Sunday, March 22, 2015

Where's the Family Lore?

Where's the family lore surrounding Burr Zelah Dornon?

I've been asking myself that question lately as I continue to investigate when and where my 4th great-grandfather died and was buried (Feeling out of the loop? Get caught up: Poor Guilty Creatures and Narrowing Burr's Window of Death).

Families tell and retell stories about their ancestors. Over time, a story may take on a life of its own as facts are embellished. Despite the distortion, at least there's a story to share. Skeptical genealogists can always do the dirty work of looking for kernels of truth that advance evidence-based research.

When it comes to Burr, though, there's not much narrative for us to pick apart. That surprises me. With nine children, you would think that bits and pieces would have traveled through the years.

Sadly, as FamilySearch notes, it only takes three generations for oral family history to disappear. It seems that Burr has suffered this fate.

Mindful of this reality, the incessant digging into Burr's past (along with the fantastic help of a handful of Dornon cousins) is cobbling together a narrative; restoring his history.

Buried on the Hill?
Speaking of Dornon cousins, I've connected with several of Burr's descendants on The Lawrence Register, a Facebook group dedicated to Lawrence County, Ohio genealogy.

Scottown Cemetery. Photo by Henry Dillon & used by permission
One cousin mentioned that a great-grandson of Burr - still living - thinks he recalls seeing a tombstone for Burr on a hill in Scottown Cemetery in Lawrence County. Unfortunately, many of the headstones have disappeared or were destroyed over the years.

We're trying to locate an early survey for the cemetery to see if a turn-of-the-20th-century census of burials includes Burr.

Another cousin is doubtful. He's been visiting the cemetery since 1969 and never recalled seeing a marker for our man in question. However, his caveat was that there were a few markers that were no longer legible because they were so worn and weathered.

Nine Lives: Burr's Immediate Family
What about Burr and his wife Sophronia's nine children? What do we know about that cast of characters? Who among them had and passed on the family lore? We have some descendancy mapping to do.

Albert Dornon: In June 1863, two of Burr's children - Joseph and Mary Susan - sell land that their father bought in Lawrence County, Ohio, to Albert. It appears to me that they're selling their stake in land that was inherited. I speculate the eldest child was the administrator for his father's estate.

Curiously, an Albert Dornon is enumerated in the 1860 U.S. Federal Census in both Lawrence County, Ohio (with a wife and two children) and in Jackson County, Virginia (with his parents and siblings). The age and state of birth are the same in both records. Burr's family lived in both counties. Is it the same man? Should we map out the children enumerated in Lawrence County? Albert's fate is unknown.

Albert Dornon: 1860 US Census Lawrence County, OH

Joseph DornonJoseph's son Burzilla Hoyte Dornon was born January 6, 1862 in Lawrence County, Ohio. It seems Joseph named his son after his own father. I realize that's a pretty standard practice. But is there more to it? Was he named in mournful homage to his grandfather? Perhaps. Or perhaps Burr Zelah was ill at the time of Burzilla's birth and the eternal writing was merely on the wall.

Burzilla H. Dornon death certifcate. Courtesy Roger Dillon.

Like his brother Albert, Joseph's fate is currently unknown.

Lorenzo wound. Pension Record.
Lorenzo Dornon: Two months after their mother Sophronia passes away, Lorenzo paid $200 for 100 acres of land that belonged to "Burr's heirs." This included his brother Andrew, and three sisters: Abigail, Anna, and Lucinda. Lorenzo turned a profit on the land, selling it about six months later for $600.

Lorenzo passed away in June 1910 in Lawrence County, Ohio. He's buried in the above-mentioned Scottown Cemetery. A veteran of the Civil War, he sustained a bullet wound to the left chest that remained lodged in his body.

I'm hopeful we can track down an obituary to see if it provides any details about his parents.

Mary Susan (Dornon) Vandegraft: Mary Susan married Jackson Vandegraft. They settled in Illinois and had at least six children. Mary is buried in McLean County, Illinois. As the eldest Dornon daughter, I wonder if she was the keeper of family heirlooms and stories? Are there photographs?

I have a very poor quality photocopy of a picture that includes three Dornon sisters and their spouses. Mary Susan is pictured with her husband. Despite the poor quality, you can make out her strong facial features and see the striking similarity to her sisters Anna and Abigail.

