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Benjamin Dunbar of Halifax, MA

The Dunbar family in Massachusetts was my ancestral line. The last head of my family to live there was Benjamin E. Dunbar (1776-1831). I have documented his adult life, and now I want to know more about his birth family.

Ann Theopold Chaplin, in The Descendants of Robert Dunbar of Hingham, Massachusetts (1992), gives us the bare outline. His father, also named Benjamin, was born in 1749, and he died before 1779. His son and namesake Benjamin probably had no memory of him. There was one other child, a younger brother named Hosea. The mother was named Hannah. This family lived at Halifax.

I have learned that Hosea eventually moved to Vermont where he married Rachel White. They settled first in upstate New York and then went on to Lenawee County, Michigan.

In the meantime, my ancestor Benjamin E. Dunbar had gone to Cape Cod where he married Rhoda Hall and set up a saltworks. Shortly before he died, he moved his family to Summit County, Ohio. His widow and three of his daughters (Susannah Cutting, Olive Riddle, and Laura Fuller) later settled three counties away from Hosea’s family in St. Joseph County, Michigan.

None of this sheds any light on the life of the senior Benjamin Dunbar of Halifax.

Chaplin’s book tells us that he was married twice, and Hannah was the second wife. The first was Ruth Pratt whom he married 4 March 1772 at Halifax. I decided to begin my quest for details about Benjamin Dunbar by searching for information about her.

This week I was unable to identify her in any other Massachusetts records although an online search turned up four possibilities:

  1. Ruth Pratt born 24 November 1740 at Bridgewater to David and Ann Pratt. This Ruth probably was the same Ruth who married Obadiah Bates on 27 May 1762 at Bridgewater.
  2. Ruth Pratt born 13 May 1742 at Middleboro to Phineas and Sarah Pratt. This Ruth married John Rickard on 24 May 1764.
  3. Ruth Prat born 1 October 1745 at Plymouth to William Prat and Mary Young. The family tree posted on Ancestry.com for this family says they relocated to North Carolina while Ruth was still a child.
  4. Ruth Pratt b. 1752 at East Bridgewater, d. Dec. 1775 at Halifax. Several family trees on Ancestry claim this is the woman who married Benjamin E. Dunbar, but none provide any sources. Still, these dates are new information not provided in Chaplin’s book, and this Ruth matches the person I seek.

I think I can rule out the first three women as the wife of my Benjamin. Perhaps I can find some corroborating evidence in the Bridgewater and Halifax records showing that Ruth #4 was Benjamin’s first wife. I do not want to take the word of an unsourced, online family tree.

Finding information about women, particularly during Colonial times, presents a challenge. I may not be able to find anything more about Ruth Pratt. Yet a thorough research on Benjamin requires that I look at all the people in his life.

The Return to In-Person Meetings

Since early last year, our local genealogical and lineage societies have met virtually on Zoom. This summer, many that I belong to will meet in person for the first time in many months.

  1. Colorado Genealogical Society. Next week the Lunch Bunch from this group will gather at a Mexican food restaurant to eat together for the first time since the pandemic began. Regular meetings of the Society will continue on Zoom at least until the remodeling project at the Denver Public Library is completed several months from now. Once the library reopens, this group may continue to have some guest speakers appear on Zoom because many members and speakers like the convenience of participating from home. The Board has decided to continue using Zoom for its meetings to avoid arranging for meeting space and to enable people who live further away to serve on the Board.
  2. General Society of Mayflower Descendants, Colorado Chapter. Last weekend we all enjoyed the annual summer picnic at Castlewood Canyon State Park. This picnic normally takes place at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, but that facility remains closed to the public. The state park provided us with a lovely setting overlooking the canyon. My husband/tech advisor and I hiked the nature trail along the rim when the picnic ended.
  3. Highlands Ranch Genealogical Society. This group normally meets at the local Family History Center, but that facility has not yet re-opened. This Society has no summertime meetings.
  4. Sons of Norway. We already met in person for a picnic in May will do so again in August. This group just received word that our Lutheran church meeting place is open again for our monthly Lodge meetings. The first one of those will be in September. I serve on the SofN Board, and I hope those meetings will continue on Zoom. The genealogy study group has decided to remain on Zoom to make it easier for people from other Lodges to join in.

As the pandemic ebbs, the genealogy world will look a little different. We have learned that we need not hold all meetings in person to remain viable.

I hope these clubs can find a balance between virtual and in-person meetings. Virtual meetings offer convenience and the opportunity for faraway people to participate. They eliminate the need to schedule and pay for meeting rooms. They save on commute time.

Face-to-face meetings enable us to build and maintain personal connections. Many people join genealogical and lineage societies because of the social opportunities they provide. We do not want to lose that.

Our group leaders have a new tool in virtual meetings, and they must use it wisely as our nation reopens. A good mix would be nice.

