When people moved into Effingham County 50-plus years ago, they would tell you that you better not talk about anyone because practically everyone around was related. This is still true to a great degree among the native Effingham families.
It is very common to hear us say Aunt Jane or Cousin Joe. As a sign of respect we were taught to put a “handle” in front of our elder kinfolk’s names. And if you are not related, then at the least we say “Miss”, “Mrs.” or “Mr.” to those to whom we are not related using their given names. We often address older ladies as Miss Jean and older gentlemen as Mr. John. In other areas of the country, they would address them by their last name after Mrs. or Mr. such as Mr. Hunter or Miss Jones.
Tom Bridges and I chatted as we waited in line at a local place to pick up lunch. When he told me his Aunt Mary had fallen and broken a bone, I thought a bit. He then told me it was a dear neighbor from childhood and he used this as a term of endearment. He mentioned the fact that in the South people in no way related also have many “honorary” aunts and uncles.
In the photos, “Aunt” Nellie Mae Wall was never my real aunt, but I loved her dearly and always called her aunt. As a youngster when she was with my great Uncle Hubert Dasher, her brother, and my great Aunt Mamie, I never knew the difference. It was indeed a term of affection and, having no children, Aunt Nellie seemed perfectly happy to answer to the title wherever she went. I miss her very much.
Sometimes families had neighbors who might sharecrop or work for them on their farms. As they aged, they were referred to as “aunt” or “uncle.” This was showing respect by not calling them by their given name. In the photo, “Aunt” Kate Pelote is shown helping Aunt Faye and son Joe on butchering day.
Nowadays, godchildren have “aunts” and “uncles.” My close friends have taught their little ones to say “Aunt” Sue and I do not mind it one bit. “Claiming” kin is fine with me.
This was compiled by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact her at 754-6681 or firstname.lastname@example.org.