Although she passed away in February 1896 before the practice was common, I'm hopeful that an area newspaper included a death notice or full obituary. The McLean County Genealogical Society was unable to locate her name in their obituary index of the Pantagraph (the local paper). An independent search of the papers from that time needs to be commissioned.

Anna (Dornon) Benedick
Anna (Dornon) Benedick: Anna is my link to the family. She was my 3rd great-grandmother and married Albert Benedick (a Civil War veteran who was in the same regiment as Anna's brother Andrew).

She passed away in March 1913 after a life that was a "battle against infirmity...[that] she endured courageously, hopefully, patiently."

Her obituary notes that immediate survivors include only a brother. There's no mention of any other siblings, which is important as we consider when her mysterious sister Lucinda Dornon dies. Unfortunately, there's no mention in Anna's obituary of either of her parents.

Andrew Dornon: Andrew was Anna's twin. He was the longest surviving Dornon child. He eventually settled with his family in Colorado where he passed away and is buried.

Andrew Dornon

The Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado Springs was unable to locate a death notice or obituary for Andrew in their 1930 newspapers. It seems odd that there was no record of his passing, particularly since his wife survived him and could have overseen its publication.

Phebe Jane Dornon: Phebe Jane is a phantom. She's in everyone's online tree (including my own), but without any supporting documentation to confirm her existence.

Online trees give a birth and death date of July 14, 1850. That's a very exact date. Without a record to provide that level of detail, it seems that this information would have to come from family records. Who provided that information? I want to talk to that person!

Abigail (Dornon) Benedick: Like her sister Anna, Abigail married a Benedick brother (George). Also like her sister, Abigail's 1910 obituary makes no mention of her parents.

Abigail (Dornon) Benedick

We learn that in her final years, she was "subject to sinking spells due to heart trouble ... attended with great suffering." However, she "maintained a quiet and hopeful disposition and her cheerfulness and calm fortitude [attested] to the strong spirit and great courage and endurance which formed ... prominent features of the character."

Lucinda E. Sophronia (Dornon) Scannel Stanley: Lucinda's story was documented in Lost Lucinda: Like Father Like Daughter. I'm still searching for her death location and then, hopefully, an obituary that might shed light on her father's passing.

To-date, her last known recorded appearance is in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census. She's living with her second husband Levi Stanley in Stella Township, Woods County, Oklahoma.

1900 U.S. Census: Lucinda (Dornon) Stanley

A letter to the Woods County Genealogical Society requesting help in locating information on her life in Oklahoma and death was returned as undeliverable. I suspect the society is defunct. I'll need to circle back with the Oklahoma state genealogical society.

Dornon Descendants
Are you a descendant of Burr and Sophronia Dornon? Where do you fit into this puzzle? What information can you shed on the Dornon siblings? Let's swap family lore!

Monday, March 16, 2015

George Chalkley Haworth

George Chalkley Haworth
A picture is a worth a thousand words. After I discovered a photograph of my 4th great-grandfather George Chalkley Haworth (see Facebook Tags Forgotten Ancestor), it seemed appropriate that I add a few more words and assemble a profile of his life.

Early Life and Quaker Upbringing
George Chalkley Haworth was born January 16, 1833 (according to his headstone) in Indiana to parents Mahlon Stanton Haworth and Mary Hockett. The family moved to Iowa before 1850.

Although he was disowned for "marrying contrary to the faith," Mahlon had belonged to the Religious Society of Friends, and, it would seem, adhered strictly to Quaker doctrine throughout his life.

Mahlon was an ardent abolitionist; a trait closely aligned with the tenants of his faith. According to Bryn Mawr College (a Quaker founded institution), the Religious Society of Friends was the first organization in North America to "fully condemn slavery as both ethically and religiously wrong in all circumstances."

It was discovered, years after his death, that Mahlon's Iowa home contained secret rooms that hid slaves escaping to freedom on the Underground Railroad. This was the environment in which George Chalkley Haworth was raised. These were the values to which he was exposed.

Building Family
On October 29, 1859, George married Mary Emily Hadley in Warren County, Iowa. They had three daughters, including my 3rd great-grandmother Iva Elzina Haworth.
Marriage Registration for George and Mary (Hadley) Haworth

The marriage was short lived. Mary passed away in January 1865, and was buried in Ackworth Cemetery in Warren County. Her headstone indicates she was 25 years old.

