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A passion for genealogy leads family on unexpected journey

When a St. Louisan's passion for genealogy led her to family members she didn't know she had, a painful past gave way to generational healing and a very special bond.

<p>The O'Kelley family</p>

There's no stronger tie than family, and for one local family, genealogy took them on an unexpected journey.

St. Louisan Joyce Huston, a former Las Vegas trumpeter, loves music, but as her family's historian, genealogy is her decades long passion. Ellen is Huston's great-great-great-great grandmother. We'll get back to her in a moment.

Since the 1940s, O'Kelley family descendants have been holding family reunions from Chicago to California.

"Growing up it was an amazing experience having family reunions," said Huston.

It was those family reunions that sparked Huston's interest in uncovering the rest of her family history.

"I looked at my grandmother and they were all fair-skinned with silky hair and I was curious to know-- where was this white connection?" said Huston.

Ellen Fisher, Huston's great-great-great-great grandmother, was a slave who bore children from two white slave owners, John Beatty O'Kelley and his brother, James Edward O'Kelley.

"We always knew that we had a plantation owner that had children with our slave ancestor," said Huston.

Determined detective work led to Huston discovering some of the white descendants of John and James O'Kelley. She contacted Argie Shumway in Utah 17 years ago.

"None of us knew. Until Joyce Ann contacted us, we didn't know," said Shumway. "This was not a conversation that my family had."

"I approached her around 2000 and said 'I think we're related,'" said Huston. "'We share the same genealogy,' and she accepted us immediately."

Recently, Argie's son, Bradley Reneer, and her grandson, Benjamin, came to St. Louis to say hello to their black cousins.

"I just love my cousins and I have been blessed by the opportunity to get to meet them," said Reneer.

"Obviously the circumstances that made it that way have been negative, but the fact that we can be in touch with that side of the family and make friends gives it a sense of generational healing," said Benjamin Reneer.

"These are very sweet loving people and we didn't have any barriers set up and they didn't have any," said Huston. "OK let's do this, let's know one another and there was so much love in the room."

"It would be easy for them to maybe look at me and feel some resentment or some other feelings, but I didn't get any of that," said Reneer. "I'm sorry I'm getting a little emotional, but it was powerful."

A powerful moment linking the present with the painful past.

"We don't have to be mad at each other's race because of what happened in the past," said Huston. "Let's be an example that the two races can come together and embrace each other. That's what I'm hoping this story will be able to show."

"I think when we start looking at what we have in common more than what we have that is different, we are going to find a great big bridge," said Shumway.

The white O'Kelleys have been invited to the 2018 family reunion in Washington D.C.

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