The Brown Curse

The Brown Curse


For a genetic chart of the effected descendants, click HERE.

128A....William Brown

It is believed by many that William Brown was the immigrant ancestor of this family, however only one source has been uncovered to support this theory and no proof has been offered. In 1906 while at Johns Hopkins Hospital, the famous neurosurgeon Dr. Harvey Cushing became interested in the descendants of this family. Over the next 10 years Dr. Cushing gathered information about the family, and in 1916 published the family tree in the first issue of GENETICS.

In the late 1970's I corresponded with Margaret H. Abbott of the Division of Medical Genetics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine about the research. In a letter dated 30 August, 1979, she writes, "We accepted family history that William Brown of Scotland was the progenitor of the family in America and that Lowe, Sally and Margaret were his children. These data were consistently repeated by all informants. The late Mrs. Joseph Stafford Moss of Burke's Garden, Tazewell, Virginia provided a large part of the Moss branch of the genealogy."

For several years I have tried, with no success, to contact members of this family who might have access to her records in hopes of confirming this information. I do know from Dr. Cushing's research that one member of the family had communicated with a distant relative in Scotland whose name was William Brown and who showed the family trait of "straight fingers". Again, I have had no luck in locating any Scottish address for this William Brown.

The small amount of information I have been able to gather on our common ancestor indicates that he settled in Virginia about 1740. The records of southwest Virginia are full of William Browns, none of whom can be confirmed as our progenitor. History books suggest this was a large family, however only four children have been positively identified as of this writing. There are records of others named Brown which show some indication of belonging to this family, but no absolute connection has been made to my knowledge.

Dr. Cushing's report was a paper on the inheritance and nature of the trait "stiff fingers", an unusual but relatively harmless condition characteristic of some members of the family. He called this trait "symphalangism". I quote from GENETICS 1: Ja 1916:

"In January of 1906 the writer was consulted by a patient with a cerebral glioma, who presented in addition to her specific malady an unususal condition of the fingers which could not be bent at the proximal interphalangeal joints. An uncle who accompanied her was similarly affected and her physician who was also present, had married her fifth cousin who likewise had what they all referred to as "straight fingers" in contra-distinction to the normal which they termed "crooked fingers". In no respect was there any indication of physical deterioration in the three members of the family that were interviewed. They were splendidly developed, vigourous people. The uncle was very tall, over six feet in height, and both of the women were large and fine looking. None of them regarded the malformation as in any sense a disability or an anything out of the ordinary deserving comment. They stated that in one instance a member of the family with presumably normal fingers had married an unrelated individual with normal fingers and there were "straight fingered" children among their offspring. Aside from this possible exception (to which we will return) it was recognized in the community that if the parents were both exempt, the children would be likewise."

In his conclusion Cushing says, "Both hands and feet of the affected individuals may be affected. The trait may be transmitted in its most outspoken form by a parent in whom it is inconspicuous, but never by unaffected parents."

This family trait, affectionately dubbed by me the "Brown Curse", is carried even today by some members of the family. It is rare enough that one can be relatively certain that anyone bearing this trait is a descendant of the alleged William Brown.

The four known children, three of whom had "straight fingers", are as follows:

64A....Lowe W. Brown b. 1756 d. 1841 m. Jane Davidson
64B....Grace Brown m. Robert Barns
64C....Sallie Brown m. William Mustard
64D....William Brown b. 1755 d. 1840 m. Mary Havens

Click here for a GENETIC CHART of the effected descendants, or to learn more about PROXIMAL SYMPHALANGISM

There have been suggestions that this family can be traced back to John Talbot, First Earl of Shrewsbury (1390-1453), who was killed in the battle of Castillon. An article discussing this connection can be found HERE.