Swinehood vs. Socrates

I know that I don’t have the writer’s gift that my aunt Linda Ridener Dickson has, nor that of my grandmother Susan Louise Bailey Dickson.  The two of them set a high bar that I can only aspire to.

bailey-0200-f-v01
Susan Louise Bailey, age 6, and her cow, Blossom

Susan Louise Bailey was born in October of 1919 in Hackett, Sebastian County, Arkansas.  She was the youngest of Charles Council Bailey and Viola Tennison’s ten children.  The farm where she was born and grew up had been in the family since 1840, purchased by Charles’ grandfather Francis Baker Bailey.

(I am convinced, though I have not yet proved, that the family was in Arkansas just prior to statehood.  It appears that some of Francis’ sons claim to have been born in Arkansas with dates of birth that predate statehood, but the census is never a great source.  Another post for another day.)

bailey-docs-0929-p1-v00I think things were often tough on the farm.  Through the Depression, I find lots of cases, especially after Charles died, where the farm was always under a lien for back taxes.  Money appeared to be really tight.  It wasn’t a big place and could never do more than scratch out a living on it.  No one was going to get rich there.

With a rural and difficult childhood, you might be surprised to see Susan not only go to college, but also to get a Masters degree, so that she could grow in her career as a teacher and help take care of her family.

dickson-1493-f-v00-SusanDickson-CommencementGrandmother was a teacher for a number of years in Southside High School in Fort Smith, Arkansas, teaching Math the whole time.   She was a special teacher to many students, taking time with them and helping them to understand the concepts that often seemed beyond their grasp.  So appreciated was she that she was recognized as Teacher of the Year.

I think she could be a tough teacher, expecting a lot of her students in terms of academics and in terms of behavior.  But she could also be a lot of fun.  She was always willing to go out of her way to support her students, attending football and basketball games and helping out with various activities.

And she could be an enforcer in class.  She would growl at her students.  It was a low, rumbly growl like an aggravated bear.  They knew to behave when they heard her growl!  But if that didn’t work, she kept a bullwhip on her desk!  I don’t think she ever had to use it.  Somehow, I think both of these are pedagogical techniques not commonly used in the classroom today.

But back to the gift for writing.  Dad shared a brief essay that Grandmother wrote for a class at her funeral.  This must have been in a freshman English class, based on the date – January 1938.  The class was English 103a.

In an assignment on Appearance, Mechanics, Style, and Content, the students were asked to address the question of whether you would rather be a live pig or a dead Socrates.  Here is Susan Louise Bailey’s classic answer to that question:

Sue Bailey
English 103a
January 13, 1938
Appearance, Mechanics, Style, Content

Swinehood vs. Socrates

I must confess that to be either a live pig or a dead Socrates would not be very desirable to me; however, being a swine might have some merits.  In a discussion of the subject a short while ago, a person said “at least Socrates is dead.”  This statement cannot be disputed; but, dead though he is, I am sure that Socrates is unable to sleep peacefully because of the beratings of harassed students struggling with his philosophy and teachings.  After an unhappy existence on earth, troubled with a scolding, brawling wife and stupid children, as well as many scornful enemies, to be troubled even in death by the chiding of one’s victims would be absolutely unbearable.

The swine, on the other hand, has few troubles in life and none in death if he has been a well-behaved swine.  He has nothing to do but doze in the warm sunshine.  If the sunshine becomes too warm, he has only to go to the shade to doze.  He does not have to go to school because there is nothing which he needs to learn.  It is unnecessary for him to work because he is provided with food and shelter.  This lucky swine has no diet to be observed religiously because obesity holds no terrors for him; in fact, the more obese he is, the more admiration he receives.  Most people, in considering the choice of a pig’s life, raise their hands in holy horror at the thought of the food given to swine.  Of course, such food is very repulsive to human beings; but we must remember that the swine does not know anything about our mode of living and is, therefore, content with his lot.  Some might object to the fact that the pig will soon be killed for food.  Since this is true, the choice is not between being a live pig or a dead Socrates, but a choice between being a dead pig or a dead Socrates.  After the pig is dead he is appreciated more than while he is alive, because people enjoy eating the pork roast and ham sandwiches into which he is transformed.  Instead of cursing him for having ever lived, people think kindly of him and his spirit rests peacefully.

As I said before, neither idea appeals to me; but if I were forced to make such a choice, I would rather be a live pig who lives in indolent contentment and by his death brings pleasure to human beings.  I hope that, after my death, I will be as kindly remembered as the swine is.

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On This Date – 18 June 1966

On this date, 18 June 1966, fifty years ago, I became a big brother.  My little brother, Marcus Wren Dickson, was born. Since that time, he’s grown from a baby with a mohawk to a loving husband and father, a respected educator and researcher, a Base Ballist, and someone I am proud to have as my little brother.

Marcus-1966-06-18-IMG_2265
Marcus Dickson, 18 Jun 1966

There are far too many stories to tell about Marcus and the things we have done together.  So, I’ll just leave it with the fact that I am proud of you and hope your second half-century is as good as the first. Happy Birthday!  But, no matter how old we both get, I will always call you my little brother.

