News from the Tennessee Valley Living Today

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Meet the Terrys
Their name is more common than Smith in Lawrence County, so it's easy to see why an annual reunion is necessary to keep up with their roots

By Danielle Komis Palmer · 340-2447

For Marie McCollum, "there ain't no telling how many" members of the well-known Terry family she's kin to. Her grandparents alone had 14 children.

McCollum, whose maiden name is Terry, figures first cousins of hers walk in the door of her catfish and seafood restaurant on Gordon Terry Parkway (named after, of course, another member of the Terry clan) on a regular basis without her realizing it.

"I wouldn't even know them," she said. "It's a big family. You can go all over the country and in every state and city you can find two or three pages of Terrys in the book."

She's not exaggerating. In the Moulton area, Terrys outnumber Smiths in the phone book.

Head to the Lawrence County Archives, and you'll find a thick reference book filled with hundreds of pages of names in eight-point font — the Terry family tree.

Many Terrys say the first Terry people came to Lawrence County from the Carolinas through Tennessee in the 1800s. From there, many later migrated to Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

The family's vast numbers stem from the fact that they were farmers, and needed plenty of children to help them farm the land. Plus, farming kept them in the same area.

"They stuck around and they lived in that one area," said Faye Terry, who married into the family through her late husband James Lewis Terry. "They didn't get out because they didn't have ways of going. They married in that area. They would have 10 to 12 kids."

Annual picnic

Today, many Terrys are also still here. They will gather this year, as they have since 1960, for the annual United Terry Club Labor Day picnic on the original homestead of John F. Terry, son of Stephen and Martha Brackin Terry. The couple is said to be among the original group of Terrys to settle in Lawrence County. The property is off Lawrence County 150 north of Loosier.

McCollum’s father, Eric Terry, was one of the five men who put up $100 apiece to buy the property from John F., she said. When Eric Terry died, McCollum took over where he left off with the annual picnic and has sold fish there for years.

Many of the picnic attendees aren’t Terrys, though you must be a Terry to be in the Terry club.

United Terry Club

Betty Terry, treasurer of the United Terry Club, stopped trying to keep track of the number of Terry club members almost 40 years ago. As far as members who are active in the club, there are only eight or so left, she said. However, lifetime memberships in the club probably number in the hundreds.

The annual picnic draws anywhere from 500 people to 1,000 people, depending on whether it’s a political year, Terry said. Some attendees are out-of-towners looking to track down old relatives, or to piece together their family tree.

Picnic open to all

The picnic is free and open to the public, whether you are a Terry or not. The gathering is well-known for its concessions — chicken stew, catfish and hot dogs.

While the picnic began as a classic potluck family reunion almost 50 years ago, it soon became a place for politickin’. Because the Terrys were the dominant family in the county, politicians soon learned the Terry vote was the vote they would need. Politicians, especially Democrats, still come for the annual Labor Day gathering.

Along with politicians, the picnic will also feature numerous local bands and singers, some Terrys, some not. Most of the music will be country, gospel and bluegrass. Anyone is welcome to “pick and grin” or sing. If you decide to come, organizers recommend bringing a lawn chair.

If you go

What: United Terry Club annual picnic

Where: Terry club headquarters, off Lawrence County 150

When: Monday, 10 a.m. until 3 or 4 p.m.

Admission is free. Whether you are a Terry or not, all are welcome to attend. Bring lawn chairs.

Directions: From Moulton, follow Alabama 157 toward Muscle Shoals for seven miles, then turn right onto Lawrence County 150 north by Kayla’s Corner service station. Drive for three miles, and then you’ll see signs pointing to the property.

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