Thursday, July 9, 2015

William Dickson (Part II)

This is the second post in a series about my fourth great-grandfather, William Dickson.

Capt. William Dickson in his later years

In my last post about my immigrant ancestor, William Dickson, I wrote about his birth in Northern Ireland and his journey to North America, where he married Mary Ann Browning.  The biography of William Dickson, written by his grandson, William Dickson Young, in 1933, provides insight into the life of William and Mary Ann after their marriage in 1831, and William's career as a ship captain on the Great Lakes.

He [William] was evidently an able seaman, for a letter I have, written in 1835, says he was given command of the best boat his employers had, one he thought as good as he wanted.

He worked hard, saved his money, and soon had a vessel of his own, probably a schooner or small brig, for the lakes were then full of sailing vessels.

In 1835 they came to Buffalo to live, and at first had a house on the north side of Eagle Street, opposite the County Hall, where the back end of the Athletic Club is now. Sarah, their second child, was born there.

About 1838 they moved to the large house on Barker Street, southwest corner of Linwood, which he had built, although Linwood Ave. had not then been cut through. That site is now occupied by a large apartment home.

There they continued to live until after his death on Jan. 20th 1865, all of the later children being born there. His land included what is now Linwood Ave. and extended south to Summer Street. All of that region was then quite open. The rear end of the house was at first frame, but later he rebuilt it of brick.

A modern view of the southwest corner of Barker and Linwood, where the Dickson home once stood.

In the period of 1835 to 1865, the thirty year span during which William Dickson lived in Buffalo, the city was growing by leaps and bounds.  Much of this expansion was due to the young city's role as a shipping center on Lake Erie.

Upon the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, Buffalo became the western end of the 524-mile waterway starting at New York City. At the time, Buffalo had a population of about 2,400 people. With the increased commerce of the canal, the population boomed and Buffalo was incorporated as a city in 1832.

In 1853, Buffalo annexed Black Rock, which had been Buffalo's fierce rival for the canal terminus. During the 19th century, thousands of pioneers going to the western United States debarked from canal boats to continue their journey out of Buffalo by lake or rail transport.  (Wikipedia)

The city of Buffalo in the mid-1800s.

Several American presidents were also associated with Buffalo during these years.  Abraham Lincoln gave a widely attended campaign speech in Buffalo in February 1861.  A crowd of nearly 10,000 people gathered to hear him speak at the American Hotel.  Former president Millard Fillmore later took Mr. Lincoln to a local church service.  Perhaps the speech was an inspiration to future president Grover Cleveland, who was living in Buffalo at the time and might well have heard Mr. Lincoln's oration.

 In these heady years in Buffalo, William Dickson's career was on an upward trajectory.  William Dickson Young provides many details about his grandfather's occupation.

In time he bought a share in vessels he commanded.  These included the Hunter, the Milwaukee, and the Globe, all sailing vessels, schooners or brigs.  Later he owned along a propeller (steamer), the Illinois.  The last one was again named the Hunter, a propeller, and although this would now be looked upon as a small boat, at that time she was rated A-1, with a fine cabin and up-to-date in every respect.  Like all of the earlier boats, she was both a freight or cargo carrier and had accommodations for 50-60 passengers, who were often carried, friends of family of the Captain, or pay passengers.  He both owned and captained her for several years.  An interesting little account of a trip from Chicago to Collingwood in 1860 is on page 16 in an old scrap book we have from Barker Street, pasted in a trip book of this same boat.

He was a fearless, aggressive and capable seaman.  He was always ambitious to be the first one out in the spring and last one in in the fall, and in those days, when there were few light houses, buoys and charts, it was dangerous work.  In fact he was often caught in the ice in the spring because he ventured out so early.

He was a fighter and would face all dangers.

In my next post about William Dickson, I'll share more details about his career and character.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Immigrant Ancestor: William Dickson (Part I)

William Dickson, my fourth great-grandfather

Over the past several months, I've been profiling my Dickson ancestors and the years they spent in Ontario, Canada and Douglas, Wyoming.  This next series of posts is devoted to the immigrant ancestor of this line, William Dickson, my fourth great-grandfather.  It was William who brought the Dickson family from Northern Ireland to Canada.

