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I Want To Learn More

Benjamin E. Dunbar (1776-1831) was my third great-grandfather. He spent most of his life in Massachusetts but relocated to Ohio shortly before he died.

More than twenty years ago, a spent a great deal of time researching his life. During those years I had the good fortune to collaborate with other genealogists who shared an interest in the Dunbar line.

Those relatives, my third cousins Ruby Prestly and Jayme Anderson, have since passed away. After their deaths, I focused on other ancestors.

This year I decided to revisit the Dunbar research. With all the databases available now, I hope I can learn more about Benjamin Dunbar’s life and family.

As good genealogists do, I must begin by reviewing documents I already have:

  1. Halifax, MA birth record for Benjamin Dunbar, son of Benjamin and Hannah, 1776.
  2. Chatham, MA land purchase, Fear (Dunbar) and John Ryder to Benjamin Dunbar, 1805.
  3. Chatham, MA marriage intention and marriage record, Benjamin Dunbar to Rhoda Hall, 1805.
  4. U. S. census records for Benjamin Dunbar’s household in 1810, 1820, and 1830.
  5. Chatham, MA birth registrations (1806-1827) for all but one of the children of Benjamin Dunbar and Rhoda Hall.
  6. War of 1812 service record for Benjamin Dunbar of Chatham, MA.
  7. History of Barnstable County by Simeon L. Deyo (1890) describing Benjamin Dunbar’s salt works.
  8. Chatham Town Records of Benjamin E. Dunbar registering as a Methodist (1824) and being appointed Constable (1828).
  9. Benjamin E. Dunbar FindAGrave memorial for Stow Cemetery, Stow, Ohio.
  10. Benjamin E. Dunbar probate file, Portage County, Ohio.

I seem to recall that I had another document pertaining to the disposal of Benjamin’s property in Massachusetts, but I cannot find it.

A close look at all these papers may reveal information I overlooked before. Even if it does not, it offers me a chance to re-familiarize myself with Benjamin’s life.

Once I do that, I can devise a research plan to look for more details. I have a several questions:

  1. Who was Benjamin’s mother? His birth record says simply “Hannah”. Was she Hannah Hathaway, as alleged in The Descendants of Robert Dunbar of Hingham, Massachusetts by Ann Theopold Chaplin (1992)? Or was she the Hannah Latham claimed on several online trees?
  2. Did Benjamin’s mother remarry after his father died (bef. 1779 when Benjamin and his brother Hosea were just toddlers)? If so, did Benjamin have half-siblings?
  3. Where was Benjamin Dunbar’s youngest daughter Laura Ann Dunbar born?
  4. Where in Chatham was the salt works located, and who were the neighbors?
  5. Was Benjamin a sea captain? When I visited the museum in Chatham years ago, I spoke with a man who claimed that he was.

More information about Benjamin E. Dunbar begs to be discovered.

The Dunbars of Chatham

My ancestor Benjamin E. Dunbar (1776-1831) married Rhoda Hall (1784-1850) at Chatham, MA in 1805. I do not believe he was a native of Chatham.

According to our family history, The Descendants of Robert Dunbar of Hingham, Massachusetts by Ann Theopold Chaplin, he was born at Halifax in Plymouth County to Benjamin Dunbar and Hannah Hathaway. Other researchers disagree, saying his mother was Hannah Latham.

Regardless of his parentage, my Benjamin appeared in Chatham about the time he married Rhoda. Do the Chatham records contain any clues to the identity of his people?

Benjamin purchased Chatham land shortly before his marriage. The sellers were John Ryder and his wife Fear Dunbar.

I wondered if Benjamin was closely related to Fear. Perhaps this was a family transaction.

All the Massachusetts Dunbars descend from Robert Dunbar, so I decided to investigate the degree of kinship between Benjamin and Fear.

Using the family history mentioned above and the resources available on the American Ancestors database (, I learned that the lineage split early, and the two descended from separate sons of Robert. My Benjamin’s line was through Joseph Dunbar (1661/2-1725). Fear descended from a different child. They would have been distant cousins.

Nothing in the land transaction tells me that they knew one another before this sale. Perhaps a conveyance from one Dunbar to another was no more than a coincidence.