Two years later, on March 21, 1867, George married Ann Simon in Warren County, Iowa. They had five daughters - all born in Iowa. A son would be born in Kansas.
Marriage Certificate for George and Ann (Simon) Haworth
Wagon Train and Founding of Haworth Town
In about 1880, George and Ann Haworth loaded their family and possessions into a covered wagon and followed his brother Mahlon Haworth, Jr. from the prairies of Iowa into Kansas.

A granddaughter of Mahlon Jr.'s later recounted the journey across the plains in Reflections of the Old Homestead. She describes a long and tiresome trip.
"They traveled slow by day and camped before dark...The teams of horses couldn't make it more than ten to fifteen miles per day, depending on the weather, for the wagons were loaded and heavy. The roads were just two wagon wheel paths made by the wagons that traveled this route...the miles from Indianola passed slowly."
 Their search for a new home came to an end when, as Mahlon Jr.'s granddaughter recounts, "they rode down a hill...a valley spread out before them with a muddy creek winding through the valley of trees." Mahlon Jr. said, "well I believe we have found our spot!"

Most of the other travelers in the wagon caravan continued onward, except George who "spotted a place up on the hill a piece from Mahlon's."

There was another influencing factor in the Haworth brothers' decision to settle where they did. In a 2012 academic article, Haworth: Flag Stop Town in Republic County, Kansas State student Rebecca Hall notes that they set up homes near a pre-existing rail line.
"When looking at the 1884 Plat map of Republic County, the establishment of the little town in that specific area seemed to be perfect for the time. The track curved through the eastern portion of Republic County mostly parallel to Mill Creek; its meandering ways continued until running through Cuba, Kansas."
In the ensuing years, George and Mahlon Jr.'s family settlement grew into a proper town, appropriately named Haworth. 

In 1991, The Belleville Telescope ran a feature that included reflections from Haworth's former residents (by that time, the settlement was a ghost town). 
"Haworth may have never been much more than the dream of its founders, George Chalkey [sic.] Haworth and his brother, Mahlon Haworth, Jr.," but, as the paper observed in 1901, it was a "beautiful little city in the eastern part of the County. It has a population of 20. It being situated on the B and M railroad and Mill Creek makes it an important business center."
Postmaster and Final Years
The greatest indication that the town of Haworth was on the map, so to speak, came on May 5, 1884, when a post office was established. George was appointed the first postmaster.
George C. Haworth 1884 Appointment as U.S. Postmaster
Hall notes that "the post office was more than just a place to collect mail; it covered a need that was similar for many people in rural Kansas in the late 1800's. Residents needed a way to communicate with the rest of the world, to keep in touch with families and friends beyond their little plot of land on the prairie."

It would be from this post office that the photo of George C. Haworth and family was mailed to my 3rd great-grandparents Edmond and Iva (Haworth) Hawks.

George wouldn't live to see the town's continued growth or its subsequent decline. On April 8, 1896, he passed away and was buried in the Hawks Cemetery just outside of Haworth. His headstone still stands prominently in the sea of surrounding farmland.

After the turn of the 20th century, the town began to decline. The post office was closed in November 1910. Families moved to bigger settlements. Buildings were torn down and the materials were used to create new structures. Eventually, the land reclaimed remaining foundations and quietly erased the town, relegating its existence to memory and its founder to a photograph.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Facebook Tags Forgotten Ancestor

It's happened again. Social media played a key role in solving another family history mystery. First, it was Twitter (See: Tweet & Tell: Oral History Surfaces). This time it's Facebook.

A Family Heirloom
This past summer I inherited an old family photo album. Its plush purple velvet cover was faded from years of family thumbing through it. The fragile pages holding the cabinet cards were yellowed from age.

When I first received the album, I removed each photograph with surgical precision. Every image was carefully examined and scanned. Fortunately, some of the photos were labeled. Unsurprisingly, a small handful were not.

One image above all others stood out to me. It was a picture of an older man sitting beside an older woman, likely his wife. Between them was a young boy with his hand resting on the older man's knee. Standing in the background was a young woman with her hand delicately resting on a chair back. Gazing at the camera, all of them cast solemn glances void of any discernible emotion. 

