In December, 1942, a few days after James W. Quander married and moved into his own apartment in northwest Washington, he got ready to enjoy the holiday season as he had done so many times as a child. Homemade pies and cakes would be stacked on the back porch windowsills and pantry shelves, and scores of aunts, uncles, cousins and other in-laws would simply drop in, as they always had, to eat and talk and sit. But the fond memories of his youth were not to be recaptured that year. None of his relatives showed up. Some had died; others had moved on. "Everyone seemed so out of touch," Quander recalled recently. "It took a while, but I finally started to realize that the family was coming apart." What followed through the years was, in effect, the rebuilding of the Quander family, a search for roots comparable to Alex Haley's, and the establishment of a family newsletter to keep members in touch.
The Quanders, who have traced their roots to the year 1695, are one of the largest black families in the Washington area, with an estimated 1,000 members in the Virginia, Maryland and District branches. A short time ago, they held their annual family reunion, an occasion to show off the newborn, congratulate the newlyweds and praise the dead - something of what James Quander had in mind in 1942. "I've always felt somewhat embarrassed about not knowing who my kinfolk were," he said. "I remember in 1968, near my house, a woman called out for Jim Quander, and four of us answered. They all turned out to be my cousins, living right around the corner from me, and I didn't know it." The beginnings of the Quander family have been traced, so far, to Feb. 4, 1695, in what was then Charles County, Md., when one Ignatius Wheeler conveyed to Henry Quandooa a tract of land to use for 99 years.
In 1776, the probate records of Prince George's County show the estate of Margaret Godfrey Quando, "a Negro woman" also referred to as "a colored woman," was probated.
In 1830, the will of one Mrs. Claggett, the name of a prominent white family in Upper Marlboro, Md., showed that one Henry Quando was a freed slave. About this time, as many Quanders (the spelling of the name varied during this century) settled in Maryland, others began moving to the District and Virginia. "It's a peculiar thing," says James Quander, "but during all of the searches we've never run across a Quander who was white." Not yet anyway. But Bernard Brooks, a family member who formerly worked as an advertising manager for Grand Union, says he has papers "that are being checked now that indicate they Quanders are the descendants of Martha Washington's brother." "We're not trying to claim George Washington as an ancestor," said Rohulamin Quander, a Washington lawyer, "but we do go back a long, long way."
Through record checks, oral history and, in some instances, outright questioning of strangers who supposedly have the "Quander look," the Quanders have pieced together an impressive family history. Dominick Quander became the first black member of the Prince George's Board of Education after the Emancipation proclamation in 1863. Charity Quander Young was one of the first black school principals in Maryland. Nellie Quander, another educator, incorporated the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, an organization with more than 65,000 members. Dr. John Quander was a member of the first graduating class of Howard Medical University School - and his descendant, Dr. Joseph Quander, is the first black doctor on the faculty of the University of Texas - Austin. John Edward Quander was president and founder of a black-owned New York bank. Charles Henry Quander was the first black dairyman and milk distributor in Alexandria, Va.
"As black people we are so happy to be able to trace our roots at all," said James Quander, the first black permanent deacon ordained since the Catholic Church revived the deaconate program. "To find out that it was such a rich and aspiring history is very invigorating."
It appears that most of the Quanders are men, according to James Quander, who is 69. "This obviously a patriarchy. Men have dominated the family for years. I know that makes some of the women call us sexist. But I really don't know what I'm supposed to say," he said.
Says Geraldine Quander, who is in her early 20s: "Men do run this family. They are kind of traditional about things. if you want a good husband or father, get a Quander man. But if you want to have fun, forget it."
In the Washington area, the Quanders are divided into groups that until recently knew little or nothing of the existence of the others. Since 1926, the Virginia Quanders have held family reunions. The Virginia branch is known by their kin as tenacious and traditional-minded landowners, or "The Big Time Q's," as one family member put it. "We have had to be a bit more conservative or else we wouldn't have survived in Virginia," said one member of the Virginia Quanders. "Let's hope that our difference can be overcome as we try to bring all sides of the family together." One of the bigger problems in trying to achieve family unity is convincing some of the older family members that "all these other people" in Maryland and the District are, in fact, related to them.
To those who already believe, the Maryland Quanders are seen historically as educators and lawyers who, for the most part, sold their land for a more glamorous lifestyle in downtown Washington during the late 1800s. "It's a really fine feeling to have a family as large as this one and still have the harmony that we have," said Emmett Quander, a Virginia family member, even though the turnout from the Virginia side at the recent family reunion was less than expected.
"My philosophy," said James Quander, "is that one has to know himself, and one cannot know himself unless he knows where he came from. "I've had people call me from time to time saying, Jim, you've been trying to do this longer than Alex Haley.' I say, 'yeah, but I didn't have time . . . while working and all of that.' "You know, there is a great deal that the old and young have in common: The old feel they've lost their place; the young feel that they can't find a place. They represent Alpha and Omega - the beginning and the end.I just felt that if I went in and sought my place, that I could also bridge the gap between the young and old here."
A WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE BY COURTLAND MILLOY, JANUARY 19, 1978
Welcome! The Quanders: Since 1684, an Enduring African-American Legacy was just released on January 29, 2021 and is now available for purchase. Written and published by author and family historian, Judge Rohulamin Quander, this is the first detailed, historical account of the internationally known Quander family, one of the oldest documented African American families in the country with a 350 year lineage dating back to colonial Maryland. This new book is the first primary single source encapsulating this fascinating, multi-century story.