I might be tempted to dismiss it as such but for one more interesting piece of evidence. John Ryder, the husband of Fear Dunbar, had a great-aunt named Eunice Ryder Nickerson. Eunice left a will in 1808 wherein she named numerous legatees. John Ryder was one. Benjamin Dunbar was another.

Was this Benjamin the same man as my Benjamin? If so, he must have had some relationship to Fear and the Ryder family. I must investigate the associates of the Ryder family in my quest to document the family of Benjamin E. Dunbar.

Perhaps I will learn that two Benjamin Dunbars were living in 1808. Or maybe, If I am lucky, there was only one. In that case, I will be a step closer to finding my Benjamin’s true roots.

Changing Focus from Ohio to Massachusetts

Back in December I set the goal of documenting the lives of my ancestral couple Benjamin E. Dunbar (1776-1831) and Rhoda Hall (1784-1850). These people began their married life on Cape Cod, and they relocated to Stow, Ohio shortly before Benjamin’s death.

I have spent my research time so far this year learning about their twelve children. Although I have gathered a lot of information about most of them, nothing sheds much light on the lives of the parents.

This is not a problem in Rhoda’s case. I already know quite a bit about her. She was a Mayflower descendant, and I used her lineage to gain membership into the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.

Now I need to look more closely at Benjamin’s life. I begin with a couple of questions:

  1. When he was a young man, Benjamin purchased Chatham, MA land from Fear Dunbar Ryder. Since all the Massachusetts Dunbars descended from the immigrant Robert Dunbar of Hingham, MA (1630-1693), Benjamin and Fear must have been related. What was the relationship?
  2. Who was Benjamin’s mother? Online trees claim she was Hannah Latham. If that is true, this may be another Mayflower line for us, and we would also have a common ancestor with Princess Diana. On the other hand, the heavily researched The Descendants of
    Robert Dunbar of Hingham, Massachusetts
    (1630-1693) by Ann Theopold Chaplin (1992) claims that Benjamin’s mother was Hannah Hathaway.

Research for the post-Revolution generation presents challenges. U. S. census records do not name everyone in the household until 1850. Many New England family names were repeated from generation to generation, and it is difficult to sort people out. In the case of Benjamin and Rhoda, the Barnstable County, MA courthouse experienced a catastrophic fire in 1827 that destroyed the land records.

Over the years, whenever I ran across a record pertaining to Chatham or the Dunbars, I would take a copy and file it away for future use. I am eager to make my way through this deep pile of resources to see what I can find about Benjamin Dunbar and his parents. After I see what I have already collected, I can determine where I need to look next.

Busy Genealogy Time

This two-week period gives me the opportunity to brush up my research skills by participating in some excellent genealogical training. My local societies are offering several good choices for learning something new:

  1. Colorado Genealogical Society. On the 5th Saturday of March, Dr. Greg Liverman spoke on current happenings at all the DNA testing companies.
  2. Sleksforkningklubb. The Sons of Norway lodge hosts this Norwegian research group. Earlier this month my husband/tech advisor told us about migration patterns to, from, and within Norway through the centuries.
  3. Highlands Ranch Genealogical Society. At our regular monthly meeting we heard from professional genealogist Christine Cochran about the emerging field of forensic genealogy.
  4. Palatines to America. The Colorado chapter will host its 2021 Spring Seminar this weekend. Teresa Steinkamp McMillin, CG, will speak on four topics including German farm names, the German archives, German immigration waves, and a case study illustrating the use of indirect evidence.

Due to the pandemic, all these classes take place over Zoom. No need to leave the comfort of home to hear some top-notch presentations.

I take away some great ideas from these meetings every time. We have so much good information coming our way this time of year. I do not want to miss out on one bit.

The Side-lined Genealogist

This family historian was laid low by Covid-19 this week. No, not the virus. The vaccine.

I received my second dose of the Moderna shot on Monday. Within 12 hours, I had fever, headache, and fatigue.

The next day I slept most of the time and had no appetite.

The following day, I got out of bed but still had little energy. I ate sparingly and began to feel better as the day went on.

By the third day I seemed more like myself. I felt grateful to have experienced only vaccine side effects rather than the full-blown virus.

