Chipping Away at a Dickson Brick Wall – Part 1

On the very first day that I ever went to a library to actually do genealogical research, way back in 1989, I found the name of my great-great-grandfather, John H. Dickson.  Until the spring of 2015, that was the last confirmed, documented link I could find going back on that line. Now, I am beginning to be able to chip away at that wall.  My goal has been to find the next links in the chain on my Dickson lineage.  This post will start to summarize what I know to date and where I want to go next.

I expect that this will take several posts to summarize the research so far and to get to any sort of conclusions.  This follows my Dickson line – father to father to father to father.  That’s where my biggest gaps are.  And as I can figure out who the Dickson male ancestors are, I can then figure out more about their wives and the grandmothers, opening up whole new sections of the tree.

There are lots of stories and pictures about Granddad and his parents, but this thread is primarily focused on the research.  We’ll be back to fun stuff shortly.

When doing genealogical research, it is always important to start with what you know and work backward.  So, let’s start with a tiny piece of the tree as a picture.  This one already gives away some of the story, but that’s okay.

dickson-tree-01

Robert Harrison Dickson, Jr., my grandfather, was born 29 Nov 1919 in Fort Smith, Sebastian County, Arkansas.  His parents were Robert Harrison Dickson and Ethel Mildred Garner Dickson.  In April 1940, Robert married Susan Louise Bailey, from Hackett, also in Sebastian County, Arkansas.

Starting with the 1940 census and working backward, we find Robert in Fort Smith reliably.  In 1940, Robert and Susan, both age 20, are living with Robert’s parents at 2230 N. 29th St. in Fort Smith.  This would have been not too long after Robert and Susan married.  None of Robert’s siblings are living there with them; the household is only the four of them – Robert Sr, Ethel, Robert Jr, and Susan.

1940 US Census - Dickson.JPG
U.S. 1940 Federal Census, Population Schedule, Fort Smith, Sebastian County, Arkansas, ED 66-33, Sheet 22

In 1930, Robert is a child in his parents house, along with his brother Richard and sister Evelyn.  They are living at the same address as in 1940.  Robert Sr., age 51, reports that he was born in Mississippi, as was his father, and that his mother was born in Alabama.

1930 US Census - Dickson
U.S. 1930 Federal Census, Population Schedule, Fort Smith, Sebastian County, Arkansas, ED 66-33, Sheet 4A

In 1920, Robert Jr is an infant, just one month old, in the house with Robert Sr, Ethel, Richard, and Evelyn.  They are living this time at 2124 N. 14th St. in Forth Smith.  In this census, Robert Sr. is listed as 42 years old, born in Mississippi.  But his father is reported born in Alabama and mother born in Tennessee.  One of the keys to figuring out Robert Sr.’s family is going to be where the parents are born.

1920 US Census - Dickson
U.S. 1920 Federal Census, Population Schedule, Fort Smith, Sebastian County, Arkansas, ED 148, Sheet 4A

This is as far back in the census as we find Robert Jr, since he was born in 1919.  So, we turn our attention to Robert Sr. now.

Robert Harrison Dickson Sr. was born on 12 August 1878 in Coldwater, Tate County, Mississippi.  This is a fact found on his death certificate and one that Granddad repeated about his father often.  Robert moved with his family to Arkansas not long after he was born, settling first in Prairie County and then moving on to Rudy in Crawford County.

As I said previously, in my first experience with Census research, I found Robert’s father – John H. Dickson.  I believe his mother to be Martha A. Taylor, though I have less concrete reasons for this – she isn’t reliably and consistently reported.

It appears that not long after coming to Arkansas, Robert’s father, John, died and his mother remarried.  The story that Robert Jr told was that the second husband, Jack A. Jones, wasn’t well liked by the children, was mean, and never allowed the first husband to be mentioned.  So, Robert Sr. grew up not knowing a lot about his father.  Then, he left home early and didn’t have close contact with the family over the years.  So, a lot of the trail runs dry as a result.  That’s what I am trying to uncover.  I have heard from some other parts of the family that Jack’s children from his first marriage didn’t think much of their stepmother, either.  I suspect this wasn’t the model blended family.

In addition to the census, we rely on other documents to place Robert and then measure how well all of the documents agree or disagree.  For example, in his World War I draft registration, he reports his birth as 12 August 1877 rather than the 1878 we have though before.  His ages reported in 1940, 1930, and 1900 agree with an 1878 birthdate.  In 1920 and 1880, his reported age matches the 1877 birth.  1900 agrees with neither.

We find Robert Sr, age 30, in the 1910 census in Fort Smith living as a lodger in a boarding house at 118 N. 6th St.  His occupation is listed as a machinist in a factory.  His parents and he are all listed as being born in Arkansas.  The discrepancy in both his age and all of the birth places makes me think that someone besides him provided the in formation to the census taker.  Remember from the 1920 census that Robert was 34 when he married for this first time so from a timeline perspective, this still makes sense.

