Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Five Reasons to Write a Family History Blog

Photo by Sean MacEntee at

Lately, I've been reflecting on the evolution of this blog and everything I've learned in the past two years.  Writing about my family's history in this format has been a wonderful way of continuing and sharing the genealogy research my grandmother started.  It's been such a positive experience for me that I'm always telling fellow genealogists that they should start a blog, too.  In an effort to persuade anyone who might be reading this blog but not writing their own, here's a list of why you, too, should be writing a family history blog.

Five Reasons to Write a Family History Blog

1. Blogging helps you re-evaluate and correct your previous research

Every time I write a post about an ancestor, I must re-examine all their documentation and make sure that what I have is correct.  There have been instances where I've found that my past research is a little flimsy and I have had to go looking for further proof of that ancestor's relationships. In one circumstance, preparing to write about my third great-grandmother led me to believe that half the information I thought I knew about her was wrong. Also, with every single post I've written, I've had to dive deeper into that ancestor's life and look more closely at the place and time they lived. In the process, I have learned new things and been able to share them in the post.  I didn't know nearly as much as I thought I did about my ancestors until I began writing about them.

2. Blogging allows you to tell the story of your ancestors

Too many of our ancestors are just names and dates on a page.  When you start trying to tell a story about them, they become so much more interesting.  Even if you think you don't know enough about them, in almost every circumstance you can, with a little research, pull together enough information to create a narrative.  These stories make ancestors much more compelling.

3. Blogging helps to engage younger family members

As I wrote in my post about involving children and young adults in your research, writing a blog is a great way to engage the younger generation.  These short format histories can easily be shared via email and social media, which is exactly the way young people like to receive their information.

4. Blogging is a great way to meet new cousins and others who can be helpful to your research

In the two years I've been writing this blog, I've had a number of people stumble across it because they were researching shared ancestors.  One of these new cousins was able to help me break through a brick wall relating to my Burns ancestors.  Others have provided photos and details about family members that I wouldn't have had access to, otherwise.  In the case of Gil Cook, I was contacted by a historian who has gathered people interested in the 7th Bombardment Group on Facebook.  As a part of this group, I have gained new acquaintances who have provided further details about Gil's service. Putting information about your family online in a publicly searchable fashion can lead to many beneficial connections.

5. Blogging is an easy and effective way to share your work for posterity

You work hard researching your family.  It makes sense to share that work with other people.  Writing a book about your ancestors is a good and lofty goal, but one that most researchers don't achieve.  It's very time consuming and sometimes overwhelming work.  Writing a blog enables you to share the same information in a piecemeal way, and get that information out to your family members now, not 20 years from now.

Bonus #6: Blogging has reinvigorated my genealogy work and helped me to fall in love with researching again.  In fulfilling a promise to my grandmother to organize and share our family's history, I've remembered why we bonded over this in the first place.  It reminds me why I'm doing this work and how much it matters, not just to my immediate family, but to people all over the world who may have a connection to my ancestors.

I hope I've convinced you!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Major Breakthrough: How Searching for a Surname Solved Two Big Mysteries and Revealed an American Revolutionary

The March to Valley Forge (1883) by William B.T. Trego

I learned two important things this week.
  1. In genealogy the answer is often right in front of you.
  2. One small discovery can create a chain reaction of secondary discoveries.
Also, sometimes you go looking for an ancestor and unearth a connection to some of the most important events in American history.


I was looking for a Davock family in Buffalo, New York.  My second great-grandmother, Annie Dickson, had an older sister whose middle name has always puzzled me.  Elizabeth Davock Dickson was clearly named for someone, but Davock wasn't a surname I recognized.  It appears nowhere in my family tree.  Earlier this year, I discovered a 1865 census record that showed Elizabeth Davock Dickson's parents, George W. Dickson and Mary Elizabeth Bellangee, living with a Maria Davock and her children in Buffalo, New York.  I guessed that perhaps Maria and her family had been special to George and Mary for some reason, and they had named their daughter in this family's honor.  Still, I had no proof of this or knowledge of their actual relationship.


Concurrently, I was looking for the parents of my fourth great-grandmother, Amelia Brown Bellangee.  Amelia was the mother of Mary Elizabeth Bellangee and grandmother of Elizabeth Davock Dickson.  She has caused me no end of headaches over the years, as her lineage simply could not be uncovered.  I knew that Amelia was born somewhere in the vicinity of Buffalo, New York and likely died in Cincinnati, Ohio, but searches in New York and Ohio turned up no credible leads for her parents.


I've been writing about my Dickson ancestors for most of this year.  Recently, I profiled my fourth great grandfather, William Dickson, in a series of blog posts.  While reading through a biography of William Dickson written by his son, William Dickson Young, one line stopped me in my tracks.

"He [George W. Dickson] married Mary Bellangee of Milwaukee, Wisc., a niece of Mrs. Davocks [sic] who lived on Delaware Avenue, in a house where the Westminster Parish House now stands."

I'd read this biography in the past, but for some reason, had never picked up on the mention of Mrs. Davocks.  Why had I never recognized the significance of this surname?  Immediately, I started researching.  Who was Mrs. Davocks?  Was she related to Maria Davock?  How were they connected to the Dickson and Bellangee families?