 

Hosea Dunbar, a FAN of Benjamin E. Dunbar

Hosea Dunbar (1777-1849) was my ancestor Benjamin E. Dunbar’s younger brother. I have been filling out a Family Group Sheet for Hosea in the hopes of learning more about the greater Dunbar family. Good genealogical research practices tell us to search for members of an ancestor’s FAN club, meaning their family, associates, and neighbors.

Our Dunbar family history, Robert Dunbar of Hingham, Massachusetts by Ann Theopold Chaplin (1992), gave me some of Hosea’s basic information, but it is incomplete and somewhat inaccurate. This genealogy told me that Hosea’s family migrated from Vermont to New York and then on to Michigan.

FindAGrave.com provides the death information for Hosea, his wife Rachel, and all but one of their children. It also names the children’s spouses.

More can be done on this family. Hosea was married in Vermont and some of the children were born there. I should be able to find a Vermont marriage record and birth registrations for them.

I may also be able to locate marriage records for any children married in Michigan, although the older ones may have married in New York. I have heard that New York research is difficult, so that may be a dead end.

The family eventually settled in Lenawee County, Michigan, arriving by 1840. There ought to be a county history, and perhaps the Dunbars are mentioned therein. If I am lucky, I can find one online.

All this means that I have more to do on Hosea’s family before I move on to other Dunbar family members and associates. My research subject for this year is my own ancestor, Benjamin E. Dunbar (1776-1831). To fully understand his life, I must first finish learning about his FAN Hosea.

Hosea Dunbar, a Collateral Relative

As always, I am working backwards in time to unravel the threads of the life of Benjamin E. Dunbar (1776-1831), my fourth great-grandfather. The time has come to branch out and look at the lives of his family members.

Our family history The Descendants of Robert Dunbar of Hingham, Massachusetts by Ann Theopold Chaplin tells us that Benjamin E. was the son of Benjamin Dunbar and Hannah Hathaway. He had a brother Hosea, born in 1777. Their father died by 1779.

The first and most obvious family member to look at next is Hosea to see if any additional information on their family will turn up.

So far, I have found nothing more about their parents, but I have learned more about Hosea’s life. The information given in Chaplin’s book is incomplete.

Hosea, like Benjamin E., was born in Halifax, MA. He married Rachel White in Vermont in 1806. They had six children:

  1. Joseph (1807-1886)
  2. Hannah (1809-1883)
  3. Hosea jr. (1812-?)
  4. Walter (1816-1895)
  5. Benjamin (1819-1901)
  6. John L. (1824-1892)

The Dunbar book relates that they migrated from Vermont to New York. It says some of the children went on to Lenawee County, Michigan.

The obituary for John L. Dunbar completes the story. He was born at Fort Ann, New York. His family moved on to Niagara County, NY when John was still a child. When he was 15 (about 1839), he and his parents settled in Fairfield, Lenawee County, Michigan. There they remained. Hosea died in 1849 and Rachel in 1855.

Long ago I had located these Dunbars on the U.S. census and wondered whether they were related to my branch of the family. Now I know that they were.

They lived two counties apart, Benjamin E.’s family in St. Joseph County and Hosea’s family in Lenawee County. Did they know each other?

Benjamin E. had died in Ohio in 1831, long before some of his children went to Michigan in 1849 (the same year Hosea died). Hosea had traveled a separate way through the years first to Vermont and New York before landing in Michigan. How likely is it that the families kept in touch, especially after Benjamin E. passed away? Did Benjamin E.’s children and grandchildren in Mendon realize that the Dunbars in Fairfield were their cousins?

I will never know. It has been interesting to learn that many of Benjamin and Hannah’s descendants settled in the same area near the Great Lakes. Was this a coincidence?

Hosea’s family has not told me anything new about the Dunbar family in Halifax. When I finish posting all his information I will need to turn to other family members in the search for more information.

Three Phases of a Dunbar Life

Benjamin E. Dunbar (1776-1831), my third great-grandfather, lived in three distinct locations. To fully document his life, I need to search for records from his years in all three places.

I have worked backwards in time to accomplish this:

  1. Stow, Ohio. Benjamin and his family relocated to this area near Akron towards the end of his life. After appearing on the 1830 U.S. census in Massachusetts, they moved west. Benjamin died not long afterwards, in 1831. He is buried in Stow. The only records of him in this place are a partial probate file and a cemetery marker. Subsequent records of his family mention him only by name with no further identifying information.
  2. Chatham, Massachusetts. Benjamin first appears in the records here about 1804 when he purchased some land. The town history tells us he owned a salt works. He married Rhoda Hall, and after some years they converted from Congregational to the Methodist denomination. Over a period of 25 years or so, Benjamin regularly participated in Chatham town meetings. The meeting minutes mention him serving the town in various capacities. He took part in militia duty during the War of 1812.
  3. Halifax, Massachusetts. A Dunbar family history, The Descendants of Robert Dunbar of Hingham, Massachusetts by Ann Theopold Chaplin, includes Benjamin E. Dunbar. It says he was the son of Benjamin Dunbar and Hannah Hathaway of Halifax. This week I began looking for Halifax records for him.

