It’s a family affair

  • Generation game: Wayne Symonds with his book (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
  • Generation game: Wayne Symonds with his book (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
  • Generation game: Wayne Symonds with his book (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
  • Dame Jennifer Smith is featured in The Descendants of Joseph & Nancy DeShield: A Bermudian Heritage, 1794-2017 (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)
  • Shaun Goater is featured in The Descendants of Joseph & Nancy DeShield: A Bermudian Heritage, 1794-2017

The late 18th century was an era dominated by British colonialism. So begins the story of The Descendants of Joseph & Nancy DeShield: A Bermudian Heritage, 1794-2017.

It’s uncertain where the first DeShields originated from — Wayne Symonds suspects Haiti or Santo Domingo — but that detail is less of a concern for the author, who has documented the Bermudian descendants of his ancestors Joseph and Nancy DeShield.

He started collecting information at family reunions. His aunts, Myrtle and Grace Washington, “brought together all of the branches of the family so the younger generations could get a chance to see, not just their first and second cousins, but those who are distant removed and understand how they’re connected”.

He recalled: “The one that started it all for me was at Warwick Camp in 1989.

“I was charged with developing the family tree. I’d just take the chart and lay it on the floor and family members would gather around and start filling in the information.”

There was another reunion in 2000. They invited relatives from all over the world; more than 400 attended.

“The family members that came from overseas were really bowled over by it,” he said.

“They spent all day trying to introduce themselves to hundreds of people.”

In the book, he highlights family members from each branch.

“Family members who have made significant contributions one way or the other,” he said.

Shaun Goater, the former professional footballer, Clifford Looby, the bodybuilder, and Dame Jennifer Smith, the former premier, all feature in the book.

Some were submissions that he edited; others required deeper research: Robert Symonds sang with the Apex 4; Olivia Virgil was an actress in the Seventies and Eighties.

“Cliff Looby was also interesting — his motivation for getting started as a bodybuilder, his persistence in that and some of the things he did in the course of his life,” the 64-year-old said.

“One of my favourite people, though, was Alfred Maybury.

“Alfred was a first cousin, but he was also like a father figure for me. I was always amazed at how he could exert and get respect at the same time.”

Anne Packwood came from Canada to the reunion in 1989. In her nineties then, Mr Symonds interviewed her on camera.

“She was the matriarch of the family but she was also very much interested in history, so during her childhood when she was in Bermuda she gathered a lot of information about the family and relayed a lot of that information to me.

“It supplied the information for the actual history.”

Mr Symonds had a longstanding career in broadcasting — both at ZFB and ZBM — before starting an independent video production company. Symonds & Symonds was known for its monthly television show, Wake Up Everybody.

“I enjoyed the challenge of bringing it all together; finding people, doing stories,” he said of the variety entertainment programme.

Gathering the photographs was easy. “I’ve always had an interest in pictures,” he said. “In my family there’s a great body of photographs. Everybody had been collecting.

“When we had a reunion, we made it a point to take pictures of each branch of the family.”

For every branch there’s a detailed chart in the book with an accompanying photograph. At last count, he clocked 1,200 living family members.

“You could say I’ve been working on this for over a 30-year period, but in deciding to do a book, maybe 20 years,” he said.

“It wasn’t until I decided that this was going to be a book — then the challenge began. That’s when I began to think of structure, what would make it really interesting and informative all in one.

“But, again, it would not have reached this current form if not for my current condition.”

The father of two has emphysema. “Last year was a particularly trying year for me,” he said. “I was in the hospital more than half a dozen times.

“My sisters, out of concern for me and not wanting this information to be lost, said we better make a concerted effort to get this published now.”

They launched the book on December 9, his late mother’s birthday. One hundred copies were printed and sold out that week. He has since had demand for more.

“Family members can have it all in one package,” he said.

“They can show it to future generations and it’s all there.”

Apart from the “About the Author” paragraph on the back, there is no section about him.

“It’s not about me,” he said.

“The aim of the book is for family members to have this body of information readily available that they can pass on to their children and their children’s children.

“But also it leaves room for some enterprising young person to pick up the mantle and elaborate on what I have started.”

He hopes to see more books about Bermuda’s families.

“People that have shared the book with people that are not family members — they look at it and they say I want to do something like this for my family.

“That’s great because it will add to our history.”