My first step was to do some research on Maria Davock.  I went back to the 1865 New York census and found Maria Davock living on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo with her five children, John, William, Ella, Harlow and Hattie.  There were George Dickson and Mary Elizabeth Bellangee Dickson in her household, just as I remembered. Since no husband was listed with the family, I guessed that Maria had been widowed prior to 1865.  Online family trees suggested her husband was John W. Davock, a tanner who had died in 1853.  I made a note of this and continued to look around for proof of Maria's family relationships.  Fortunately, this family is fairly well documented.  I found multiple census records and city directory listings that confirmed their location and relationships, plus a cemetery photo showing John W. and Maria's shared headstone, complete with full names and dates. Everything was coming together.  The record that finally made all the pieces snap into place was an unusual one, though.  In the Sons of the American Revolution Membership Applications 1889-1970 database, I found an application submitted by Maria's son, Harlow Palmer Davock.  In paperwork requesting membership, Harlow listed the names of his parents, maternal grandparents and maternal great-grandparents.

Harlow Davock named his parents as Maria Brown Davock and John W. Davock.  That's right, Brown! William Dickson Young had claimed that Mary Bellangee was a niece of Maria Davock. This means that Maria Brown Davock was the sister of Mary's mother, Amelia Brown.  Suddenly, multiple branches of my family tree collided.  It makes sense that the Dicksons, Browns and Bellangees all knew one another, but I'd never been able to put it together until this moment.

Harlow Davock did me another favor by listing in his application the names of his maternal grandparents and great-grandparents.  This allowed me to corroborate his claims using census records and published histories of Connecticut and the Brown family.  Amelia and Maria Brown's parents were William Brown, M.D. and B. Palmer Brown.  I later determined that their mother's full name was Bridget Palmer.  William Brown's parents were Joseph Brown and Elizabeth Gary.  Joseph Brown was the ancestor that Harlow Davock knew would gain him membership in Sons of the American Revolution.


Joseph Brown, my newly-discovered sixth great-grandfather, was a farmer in Killingly, Connecticut. When tensions reached their peak between American colonists and the British in 1775, he fell firmly on the side of the rebels. After the opening shots of the Revolutionary War were fired in Lexington and Concord in April 1775, Brown joined a hastily-assembled Connecticut company that marched north to Massachusetts to support the colonists fighting there.  Brown served in Elwell's regiment only a short time during the Lexington Alarm, but his participation in these early days of the American Revolution was an exciting revelation for me.

I'm a history buff who has been to Lexington and Concord and stood on the spot where the first shots of the American Revolution were fired.  I still inexplicably remember every word of "Paul Revere's Ride" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, decades after being required to memorize it in elementary school. This is a period in time that has always captivated me.  Discovering that my ancestor volunteered immediately after the skirmish at Lexington, and participated in the opening salvo of what was to be the Revolutionary War, was thrilling.

When the British troops, after a night of marching, reached the village of Lexington, they saw through the early morning mist a grim band of 50 minutemen-armed colonists-lined up across the common. There was a moment of hesitation, cries and orders from both sides and, in the midst of the noise, a shot. Firing broke out along both lines, and the Americans dispersed, leaving eight of their dead upon the green. The first blood of the war for American independence had been shed. 
The British pushed on to Concord, where the "embattled farmers" at North Bridge "fired the shot heard round the world." Their purpose partly accomplished, the British force began the return march. All along the road, behind stone walls, hillocks, and houses militiamen from village and farm made targets of the bright red coats of the British soldiers. By the time the weary column stumbled into Boston its losses totaled nearly three times those sustained by the colonists. 
The news of Lexington and Concord flew from one local community to another in the thirteen colonies. Within 20 days, it evoked a common spirit of American patriotism from Maine to Georgia. [source: The Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Connecticut]

Joseph Brown was swept up in that spirit of American patriotism.  After the Lexington Alarm, he reenlisted, serving in Captain Joseph Elliott's company.

In 1777-1779, Joseph Brown served as an ensign in the Fifth Regiment Connecticut Line Formation. He fought in the Battle of Germantown in October 1777, a devastating American loss which resulted in the city of Philadelphia temporarily remaining under British control.  However, recognizing the American effort in this battle, the French resolved to more strongly support the colonial army.

That the battle had been fought unsuccessfully was of small importance when weighed against the fact that it been fought at all. Eminent generals, and statesmen of sagacity, in every European Court were profoundly impressed by learning that a new army, raised within the year, and undaunted by a series of recent disasters, had assailed a victorious enemy in his own quarters, and had only been repulsed after a sharp and dubious conflict. [source: History of the American Revolution Volume IV by Sir George Otto Trevelyan]
Having survived the Battle of Germantown, Joseph Brown was assigned to Huntington's Brigade and spent the winter of 1777-1778 in the infamous winter camp at Valley Forge.

That's right, my sixth great-grandfather was at Valley Forge.  With George Washington.

This was the turning point of the American Revolution.  When we think of Valley Forge, most of us think of those bloody footprints in the snow, the starving and freezing men passing a bitter winter without sufficient food, clothing and shelter.  But of course, Valley Forge was also the place the colonial army regrouped and became better-trained soldiers.

The suffering and sacrifices of the American soldiers at Valley Forge are familiar, iconic images, but there is another side of the picture. Valley Forge was where a new, confident, professional American army was born. Three months of shortage and hardship were followed by three months of relative abundance that led to wonderful changes in the morale and fighting capabilities of the Continental Army. France would enter the war on the side of the new nation. Valuable foreign volunteers and fresh replacements would trickle into camp. Most important, it was at Valley Forge that a vigorous, systematic training regime transformed ragged amateur troops into a confident 18th century military organization capable of beating the Red Coats in the open field of battle. [source:]

My family tree gained several generations this week.  I wish my grandmother was here to discuss this discovery with me, because I know she would have been thrilled with the breakthrough and the connection to some of the most important moments in American history.  This makes all these years of fruitless research on Amelia Brown completely worth it.  Rarely in genealogical research do you experience a breakthrough quite this rewarding.  I'm savoring this one.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Memoirs of Elizabeth Dickson Young (Part 2)

In my last post, I shared portions of an autobiography written by Elizabeth Dickson Young. Elizabeth was the youngest daughter of my fourth great-grandparents, William Dickson and Mary Ann Browning.  Her memoirs are some of the best insights we have into the Dickson family's life in Buffalo, New York.  In this post, I will continue to transcribe Elizabeth's recollections.