1910 US Census - Dickson
U.S. 1910 Federal Census, Population Schedule, Fort Smith, Sebastian County, Arkansas, ED 153, Page 28

In 1900, Robert is not in Arkansas.  Instead, we find him, aged 21, living as a boarder with a minister and his family in the Creek Nation in pre-statehood Indian Territories.  He’s working there as a farm laborer.  In this case, Robert is listed as born in 1878 (correct), born in Mississippi (correct), with his father born in Georgia and mother born in Mississippi (not in line with other records).  So far, we have not landed with the same birthplaces for his parents more than once.  Again, as a lodger, it is likely that someone besides him reported his facts to the census taker.

1900 US Census - Dickson
U.S. 1900 Federal Census, Population Schedule, Creek Nation, Indian Territories, ED 50, Sheet 23

The 1890 Census for Arkansas is lost, so we have to jump all the way back to 1880.  In that case, we find Robert Sr. as a toddler in his parents home.  We find Robert in the home of John H. and Martha A. Dickson.  John is age 44, born in Alabama.  His father was born in Tennessee and his mother in Virginia.  John’s wife (presumably Robert’s mother) is Martha A. Dickson, age 23, from Alabama.  Nothing is recorded for her parents birth places.  They are living in 1880 in Bridge Bend Township, Prairie County, Arkansas.

Robert is 2 years old in this census.  Also listed in the house are his older brother Cecil Dickson, age 4, and his younger sister, Minnie Z. Dickson, age 8 months.

1880 US Census - Dickson
U.S. 1880 Federal Census, Population Schedule, Bridge Bend Township, Prairie County, Arkansas, ED 247, Page 31

This is a good place to pause.  We have traced backward in the census and found Robert Sr. as a child in his parents’ home and have identified his father and presumably his mother.  We have good clues where his parents were born.

Next steps will be:

  • Press farther back in the census to track John H. Dickson and possibly identify his family of origin.
  • Move forward tracing Robert Sr’s siblings and parents in order get a better picture of them to allow us to move back.
  • Investigate the minister with whom Robert Sr. was boarding in Indian Territories.  Was he connected to the family at all, or just someone who needed a farm hand?
  • Identify other documents and sources that might shed light on Robert’s family line.

 

I Wish My Iris Looked Like This

dickson-0984-f-v01-67-05-13
Hudson Wren and Jennie Wren Johnson looking over the iris at Hudson & Mary Jim Wren’s home, Marie, Mississippi County, Arkansas

I wish my iris were as nice as Nannie’s.  My grandmother, Mary Higgs Wren (everyone but her sisters called her Mary Jim) grew and hybridized iris.  For a couple of weeks every year, all around her yard, there were hundreds and hundreds of them.  You see them in almost every picture of the house.

Nannie had all sorts of varieties.  Mom recently gave me her log book of what she had, where she got it, and when.  Also in the log were the results of her mixing and creating her own hybrid iris.

When Kathleen and I bought our house, I got a bunch of the iris.  I bought a bunch of other fancy varieties, too.  For a few years, they really looked good.  The spring was a burst of color.  But, the rest of the year, there were only a bunch of fronds that got overgrown and scraggly looking.  Then brown spot and borers and bunnies came.  Then travel came.  I never had the green thumb or patience that Nannie had, so my iris never looked, and still don’t look as good.

Iris are basically weeds.  They grow and make tons of babies.  Every four or five years, you have to dig them all up, split them, and plant no more than 1/4 of what you dug up.  Last summer was a digging time.  I actually took out a couple of beds and dug and split a couple of others.  I sent boxes and boxes of rhizomes to my family.  And my yard is still overgrown with iris.

IMG_1802[1]
White Flag of Spring, 2016
But, every year about this time, I watch them carefully.  There are a couple of little patches of iris still in the yard that are special to me.  Nannie always called this little white one the White Flag of Spring.  It’s small, never more than about 14 inches high.  But, without fail, it blooms right a the end of March, or at the latest the first week of April.  And right on schedule, it bloomed this past week.  It always makes me think of Nannie’s house and all her iris.  And then I smile.

Easter in Wilson

I would be remiss if I did not share these pictures of Easter at my grandparents’ house in Wilson, Arkansas.  Little kids can have a great time in an egg hunt.  I think there are some pictures of Marcus from this egg hunt, as well.  I just can’t find them right now.

I think Nannie’s iris had the same problem mine do – rabbits infesting them.  At least Yellow Bunny didn’t eat them all down to the ground like the ones who live at my house do.

