The Alt-Reunion

Sugar and I didn’t go to the annual reunion. 

It’s complicated. 

There was a misunderstanding at last year’s reunion, in which someone thought that I had taken a brick from a wall in a historic cemetery that was being refurbished, and that I had sent it to a descendant in California. 

I didn’t do that. The brick was from a rubbish pile off in the bamboo undergrowth at another location, not a cemetery, an hour and a half away from the cemetery. 

Then there was when I called another descendant, at the request of the film crew who was filming for 23andMe, to find out who could grant access to the cemetery and if the crew could get permission to film there. 

The person I contacted gave me the phone numbers that the crew needed, but told me that this idea of filming in a historic cemetery was a bad idea, and that she was against it. And she wanted to know when was the last time I had been there. 

Seriously? Because I had been there at the cemetery during the reunion when everyone else had been there, and never since then. Plus the property owners allowed the filming to happen the following day. And nobody took a brick. 

Then the capper was when I was reading on the SC Dept. of History and Archives website about a certain historical house, and I saw a reference was made to Sugar’s Uncle Edward’s book “Saga of the South”. 

Because we knew that Uncle Edward had never had an association with that particular house, we were curious as to the historian had linked the two together, so I emailed the historian. 

I have been following the story of the Lawton-Seabrook Cemetery on Edisto, and how it has been nominated for the National Register.
While looking at the SC Archives and History website today, I noticed that one of your references for John Lawton is a book “Saga of the South”, by Edward Percival Lawton. The author is the uncle of Leslie Lawton Bateson, and Leslie thought it curious that his uncle would have mentioned John Lawton of Jericho Plantation in a book that only dealt with Edward’s direct lines. 

When he checked his copy, he cannot locate a reference to John Lawton on page 97 or in the index. Perhaps this was an error on your part?

He did not appreciate being questioned. 

I am in receipt of your email from yesterday. 

To be clear, the question you have raised refers to the already finalized and listed nomination of the John Lawton House in Estill, SC, which I authored nine years ago. It is unrelated to the currently pending nomination of the Lawton-Seabrook Cemetery.

This morning, I went into the attic and dug out my notes on the John Lawton House nomination. I’m sure you’ve noticed that the footnote in question is a “for further information” footnote with multiple sources contained in it, rather than a footnote verifying a specific claim in the main text of the nomination document. In reviewing my notes from the Edward P. Lawton source, Saga of the South, it appears that I was particularly drawn to these lines: “The village itself [Lawtonville] was virtually killed when, in 1891, the southbound railroad, now the Seaboard Air Line, was put through two miles to the east of Lawtonville. Most of the villagers then moved to a new location near the station, which was named Estill in honor of Colonel H. H. Estill of Savannah, the railway’s president.”

As it turns out, this material does appear on page 97 of the source in question. As it also turns out, John Lawton was one of the Lawtonville villagers who “moved to a new location near the station” with the construction of his new house in town. This initiative is described at great length in the preceding paragraph of the nomination, while the “more on John Lawton, Sr.” reference in the footnote was to the context provided in Edward P. Lawton’s book for why John Lawton, Sr., would have moved there. And as the very next sentence in the nomination text further explains, Lawton “maintained intimate business ties with local railroad authorities, who were often his competitors.” One might nitpick that this reference to the material on p. 97 of Saga of the South is better placed under footnote 3–something I thought about at the time–but I made a conscious choice to list it under footnote 4, along with the other “for more information” sources.

So, to answer your question, no, this was not an error on my part. The reference was intentional and correct, since John Lawton, Sr., was among the folks to whom Edward P. Lawton was referring when he wrote those sentences on page 97. Clearly, both you and Leslie Lawton Bateson were not aware that Edward Percival Lawton’s book contained material that was about more folks than just “Edward’s direct lines” and the people listed in the index. I hope our correspondence helps you both see that broader picture. 


Now, something that not many people know about me is that I was exposed to carbon-monoxide poisoning in the workplace about 20 years ago from a faulty gas water-heater. 