The back of the photograph was inscribed, "To EO Hawks." EO Hawks would be my 3rd great-grandfather Edmond Oscar Hawks.

The people pictured stuck with me. The faces of the older man and younger woman looked familiar. I felt like I knew them or had seen their faces before. Was it a family resemblance that I was picking up on?

Scrutinizing the picture, I saw there was a clue not in the image itself but in the border. At the bottom, the photographer's name, Hooper, was embossed along with the studio location: Washington, Kansas.

That immediately triggered a red flag. I have ancestry in Washington County, Kansas. My Haworth family. In fact, my 3rd great-grandfather Edmond O. Hawks was married to Iva Elzina Haworth.

Was the photograph from Iva's family? I immediately turned to my online family tree and zeroed in on one man: George Chalkley Haworth. He was Iva's father - my 4th great-grandfather - and lived in Washington County.

Following the death in 1865 of his first wife Mary Emily Hadley (Iva's mother), George remarried to Ann Simon. George had many daughters with both of his wives. However, with his second wife Ann, he had one son Robert Elwood.

Robert was born in 1884. I figured the boy pictured was about six years old, which, if this was George and his family, would suggest that the photo was taken in approximately 1890. Based on the clothing, that seemed plausible.

Who's Who?
I decided I needed help to confirm my theory. I shared the photograph with the Haworth Association of America, a group of descendants that research all things Haworth. The photograph was posted on their site with a call for help in identifying those pictured.

I also posted the picture on this blog's Unknown Photos page with the hope someone would glance through the images and serendipity would lead to an answer.

After half a year, lightning hadn't struck. Neither effort yielded any promising leads on identification.

I decided to take a more proactive approach and research descendants of Robert Elwood Haworth. Perhaps someone in his family inherited a similar photograph and could confirm my hunch that he was the young boy.

Facebook: An Indispensable Genealogical Tool
Robert had three children, and I was soon able to locate surviving grandchildren. Leveraging the power of social media, I plugged those names into Facebook. In minutes, I found two of his grandchildren with profiles.

The beauty of Facebook is that you can message anyone. You can even include attachments like a mysterious unlabeled black and white photo. I wrote an introductory note explaining who I was, that I was researching family history, thought we were distant cousins, and that I had a picture of - I believed - our common ancestor: George C. Haworth. Could they confirm? Had they seen it before?

Here's an important tip for genealogists: Do not send your message to someone with whom you are not friends. It'll go into a wasteland where it will sit unread while you wait impatiently for a response that's never coming.

When sending messages through Facebook to people with whom you are not friends, you have the option to pay $1 and put your message in their primary Facebook in-box. Do it! If you don't, it will be delivered to their "other" folder and won't ping them with a notification that they have an unread message. Your $1 tells Facebook you're serious about this message and ensures its delivery with a notification. It's a small price to pay to put your angsty genealogist's heart at ease.

I sent the same message to two grandchildren of Robert E. Haworth. I attached the photograph to both messages. And I paid $1 to send each message. Then I waited.

Thirteen hours later (yes, genealogists count!) I had a response. One of the grandchildren replied:
"Yes - I have that same picture hanging in my dining room. That is our great grandfather George Chalkey Haworth, Ann Simon, my grandfather Robert Elwood, and his sister."
After six months, I had corroborating confirmation. It only cost me some genealogical detective work to uncover Robert's descendants, a Facebook message out of the blue and $1.

I finally had affirmation that I possessed a photo of my 4th great-grandfather. Please, allow me to introduce you to George Chalkley Haworth.
George Chalkley Haworth
The value of a picture is more than a thousand words, particularly when it unveils a previously never-before-seen image of your great! great! great! great! grandfather. For that, I am four times grateful to Facebook and its indispensable role in connecting me with my distant cousin who had all the answers hanging on her dining room wall.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Poor Guilty Creatures

During my first visit to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, my research focused on my 4th great-grandfather Burr Zelah Dornon. This will come as no surprise to readers of this blog who are already familiar with my obsession with the question of when and where he died and was buried (see Narrowing Burr's Window of Death).