Of course, if you have a good egg hunt, everyone needs to get in on the action, kids and grandparents alike.  I think all of those folks on the Wilson Arkansas Facebook page ought to take a look here at Mr. Wren with his Easter basket and Mrs. Wren hiding eggs from a basket made out of a bleach bottle.  They would appreciate the joy for living that they had.  I think that eventually, you get too old for the egg hunt but don’t want to give it up, since that’s the path to all the Easter chocolate!

Easter Isn’t Always Kind

Seems like a big part of Easter, when I was a kid, was to get a new Easter outfit and to have our picture made – usually my brother Marcus and me together.  I think lots of families have this tradition – make a bunch of photos when the family is together and looking its best.

dickson-1360-f-v00
Ralph and Bob Dickson, Probably Easter

I am not certain that this actually is an Easter photo.  But, I think it must be.  This is my dad, Robert H. Dickson III, and his brother Daryl Ralph Dickson.  Dad is the older one on the right; Ralph is on the left.  This was taken at their house on Speer St. in Fort Smith, Arkansas, it looks like.

dickson-0621-f-v00
Susan and Robert Dickson with their first grandson, Scott Dickson

Another that has the look of an Easter picture to me is this one, the first Easter picture I can find of myself.  This one is with my grandparents, Robert H. Dickson, Jr. and Susan Louise Bailey Dickson.  I’m the handsome guy in my granddad’s arms.

But, I think things went downhill from there.   The late Sixties and all through the Seventies were not kind to anyone, least of all us.

I don’t remember these photos being taken, any of them.  But I remember the times and the places and the people, and that’s what’s really important.  I recognize the settings and remember the places.  The second is at Prescott, Arkansas at Norvelle’s house.  The third is in Fort Smith, Arkansas at Grandmother & Granddad’s house.  The first and fourth are  at our house in Jackson, Tennessee on Old Humboldt Rd.  The last was when we went to Charleston for Easter and stayed and Jennie and Keith’s house out on James Island, before they moved to Johns Island.  I remember Keith having his train setup in the room where we stayed and having great pinball machines.  I remember playing Firepower a lot.

My church, Roswell United Methodist Church, has an Easter tradition of photos, too.  We make a large cross covered in chicken wire.  The whole congregation brings flowers from their yard and families have their picture taken with the flower-cross.  I hope those are special memories for the children in those photos!  Or at least ones that they can look back at in forty years with their families and have a laugh.

Gas Fires and Quilts on a Cold Morning

wren-0696-f-v00-WrenFamily-1906
The Sam & Pearl Wren Family – 1906

This is the only photo I have ever seen that includes Sam and Pearl Wren and their whole family.  Sam Scott Wren and Pearl Hudson married in February 1900.  Almost exactly nine months later, their first daughter, Mildred Wren, was born.  She’s on the far right in this picture.  Then came Norvelle in 1902 (on the far left).  Little Marion (in the middle) was born in 1904.  (I never heard Norvelle and Mildred say anything but “little Marion” when they talked about her.) But, where’s Hudson, the youngest?  When I look at this picture, it looks to me like Pearl is pregnant, and that would be Hudson!  And that would be the only photo of all four of the children that I have ever seen.

I remember going to Prescott and staying at Norvelle’s house.  That was the house that Pop (Sam) built years before and where she and Grannie (Pearl) lived.  Norvelle never married and stayed at home with her parents, working at the Prescott Federal Savings and Loan.  Mildred and her husband Henry Whitten lived just across the road.

The house didn’t have any kind of central heat.  Instead there were gas fires in every room that did a nice job of keeping the whole house warm. In the summer time, the windows were open and there were ceiling fans.  In later years, there were window air conditioners in a few rooms.  But, in the cold weather, there were the gas fires.  And they could keep things very toasty.

Norvelle never liked to have the gas fires on at night, though.  As kids, we would go to be on the back sleeping porch – that’s what it was, not really a bedroom but a porch where you could get the breeze and sleep comfortably.   When Norvelle went to bed, she would turn all the gas fires off.

Then at some point in the night, Norvelle would wake up.  With the fires off and no insulation, the house would be cold.  So, Norvelle would worry that you might be cold and  come around and put about twenty-seven quilts on top of you so that you were so weighted down that you could not move.  Then at five o’clock, she would get up to start her day.

And turn the gas fires back on.

It wasn’t too long after that that I would wake up in a hot house and I couldn’t move!  The house would be extra warm, but I still had the twenty-seven quilts weighing at least fifty pounds piled on top of me!

So, what’s the point?  Norvelle never liked the fires on at night because she was worried about fire.  And with good reason.

2005-01-16-Harmony-img013-v02
Marion Wren, 1904-1906, Harmony Cemetery, Sutton, Nevada County, Arkansas

This is not only the only picture I have of the whole family, but I think it’s one of just one or two that I have of little Marion.  And there’s a good reason for that.