Elizabeth Jane Dickson

In the mid-1800s, horses were the primary method of transportation in Buffalo.  William Dickson's horse Billy seems to have been a local character, as he was also mentioned in the autobiography of Elizabeth's son, William Dickson Young.  Transportation, modernization and the old horse Billy feature in Elizabeth Dickson Young's memoirs, as well.

We at old Barker Street had a farm in a small way.  We always had two horses and often three.  Old Billy, father's horse, and Kate, the one my sister Esther used for horse back and driving, and almost always one of those devilish little western ponies father brought down from Chicago for the boys.  There was always some excitement with them.  About once a week they would toss one of the boys off or father would try to break them to harness and mother usually in hysterics in the house, sure some of them would be killed. 
Everyone knew the old white horse Billy.  Father would go downtown in the cutter.  He would meet some of his friends and they would go somewhere to play dominoes and rather than to have the old horse stand in the cold, father would fold the fur robes in the bottom, fasten the lines and tell Billy to go home.  He always arrived with a cry to be let into the barn, robes all tight; no one stopped him because everyone knew Billy.  Mother would not ride with father because he would drive fast and pass everyone and mother was afraid.  So the last few years of his life I always went with him.  He would take me for an hour's skating on the Rumsey Pond, then we would ride and father would have his fun. 
When I was a little girl the only way of reaching the city, unless one drove his own horse, were the omnibuses, which were owned by Jake Miller, Charley Miller's father, and they only went as far as Cold Springs (Ferry and Main streets), turning about there and going back down Main St.  I think it was sometime between my eighth birthday and my tenth that the first horse cars were put on Main Street.  There was a little box in front to drop your money in and the driver kept his eye on each passenger until he had put his money in the box, for there was no conductor.  They stopped anywhere then, at the corners or in the middle of the block. 
When I was about ten years old we had the first illuminating gas put in the house at Barker Street, but when it was time to light it no one dared to do it.  Esther said it will surely blow the house up.  They would light matches, begin to turn it on and then back away.  Finally they let me try and as I was not much afraid of anything I was successful and we felt pretty smart.  

Horse drawn street cars in New York (left) and Ohio (right) in the late 1800s.

When the Dickson family was living on Barker Street, their neighborhood was a rather rural environment.  These days, that intersection is much more urban.  The location where the Dickson house stood now features a large apartment complex.

When my father bought on Barker Street and built there, there were very few houses about.  In my early girlhood there were quite a number.  On the corner of Main and Barker, southwest corner, Mr. Guyes B. Ritch lived, on the northwest corner Mr. Gibson T. Williams.  On the northwest corner of Barker and Delaware Mr. Stocking and on the southeast corner Mr. Stevens.1  All these lived there many years. 
My father owned a large piece of land bounded by Delaware, Bird, Forest and Lincoln Parkway-- 21 acres.  We pastured our cows there as did Mr. Castle.  Tommy Castle and Rob took them to pasture and I often went with them, riding in Tommy's little gig.  We would take our lunch and stay all day.   
I was born in the downstairs bedroom [at the Barker Street house], which faces Delaware Ave., on October 6th 1847, and was the seventh child.  Six of us lived to grow up, but I am the last one left alive, and all are buried in Forest Lawn lot, in the same lot, except my brother George, who died in California and is buried there. 
It was all country out there then and we all had such good times.  Mattie Williams and I had seven boys for playmates and we certainly could keep up with them in everything they undertook, even to playing billiards, bowling, walking tight ropes and climbing to the top of everything.  Nothing stopped us.  After Linwood Ave. was cut through, the water would collect in winter on the sides of the road and freeze and we would start at Barker Street and skate up to North Street on one side and back on the other.

The Dicksons' neighbor, Gibson T. Williams.  Photo: "History of the City of Buffalo and Erie County" by H. Perry Smith.

Above, Elizabeth mentions her brother George, who was my third great-grandfather and the ancestor who brought our family to California.

Elsewhere in her memoirs, Elizabeth notes a visit to her Aunt Sarah.  This is Sarah Dickson Armstrong, the elder sister of Elizabeth's father, William Dickson.

When I was eight years old, I took my first railroad journey (1855), with my mother, to Drumbo, Ontario, to visit my Aunt Sarah, my father's sister.  It was winter.  My mother and I left in the early morning and arrived at Paris about noon, where we had to sit in a sleepy cold railroad station for four hours for a delayed train, which would take us to Drumbo, which we reached after dark.  My cousin William was there to meet us.  It was cold winter weather, with the snow piled up everywhere.  William said, "I have come for you with a yoke of oxen," which were fastened to a large flat sleigh, with hay in the bottom, and mother and I crawled in.  I was much tickled to ride in this way. Of course they walked very slowly and as they lived some way from the station we were some time reaching there.  When we did, and the door was thrown open for us, there was Aunt Sarah, with a cap, with a very full ruffled edge on her head sitting in front of a big log fire, the kind where the logs are so big they have to be rolled on, and with a large spinning wheel in front of her, spinning.  I shall never forget it.  Outside the white snow banked up everywhere and the open door with that picture inside.  We had supper in a very large kitchen.  I should say thirty feet square, with corn in bunches hanging from the ceiling and apples dried and strung in long festoons back and forth.  It was all new to me.  We were there two for weeks and something new to see each day.