William is one of those ancestors who is long on legend and short on vital records.  The best two sources of information I have about him are the notes my grandmother took during her research, and a thorough biography written by his grandson, William Dickson Young, in 1933.  Missing are the ships' manifests, marriage records, birth certificates, and other pieces of data you'd hope to find when researching an ancestor.  This leaves the account written by William Dickson Young, who had quite a bit of anecdotal information about his grandfather and the extended Dickson family, as the most authoritative source on William Dickson's life.

I'm going to quote heavily from William Dickson Young's account of his grandfather.  I'd also like to say thank you to cousin Gerry, who reached out to me online and provided this document and a treasure trove of Dickson photos.  Without that generous gesture, I'd know very little about this part of the family.

The location of Pomeroy and Dungannon in what is now Northern Ireland
"He [William Dickson] was born in 1800 and always said he was born in Dungannon, which is a town in County Tyrone, a few miles from Pomeroy [the Dickson family's home], so it is to be supposed that his mother was there at the time, perhaps on a visit.

He was a strong, vigorous, forceful boy and man, with gray eyes, fearless and open in expressing his opinions, and that led to trouble in those days, especially in Ireland, for he was a Protestant, and for three hundred years and more there has been bitter enmity between the Protestants and Catholics in Ulster, as there is today, and much blood has been spilled there over this difference in religious outlook.

As he grew older he apparently made enemies among the Catholics.  Whether his family wished to get him away to save his life, or whether he simply had wanderlust I do not know.  (I judge it was the latter, for he was the heir, and all property in Protestant Ireland, as in England, was entailed to the eldest son, but my mother thinks it was the desire of the family for his safety.)  In any event, at the age of 16, he left home and went to sea.  The old green oak chest in our home was his sea chest, in which he kept his possessions.

How long he was at sea I do not know, but in 1829, thirteen years later, on a voyage to America, he met Mary Browning, a passenger on his ship, some ten years younger than he.  She did some mending for him and he fell in love with her.

She, with her parents, went to Port Stanley, Ont., on Lake Erie, and he followed her, although I do not know exactly how soon thereafter.  It was not long, however, and he secured a position on a boat which either sailed from that little port or touched there."
Mary Ann Browning, my fourth great-grandmother

Some time passed before William joined Mary Ann in Canada.  As William Dickson Young points out, William was quite popular with the young women of Buffalo when he remained a single man.

When he first came to Buffalo, perhaps on his way west, for he was soon on large vessels, there is a story that he operated some sort of a small ferry, perhaps a skiff, from Black Rock to Fort Erie.  A very old lady, Miss Wintermuth, whom I used to know, who lived in Fort Erie, an aunt of Mary Lewis', used to say that he was  a great favorite with the girls of Fort Erie, and that they would go over with no one else, in fact they spent their money in ferry tolls.  My mother also speaks of his swimming the river at Black Rock. 

William did eventually make his way to Port Stanley to try to persuade Mary Ann Browning to marry him.  William Dickson Young also wrote a separate, shorter document outlining the history of the Browning family.  He writes a paragraph there about the courtship of William Dickson and Mary Ann Browning.

She refused for a considerable time to accept him but finally did so, and they were married at St. Thomas, Ont., December 20th 1831, he being 31 and she 21, the record of which is shown in the old Dickson family bible, which I have.  They lived at Port Stanley until their first child... was born.

I hope someone that one of William Dickson Young's descendants still has that old Dickson bible!  

William Dickson and Mary Ann Browning had eight children together:

1. Esther Dickson, b. 1824 d. 1872 in Buffalo, New York.  She did not marry.
2. Sarah Ann Dickson, b. 1826, d. 1915 in Buffalo, New York.  She did not marry.
3. George William Dickson, b. 1838, d. 1916 in Santa Monica, California.  He married Mary Elizabeth Bellangee.
4. John Henry Dickson, b. 184, d. 1865 in Buffalo, New York.  He married Sarah Mitchell.
5. Robert James Dickson, b. 1843, d. 1878 in Buffalo, New York.  He did not marry.
6. Elizabeth Jane Dickson, b. 1847, d. 1935 in Buffalo, New York.  She married Albert Barnes Young.
7 and 8. Louis and Louise Dickson, twins, b. 1850, d. 1851 in Buffalo, New York.

In the next post in the series, I'll write about William Dickson's career as a ship's captain and share some anecdotes about his character.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Two Years of "Know Their Stories"



Know Their Stories celebrates two years of existence today.  Happy blogoversary!  Eighty-seven posts later, I have only skimmed the surface of my family's history, and look forward to sharing many more stories in the years to come.

