For Jerry Hynson, Saturday's day-long tribute to Kent County's African American Civil War soldiers and sailors, meant more than witnessing his ancestors being given long-overdue recognition from the community.
As he watched the dedication ceremony in Chestertown's Monument Park, where an obelisk honoring black soldiers will soon stand along with one already erected for white soldiers, Hynson, 58, of Westminster, saw his own large round stoic eyes looking back at him from the man speaking on the platform.
He couldn't stop staring at the younger man who had the same receding hairline, the same broad proud chest -- and the same last name. There stood Vincent Hynson, who spoke at the event to honor his great-great-grandfather Richard Hynson, whom he believes may have fought in the war.
Vincent had provided the missing link -- lost in shoddy records kept on African Americans from the Civil War period and hazy generation-old memories -- that connects Jerry to the Kent County branch of the Hynson family. The cousins said later that they think Jerry is a descendant of Richard's brother, Charles Hynson, who ran away when the young men were slaves on a plantation near Chestertown.
So as the community spent the day repairing its incomplete record of history, the long-lost Hynson cousins discovered their own. "It took this event to get us to finally meet," said Jerry Hynson, a retired Baltimore junior high and high school teacher. "I think today shows there is so much more about blacks than what is in the history books and official documents. Today, I have found my father's family."
About 450 people came from all over Kent County, the Eastern Shore, the Washington suburbs and from as far away as Boston to attend the event sponsored by the Parker White American Legion Post 143. Groups of families and friends sat together on the sidewalk or on the fold-out chairs set up across the street from the park.
A local high school band, representatives of the Tuskegee Airmen's Delaware Chapter and Civil War reenactment groups marched in a parade to Monument Park. Community leaders gave speeches praising the residents' support in recording the county's history, and the Kent County Civil War choir sang spiritual music.
The event culminated with the unveiling of the design for the monument, which will cost more than $7,000, and a request for donations to fund the remaining $2,000 needed for construction, which is scheduled for the fall.
In 1917, a county judge built the monument honoring county residents who fought in the Civil War. The south face lists the names of those who fought for the Confederacy, the north face honors Union soldiers, some by name. The African American servicemen were not recognized on the original monument or in speeches made on that dedication day, local officials said.
"We no longer have to hang our head in shame that such a major portion of the county's population was overlooked," said Chestertown Mayor Margo Bailey. "It was so embarrassing. It diminished us not to have their courage recognized."
At the time of the Civil War, residents of Kent County were bitterly divided between support for the Union and the Confederacy. Brother fought brother. Recruitment in Kent County of African American soldiers began in 1863. More than 400 African American men from the county served in army regiments of what was called the United States Colored Troops and in the unsegregated Navy. About 100 died while in the service, according to local officials.
Carrie Schreiber, a 79-year-old Chestertown resident, said she watched members of the city's African American community grow up. She said she was pleased to be present when their ancestors were given recognition.
"Those of us who care about the community . . . we are all supporting this monument that will live on for them."
Pfc. John Taylor, 25, of Chestertown, who's in Maryland's National Guard, said that as a young African American, he is happy that members of his own and younger generations will be able to see that they have a history of protecting the country. During the ceremony, his 8-year-old cousin Paris Cannon sat with two friends reading a picture book on African American soldiers. "It makes me proud," she said.
Vincent Hynson, a 41-year-old Rock Hall Middle School teacher, said he hopes the event prompts youngsters to question history. After the ceremony, he and his newfound cousin Jerry went in search of answers. Did Richard Hynson fight in the Civil War? No one knows for sure, because there is more than one man by that name, and Hynson is spelled differently in each document they find.
"Could be," nodded Vincent's aunt and cousins who gathered at the nearby family cemetery to meet Jerry and compare research. "Don't ask me, honey," she said.
Jerry has copies of the freedom records of some members of the Hynson family, and census records from the early 1900s. Vincent has old photos, which he spread out on the hood of the car still warm from the drive to the cemetery. It is a collage of faces and names, missing dates, misspellings -- an unfinished portrait of their heritage.
"There are so many missing pieces to this puzzle," Vincent said. "How can we ever know for sure?"
Together they will find what history left out, they said.
"As a community and as a family, just like today," Vincent Hynson said. "Today has been the best day. That's how we'll put it all back together."
Piece by forgotten piece. CAPTION: Alvin J. Batiste, of the infantry, bows his head during the ceremony. CAPTION: Members of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Company B take part in a ceremony honoring black soldiers from Chestertown who fought in the Civil War. CAPTION: Erica Jensen, left, Paris Cannon and Yasmine Harding look over a picture book.