Comes to the Light: Learning About the Entangled Families of Edgefield, South Carolina

Comes to the Light: Learning About the Entangled Families of Edgefield, South Carolina is Donya Papoose Williams’s personal journey into her family’s history. She begins with an overview of South Carolina’s history that led to the formation of Edgefield County in 1785. “To this day, there are large numbers of family members who still live in Edgefield,” the author writes. “Before I started my research, I didn’t know any of them.” She describes how her genealogical journey, on-going since an early age, has been fraught with strange feelings—those haunting, unexplainable moments that we as genealogists may experience when visiting a place where our ancestors once dwelled.

In her book, Donya Williams tells of tracing her mother’s family, the Yeldells, and about meeting the white Yeldells—descendants of her ancestors’ enslavers—one of whom is named Candace. “She was my first teacher of genealogy and remains a great source for me to this day,” Ms. Williams explains, adding that she had assumed that Candace’s ancestors were her family simply because they shared the same last name. It was not until later that research caused the author to consider that her ancestor may not have been a Yeldell after all. “This though angered my mother,” the author says. “She said to me in a very indignant tone, “I am a Yeldell!”

What Ms. Williams found is the story of her enslaved great-great-grandmother, Martha Brooks, and her controversial owner, Preston Brooks. DNA reveals that a descendant of Preston Brooks shares DNA with Ms. Williams’s mother. When asked how she feels about being related to the enslaver, Ms. Williams says she cannot define the exact kinship. “What I do know is that he was a controversial figure who reminded me of the attitudes that some of the men in my family have,” she says.

There are other stories the author shares in the pages of her book that are remarkable, equally interesting. Some of the surnames include Adams, Senior, Peterson, Flemon, Williams, Bugg, and Quarles.

In Comes to the Light, Donya Williams also tells of her visit to Edgefield County, likening it to traveling back in time, describing it as both enlightening and spiritual. “I would come to learn that secrets were what made Edgefield County what it was,” says the author.

Comes to the Light: Learning About the Entangled Families of Edgefield, South Carolina. By Donya Papoose Williams. Softcover (2017), 184 pp., $12.99. Available from Amazon.com (affiliate link).

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