Covid-19 has taken so much from us over the past year. Perhaps the symptoms I experienced were a minimal price to pay for protection.

Today, I am back at the genealogy desk.

Kansas Settlers

The State of Kansas beckoned several of my relatives during the nineteenth century.

Long ago I learned that my dad’s paternal aunt Bertha Evaline Reed (1884-1981) was born in Harper County, Kansas. Her father Samuel Harvey Reed (1845-1928) possessed what the family referred to as “that Reed wanderlust”, and he had taken his new bride to Kansas shortly after they married in Illinois.

Only recently did I discover that some of my dad’s maternal family also settled in Kansas. Two of my grandmother’s great-aunts spent time in the Sunflower state:

  1. Susannah H. Dunbar (1819-1900), her husband Joel Cutting (1816-1886), and their son Dewitt (1840-1920) left Michigan and settled in Cloud County, Kansas in the early 1870’s. Joel had a sister living there. After Joel died, Susannah proved up their homestead before she and Dewitt moved back east to Akron, Ohio near the town where she had grown up.
  2. Laura Ann Dunbar (1829-1899) and her husband Hoxie Fuller (1826-1903) eventually followed the Cuttings to Cloud County sometime after 1880. They lived out their lives in the Miltonvale area and are buried there.

No descendants remain in Kansas today. The Reeds moved on to Missouri shortly after their daughter Bertha was born. The Cuttings also left the state. Although the Fullers remained in Kansas, they had no children.

I have not visited the spots in Kansas where my family lived. Perhaps one day I will stop to take a look at the rural communities that drew my family 150 years ago. Kansas is not so far from where I live in Colorado.

Times must have been hard in the states my people left behind. These folks were all in their 40’s and 50’s when they sought new opportunities in Kansas. Yet the Reeds and the Cuttings did not find a permanent home there. Kansas pulled them into a new life for a time, but it did not last forever for them.

The Dunbars: An Unexpectedly Small Family

If you were an early 19th-century couple with twelve children, how many grandchildren would you expect to have? In 1850, the average household had 6-9 children.

Would it have been reasonable, then, to anticipate around 60 grandchildren?

Not if you were my ancestors Rhoda Hall (1784-1850) and Benjamin E. Dunbar (1776-1831). Their family in Stow, Ohio imploded.

I have spent many hours this year tracing their children and grandchildren. The children fall into two groups: those with children and those without.

The Childless Dunbars

  1. Saphronia (1806-1849). She married George Tiffany in 1832 but they had no family. She left her entire estate to him.
  2. Rhoday (1807-bef. 1810). This daughter died in childhood.
  3. Daniel H. (1809-?). I am not sure Daniel belongs in this group. He disappears from the record after a land sale in 1843. No marriage or death records for him have been found.
  4. Benjamin S. (1812-aft. 1880). He married Lucy Jaquays in 1846, but they split after a short marriage and no children. He never married again.
  5. Moses W. (1814-1906). A mariner based in Cleveland, he married twice. He had no children with either wife, Mary Ann Sellers or Mary Jones.
  6. Lucy S. (1827-1899). She married her sister Saphronia’s widower, George Tiffany, in 1853. After his death in 1869, she married George Monk. Both marriages were childless. A niece, Lucy S. Sessions, was named after her.
  7. Laura A. (1829-1899). In 1852 she married Hoxie Fuller. They had no children, but her sister Olive named two children for the couple: Laura Ruamy Riddle and John Hoxey Riddle.

Dunbars with Children

  1. Rhoda A. (1811-1879). She married William Burnham in 1846. They had one son, Leander Burnham.
  2. Rebecca W. (1817-1873). She never married, but her brother Benjamin lived with her after he separated from his wife. Rebecca and Benjamin raised a child, Mahala Dunbar. I surmise that Mahala was Rebecca’s daughter.
  3. Susannah H. (1819-1900). She married Joel Cutting in 1838. This couple had three children, Dewitt, Mary Edna, and Clara.
  4. Hannah S. (1821-1890). After their marriage in 1843, Hannah and her husband, John Sessions, also had three children, Violetta, Samuel, and Lucy S.
  5. Olive H. (1823-1902). She and her husband, John Davis Riddle, were my ancestors, and they had the largest family with 8 children: Tamson, Theodocia, Isaac, Ethan, Laura, John, Seymour, and Olive Riddle.