 

One day after her little brother Hudson was born, Marion, only two years old herself, was leaning over the crib playing with the baby, as Norvelle and Mildred told it.  The crib must have been near enough the gas fire to stay warm.  Turns out it was tragically too close.  Marion’s little dress caught fire and she was burned to death.  She’s buried in the Harmony Church Cemetery in Sutton, Nevada County, Arkansas.  Her marker shows her short life.

I guess from that time forward, there was a healthy fear of fire in that house.  And that’s why we would wake up under a mass of quilts, lovingly placed, in a 80 degree house on lots of mornings.

It’s Official

I must be a real Genealogy Blogger now.  Wrenacres is listed in Thomas MacEntee’s GeneaBloggers registry.  He keeps a list of known blogs about genealogy.

New Genealogy Blogs 19 March 2016

The Clock

When my great-grandparents, Sam Scott Wren and Pearl Hudson were married in 1899, Sam’s parents gave them a clock as a wedding present.  It was a Welch kitchen clock, about 24 inches tall and 15 inches across, designed to sit on a shelf.  And it did.  For years and years, it sat in Sam and Pearl’s house, dutifully chiming the hours and the half.  I don’t actually remember it being in their house by the time I came along, but I was not really aware of the details, or at least I was focused on other details.

Dr. Alonzo Dossey Wren (Dr. Wren) and Georgia Frances Vickers came to southwest Arkansas the long way around.  He was born in Putnam County, Georgia in 1841, she in Thomas County, Georgia in 1849.  By the early 1850s, both of their families had migrated to the Minden area in Bienville Parish, Louisiana.  That’s where they were married in 1866, after he returned from the Civil War.  He studied medicine at the University of Louisiana Medical Department, now Tulane University, in New Orleans.  Then the family made its way to southwest Arkansas, Nevada County where they raised their family.

wren-0447-f-v01-ADGeorgiaWren
Dr. Alonzo Dossey Wren and Georgia Frances Vickers Wren
hudson-0022-f-v00-JohnWHudson-CindyAlmand-2
Millie Cindy Hudson and John Wesley Hudson

Pearl’s family came to Nevada County from the Atlanta area.  Her father was John Wesley Hudson, born in the Atlanta area in 1841, right at the founding of Atlanta, but that’s another story for another day.  Her mother was Millie Lucinda “Cindy” Almand.  Cindy was from the Conyers area in Rockdale County, Georgia where her family had been some of the founding families in the Salem Camp Meeting.  Generations of Almands still meet there every September for a reunion – 2nd Sunday in September at 1:00PM. Bring a dish and you’re more than welcome!  Both of these families had moved into Paulding County, Georgia after the Civil War, but I can’t find any evidence that they knew one another, or that they didn’t.  In any case, there was a large migration from Paulding County, Georgia to Nevada County, Arkansas around 1870.

Sam Scott Wren was born in Nevada County in 1879 and Pearl Hudson was born there in 1884.  They were married in 1899 and her parents wanted to give them a significant gift for their wedding.  So, the clock.  A.D. and Georgia Wren gave the newlyweds a beautiful Welch kitchen clock.

wren-0696-f-v00-WrenFamily-1906
Sam Scott Wren and Pearl Hudson Wren, daughters Norvelle, Marion, and Mildred, 1906

 

It must have broken at some point.  I don’t remember it in Grannie’s (Pearl Hudson Wren) house.  I do remember that my uncle Keith Johnson refinished it and gave it to Papaw (Hudson Wren, my grandfather) one year.   And I can always remember it in Nannie and Papaw’s house, sitting near the fireplace in the living room.  I remember thinking how loud it was when it ticked and chimed.  But then, it faded into the background and you would have to listen hard to see if it was running.  I remember hearing it chime once in the night and then not knowing if it was 1:00 or 1:30 or what time until the next chime, thirty minutes later.

After my grandparents died, Mom asked me what I would like to have from their house and I said the clock.  I think she was sort of reluctant at first to let me have it, it being so special.  But, she did.  And I have loved it.  It sits in my office and gets wound every Sunday.  Kathleen doesn’t want to wind it but doesn’t want me to forget, so she gets the key out of the clock and sets it on my chair so I never forget to wind it.

Broken FootI have had it worked on a couple of times – cleaning, bushings replaced, a new spring – but it’s the same clock that has kept on ticking since it found its new home with Sam and Pearl in 1899. The last time I had it cleaned, I slipped coming down the stairs and broke my foot, but the clock didn’t get dropped and kept on running. Interestingly, I went ahead and took it to the clock repair place.  I got a call to pick it up the day my foot came out of the cast.

So, if you are on a conference call with me and hear it in the background, and if I am working at home, you probably will hear it, now you know its story.

P.S. Notice the little clay pot to the right of the clock in the front.  My friend Bridget Kelman made these unfired, soft clay pots for our class when she and I led a Disciple III Bible study some years back. It is to remind us of 2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us.