The most popular posts on Know Their Stories in the past year:

Sharing Your Family History with Children and Young Adults -  Many genealogists lament the lack of interest from younger generations.  Here are my suggestions for engaging the kids in your family history.

The Parents of Lena Schmidt Laun - This post shows how I used probate records to (finally!) prove the parentage of my husband's great-grandmother.

The Series About my Rutherfurd and Dickson Ancestors in Douglas, Wyoming - I wrote a number of posts this year about the small town of Douglas, Wyoming.  My family members there ran the local hospital, owned the hardware store, and raised children on a working ranch.

Patrick Barrett and Catherine Reynolds and Albert Patrick Barrett - These posts about my third great grandparents and their son, Albert, my second great-grandfather, tell of coal mining and railroad work by Irish immigrant families in Maryland and Illinois.

Richard Stockton: Signer of the Declaration of Independence - My second cousin nine times removed signed the Declaration of Independence.  Great reading for the Fourth of July!


Other notable posts from Know Their Stories:

The series on Gil Cook, a B-24 pilot killed by friendly fire during World War II, which I wrote last year, continues to bring new readers to my blog.  In the past few months, I've been contacted by two family members of airmen from Gil's unit, who've provided additional details about Gil's last moments, the investigation, and the lives of the other men on his plane.  I've also been added to a Facebook group dedicated to the 7th Bombardment Group, and am learning a lot about the history of this group and their mission in the India-China-Burma Theater of World War II.  This topic continues to be of great interest to me, and there will undoubtedly be more posts about it.

Conflicting versions of how my grandparents met - Interesting discrepancies were found in their memoirs.

Reevaluating our DNA Results - Remember when my father's Y-DNA results indicated that our paternal line was, um, interrupted?  Yeah.  I needed to get to the bottom of that.

Thank you for reading Know Their Stories!  I am grateful for all the feedback I have received and appreciate those who take the time to read about these fascinating ancestors.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Sharing Your Family History with Children and Young Adults

My great-grandmother, Genevieve Murray Smith, with six of her seven children.  My grandfather, Glenn Murray Smith, is at center.  His sisters (L-R): Virginia, baby Joan, Patricia, Shirley and Barbara.  About 1924.


A topic that often seems to arise in conversation with fellow genealogists is how to interest the younger generation in family history.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone say, "I'm the only one who's interested.  The kids don't care."  This leads to much hand-wringing about who will take on the role of family archivist and researcher in later years.

As someone who became interested in genealogy in my twenties and who is now trying to share family history with my small children, I offer a ray of hope to those who think there might be no one to carry on their work.  Don't give up on the kids.  They may come around and get interested when they're older.  Leave crumbs so they can find and take up your work later.  Here are my humble suggestions on how to do just that.

1. Write It All Down
Family trees are great, and absolutely necessary, but stories are even better.  Young people may find a list of names and dates uninteresting, but many will respond to a well-spun story about an ancestor.  Give them something that will spark their curiousity.  I write this blog in part for my younger cousins.  None of them have shown the slightest interest in family history yet, but I'm hopeful they'll reach a point in their lives when they will have questions, and then all of this information will be here for them.  Writing down your genealogical information and stories, in whatever fashion you choose to do so, will preserve enticing details for younger relatives.

2. Share It Now
Are you actively trying to share your family history with members of the younger generations?  If not, do!  Don't fall into the "I have to write a book about the family and then I'll share it" trap.  You don't need to have published an exhaustive volume with every last detail to share what you know.  Write one page about one person.  Attach a photo.  Email it to family members, or put it on Facebook and tag them.  Start small and keep sharing.  The point is to reach out to younger relatives now and, if possible, engage them in an ongoing dialogue about family history.  This kind of interaction is far more likely to interest them than a book that is too easily placed on a shelf and forgotten (if you ever get around to finishing it).

3. Maintain a Close Relationship
It's easier said than done, but try to spend quality time with your younger family members.  If you're the aunt they see once a year and don't really know, you're less likely to connect with them about your interests.  Set up special time with your young relatives and develop a real relationship with them.  They're much more likely to want to hear your stories and entertain your hobbies if they know you well.  I became interested in genealogy due to the close and loving relationship I had with my grandmother.  I don't think I would be so invested in family history without that personal connection to her.