Chipping Away at a Dickson Brick Wall – Part 4

Sometimes help comes from unexpected quarters.

In my on-going research on the Dickson family, I have talked off and on to other researchers.  Over the last few weeks, I have been corresponding with another Dickson researcher about my line.  Prior to finding the picture I talked about in the last section, I hadn’t really had a good connection to her line at all.  But, with the firm connection to David Dickson, the wall starts to tumble down.

Ann, the other researcher, told me of a group of Dickson researchers who pooled their efforts a few years back.  A book, compiled by Claire Jean Potter Ferguson Sullivan, Ph. D., came out of those efforts that traces this Dickson family back to about 1607.  As it turns out, this is one of the books that is not only available from the Family History Library, but is available online!!  You can find the FHL library entry and the digital version here.

I am so excited!  Of course, this is a Ronald Reagan moment – trust but verify.  It looks like there is good documentation in this book. Many of the references and documents it uses are included in the text, but it still needs to be analyzed and verified.  I did Y-DNA testing some time back.  Now to see if this plays out with the documentation.

It looks like my line could be:

  • Grandparents – Robert H. Dickson, Jr. (b. 1919, d. 2007) and Susan Louise Bailey (b. 1919, d. 2006)
  • Great-grandparents – Robert H. Dickson, Sr. (b. 1878, d. 1942) and Ethel Mildred Garner (b. 1887, d. 1974)
  • Great-great-grandparents – John H. Dickson (b. 1836, d. bef. 1889) and Martha A. Taylor (b. 1858, d. bef. 1942)
  • 3-great-grandparents – David Dickson (b. 1808) and Eliza Johnson (b. 1812)
  • 4-great-grandparents – Joseph Dickson, Jr. (b. abt. 1785) and Mary McNairy (b. 1791)
  • 5-great-grandparents – Joseph Dickson, Sr. (b. 1744) and Elizabeth Moulton (b. abt 1757)
  • 6-great-grandparents – John Dickson, Sr. (b. abt 1704, County Down, Ireland)
  • 7-great-grandparents – Michael Dickson (b. abt 1682) and Nancy Campbell
  • 8-great-grandparents – Joseph Dickson II (b. abt 1657)
  • 9-great-grandparents – Joseph Dickson I (b. abt 1630)
  • 10-great-grandparents – Simon Dickson (b. abt 1607, England)

It seems like the documentary trail gets fuzzier as you go farther back, but this is at least a good place to start.  And while the book identifies the Dickson line, it also identifies many of the grandmothers and even some of their parents and grandparents.

I feel pretty good about the line back to the immigrants.  They come from Ireland to Chester County, Pennsylvania and then move down into North Carolina.  From there, they head to Tennessee and into Alabama and Mississippi.

Each generation opens up a whole new set of research possibilities.

So, now to start to verify and be confident of all of this new data.  Looks like my work may be cut out for me for the next several months or years.

Chipping Away at a Dickson Brick Wall – Part 2

This is the second in a series where I try to unravel and figure out my Dickson ancestry. I am not necessarily working toward a narrative goal here.  I am mostly capturing my research to be sure that I have a sensible understanding of the family.

In the first part, we started with our most recent known facts and started to work backwards.  We began with my grandfather, Robert Harrison Dickson, Jr, and traced his family and movements backward.

Eventually, we found him in a family as a child with his parents, Robert Harrison Dickson Sr. and Ethel Garner Dickson. Tracing that family back through the census, we found Robert Sr, as a child in the family of his parents, John H. Dickson and Martha A. Dickson.  We stopped at the first census where Robert Sr. appeared – 1880 US Federal Census of Prairie County, Arkansas.

In this post, we will try to round out John H. Dickson’s immediate family a little bit so that we can make some more progress.  We will also identify a possible family of origin for him that we will look at more later on.

On the very first day that I ever went to a library to search in the census, back in 1988, in the 1880 census, I found John H. Dickson and his young family in Bridge Bend Township, Prairie County, Arkansas.  We identify the family because we find Robert H. Dickson Sr, his brother Cecil, and his sister Minnie in the household.  The 1880 census is important because it gives two new pieces of information not found on previous censuses.  First, it shows the relationship of a person to the head of household.  Second, it shows where a person’s parents were born.  Robert, Cecil, and Minnie are listed as children of John, so we know for sure at least who their father is.  We are pretty sure of the mother, but the proof is not quite as solid yet. 1

1880 US Census - Dickson2
1880 US Federal Census, Bridge Bend Township, Prairie County, Arkansas

This census reports that John H. Dickson was born in Alabama, his father was born in Tennessee, and his mother was born in Virginia.  His wife, Martha, reports that she was from Alabama.  The two older children (Robert and his brother Cecil) were born in Mississippi and the youngest child (Minnie) was born in Arkansas.  The information on the children fits what we already know, so we are confident we are looking at the right family.