The cousin William she mentions is almost certainly Sarah Dickson Armstrong's son, William Thomas Armstrong (b. 1825).

Finally, Elizabeth recalls a brush with royalty.  On September 10, 1860, the Prince of Wales embarked on a royal tour of Canada and the United States.  The eldest son of Queen Victoria would later become King Edward VII, and the great-grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II.  It seems that the Dickson family had two audiences with the future king during his tour.

When I was about twelve years old the Prince of Wales (who was afterward King Edward VII) came to this country.  I saw him at Collingwood [Ontario].  Father, mother, Esther and I had gone up on one of the boats and the three older ones (not me) were asked to a dinner given at the hotel.  We had a fine place to watch the Prince and after the exercises Mr. McCoy, the conductor on his train, said to father, "While you are at dinner I will take your little daughter for a ride in the prince's car."  We were out about an hour and I do not think there was much I did not see.  The next day we went to Tornoto, and on the morning after the big ball were taken to the Crystal Palace to see the decorations of the ball (my sister Esther was invited to the ball) and I regretted that I did not have some bottles in my pocket, as there were two fountains of cologne and I could have filled them.

A complete account of the Prince of Wales' visit can be found in Visit of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to the British North American Provinces and the United States in Year 1860 by Robert Cellum and Royal Spectacle: The 1860 Visit of the Prince of Wales to Canada and the United States by Ian Radforth.

A silver-printed dance card from the Prince's reception at Osgood Hall in Toronto, which was attended by Esther Dickson.

The autobiography of Elizabeth Dickson Young provides wonderful anecdotes about her childhood in Buffalo and life in the Dickson family home.  Without her memoir, these colorful stories would be lost to time.  I am very grateful that we can still read them some eighty years after Elizabeth's death in 1935.

1 The Dicksons' neighbor, Mr. Stocking, was Thomas R. Stocking, a politician who served as a member of the Erie County Legislature and was a Buffalo city supervisor. Another neighbor, Gibson T. Williams, was a noted banker and industrialist. The neighbor referred to as "Guyes B. Ritch" was actually Gaius Barrett Rich, President of the Buffalo Commercial Bank and a well-known New York financier. The final neighbor mentioned, Mr. Stevens, was Frederick P. Stevens, a judge who served as Mayor of Buffalo from 1856-1857. He was also a member of the New York State Assembly.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Memoirs of Elizabeth Dickson Young

Elizabeth Jane Dickson

Elizabeth Jane Dickson was the youngest surviving child of William Dickson and Mary Ann Browning.

She left behind two short memoirs, at the urging of her son, William Dickson Young.  One focuses on her life prior to marriage, and one on her married life.  These provide a lot of insight into Elizabeth's family life and her relationship with her parents and siblings.  They also show what life was like for a young person growing to adulthood in the late 1800s in Buffalo, New York.  Below, I will quote liberally from Elizabeth's memoirs, specifically focusing on the paragraphs that involve her family.

I was born Oct. 6th 1847 in Buffalo.
The first thing I can remember is playing with the twin babies, a boy and a girl [Louis and Louise Dickson], who were born four years after me.  As I remember, they were always, when awake, in the large upstairs bed-room in the Barker Street house and on the floor on a comfortable [missing word here].  The little girl was dark, with black hair and I doubt that she was ever well because she cried so much, but the boy was fair-headed and the dearest little fellow, always laughing and happy.  They slept at night in a trundle bed, which in the day time was pushed under the large bed.  They lived to be eight months old; the girl died first of "summer complaint." and I think the boy grieved for her, for he died three days later.  They were buried in the same coffin.  I remember being lifted up to look at them.  I was four years and eight months old then.  I remember nothing of the funeral except that I rode in one of the carriages, sitting on the seat with Aunt Martha, with our backs to the horses, and after we had gone a short distance we halted so that the other carriages could be filled and join us.  I can see the house and people now, as they came out.  Then the carriage started and that is all I remember.  I know they were buried in the old High Street burying ground, and later taken to Forest Lawn.  It is strange that so little made a place in my mind, to stay there all these years.

I did some research to see what I could learn about "summer complaint." It seems that this was once a common term for acute cases of diarrhea, mainly in babies and young children.  In a pre-refrigerator era, milk spoiled in the summer heat, and foods were more easily contaminated with bacteria.  If Elizabeth is correct in her recollections, her twin siblings died of something so easily prevented in the modern age.  What a great tragedy it must have been for the Dickson family to lose two children within days of each other.

Elizabeth recalled many things that happened at the Barker Street house, where she was raised, and in the Dickson family's circle of friends.

Once my father brought home some yellow brick on his boat from Milwaukee and laid them on a side walk in the Barker Street yard.  The ants used to make their homes at the corners of the brick and I used to watch them by the hour.
At one time we had a girl working for us, whose name was Biddy Coil, and who was fresh from Ireland.  After she had been there for a time the table knives were found all bent over at their ends.  Mother asked her how it happened and she answered, "Indeed ma'am, the boys did it fixing their watches out on the bricks."
At one time when interest in table spirit-rappings had started in Buffalo, and my sister Esther had been to several at Levi Allen's (who lived then where Mrs. Dexter Rumsey does now, southwest corner of Summer and Delaware) I remember that I used to like to run my fingers down the keys of the piano when no one knew that I was at home.  Esther and Aunt Martha would come down in a hurry from upstairs, feeling sure it was spirits, and would talk it over (I listening from under the large sofa).  "It could not be anything but spirits for Lizzie is not here and no one else would do it."
Spirit-rapping is defined by The Spirit Archive as, "Percussive sounds of varying intensity without visible, known or normal agency, a common phenomenon of nineteenth-century Spiritualism. Typtology was the name given to the "science" of communicating with spirits by means of raps."