4. Include the Children
I have two small children who are still sometimes shocked to re-discover that their grandparents are my parents, their uncles my brothers.  Their notion of family is continually evolving.  That doesn't mean you can't involve little ones in genealogy.  I've hung old family photos on the wall of our home, and I regularly point out the people in them and tell a story about them.  ("That's great-great grandpa George.  He rode in a motorcycle all over France during the war.")  My friend Sierra takes her young daughters with her when she visits cemeteries and has them do rubbings.  When my son's preschool asked for parent volunteers to share hobbies with the class, I came and talked about family history.  I was surprised to discover how much a group of 4-year olds knew about their families.  One boy even wore a kilt to school and discussed his Scottish roots.  Don't talk over the heads of young children.  Engage them.  You may be surprised what they retain.

5. Organize It Well
If someone is going to take up your work in later years, you need to make this appealing to them and not a burden.  Try not to leave your younger relatives with a garage full of binders and endless paper files.  The next generation does not work like this and they won't have room for all that stuff.  You run a real risk that valuable files will be discarded.  I'm not suggesting anyone go tossing original documents or abandoning a process that works for them, simply asking that you consider the best way to transfer your knowledge to a younger person down the line.  Digitizing your records is likely going to be a part of that journey.  There are many online communities devoted to organizational tactics, like The Organized Genealogist on Facebook, and they offer suggestions and solutions that you may want to consider.  If you are participating in Thomas MacEntee's Genealogy Do-Over, you know that quite a bit of the Do-Over revolves around getting organized.  This is useful not only for you and your research, but in preparing to share your work with other family members.

The kids might not be interested now, but there's a good chance they will be in the future.  I hope that these tips will help you connect with younger family members, share your passion for family history with them, and enable you to leave work they can take up later.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Dickson Brothers: George Jr. and Wilfred (Part 2)


Long Pine, Nebraska in about 1930


Wilfred Bellangee Dickson

Wilfred Bellangee Dickson was born on January 1, 1875 in Point Edward, Ontario.  He was the youngest child of George William Dickson, Sr. and Mary Elizabeth Bellangee.  Wilfred was about fourteen years old when his parents moved their family to Douglas, Wyoming in 1889.  He spent his teenage years there, living near all of his siblings.  His eldest sister, Elizabeth, ran the hospital in Douglas, while his sister Annie was a wife and mother on a working ranch.  His brother, George Jr., worked in the local telegraph office.

Wilfred and his brother George moved to Long Pine, Nebraska in 1900 to take positions in the Long Pine railroad office.  While George soon returned home to Douglas, Wyoming, Wilfred stayed in Long Pine and built a life there. The railroad was a big business in Long Pine at the time Wilfred arrived.  According to Wikipedia, "Long Pine was a hub for the Chicago and North Western Transportation Company on what came to be known as the Cowboy Line and at one time held a large roundhouse, turntable, and servicing facility."

A railroad bridge near Long Pine, Nebraska

In 1902, Wilfred married school teacher Grace Clift.  She was the daughter of George Alvord Clift, who had a farm in Long Pine.1  Wilfred and Grace soon had their first child.  Their daughter Leila was born in 1903.  They did not have another child until 1912, nine years later.  Their second daughter, Kathleen, died in January 1916 at the age of three.

In 1920 and 1930, as noted in the US Census for those years, Wilfred was the manager of the railroad stockyards in Long Pine.  The stockyards were the place where cattle were held for shipment along railroad lines. The article entitled The Stockyards, a Hotel for Stock or a Holding Company, provided by the Nebraska State Historical Society, gives information about the role of a stockyard in the early 1900s.

Western cattle were in demand in the East.  Railroads were building westward, connecting East to West, and the cattle trade was as essential to the wealth of the railroads as it was to the health of the nation.  Railroads built stockyards as watering and transfer yards for stock in transit during long trips by cattle car where loss to cattlemen could be great.

The following description of the vast Omaha, Nebraska stockyards from that same article could also be applied to the operations Wilfred would have managed in Long Pine.

The function of the yards is to provide a hotel for transient stock.  When livestock cars have been switched from the main railroads into the yards by terminal railroads, they are unloaded at the chutes by representatives of the stockyards company, who receive the waybills and take over responsibility for the stock.  The animals are brought to the pens of the commission firms to which they are assigned and locked in each pen until the commission firm acknowledges the receipt of the stock by requesting the opening of the padlock, or the commission men at times meet the train themselves and receive the stock consigned to them directly.


