Saturday, July 27, 2019

A DNA Inspired Family Reunion - Part 3

This is the last post in a three part series about my DNA inspired family reunion. If you missed the first two posts, you can check out Part 1 by clicking here, and Part 2 here.

In Part 1, we looked at the process I took to identify DNA cousins, confirm our common ancestors, and plan the event that brought us all together for the first time. In Part 2, we looked at the evidence that proves we are family, that none of us are out of place. And in this post, Part 3, we'll see how the reunion went and how a place of worship became our place of reconnection.

The game plan

The structure for the family reunion was pretty simple: eat, presentation, fellowship, field trip.

As people arrived to the fellowship hall at the church, they signed in with a sign-in sheet I had made in advance. It had their name, address, phone number, and e-mail address. If a section was missing, I asked if they would fill in the information. This is helpful because now I have a better resource for next year's reunion. Also, now we can keep in touch better!

Next, I gave them a name tag with different colored stars for them to put next to their name. The original idea - as I wrote in Part 2 - was that there'd be families from different branches of my great-grandparents' family. This helps everyone have a visual - "oh you have a blue star too!? We're cousin through the ____ family!"

Since it was a potluck lunch, we wanted to start with the food. For a reunion with (mostly) Southerners, I knew food wouldn't be a problem! And I wasn't wrong.

We had chicken, macaroni and cheese, green beans, sandwiches, sides galore, and tasty desserts! better believe we had sweet tea. Because Virginia, y'all!

Once everyone had finished eating, I began a short presentation explaining how everyone in the room was related. I had my laptop and projector, so I was able to project my family tree onto a screen for all to see. I talked about David Stratton and his ancestors; where they had come from in Chesterfield before moving to what became Powhatan County. I explained that David had been married twice - to Susanna Norris and then to Jordenia E. Hopkins. And then I explained the story of Kate and her mother Sally.

It's hard to condense years of research of a complicated story into minutes of an easy to understand explanation, but I tried by best.

Three Branches

For our first reunion, I'd say attendance was pretty good! We had 40 people - including spouses and kids. Together, we represent the three branches of David Stratton's family through three women: Susanna Norris, Sally, and Jordenia E. Hopkins.

David Stratton fathered a lot of children over a long period of time. His last child was born when he was 64 years old! His first marriage began in 1808 and produced six children. Most of these children moved west to Alabama and then to Kentucky. One of them, Mary Elizabeth Stratton, returned to Powhatan where she raised her children. Three descendants of Mary Elizabeth came to the reunion.

Kate Stratton was born after Susanna's children, in about 1830. Descendants of two of Kate's children were able to make it: even Trisha made the trek from Maryland for the special day!

After Susanna, David married Jordenia E. Hopkins in 1832, which produced seven children! Descendants of three of these children were at the reunion: Louisa, Edmonia, and Douglas. I wrote about Douglas in a post entitled Douglas E Stratton: A Bachelor by Law. We even had a more distant cousin - descended from a first cousin of David Stratton who stopped by on her way to New Jersey (a special shout out to Sally!!)

Family rediscovered

After working to discover the story about Kate and her family, it was a joy to get to meet some of her descendants. And since discovering the story about Douglas and his daughter Suvella (make sure you click on the link to his story above!), I was thrilled that three of her grandsons came as well - from North Carolina and New Jersey! In the photo above, there are four descendants of Jordenia E. Hopkins (three from Douglas E. Stratton and one from Edmonia - yours truly!) and one from Kate.

And no family reunion in the 21st century would be complete without a selfie.

I also just couldn't handle there being anyone not in the group photo - thanks Jerry for the official group shot! 

Family memory

One of the benefits of collaboration in family history is that you get to harness the power of memories that are passed down from person to person. For whatever reason, my line of David Stratton seems to have forgotten all of these stories...but that's not the case of Mary Elizabeth's descendants!

Matilda and Frances Hicks

Not only do the descendants of Mary Elizabeth Stratton have memories that have been passed on - stories and traditions - but they have furniture, a family Bible, family records, and photographs!

In the photos above, you can see two of Kate Stratton's daughters: Matilda and Frances Hicks. The photo of Frances was passed on in the family of Mary Elizabeth. They called her Aunt Frankie. It was a special moment for these two sides of David Stratton's family to meet, and for Frances' descendants to be able to see her face for the first time.

Remembering the departed

Remembrance is a powerful thing. Meeting long-lost family, speaking the names of our ancestors, learning their stories, and visiting their graves are all a part of this remembrance. And who doesn't love a field trip, right?

So before we finished our reunion, we had one last thing to do: honor our family by placing flowers on their graves. We headed out to the Hague cemetery where Louisa Stratton and her family are buried. Her sister Susan is buried there too, and interestingly enough so are some of Kate's descendants.

There, in the same clearing that is the overgrown Stratton family cemetery is the grave of Rosa Bates, the daughter of Frances Hicks - Aunt Frankie.

It may be that these were once two cemeteries - one white, one black - or perhaps they were always together. Today, weathered by time and covered by an encroaching forest, our Stratton family - both black and white - stands together in those Powhatan County woods.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't honor my great-grandparents once more: Arthur Lewis Williams and Mary Susan Wooldridge. The flowers we used to decorate for the reunion were put to use again - to decorate the graves of our loved ones. The church that was once the center of my great-grandparent's lives, Graceland Baptist, has now became the home of a new tradition - the Williams and Wooldridge Family Reunion!

With that said - family! - mark your calendars for our second annual reunion:

June 20, 2020!


My family has lost a generation of family reunion memories, but I think it's safe to say we've brought the tradition back. We will never know why those reunions really stopped, or if my great-grandmother knew about her cousin Suvella, or her cousins through Kate. We will never know how David grappled with the reality of a family blended across the line of slavery, or what it was like having to live with secrets that everyone seemed to understand already.

I'm grateful today though that we have the opportunity - through records and through DNA evidence, through laws and a country driven to continually improve - and the blessing to be able to call one another family and to move forward making new memories for the generations to come!

This post was inspired by the week 17 prompt "At Worship" of the year-long series that I'm participating in with Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

My ancestors - and your ancestors - deserve the best researcher, the most passionate story-teller, and the dignity of being remembered. So let's keep encountering our ancestors through family history and remembering the past made present today!


  1. Sam, what a beautiful set of blog posts about preparing for and executing your family reunion. Thank you for sharing it with us. We are all cousins, and the challenge is to find those common ancestors.

  2. Such an inspiring and exciting reunion! Thank you for sharing!

  3. A well executed post on the family
    We are related by way of Ellen Cox-Taylor
    Thanks for all your research and time


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