Of the twelve children born to Rhoda and Benjamin Dunbar, then, only one (my great-great grandmother Olive) had an average mid-19th century size family. The Dunbars had just 16 grandchildren.

I cannot account for why the six siblings who reached adulthood and married would have had no children. Because this group included all three sons, the Dunbar name daughtered out.

Of those sixteen grandchildren, nearly half repeated the pattern of remaining childless: Leander Burnham, Mary Edna Cutting, Clara Cutting, Violetta Sessions, Lucy S. Sessions, Isaac Riddle, and Seymour Riddle. The number of Dunbar descendants remained small into the twentieth century. It grew somewhat once great-grandchildren began to arrive.

I have no explanation for this unusual family pattern. Most couples during this time period had many more children than the Dunbars did. Were there health problems? I will never know.

I am ready to move back a generation and investigate the family of the patriarch, Benjamin E. Dunbar. How many siblings did he have? Did they leave descendants? Or will I find another round of small and non-existent families?

Unraveling the Dunbar Migration

Last month I received an offer from the National Genealogical Society for a discount on some books that are printed on demand. I decided to order a couple. Both are reference books that I am hoping will be useful, and both seem quite readable.

I began the first one this week. History for Genealogists: Using Chronological Time Lines to Find and Understand Your Ancestors by Judy Jacobson discusses how to see your ancestors in their historical context. It provides numerous timelines for many types of historical events from military campaigns to diseases. It also offers timelines for geographical regions including all the American states and the countries of the world.

As I research my Dunbar ancestors, I plan to apply the concept behind this book in my effort to understand this family. The Dunbars settled in then-Portage County, Ohio in 1831 after the salt-making industry on Cape Cod declined.

There were 12 children, but one died young. A few of the others remained in Summit County, Ohio as adults (Sophronia Tiffany, Rhoda Ann Burnham, Rebecca W. Dunbar, and Hannah Sessions). Several moved on. Did historical events play a part in any of their moves?

Perhaps a study of the greater historical context of the time will tell me what prompted the relocations of the other siblings:

  1. Daniel H. Dunbar. This man disappears from the Ohio records after 1843, and he may have died. Or did he move away?
  2. Benjamin S. Dunbar. This brother married and promptly settled in Noble County, IN with his wife’s family. The marriage did not last long. Benjamin returned to Ohio to live in his sister Rebecca’s household.
  3. Captain Moses Whitney Dunbar. He became a mariner based in Cleveland and married twice. He had no children, and both wives probably pre-deceased him. In later life he moved across the country to Yreka, CA—to search for gold?
  4. Susannah Dunbar Cutting. The Cuttings lived all over the place—Ohio (several counties), Michigan, Kansas, back to Ohio. Why did they move around so much?
  5. Olive Dunbar Riddle. This woman was my ancestor. She and John Riddle remained in Ohio long enough to have two children. Then they sold everything and moved to Michigan. I do not know why they left Ohio or why they chose Michigan for their new home.
  6. Lucy Dunbar Tiffany Monk. Lucy first married her sister Sophronia’s widower, George Tiffany. George and Sophronia had remained in Ohio during their marriage (1832-1849). When Sophronia died, George went to California for the gold rush. Upon his return to Ohio, he married Lucy in 1853. They eventually relocated to Waukegan, Illinois. Other Tiffanys lived in the same vicinity, but I do not know whether they were related to George. If they were, the family relationship might provide the reason for their move.
  7. Laura Dunbar. I have found no record of Laura after 1850. If she married, I do not know whether she remained in Ohio or went elsewhere. Or did she pass away after she was enumerated on the 1850 census?

Looking at the timelines for the 1840’s-1860’s might give me some clues for why so many of these siblings left their family home in Summit County, Ohio. I can understand why some went to California in search of gold, but why did the others choose Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, or Kansas?

As we study American migration, we need to look for both the push and the pull. Many Americans were pushing westward during this time. What pushed so many of the Dunbars from Ohio?