The Halifax research is vital in documenting my ancestor’s life and placing him with the correct birth parents. The lineage in the Dunbar history differs from the one given on many online trees. They say his mother was Hannah Latham, not Hannah Hathaway. Who is correct?

If the Dunbar history is accurate, Benjamin E.’s father, Benjamin Dunbar (1749-bef. 1779), died when young Benjamin was just a toddler. Hannah was the second wife. The father had previously been married to Ruth Pratt.

Delving deeper into the Dunbar history, I created a rudimentary family tree from the genealogical information provided. With it in mind, I can recognize records of collateral family members as I search for records of Dunbars in Halifax. The tree will help me sift out those for my direct family.

When I had the tree finished, I began a search on American Ancestors (https://www.americanancestors.org/index.aspx) for records that might mention the early life of Benjamin E. Dunbar.

I found no will for his father.

I did locate a will for a man the Dunbar genealogy says was Benjamin E. Dunbar’s grandfather. Joseph Dunbar (1702- bef. 1782) outlived a son Benjamin and left a Halifax will providing a portion to the children of his deceased son. Unfortunately, these children are not listed by name. I cannot be certain that Benjamin E. Dunbar was one of the heirs of Joseph Dunbar.

I need more information to tie my generations together. I also hope to determine whether Hannah was a Hathaway or a Latham.

What will additional research in the Halifax records reveal?

Thinking of Dad

Father’s Day approaches. According to Wikipedia, this holiday honors fatherhood and other paternal bonds as well as the influence of fathers in society. Father’s Day is also big business.

We did not always have this holiday. As an official celebration in the United States, Father’s Day celebrations came rather late. When a daughter-in-law once asked me what we did for Father’s Day when I was young, I could not recall doing anything to mark the day.

I wondered why.

I learned that the holiday day was first proposed in the early twentieth century as a complement to Mother’s Day. At the beginning, it had little success because Americans perceived it as an attempt by retailers to promote greeting cards and gifts.

Not until 1966 did a U. S. President, Lyndon B. Johnson, issue a presidential proclamation honoring fathers. The official holiday came during the next presidential administration when Richard Nixon signed a law in 1972 making it a permanent national holiday.

No wonder we did not celebrate this day when I was young. No one did. My siblings and I were pretty much grown when it came along.

Now, on this Father’s Day, my own dad is gone. I cannot present him with a card or gift. I can honor his memory, though.

He was a good father despite having had no role model for the task. His own dad had died when my father was small, and Dad had few memories of him.

Despite that, my dad became an admirable father. He was kind and nurturing. He did not criticize, and he encouraged me to do my best. He was generous with his time and treasure. He taught me to whistle.

On Father’s Day this year, I can think of him and all he did for me. I miss him.

Death Cleaning the Office

The Swedes have a tradition called Death Cleaning. Older adults are supposed to purge their belongings so their children will not have to do it.

Now that I have reached a certain age, I have begun this task.

In my home office, I am taking a multi-prong approach:

  1. I have all the back issues of journals and magazines for my numerous genealogy clubs, dating back to the 1990’s. I do not refer to them very often. This summer I began going through these one-by-one, saving only helpful articles, and discarding the rest of each issue. I know I could scan the articles I want, but I like paper.
  2. Several years ago, my second cousins passed on to me their aunt’s genealogical library. She had collected material on not just our ancestors but also collateral relatives. I continue identifying new homes for books I do not need. Just yesterday a sent a genealogy on the Hanner family to a different second cousin who was thrilled to have it.
  3. My filing cabinets overflow. I need help with clearing out old files, reorganizing what I keep, and shredding the rest. My 9-year-old grandson will come over to help with this when he returns from camp later this month. He tells me he charges $5 per hour. A bargain, I would say. Maybe, in addition to earning some money, he will learn a little about his family history.

I hope my office will house less paper and fewer books by the end of the summer. I do admit that despite this effort, I may leave behind a monumental number of notes and reference books. But this summer’s death cleaning project is a start.

A DAR Invitation

My mother used to tell me, “You should join the DAR. I can’t, but you can.”

As the grandchild of Scandinavian immigrants, perhaps Mom felt that membership in an organization that honors family lines extending back to the founding of the nation meant truly belonging to America. Or maybe it was just the cachet of it all.

I never took her advice.