Elizabeth also recalled General Riley, a good friend of her father, William Dickson.
I remember an incident which was a good joke on the Riley family.  Gen Riley (he was the first Governor of California and in the Mexican war) and my father were very fond of going to auctions and usually the Riley attic and ours were full of things which no one wanted to use.  One day Mrs. Riley said, "Girls, your father is away today and I am going to send all those things in the attic to the auction rooms."  They filled two dray loads.  When Gen. Riley came home at night nothing was said.  The next afternoon a large furniture wagon stopped in front of the Rileys and it contained all the things they had sent back the day before.  The General had visited the auction rooms and bought back everything, not knowing that he had ever owned them before.
Elizabeth remembered a special gift bought for her by her father when she was about eight years old.
It was at this time that my father bought me the first wax doll that came to Buffalo.  It was in a show case at Barnum's.  It would open and shut its eyes and cry.  My father was easily coaxed to buy it for me.  It cost five dollars.  "What an extravagance" my aunts all said. 

S.O. Barnum & Son Company was a large shopping emporium or department store that was a fixture in Buffalo for nearly 100 years.  More details about this store can be found in the book The Glory Days of Buffalo Shopping by Michael F. Rizzo.

Elizabeth's memories of her home life allow us to picture the Dickson family in their home at Barker Street.  She describes a warm and happy home with extended family living together.

I remember that in the winter evenings we used to sit in the back parlor with a nice soft coal fire burning.  Father in his easy chair and I most of the time in his lap, or he would lie on the sofa, with me snuggled in behind him.  Mother would read aloud and Esther, sister Sarah and Aunt Martha would either crochet or sew patchwork quilts.  At nine P.M. I had to go to bed.  I know I always teased to stay up longer and sometimes I was allowed to, but at ten, unless there was company, all started up for bed, and in a short time all lights would be out.
My grandmother on my mother's side [Sarah Venn Browning] always lived with us. That made a large family, father, mother, Esther, sister Sarah, George, Johnny, Robert and Aunt Martha, grandmother Browning and myself, ten in all.  Mother always looked after everything about the house and grounds.  Father never knew what was going to be planted in the garden nor what changes were going to be made in the house.  I never remember his ever saying no to mother or ever speaking an unkind word to her. Everything she did suited him.  He had a big heart, a man ready to help in trouble, but let anyone impose on him and he would develop the biggest thunder storm one would wish to encounter.

In my next post, I'll continue to quote from Elizabeth Dickson Young's memoirs, which describe in further detail how the Dickson family lived and the conditions at their house in Buffalo.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Children of William Dickson and Mary Ann Browning (Part II)

My fourth great-grandparents, William Dickson and Mary Ann Browning, had eight children.

In my last post, I shared William Dickson Young's remembrances of the three eldest Dickson children, Esther, Sarah and George.  Here, I will share what William Dickson Young wrote about the three youngest surviving Dicksons.

John Henry Dickson

John Henry Dickson was the fourth child and second son of William Dickson and Mary Ann Browning.

Born May 11th 1841.  He was the fourth child of William and Mary.  I never knew him as he died..... [date not mentioned].  I imagine, from the family tales, that he was a rather whimsical, good-natured sort of a boy and man, whose father had too much money for the boy's best good and was away from him for too long periods.  John was never very fortunate, in possible consequence, in what he undertook.1  He married Sarah Mitchell and they had one child, Hattie, who died in infancy.

In May/June of 1863, John Henry Dickson registered for the Civil War draft along with his brother George.  It's unclear if they actually served.  I do not find them on the rolls of the 21st, 49th or 116th Infantries, which were assembled in Buffalo.  On the draft registration, both brothers are listed as mariners.  John was single at the time of his registration.  Soon after, he married Sarah Mitchell in Buffalo.

According to the New York Census, in 1865 John Dickson was residing in Buffalo with his wife Sarah and their daughter Hattie.  The young family was living with 42-year old Mary Mitchell, Sarah's widowed mother, and multiple Mitchell children in their teens and twenties.  John can also be found in Buffalo's 1865 City Directory, living at 155 Delaware.  His occupation is listed as sailor.

The census was taken on June 20, 1865, and Hattie is recorded as being one year and three months of age.  This would put her date of birth around March 1864.  Hattie is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery, where the majority of the Dickson family is buried.  Her headstone is hard to read, but I believe it says she was age 2 years and 8 months at the time of her death.  This would put her death around November 1866.  However, when I reviewed the 1870 and 1875 census records, I found Hattie in both of them, aged 6 and then aged 11, living with her mother, Sarah in Buffalo.  Perhaps this means she actually died at age 12, not age 2.  Why, then, does William Dickson Young claim she died as an infant?  If Hattie died in 1876, one year after that final census listing, her cousin William would have been four years old, perhaps too young to remember the details of her death.  This remains a bit of a mystery for now.  

We don't know what killed John Henry Dickson, a young man in his prime, in 1865.  We do know that his wife, Sarah, did not remarry.  She lived nearly forty years after John's death, dying in 1903, and is buried next to him at Forest Lawn in Buffalo.

Robert James Dickson

Robert James Dickson was the third son of William Dickson and Mary Ann Browning.