What pulled them to their new residences? Is it unusual that they scattered rather than going as a group?

Perhaps the study of historical timelines can provide some clues.




Colorado Connections

Although I have lived most of my adult life in Colorado, I am not a native. One of my granddaughters is the only person in my immediate family who was born in the state.

Yet I have several ancestral ties to Colorado:

  1. My father grew up in Loveland. His mother relocated the family from Wyoming after my grandfather, Owen Herbert Reed (1896-1935), died in a truck accident near Brighton, CO. Grandma and Uncle Harold remained in Colorado. Aunt Hazel settled in the Boulder area after stints in Nebraska and Wyoming. Uncle Bob and my dad returned to Colorado to live out their final years.
  2. Dad’s second cousin, Cyril Dale Reed (1903-1982), raised his family in Denver and Wheat Ridge. His son Dean (1938-1986), who became a socialist singer known as the Red Elvis, is buried in Boulder’s Green Mountain Cemetery.
  3. Dad’s uncle, Thomas Aaron Reed (1894-1966), retired in Cañon City. One of his sons had settled near there after being stationed at Fort Carson during WWII.
  4. Dad’s uncle, Robert Morton Reed (1891-1967), took his first assignment as a railroad telegrapher in Denver. He was living there when he registered for the WWI draft in 1917. After his railroad career, he retired in Delta.
  5. Dad’s maternal grandmother had a cousin who left his family home in Ohio to settle in Colorado Springs. Samuel E. Sessions (ca. 1849-1907) married there in 1875 when Colorado was still a territory. His children were born in “the Springs” after Colorado became a state in 1876.

I do have some bona fide Colorado roots even though I was not born in the Centennial State. My grandmother arrived here in 1936, and other family members came here, too. Even though I cannot display a Colorado Native bumper sticker, my family has been here a long time.

I Join a Lineage Society

Success! After waiting since last July, I finally received word this week that my application to join the General Society of Mayflower Descendants has been approved.

My qualifying lineage runs from the adventurer Stephen Hopkins. He accompanied the Pilgrims on their journey in 1620. They hired him because he had previous New World experience.

To file this application, I did not need to document the first few generations of my ancestors who came after Stephen Hopkins. The 30-volume Mayflower Families Through Five Generations provides an authoritative family tree down to Hopkins’ descendant, and my ancestor, Thomas Snow (1735-1790).

I did need to prove my descent from Thomas through his daughter, Lucy (1760-1795). Because no other descendant of hers has ever applied to the Society, I could not piggyback on the application of someone else. There are a couple of long-ago applications from descendants of Lucy’s brother, Edward Snow, but they included no records that I could use for my application.

I had little difficulty collecting appropriate documentation for most of the generations between Thomas Snow and me. Wills, obituaries, or vital records spelled out the relationships between generations.

But there were two links that were more troublesome. I did not know whether the documentation I submitted would pass the review of the Society’s genealogists:

  1. Was Olive Hall (Dunbar) Riddle (1823-1902) the same person as Olive, daughter of Rhoda (Hall) Dunbar (1784-1850)? Olive’s father died when Olive was a child so his will did not include her married name. Olive’s mother did not leave a will. Olive’s obituary did not provide her mother’s name, and an obituary for Rhoda has not been found. Nor has a family Bible. To solve the problem, I collected land conveyances that mentioned Olive Dunbar inheriting and Olive Riddle selling the same parcel of Ohio land.
  2. Was Lucy (Snow) Hall the same person as Lucy, daughter of Thomas Snow? I could find no primary sources that provided this information. Instead, I crossed my fingers and submitted a page from the Hall family entry in the Encyclopedia of Massachusetts (1916) that claimed Lucy’s descent from Stephen Hopkins.

The Society genealogists deemed the land records and the published biographical information enough to establish the links I needed.

The next step will be to receive my membership numbers for the national organization and the Colorado chapter. This should take a week or so.

The Society will retain all the genealogical information I provided. Any of Lucy (Snow) Hall’s descendants can now use it to file applications of their own.

Furthermore, my work on this line will be preserved. When I cannot be certain that my own family will keep my research, submitting it to a lineage society will assure that it is not lost.

I am thrilled that my application was successful.