Family History Library - Salt Lake City

In the 1860 U.S. Federal Census, Burr is enumerated with his family in Jackson County, Virginia (soon to be West Virginia). After reviewing the library's catalog, I discovered that Jackson County's microfilmed Chancery Court records covered this time period. Perhaps one of the Dornons made an appearance? In my effort to conduct a reasonably exhaustive search, I had to review the records.

Row after row of microfilm-filled cabinets comprise a portion of the library's second floor. I quickly found the Jackson County Chancery Court records, and made myself at home in the dark at a reader - elbow to elbow with a horde of other genealogists.

Microfilm Reel Storage

Slowly, I began manually spinning through the film. I was pleasantly surprised to find there was a name index. My search crawled as I reached the D's. I held my breath as my eyes glanced through the names: Duffield, Deweese, Dornon. Dornon! I wanted to jump out of my chair and do a silent jig!

This wasn't just any Dornon. It was Dornon, B Z! Burr.Zelah.Dornon - my 4th great-grandfather! What information awaited me in the records? The answers to all of my questions, of course!

I quickly took note of the page number for his record: 138. I spun the hand crank forward, cruising through the handwritten documents. Page 20, page 50, page 190. Too far! I spun into reverse.

Page 86...Page 169. Wait! My hand didn't even make a full rotation between those two records. The microfilmed pages jumped from 86 to 169. There was no page 138! The records with all of my answers (or so I hoped) were missing from the microfilm. I had a terrible sinking feeling. 

Have you ever wondered what heartbreak and despair looks like to a genealogist? Behold:

Jackson County Chancery Court Records - Page 138 Missing
I moved through the rest of the microfilm reel to make sure the pages weren't included elsewhere, but the loss was real.

My time in Salt Lake and at the library was too limited to indulge my heartache for long. I decided to learn more about Jackson County during the 1860s. 

Jackson County During the War
The library had a county history by Dean Moore that was available online (for in-library use only) titled, "Washington's Woods : A History of Ravenswood and Jackson County, West Virginia." It included a section on the county during the Civil War, and made for a compelling read.

I learned that most men in the county made their living as farmers, and that it was among Virginia's top producing regions of tobacco. Although President Lincoln was terribly unpopular in the county (he didn't receive a single vote during the 1860 election), the majority of the citizens wanted to remain with the Union.

Curiously, between a vote on secession in May 1861 and an October 1861 vote to create a separate state in western Virginia, the male voting population decreased by 3/4. Where did all of the men go? According to Moore, they were either recruited into military service, taken prisoner of war (by either side), or killed. Where was Burr during this time? Was he still alive? What was his fate?

Poor Guilty Creatures
You may recall that Burr's son Andrew wrote a letter that told of the family's escape from Jackson County in September 1862 as Confederate forces took control of the previously Union-controlled territory. During this surprise invasion, the Dornon family fled westward to Ohio (the family bible was lost in the Ohio River as a result of the family's haste to escape the Rebels). 

I've speculated that Burr was alive during this flight, but there's no documentation to confirm or contradict this theory. Moore's sobering statistics on the significant decrease in the male population forces me to reconsider my assumptions.

Moore cites the diary of Henrietta Fitzhugh Barr who was a southern sympathizer living in Jackson County. Barr's diary, which was also recently shared with me by the Jackson County Historical Society, illustrates the panicked departure that many families, like the Dornons, made from Jackson County. 

Barr's commentary still sears through the pages - more than 150 years later - and bites of the tension that must have been endemic across the country.
"The union men, women, and children are escaping in hot haste over the river." September 3, 1862
"...a great many of our Union neighbors have skedaddled. Poor guilty creatures; they are afraid of their own shadows." September 16, 1862

Those poor guilty creatures include my Dornons, but was Burr still alive?

Moore's insights into the dramatic decrease in the male population over the span of a few short months, and Barr's callous diary mocking the fleeing Union families makes me even more curious about Burr's circumstances.

What would the Chancery Court records have brought to light? I know, I know - let it go! [sigh]

Clearly, I'm nowhere closer to an answer about when and where he died and was buried, but the dramatic tension has jumped up to deafcon five! I don't know about you, but I'm more intrigued than ever. There's a story here that feels bigger than my initial questions, and the search has to go on!

Monday, February 16, 2015

RootsTech + FGS: 2015's Genealogical Extravaganza!