Born Oct. 8th 1843, the fifth child of William and Mary.  He never married.  He was an able chap and very clever with his hands in drawing, carving, etc.  He lived with us at 29 Park Street for a number of his last years, having that small room that my father occupied in his last years.  He died there in 1878 at the age of 35.  I was of course a small boy and I do not remember him personally at all well, but I do remember the smell and taste of his pipes and tobacco, lying on his table, for I used to try them when he was out.  He was a civil engineer.  His first active work as such was on the Lake Short & Michigan Central Railway, under Peter Emsley, when they were building the stone arch culverts and bridges on that line (and it is interesting to remember that most of the lime stone blocks for the bridge over Eighteen Mile Creek came from what was later our own beach at Derby, being gotten out near the waters edge, by gangs of red-shirted Irish laborers, who had huts along our bluff where, later, our house was moved). 
He was on the train which met with the fearful accident at Angola, N.Y. when it ran off the track on the bridge over the creek near the mill (the bridge is still there).  He felt the car leave the rails on the bridge, pulled the bell rope over head, humped to the door, and as the train plunged over the side of the bridge he leaped off on the opposite side, turning over and over, his overcoat flying in the wind, and crashing through a tree, which broke his hall.  He always suffered more or less from that shock, but was the only one in that car who was not killed. 
After leaving the railroad, he was on Government work at Oswego under Col. Harwood, U.S. Engineer Corps.  In 1872 he entered the service of the Canada Southern R.R. and was on work at Amherstburg, Ont.  In the summer of 1873 he entered the office of the Buffalo City Engineer, under Mr. Ditto, and continued during the term of Mr. Edward Mann (father of Stuart Mann) up to Feb. 8th 1877, and was in charge of the Department of Sewers, and later of streets.  He was also in charge of the digging of Buffalo Park Lake.  He left this office to go with the Bradford, McKean & Olean R.R., and was in their employ when he died.  I believe he died of Typhoid Fever.   
He was an enthusiastic sportsman and a fine shot, winning the $100 prize for shooting with the shot gun at the State Sportsmen's Convention in Buffalo in 1877. 
He was also, as has already been mentioned, quite an artist and wonderfully clever in making little knick-knacks with his knife.  There is a little black boat, made from a button, with a gold skate on it, and gold buttons up the side, also a wooden pocket knife, and other things about, which he made. 
The bearers at his funeral were E.B. Guthrie (also a city engineer), Geo. E. Mann, Charles F. Bingham, H.R. Jones, O.S. Warren, John Bullymore, Frank Kimberly, Wm. W. Lyon, all prominent younger men of the city.

The train wreck which William Dickson Young describes is also known as "The Angola Horror."  It was a devastating and grisly derailment over a gorge that killed about 50 people and was widely sensationalized across the nation.  Future Standard Oil magnate John D. Rockefeller was meant to be on that train, but missed it by minutes.  The incident eventually led to widespread change in railroad safety protocol.  In her book The Angola Horror: The 1867 Train Wreck That Shocked the Nation and Transformed American Railroads, author Charity Vogel describes Robert Dickson's experience in the train car and his desperate leap to safety.  He was, in fact, the only passenger in his car to survive the wreck.

Elizabeth Jane Dickson

The youngest surviving child of William and Mary Dickson was Elizabeth Jane Dickson.  She was the mother of William Dickson Young, whose biography of the family has shed so much light on their lives.
Born Oct. 8th2 1847.  This is my mother.  She married Albert B. Young [Albert Barnes Young] Oct. 20th 1870, in a house on Niagara Street near Georgia, where her mother was then living.  They then went on to live at 29 Park Street and have been there ever since, except for one year, a part of which was spent at Niagara Falls, Ont., and a part with her mother at 61 Park Street.  Mother was, next to Esther, and perhaps more than Esther, the cleverest and ablest of her family.  She tells so much of her early life in her own story that I shall not even attempt to add details here.  She graduated at the Buffalo Female Academy, now the Buffalo Seminary, and in later years was President of the Graduates Association.  She was an accomplished pianist, and I now have several old books of her music.  She had almost black hair and eyes, and before her marriage was said to be the handsomest girl in Buffalo and had a host of friends.

Elizabeth married Albert Barnes Young in 1870, when she was twenty-three.  They had two children, William Dickson Young and Alice Fletcher Young.  I will share Elizabeth's memoirs in a future blog post.

The youngest children of William Dickson and Mary Ann Browning were fraternal twins, Louis and Louise Dickson.  They were born in 1850 and died in 1851, at just over a year of age, of some sort of illness.  They are buried at Forest Lawn in Buffalo with the rest of the Dickson family.

I am so grateful that William Dickson Young took the time to write down these recollections of his family members.  Without them, we would know little more about these relatives than the dates of their birth and death.  The specifics of their lives in Buffalo would be completely lost to us.

William Dickson Young

1 William Dickson Young's disdain for his uncles and assertion that they were not successful is somewhat of a mystery. Both George and John were steadily employed as seamen on the Great Lakes. Both married and had families. Robert had a notable career as a civil engineer and overcame an extremely traumatic accident to contribute meaningfully to society. It's unclear where William's feeling that his uncles were less successful and serious than they should have been originates. It seems William was raised in a more academic household than his mother, aunts and uncles had been, and perhaps was less financially privileged than his mother and her siblings, but it's not clear if this influenced his feelings about his uncles or it was something else entirely.

