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Newborn, meet great-great-great-grandma: 6 generations of same family gather in viral photo
By Claire Thornton, USA TODAY,
Family generations covering nearly a century – spanning across six different women – came together earlier this year in a photo that has since taken the internet by storm.
The image was captured when Cordelia Mae Hawkins, 98, a matriarch on the cusp of becoming a centenarian, got to meet her great-great-great-granddaughter, a 7-week-old named Zhavia.
"That's almost a hundred years between them," Gracie Howell, 59, the baby girl's great-grandmother, told USA TODAY. "To be in the same room, it was just amazing."
The family is grateful to have so many generations still living, Howell said. They're not far behind the record for most living generations of one family, which is seven, according to Guinness World Records .
The five adult women all share some trademark physical features, Howell said, and strikingly, each became a mother at the same time in her life.
They traveled from Ohio, South Carolina and Kentucky to make the photo happen.
The people in the photo are:
Cordelia Mae Hawkins, 98
Frances Snow, 77
Gracie Howell, 59
Jacqueline Ledford, 40
Jaisline Wilson, 19
Zhavia Whitaker, 7 weeks
In an interview, Howell marveled at how her grandmother, Hawkins, raised children in rural Kentucky in a two-bedroom house without running water, where a wood-burning stove in the living room kept the family warm. Dozens of family members would descend on the home for meals on Sunday afternoons and for an annual party celebrating Howell's late grandfather.
Nothing can replace family
Howell said the women took the photo to keep family traditions going, and because nothing can replace seeing loved ones in person.
She recalled how, as a child growing up before the internet existed, there was often nothing to do but visit aunts and uncles and play with cousins on weekends.
"You were sitting down, having meals with your extended family," she said. "Now it's just so easy to stay at home and send a card and get on Facebook and share all your stuff like that."
"But I think that sometimes we just kind of get lost in our own lives," she added.
From there, news outlets across the country wanted to tell the photo's story, Howell said.
"Time goes by so fast," Howell said. "I think that was another thing I really wanted people to understand because, even in our own family, we have mothers who don't talk to daughters. You know, there's family dynamics."
The six generations got together on February 18, at Hawkins' nursing home in southern Kentucky.
Like in all families, features and traits passed down through the generations jump out from the image.
The women all share the same rosy cheeks and they're blessed with clear skin, Howell said.
"I don't say this vainly, but we all have kind of a youthful look," she said.
Zhavia's mother, Jaisline Wilson, 19, and her great-great-grandmother Cordelia share an "identical" nose.
Each woman was either 18, 19 or 20 years old when she gave birth to her first child.
Almost a century of one family
Howell said sometimes it feels like "everything has changed" in the nearly 100 years since her grandmother was born.
"Think about the modern conveniences that we have compared to how grandma had to take care of her children," Howell said.
In the early 1940s, Hawkins washed clothes in a creek and wrung chicken necks and plucked their feathers all by herself while raising more than a dozen children and step-children, Howell said. When the kids got sick, she knew how to make medicinal remedies using plants from the woods.
"She's soon to be 99 and she can still tell you how to do things," Howell said.
Howell attributes her grandmother's longevity to her tenacity and always sticking to her habits of doing things a certain way. When the Hawkins' family had the option to get a television later in the 20th century, they didn't. Howell said she remembers her grandmother telling her, "I don't need no TV."
"Boy – she has done a lot of thinking over the years," Howell said. "She's sharp as a tack."
The matriarch takes the utmost pride in making and canning her special tomato preserves, which Howell started making herself after Hawkins moved to her nursing home.
Howell said she hopes one day, "Zhavia will make those and she'll pass 'em down."