Reunion 2016 Update: Because I Have to Talk About It

We knew that this year’s Lawton reunion was going to be edgy. 

We’ve been talking to folks who link to the family based on DNA. In some cases, DNA linkage might be because of adoption where there is no paper trail. In this case, we are talking about a case before paper birth records were mandated by law and where the mother could not read and write, so she probably didn’t have a Bible nor no one to record any births. We are talking about a time period around 1880. 

We are also talking about a relationship between two people: a former field slave named Bella Duncan Brown, and the son of Bella’s husband’s former master. 

Because things are complicated sometimes. I’ve already posted the link to Nelson and Bella Brown’s pension file, which gave us myriad names, dates, and places. There was nothing in the file to say that *this* man was the father of *that* child. But there was close proximity of a certain man to where Bella Brown lived. 

That’s where DNA helps us know more. DNA links a certain modern-day black family to a certain 1880’s white family and points fairly specifically to one person, based on study and interpretation by DNA experts at 23andMe. 

The modern-day family has no agenda, unless you think that knowing more about yourself and your blood is an agenda. So two members of the family arranged to attend the family reunion. 

Have I ever shared that the most dramatic ladies are the Savannah ladies and the Charleston ladies? Well, they have been booted from that position by some of the St. Peter’s Parish women. I won’t refer to them as ladies. 

An email letter went out three days prior to the reunion asking that the attendees consider two points that were to be voted on. The first point was significant, but not relevant to the topic here. The second point is as follows:

The second question is about membership in the Lawton and Allied Families Association:  

If you’ve followed the “Descendants of Captain William Lawton” Facebook page this year you know that there’s been lively discussion about DNA – and using that DNA to determine lineage. A number of people have participated in the discussion and some in various DNA tests which can be performed.

I’ve been asked this question: Would we accept DNA tests as a basis for joining the association?

Here’s some background: So far as I know, our family association has never been strict about proof of lineage. We used the “Family Circle” book as a basis – along with “institutional knowledge” – we knew cousins we grew up with. Much of it was verbal, and to my knowledge we’ve never had to prove lineage with birth and death certificates, census records and newspaper accounts as some organizations (DAR, UDC, First Families, etc.) do. Our bylaws only state that members must be descendants but the bylaws do not say how that descent is established.  

No one questions the validity of DNA so we won’t debate or discuss how it works and why. We all agree that it works and that in some cases it could be more accurate than the paper records we have traditionally used. The primary difference is that while DNA can show a compelling probability of lineage (“a million to one”), it often does not distinguish between (say) two brothers who were contemporaries where either one could be the ancestor. So, one knows he is a descendant from a branch of the family, but may not be able to name the exact relative(s) as is the case with paper records.  

The question is a simple one:

Will we accept DNA proof as a basis for membership in the Lawton and Allied Families Association?  

I’m asking because it would be a change from the way we handle membership today. And I think that we should make a clear decision, rather than just “letting something happen”.  

Please take some time to think through these questions and come to your own conclusions. There will be some time for comments and questions, but I hope that having considered these questions in advance, we can discuss them briefly and come to a timely decision.

Well, this was going to be an awkward point because there are going to be two individuals present who are linked to the family be DNA only. 

When the time came for discussion, good points were raised and discussed. It was clear that many in the group had no knowledge of DNA autosomal testing, and would be basing their vote based on opinion or prejudice. 

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