2 Elizabeth's memoirs say her birthday was actually October 6th.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Children of William Dickson and Mary Ann Browning (Part I)

William Dickson was an affable man and an accomplished seaman.  He was apparently well-liked in Buffalo and respected for his work as a ship's captain on the Great Lakes.  Much of William Dickson's personal contentment seems to have come from his happy family life.  His marriage to Mary Ann Browning was a long and successful one, and they had eight children together, six of whom survived to adulthood.

According to his grandson, William Dickson Young ("WDY"), whose biography of William Dickson provides most of the details we know about him, William Dickson was very content in Buffalo.  Even when he stood to inherit his parents' estate in Ireland, he did not consider moving his family from New York.
William was the eldest son of the family [his parents, George Dickson and Elizabeth Black, had six children total] and therefore the heir to the property in Ireland, for that property was entailed, but on his father's death he refused to accept it, for he was then well off, and had become an American citizen and would not go back to Ireland, so it went to his next brother, John.

The children of William Dickson and Mary Ann Browning were as follows:

  1. Esther Dickson, born Sept. 16, 1833 in Port Stanley, Ontario.  Died February 2, 1872 in Buffalo, New York.  She did not marry.
  2. Sarah Ann Dickson, born October 8, 1836 in Buffalo, New York.  Died October 15, 1915 in Buffalo, New York.  She did not marry.
  3. George William Dickson, born December 11, 1838 in Buffalo, New York.  Died December 31, 1916 in Santa Monica, California.  He married Mary Elizabeth Bellangee.
  4. John Henry Dickson, born May 11, 1841 in Buffalo, New York.  Died 1865.  He married Sarah Mitchell.
  5. Robert James Dickson, born October 8, 1843 in Buffalo, New York.  Died 1878.  He did not marry.
  6. Elizabeth Jane Dickson, born October 8, 1847 in Buffalo, New York.  Died March 9, 1935 in Buffalo, New York.  She married Albert Barnes Young.
  7. Louis Dickson, born 1850 in Buffalo, New York.  Died 1851.  (Twin of Louise Dickson)
  8. Louise Dickson, born 1850 in Buffalo, New York. Died 1851.  (Twin of Louis Dickson)
William Dickson Young wrote about his aunts and uncles in his biography of the Dickson family members.  

Esther Dickson

Esther Dickson is sometimes also referred to as Hester in various online accounts of the Dickson family.  However, in all the census records I've seen, she is called Esther.  This is also the name engraved on her tombstone.
[Esther Dickson] was born in Port Stanley, Ont. Sept. 26 1833.  She never married, although she was at one time engaged to Charles Church, a brother of Mrs. William Ives (William Ives was a little man whom every one in older Buffalo knew, for he was the first, and for many years the only librarian of the Young Mens Association, later the Buffalo Public Library).  I never knew Esther, for she died before I was born.  She was apparently an able, brilliant and popular girl and woman, very active socially and fond of good clothing and nice personal possessions of the best quality.

Sarah Ann Dickson

Of his aunt Sarah Ann Dickson, William Dickson Young wrote the following:
[Sarah Ann Dickson] was born in Buffalo, N.Y. in the Eagle Street house Oct. 8th 1846.  Sarah was never very brilliant, but faithful, good, true and devout.  She was blue-eyed.  She was, in a way, the off-chick of the family, and among her quick and clever brothers and sisters people seemed to think that she could not do things as well as the rest (which may have been true) but this was perhaps why she never had the chance or desire to try.  None of the children, except my mother, ever had much education in the modern sense, in part probably because their parents had never had much and could not visualize what a real education was, and so far as the girls were concerned, also probably because it was thought less necessary for females than for men, for the family had the means to get it [education], and perhaps partly because they were a social rather than a reading family.
Sarah lived with her mother until the death of the latter and then lived with us at 29 Park Street until her death.  She was a loving and devoted friend to we children, always ready to serve us or to read to us by the hour, at such a speed that no one but we could understand what she was saying.  When I was small I called her Aunt Lalu, my understanding of Sarah (pronouncing "A" as in "sad"), which in time became simply "La" ("A" as in "say") to us to her death.  She was a devout and devoted member of Calvary Presbyterian Church.  She is buried in the Dickson lot in Forest Lawn [in Buffalo, New York].

George William Dickson

William Dickson Young didn't know his uncle George William Dickson (my third great-grandfather) very well.  George left Buffalo as a young man, making few return visits.  Still, WDY wrote a summary of him based on his memories.
[George William Dickson] was born in the Barker Street house on Dec. 11th 1838 and died some years ago in California and is buried there.  I remember him, but not very well, as a tall, broad-shouldered, quiet man.  He was never a money-maker, nor were any of his brothers.  He was also a lake-man for most of his life, and for many years was Captain of the big Grand Trunk car ferry from Sarnia, Ont. to Point Huron, Mich. across the river, which would take on whole trains.  They lived in Sarnia.  He married Mary Bellangee of Milwaukee, Wisc., a niece of Mrs. Davocks .... who lived on Delaware Avenue, in a house where the Westminster Parish House now stands.  They never lived in Buffalo.  

It's interesting that WDY repeatedly refers to his Dickson uncles in somewhat dismissive terms in his biography.  He brings up several times the idea that they were spoiled, had too much money and not enough fatherly supervision, and thus didn't turn out to have successful lives of their own.  My own family lore paints George William Dickson in a more positive light.  He certainly had a long career as a ship's captain.  His marriage seems to have been a happy one, and he was quite devoted to his children.  He may not have been as financially successful as his father, but he seems to have been a hard-working and contented family man.  Since WDY didn't know George well, he may simply be lumping him in with the other Dickson boys, but it's an interesting and unexpected characterization of his uncle.