As I reflect on last week's 2015 RootsTech + Federation of Genealogical Societies combined conference in Salt Lake City, I'm left wondering how to sum it all up and share the experience.
Salt Lake City Street Art

If I had to choose only one word, it would have to be extravaganza. And that may be an understatement. The event was simply wild and off the hook - out of this world! Unprecedented even. It was a genealogical extravaganza.

I shouldn't sound so surprised. After all, it was billed by event organizers as the world's largest family history conference.

By the Numbers
  • There were so many people. Over 20,000 of them! 
  • There were tons of sessions. Nearly 300 of them!
  • There were a slew of exhibitors. 140 vendors!
  • Several motivating keynotes, including: a former First Lady, a multi-platinum recording artist, and New York Times bestselling author!
The Sessions
Laura Bush Gives Keynote
Over the course of four days, I attended 26 keynotes, sessions, and social events. The speakers were a who's who of genealogy's experts and rock stars, including Lisa Louise Cooke, Thomas Jones, CeCe Moore, Judy G. Russell, D. Joshua Taylor, and Maureen Taylor. And that's only to name a very few.

I've returned home with pages of notes.  I'm eager to apply what I've learned, including how to incorporate technology like Evernote into my work, be a more ethical genealogist, problem solve brick walls with probate records, and use tax records for all they're worth! And those are only the CliffsNotes!

Really, the hard work is ahead of me. I need to get down to brass tacks and apply this past week's learning. My research stands to benefit!

Location, Location, Location!
You couldn't ask for a better location. Salt Lake City is synonymous with family history (Hello?! Family History Library, millions of microfilm, and a GRANITE MOUNTAIN!). It's a beautiful city with the mountains jutting majestically beyond the skyline, and the weather - although unseasonable - was wonderful.

The greatest challenge was finding time to slip away from the conference and dive into the Family History Library's records. Fortunately, their extended evening hours made for productive research post-conference. It was genealogy 24/7, folks! More on my research will follow in a separate post.

In sum, this was a conference unlike any other. It was an extravaganza of learning, connecting and advancing family history. I'm already eager for next year, and I hope that you'll consider marking your calendar, too! 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Narrowing Burr's Window of Death

It's been half a year since the detective work began in earnest to identify when and where my 4th great-grandfather Burr Zelah Dornon died and was buried.

Collaboration with distant Dornon cousins has helped to crowdsource ideas and facts that slowly chisel new cracks into this brick wall. Our collective efforts have been immensely helpful in turning up land records and deeds of sale that help pinpoint Burr's whereabouts and establish a timeline for his final years.

Before I fly to Salt Lake City for the 2015 RootsTech + Federation of Genealogical Societies conference, I want to step back and assess where we stand. What have we learned in the past six months, what questions remain, and what can we now hypothesize? I want to have questions in hand to explore while in Utah.

Six-month Review
Over the past six months, the questions have evolved and the research angles have shifted as new information came to light.


Stone Broke: In my first blog post kicking off the search, I came across a death date for Burr of October 15, 1867. It's in tons of public online family trees. But none of them provide documentation or back-up to substantiate this date. Someone entered it into a tree and it's since been replicated so many times it's gained the weight of authority.

This random death date gives new meaning to the old line from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: "'s the truth even if didn't happen." Well, it didn't happen! In subsequent posts, we've been able to confirm that Burr is in fact deceased before October 1867.

In this same blog post, we were also able to find an 1860 U.S. Federal Census confirming that Burr was very much alive in Jackson County, Virginia (soon to be West Virginia). That census was enumerated on July 7, 1860. We know for certain he's alive on that date in that location.


Running From the Rebels: The second blog post took the research to the National Archives in Washington, DC. I was able to pull Civil War pension files for two of Burr's sons: Lorenzo and Andrew. Lorenzo's pension provided no clues about his father's death; however, Andrew's file hinted at the turmoil the Civil War inflicted on the Dornon family.

During Andrew's application for a pension, the U.S. Government asked him to provide proof of birth. Appropriate documentation, they said, could come from the family bible. Andrew wrote a letter explaining that he had no written proof because he, "heard my mother say that our family bible that contained the family records of births and deaths, was lost in the Ohio River at the time that the Rebels runs us out of our home in Jackson Co. West Virginia in 1861 or 2."