Part of my reply to the historian:

About twenty years ago, I was exposed to carbon-monoxide poisoning in the workplace from a faulty gas water heater. This was not discovered until it had been going on for several months. The levels were very low, imperceptible at first until the gas leak became evident. As a result, my reasoning, retention, and memory skills were affected. It is harder for me to learn new things because of the memory loss. It is harder for me to understand someone else’s train of thought. 
So I ask questions in an effort to understand, not to challenge. 


I felt humiliated after that exchange. Then a friend reminded me that there is a learning technique called the Socratic method that involves asking questions. 

I was so relieved. I am not a weirdo. I ask questions all the time for knowledge and affirmation and understanding, and frankly, it challenges people unintentionally. So I try to be quiet, but it does help me to write it out. I have already written it out in my brain multiple times before I put fingers to keyboard. 


So, the reunion. It seemed like I had ruffled too many feathers. Some people had said that I wasn’t even blood. How then do you explain how spouses and fiancés and adopted children could be allowed, and I couldn’t? I don’t have anything to prove, so if it upsets people that I am there, then I just won’t go. Problem solved. 

However, there were going to be people at the reunion that we wanted to see. Enter the Alt-Reunion. 

YoursTruly, Sugar, and Sugar’s cousin Elisabeth

So the photo above is complicated. That’s Boyce on the left. He’s my cousin on his mother’s side, and Sugar’s cousin on his father’s side. 

More complications. Boyce; Rebeccah, who is related to no one in the photo, but is related to a Lawton cousin Lynda, but only related on their Moseley side, not the Lawton side at all; YoursTruly, Sugar, and Elisabeth. 

One saga closes, another saga opens. 

13 Responses to “The Alt-Reunion”

  1. Liz Dunster Says:

    Dear Ruth,
    You know I am one of the Bateson cousins of course (ie Leslie’s other side). I for one LOVE what you are doing – love your input – love the opportunity we have to get to know both you and Leslie. (bet we might find a family connection somehow too). Seriously though – maybe we need to try and organise a Bateson family reunion in North America? Also on Edisto…(cause I love it so much too)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sharon Says:

    I must say that the “broader picture” comment reminded me of “alternate truth”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ruth Rawls Says:

      Exactly, plus the tone reminds me of a professor lecturing a student in a manner that will not engage the student in learning more, but will rather encourage that student to withdraw. Like I did.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Libby Says:

    Well I missed you and I hope you are there next year. You are knowledgeable about a lot of things that add to our reunion. You have helped so many people understand their lines. You love the Lawton history and want to preserve it. It is not necessary to have “Lawton blood” to do any of those things and certainly not to attend the reunion. My Damn Yankee husband is probably the last person Grandmere Sarah would want at one of her reunions, but as long as he pays he can certainly come. You showed infinitely more decorum when unjustly accused than the accuser did, despite her presence of Lawton blood. So put all that in some Lawton reunion calculator and you come up with this: All Southerners are a tad crazy due to intermarriage (that’s my story and I’m blaming everything on it!), so I hope we can try to move on for the good of our heritage. Besides, we are all so old, I doubt that we really remember what happens from one year to the next anyway! I, for one, appreciate what you do to uncover and preserve our family history.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Danielle Smith-Elliott Says:

    Hello Ruth,
    I just joined your AMAZING blog.
    Thank you for all the work you do.
    I am a Smith. My Great Grandfather was Lewis Reading Smith married to Annabelle Rhodes.
    -Annabelle Rhodes parents were James Henry Rhodes married to Mary Cooley
    – James Henry Rhodes parents were James Pringle Rhodes and Margaret Polhill Lawton ( her father was Rev Joseph J Lawton.)
    (Then their descendants are pretty clear)
    My great Aunts wrote to Rev Robert Peeples often about our family. So I love reading his writings on your website)
    Your body of work is truly a treasure trove.
    I look forward to reading more.
    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lenore Says:

    Wow. That historian was terribly prickly with you. I have been accused of challenging when I ask questions, too. I also tend to shut down and feel I’ve offended someone. It’s frustrating when that’s your learning style.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ruth Rawls Says:

      I worried when I started blogging that I was going to offend someone, and it seems that I have. But I still think I’m right about the way I handled it all. Glad to know that my style is your style, too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lenore Says:

        I have also found that many academically trained experts are more easily offended by questions early in their careers. As they grow into their roles they become much more secure with answering questions.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Ruth Rawls Says:



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