June 19, 2018
On June 17th at 4pm EST, Dr. Fatimah Jackson (Director) and Jennifer Caldwell
( Graduate Researcher) of the W. Montague Cobb Research Lab (CRL) were invited to be guest on Genealogy Adventures ( S01 E08) hosted by Brian Sheffey and Donya P. Williams of the Sheila Hightower-Allen Memorial Fund. Brian and Donya have 20+ years of Genealogy Research experience and after reconnecting, they began to realize how entangled their family was from Edgefield, South Carolina. The Sheila Hightower Memorial Fund is a unique family fund started in honor of the late Sheila Hightower, a family Genealogist with spark for connecting the mysteries of her Edgefield family. As citizen scientist, they reached out to Howard University’s CRL because they desired a collaboration that would allow them transparency in research and promote a change in the narrative concerning people of the African Diaspora. The CRL is honored exited to have Brian and Donya’s input within the research.
The premise of this episode was an exclusive initial look into the collaboration of the Sheila Hightower Memorial Fund and W. Montague Cobb Research Lab on the Edgefield Genomic Project. Edgefield, South Carolina, formally called the Old 96th District, was once the name of a larger county in the original 1769 Carolina landscape. Today, Edgefield is a small town populated with less than 5,000 people; however, according to familial research, there are over 50 surnames that intertwine with origins in the Old 96th District including: Thurmond, Calhoun, Yeldell, Adams, and Holloway to name a few. It is the hometown to over ten United States Senators including J. Strom Thurmond who was known for his segregationist viewpoints, despite having a secret Black daughter Essie Mae Williams. Furthermore, Brian and Donya have identified Black family members that were historical figures in their own right, such as Moses Williams who fathered 45 children during the early 1800’s or Martha Brooks who was breeder for the Preston Brooks family around the 1850’s. Moreover, the story of John Yeldell a.k.a Rev Elijah Flemon foreshadows the contemporary concerns relative to the Black Lives Matter Movement as he was a Black man accused of a crime that he did not commit, and survived a trial of lies in the Antebellum South. These stories can be found in the book Comes to the Light: Learning about the Entangled Families of Edgefield South Carolina by Donya P. Williams. All of these stories are vital to understanding current issues regarding race and health in America however; gaps in the literature have prevented an in-depth analysis until now. This project aims to tell the collective genetic, ancestral, historical, and cultural story that binds Americans of all races during the time of the American Revolution to modern times. As more research is done using Next Generation Sequencing and Bioinformatic techniques, we hope to more directly answer questions regarding how ancestry, health, and culture intersect.