The Dornons fled their home in Jackson County because of the Rebels! Now doesn't that make you very curious about what happened to the Dornon patriarch? Research on the Jackson County Historical Society's website was able to corroborate this story. While the county was primarily under Union authority, "The only exception was in September 1862 when Confederate forces, under the command of General Albert Gallatin Jenkins, briefly gained control of the county."

I speculate that Burr was still alive in September 1862 when his family fled from Jackson County to Ohio.


Finding Clues in Land Records: In October 2014, a Dornon cousin that I met through the online member community, shared with me a handful of land records that she was able to uncover at the Briggs Lawrence County Library in Ironton, Ohio. 

This cousin brought my attention to the marriage record for my own 3rd great-grandparents - Albert Benedick and Anna Dornon. Anna was a daughter of Burr. Albert and Anna obtained a marriage license in Lawrence County, Ohio on October 20, 1866. The marriage record states that the young couple obtained the "consent of the mothers ... and that their fathers are dead."

Dead! There you have it! This is the first documented evidence of Burr's death. He is deceased by the time of Anna's marriage on October 20, 1866. This provides the evidence needed to undermine the erroneous death date plugged into so many online family trees.

I believe the land records further narrow the window for when Burr died. In 1856, Burr bought over 100 acres of land in Lawrence County, Ohio. On June 3, 1863, two of Burr's children - Mary Susan and Joseph - sell a portion of this same land to their older brother Albert.

I speculate that Burr has died by June 3, 1863, his property was inherited by his family, and two of his children sell their stakes in the land to the eldest son, Albert, who is likely administering his father's estate.


Lost Lucinda: Like Father Like Daughter: Unable to locate a probate record for Burr, I decided to take a closer look at each of his children. Perhaps an obituary for one of them would provide new information about Burr's death. Burr had nine children. I was able to trace six of them through the rest of their lives. Three remained a question.

The two eldest sons - Albert and Joseph - both disappear after the above-mentioned 1863 land records, and haven't been found in the 1870 census. I speculate they both died before 1870 (you'll find online family trees giving each brother an unsubstantiated death year of 1864).

The youngest Dornon child, Lucinda, is also a bit of a mystery. When and where she passed away is still unknown. She married Sylvester Scannel when she was 15 years old. In 1893, Sylvester was killed in a prairie fire. Written records of Lucinda's whereabouts become spotty after this time, until the society page of a Kansas newspaper highlights that she remarried to Levi Stanley in June 1899. They appear in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census in Woods County, Oklahoma. The trail then runs cold.

The hope is that an obituary may include that crucial line, "Lucinda was pre-deceased by her parents in...[insert year]." It's a long shot, I realize, but perhaps my genealogy dreams could one day come true.

Recent Discoveries
This week, a staffer with the Jackson County Historical Society in West Virginia found Burr Dornon listed on a deed of trust for a sawmill. The record was executed on November 14, 1860. Burr was alive on that date and still in Jackson County. This further narrows the window from the July 7, 1860 U.S. Federal Census - his last documented appearance.

Deed of Trust for sawmill - Jackson County, VA, 14 Nov. 1860
A Hypothesis
Based on the records uncovered to-date:
  • We know that Burr Zelah Dornon was alive on November 14, 1860 when he appeared in the deed of trust for a sawmill in Jackson County, Virginia.  
  • I speculate that he was still alive in September 1862 when the Confederates briefly gained control of Jackson County, Virginia, and his son Andrew wrote that the family fled the Rebels and settled in Ohio.
  • We know that he is dead by the time his daughter Anna marries on October 20, 1866.
  • I speculate that he was dead by June 3, 1863 when two of his children sell portions of land that he had purchased years earlier.
I believe the evidence we've uncovered enables us to make a compelling case that Burr died during a nine month window.

September 1862 - June 3, 1863

What Does It Matter?
This is a curious brick wall because the questions at hand - when and where did Burr die and where was he buried - aren't key to moving further along the Dornon family line. We already know his parents' names. We could simply bypass the roadblock and go around the wall to continue tracing the Dornon family's ancestry.

I want to find an answer to provide proof and counter the proliferation of incorrect information online (which this post has already done!). But, most importantly, I'm drawn to the human drama that appears to have unfolded during the height of our country's Civil War.