William Dickson Young also wrote brief paragraphs about George Dickson and Mary Bellangee's four children.  Of these cousins, he only ever spent any real time with Elizabeth Davock Dickson, the eldest, since she lived in his household for a time while attending nursing school in Buffalo.
Lizzie Dickson, named after my mother who was always called Lizzie.  She was a little older than I am.  She lived with us at 29 Park Street for several years, a big, capable girl, and a good sport.  She graduated in nursing at the Buffalo Homeopathic Hospital, has adhered to it and is a wonderful nurse.  She was in France during the war, although then over 50 years of age.  She has never married and is, I believe, in California.

This is quite in line with what my grandmother told me about Elizabeth Davock Dickson, except that I've never heard about her being overseas during World War I.  WDY goes on to describe Elizabeth's sister, Anne Amelia Dickson.
Annie Dickson.  She was a boisterous, stubborn sort of a kid.  She also became a graduate nurse from the Buffalo Homeopathic Hospital, but she was never as able a girl as Lizzie.  She married and lives in the west.

Although this isn't a terribly nice way to describe my second great-grandmother, it does ring true.  My grandmother always described Annie as headstrong, willful and fiercely independent.  As I've written in previous posts, Annie was a nurse for some years, but gave it up when she became a mother to her five boys.  Elizabeth was a devoted nurse and hospital administrator her entire life, which is probably why the "not as able" comment is aimed at Annie.

Of Elizabeth and Annie's brothers, William and George Dickson, it appears WDY didn't know them at all.  He says simply that "both of these sons are married and live in the west."  More information about George and William can be found in my previous posts.

I'll continue with descriptions of William Dickson's three youngest children in my next post.

Monday, August 17, 2015

William Dickson (Part IV)

This is the fourth post in a series about my fourth great-grandfather, William Dickson.

Buffalo, New York, 1855.  William Dickson was living in Buffalo at this time and was captain of a ship that would have anchored in this harbor.
Photo courtesy of Dickinson College.

William Dickson was an affable, sociable man.  Not much given to intellectual pursuits, he preferred to spend time enjoying the company of friends and family.  He also loved being outdoors, not only on the lake while he was working, but in the countryside that surrounded his home in Buffalo, New York.  His grandson, William Dickson Young, expanded upon these tendencies in his biography of William Dickson.  I will continue to quote from this biography to give a sense of William's character.
The home on Barker Street was a center for a large and active group of young people who were sociable.  The Dickson family apparently never cared either for formal social affairs nor for books, but rather for music and informal, jolly good times.
He [William Dickson] never held any public office, and, perhaps because he was away for nine months of each year, took little part in public affairs.  He had never had much schooling in his early days and had small love for books (differing in that way from my grandfather Young), but liked the open, active work and quiet social pleasures.

According to William Dickson Young, his grandfather had a special bond with his youngest child, Elizabeth Jane Dickson (WDY's mother).  She was born in 1847, when William Dickson was 47 years of age.  Perhaps it was because she was the youngest, or that William was getting on in years and focusing more on his family and less on career at the time of her birth, that they became particularly close.  William Dickson Young's glowing memories of his grandfather must certainly have been influenced by the warm relationship William had with Elizabeth Jane.
He was especially fond of my mother [Elizabeth Jane Dickson], and in his last years, when he had retired from the lakes, used to love to have her play the piano for him (the center table in our living room is made from that piano), or read to him stories from the weekly papers of that day, and would weep openly over the sad parts, of which the melancholy stories of those times were well filled.  In the winter he would also drive her every afternoon down to the frozen lake in the Rumsey grounds (where Elmwood Ave. now cuts through Tupper and Tracy Streets), and, standing for hours in his cutter outside the high frame, watch her skate with the other young people.

Elizabeth Jane Dickson

Every person has their quirks, and William Dickson's seemed to revolve around health and disease prevention.  William Dickson Young explains in his biography:
My mother tells of only one thing that her father was afraid of, and that was cholera.  This was a fearful thing in those days, for no one knew the cause of it, and it would rage even through our country here, many people dying of it.  There was one belief that it was caused by eating green vegetables, and Captain Dickson gave the most strict orders that none of his family should eat green things or raw fruit, but eat chiefly boiled rice, which was considered safe.  They did their best but became so sick of rice (in fact my mother still has a feeling about it seventy years later) that when he was away on the lakes they had to break the rules, and no one had cholera.

William Dickson was well-liked by both family and community.  While he was away on the lakes much of the year, he seems to have made the most of his time in Buffalo.
He was apparently a very happy man, tender-hearted on occasions as a child, fond of his family, in fact too fond, for his boys grew up with too much money and too little training for work (although he was of course away from them for long periods).  He was generous, a devout Episcopalian (I have his large prayer book and his old family Bible in our library).  He gave the first $1,000 to help build Ascention [sp] Church on North Street at the head of Franklin, and was at one time its Senior Warden.  He was respected by everyone, one of the leaders on the lakes, which was then the most important business in Buffalo, and an honorable, clean, fine gentleman.
Ascension Church, which William Dickson helped to found, was incorporated in 1855.  It was for more than 150 years, a thriving religious community in Buffalo.  However, in 2014, the decision was made to abandon the church and relocate its congregants to another nearby church.  In making this decision, church officials cited rapidly declining membership and the financial demands of keeping up an old, deteriorating building.  The church that William Dickson funded and loved will be converted into a senior center.

Ascension Church, photo by Mark Mulville/Buffalo News

William Dickson Young's biography paints quite a picture of who William Dickson was as a person and what his family life was like in Buffalo.  In my next post, I'll continue to write about William's family, specifically his children.