The oldest child is 4 years old, indicating a birth in about 1876.  If we look for marriage records, we find a record in a database of Mississippi marriages for J.H. Dickson to Martha A. Taylor on 12 Sept 1872 in Desoto County, Mississippi. 2  This fits with where Robert H. Dickson Sr. reported that he was born, so we are fairly certain this is the right marriage.  But it also tells us that we will not find the couple together in the 1870 Census.  Instead, we will have to look for each of them (John and Martha) as children in homes of thieir parents or else as individuals or else as parts of other families.  John’s age indicates that he could have had a previous marriage; Martha’s age indicates that a previous marriage is unlikely for her.

Searching the census for a family where John H. Dickson, born about 1836 in Alabama, perhaps with parents from Tennessee and Virginia, we find one family that is a good fit.  In 1870, in Desoto County, Mississippi, we find the family of David Dickson with a number of children. 3  This appears to be our most likely candidate family.  In fact, it seems like the only one we find in a census search that comes very close.  However it has its own issues that we will need to work through.

1870 US Census - Dickson
1870 US Federal Census, Township 5R7,  DeSoto County, Mississippi

In particular, the way the surnames are reported looks a little odd.  Typically, when a line or ditto marks are shown, that means that the surname is the same as the one above.  If that were the case for this entry, then we would expect this family to be David and Eliza Dickson, Mary E. Williams, John H. Williams and a number of other Williams folks.  We might think that John must be Mary’s husband from this or a brother in a different family.  So, it’s a confusion that we need to work through.  Our initial suspicion is that Mary is in fact Mary Williams, but the ditto marks for the rest of the family refer to Dickson rather than Williams.  That would mean that she probably was a daughter who married and is now listed back in this family rather than in her own family.  So, we will look further and come back to see if this holds up.

Stepping back one more census, to 1860, we again look for John H. either in his own family, his parents family, or somewhere else.  When we look again at David Dickson / Dixon, we find his family, along with John, in Leake County, Mississippi, in the center of the state rather than the north of the state. 4  In this family, David and his wife Eliza and John are all consistent.  The children change somewhat, but they appear to be consistent with the later census.  John is listed out of order from the rest of the children, presumably because he is old enough to be on his own, so is considered by the census taker separately from minor children.

1860 US Census - Dickson
1860 US Federal Census, Carthage, Leake County, Mississippi

If we take one more step back in the census, to 1850, we find John as a child in the home of David and Eliza again. 5  At this point, they are located in Marengo County, Alabama about 140 miles east of Carthage, their location in 1860.

At this point, it might be valuable to summarize the family across the censuses.  The following table shows the individuals in David and Eliza’s household across the census years, along with ages and birth places.

Name 1850 Census
Marengo, Ala.
1860 Census
Leake, Miss.
1870 Census
DeSoto, Miss.
1880 Census
David Dickson 42, Tennessee 52, Tennessee 62, Tennessee
Eliza 38, Virginia 48, Virginia 58, Virginia (in the home of J.F. Pardue, Tate, Miss.)
60, Alabama
Mary 14, Alabama (Mary E.Williams)
35, Alabama
(Mary Gates, in home of A.J. Gates,
Lonoke, Ark.)
44, Alabama
John 12, Alabama 22, Alabama 32, Alabama (Prairie, Ark.)
44, Alabama
Lucinda 8, Alabama 18, Alabama
Frances 5, Mississippi 15, Mississippi 25, Mississippi
Ann 3, Alabama (Hester A.)
13, Alabama
(Hester Ann)
22, Alabama
William 8, Alabama 18, Alabama (W.A.,
Tate, Miss.)
29, Alabama
Lucy A. 5, Alabama 15, Alabama (L.A. Pardue,
Tate, Miss.)
25, Alabama

As we mentioned before, the 1870 census is interesting in that a large number of young children are listed, all born in Mississippi.  These appear to be the children of Mary  E. Williams.   The oldest is 13 years old and the youngest is 7 years old.  This could put some brackets around a possible date for when she and her husband were no longer together and give us a way to search for what happened to him.  There is also a 63 year old woman, Lucy Vaugh, born in Virginia in the home.  A theory would be that she could be Mary’s older sister.  This is worth pursuing.

All of this is pretty good circumstantial evidence that John H. Dickson, my ancestor, is a part of this family.  The census isn’t iron-clad proof, though.  And I still don’t have anything that says “David is John’s father” or “John is David’s son.”  I’m close though.

In the next post, I will share a picture that tied this together, at least to my satisfaction, and can let me move on to the next step.


  1. 1880 US Federal Census, Prairie County, Arkansas, pop. sch., Bridge Bend Township, ED 247, page 211, dwelling 218, family 218, John H. Dickson. 
  2. Ancestry.com, “Mississippi Marriages, 1776-1935,” database, Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com : accessed 26 May 2012), J.H. Dickson to Martha Taylor, 11 Dec 1872, Desoto County. 
  3. 1870 U.S. Federal Census, Desoto County, Mississippi, pop. sch., Township 5 R 7, page 52, dwelling 365, family 365, David Dickson. 
  4. 1860 U.S. Federal Census, Leake County, Mississippi, pop. sch., Carthage post office, page 67, dwelling 426, family 426, David Dixon. 
  5. 1850 U.S. Federal Census, Marengo County, Alabama, pop. sch., Not stated, page 44, dwelling 304, family 304, David Dickson. 

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.

 

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.