Burr's family had to flee their home during a tumultuous conflict that ravaged the country. A family bible - presumably among their most sacred possessions - was tossed into the Ohio River by an invading army. Clearly, facts like this suggest there's a story there, and I long to resurrect it. This is larger than just the Dornon family and one man's death. It illustrates the hardships that war inflicted on everyday citizens; it's American history.

What's Next?
I hold out hope that there's a government or family record that will surface and resolve these questions. Perhaps a probate record will one day surface for Burr. That would be marvelous.

My distant Dornon cousin from wrote last month that the Lawrence County library only has tax records for 1818 and 1821. Apparently, the records for the 1860s were destroyed in a fire. Just our luck.

Another Dornon cousin - also found through the member community on - advised that we begin looking into the family of Burr's brother Samuel Dornon. More to come on this front.

Along with the deed of trust, the Jackson County Historical Society also discovered information about the widow of Burr's son Joseph. Perhaps further investigation on this front will yield additional clues.

Over the past six months, this blog has helped to shed light on the events surrounding Burr's final days. I suspect this blog - and the crowdsourced research contributed to it - will be key in finally resolving our questions. Perhaps the right person will come across this post and realize they hold the missing piece of the puzzle.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Family Mystery Part II: Identifying the Watchman

I was surprised to discover that my paternal ancestry was clouded by a non-paternal event (see A Family History Mystery Revealed). I had to find answers to this smoldering family secret that had me burning for the truth. That meant on the ground research.

During a trip home to Colorado, I paid a visit to the site of the family rumor - the water reservoir where my possible paternal great-grandfather was a watchman. The reservoir is situated on a hill immediately adjacent to my great-grandparents' old home. A large embankment of earth rises up from their backyard casting a shadow over their small bungalow.

Driving along the perimeter, the reservoir spans several city blocks and is completely surrounded by a menacing chain link fence crowned with barbed wire. Ominously, the fence was marked with dozens of private property signs. The family secret was under metaphorical lock and key. As I cruised the length of the facility, I finally came upon a gate with a Denver Water truck parked outside and an employee passing through.

As I drove up, I rolled down the car window and asked about the site. He said it was Ashland Reservoir - a covered water holding facility for the city of Denver. I asked about the possibility of finding information on employees from the 1930s. He suggested reviewing Denver Water's website. While he spoke, I glanced into the distance - in the direction of my great-grandparents' home - and could see what appeared to be a small guardhouse. Was this Jimmy Kirk's office? From that vantage point, "Kirk-guard" could look down onto my great-grandparents' home.

Ashland Reservoir - Guardhouse

Later that day, after reviewing Denver Water's website, I found instructions for submitting requests for public information. I emailed the custodian of records asking if there were any existent employment records for a Jimmy Kirk, particularly around the 1930s. The following day I had a response to my email.

We have checked our early personnel records of Denver Water employees and have no record of a Jimmy Kirk. I did, however find references in the Record of Proceedings (Denver Water Board Meeting Minutes) to a Sam Kirk in 1928. One indicates that he was added to the payroll as a Reservoir Operator (the reservoir is not specified), and the other indicates that he resigned as a Watchman at the Ashland Reservoir a few months later.

Denver Water Board Minutes - May 1928
Sam Kirk hired as a reservoir operator in May 1928. Denver Water Board minutes.

Denver Water Board Minutes - October 1928
Sam Kirk resigns as a watchman at Ashland Reservoir in October 1928

The Questions
Was Sam Kirk the rumored "Kirk-guard" who had a relationship with my great-grandmother? The occupation and work location certainly match the family rumor. But Sam is a good ways down the alphabet from Jimmy.

Why did Sam only work at the reservoir for five months? Did he have to leave his position at the reservoir after the relationship with a married Catholic woman was discovered?

Did a relationship begin with my great-grandmother in 1928 - when Sam worked at the reservoir - and continue through the autumn of 1930 when my grandfather would have been conceived?

When mere tantalizing snippets of truth are revealed, my mind races to fill in the gaping holes with a myriad of possibilities. I had a candidate that matched pieces of the family rumor. Now I needed to learn more about him and see if I could confirm his eligibility and neutralize the abundance of uncertainty and speculation.

[To be continued]