In recent years, I have been reconsidering this decision. I learned from genealogy friends that one reason to join lineage societies like the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) is to preserve your research. A membership application must include a detailed direct line which they review and keep.

Last year I embraced this idea by applying to the General Society of Mayflower Descendants during the 400th anniversary year of the Mayflower landing. They accepted my documentation of my paternal grandmother’s lineage from passenger Stephen Hopkins.

Now the DAR has come calling. Colorado’s Mayflower historian contacted me this week to see whether I was interested in using this same lineage to join the DAR. She offered to do all the paperwork and submit it for me.

The patriot ancestor who would be my ticket in was Gershom Hall (1760-1844) of Harwich, Massachusetts. He was married to Lucy Snow (1760-1795) of my Mayflower line. They were my fourth great-grandparents.

I knew Gershom Hall had served in the Revolution. I have been to his gravesite in Harwich and seen its Revolutionary War medallion.

Gershom Hall was not my only Revolutionary War ancestor. Robert Kirkham (1745-ca1820) served in Kentucky at Boonesborough with Daniel Boone. John Day, Jr. (1760-1837) enlisted in Washington County, Virginia. Both these men were in my paternal grandfather’s line. Family members have joined the DAR based on both these records.

Since my Mayflower Society application preserves the information for my grandmother’s line, I had meant to join the DAR to preserve my grandfather’s information.

But this offer from the Colorado Mayflower historian is too good to pass up. I would need simply to send in a check. I could always file supplemental applications for my Kirkham and Day lines later, after I have time to gather all the information I need. Information that now sits unsorted in bins and folders.

Perhaps it is time to follow my mother’s advice about the DAR, take the easy route, and apply to join now. It could not hurt to have my grandmother’s genealogy on file at two places.

 

Commemorating Memorial Day

Memorial Day, called Decoration Day before the 1960’s, is a federal holiday in the United States for honoring and mourning the military personnel who have died in the performance of their military duties while serving in the United States Armed Forces (Wikipedia).

My family has served in nearly every war this nation has fought. Most of the time, our soldiers and sailors returned home. Memorial Day gives me a day to honor those who did not.

I know of just two family members who died in the course of their military duties:

  1. Jas Robert Boyd (ca. 1845-1862) died from wounds received in the Civil War battle of Fort Donelson at Dover, Tennessee.
  2. George Riley Boyd (ca. 1843-1863) died a year later in the Vicksburg (Mississippi) campaign.

These brothers were Union soldiers. They were also my great-grandfather’s first cousins.

I think it is important that we continue this tradition of remembering our war dead.

I live far away from where the Boyds are buried and cannot visit their graves on Memorial Day. Instead, this weekend I will go to Fort Logan National Cemetery in Colorado and decorate the graves of family members who are buried there.

I can also attend a Memorial Day service in my community. The local American Legion and VFW posts hold these in several locations—the town cemetery, the WWII memorial, and the veterans monument.

Because of the Covid-19 virus, we did not have this opportunity last year. This year we again have a solemn occasion available for remembering people like the Boyds who gave up so much for their country. I plan to go.

Graduates

Our eldest grandchild will be graduated from high school this weekend. Hurray for her!

She is not the first in our family to reach this milestone. The occasion made me think about who might have been our earliest high school graduate.

It was not me. I graduated at a time when nearly everyone did, and so did my parents.

My grandparents were a different matter, and only one of them completed high school:

  1. Martha Mattila (1906-1977). Martha was our first high school graduate. The child of Finnish immigrants who settled in Hibbing, MN, she finished high school, probably in 1924 or 1925. She then went on for two years of college, studying elementary education. She taught school off and on throughout her adult life in Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota.
  2. Bjarne Bentsen (1906-1986). He finished the 8th grade at the country school near his parents’ farm in Montana. Because the high school was too far away, he pursued additional education by taking a correspondence course in electrical engineering. After a stint as a policeman, he became an electrician.
  3. Grace Riddle (1896-1976). Grace finished the 8th grade in her rural Nebraska community. I have her graduation certificate.
  4. Owen Herbert Reed (1896-1935). Herbert’s parents divorced when he was just 8 years old. Cousins tell me that schooling ended for the Reed children at that time, and all were put out to work. He did farm labor before becoming a railroad freight agent and later a truck driver.

In my family, then, my Finnish grandmother had the first high school diploma. This does not surprise me. The Nordic people valued education. Their societies were literate very early because they felt everyone should be able to read the Bible. They built community schools as soon as they could after they arrived in America.

My granddaughter does not know all of this about my family. Does she realize that as recently as 100 years ago, many young people did not attend high school? Graduation is routine for her, something everyone does.

In two days, she will walk across the stage in her cap and gown. Due to the current pandemic, I will not be there to watch her receive her diploma. At home, I will celebrate the day with gladness that she has an opportunity that those before her did not.