is Surles (It’s also sometimes spelled Serls, Sers, Serd, Sirles, Surls or Sirls). If you have any information about her family or want to be in touch with her, send an email to

About the author

Allison Wright

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