An anecdote about the history of the Long Pine stockyards can be found on the City of Long Pine website.

A thirty-day race contest was held each summer on the west side of Pine Creek where the golf course is now [was] located. Elwood Duffy's horses were always among the top money winners, and there was a man from Bassett by the name of Vere Leonard who had a fine string of horses there. The Indians from Pine Ridge competed in the saddle horse races and each fall they camped at the large stockyards just west of Long Pine. Here, they made beef jerky and many items such as moccasins which they sold to tourists. They also put on Indian dances for entertainment.

Wilfred Dickson would certainly have been there for this racing contest, and to witness the Indians camping near his stockyards.

In Long Pine, Wilfred and Grace raised their surviving daughter, Leila, to adulthood.  In 1923, at age twenty, Leila Dickson married William Prescott Bentley in Detroit.  They had two children, Alice K. Bentley and Roy Dickson Bentley, just before William died suddenly at age 23.  He was buried in Long Pine, although it's not clear if William and Leila had been living there full time.  This left Leila alone with two babies, and she would undoubtedly have leaned on her parents during her time of crisis.

In 1930, Leila married a second time.  In the early days of this marriage, to Frederick D. Moshier, she left her children to live with her parents.  In the 1930 census, young Alice and Roy are shown in the same residence with their grandparents, Wilfred and Grace Dickson, in Long Pine.  They later rejoined their mother and stepfather2, but it appears that Wilfred and Grace were responsible for their grandchildren for a period of time while their daughter got back on her feet.

Wilfred Dickson died on August 1, 1937 at the age of 62.  He was buried in Grandview Cemetery in Long Pine, alongside his daughter Kathleen.  When his wife Grace died in 1978, at the age of 101, she was buried in the same plot.




1 George Clift owned a "truck farm" according to the 1930 US Census.  A truck farm produces fruits and vegetables that are often sold directly to consumers at farmer's markets or "from the truck."



2 Leila and Frederick were divorced in 1948, after both of her children were grown and out of the home.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Dickson Brothers: George Jr. and Wilfred (Part 1)

Douglas, Wyoming in about 1920 (source)


My second great-grandmother, Anne Amelia Dickson, had two brothers.  These brothers, George William Dickson, Jr, and Wilfred Bellangee Dickson, did not move from Douglas, Wyoming to California with the other Dicksons, and few stories about them were passed down to me.  However, much can be gleaned about their lives from vital records and newspaper articles.

George William Dickson, Jr.

George William Dickson, Jr. was born on April 16, 1872 in Point Edward, Ontario, Canada.  He was the third surviving child born to the family and the first son.  In 1889, seventeen-year old George accepted a job at the telegraph office in Douglas, Wyoming.  His parents, George William Dickson and Mary Elizabeth Bellangee, decided to move their whole family to Douglas rather than be separated from young George. This decision forever changed the lives of each member of the Dickson family.

George did not spend his entire career at the telegraph office.  In mid-1900, a decade after his arrival in Douglas, George and his younger brother Wilfred moved to Long Pine, Nebraska to work as railroad station agents.  The railroad was a thriving industry in the Midwest states at that time, with many job opportunities for the brothers.  Wilfred would remain in Long Pine for the rest of his life, but George soon returned to Douglas, where he settled down and opened a hardware store in town.

On June 12, 1907, George married Janet Adamson, a nurse who had come from Chicago to work at the Douglas Hospital, which was owned by George's sister, Elizabeth Davock Dickson.  Like George, Janet had been born in Canada.  Her father, George Adamson, was Scottish and her mother, Anne Dow, was Canadian.  A 1992 article in the Douglas Budget about the hospital states that, "She [Janet] was one of three girls [who came to work at the hospital], all of whom were born in Ontario, Canada, and who trained and graduated in the class of 1902 at the Presbyterian and Cook County Hospitals in Chicago."

George and Janet had two children.  Edward Dickson was born in either 1908 or 1909.  Mary Adamson Dickson was born in 1911.



George assumed management of his hardware store sometime between 1900 and 1910, probably not long after he returned from working on the railroad in Nebraska.  Some interesting information about his business can be found in The Hardware Reporter, Volume 57, Issues 14-16.  This collection of weekly magazines devoted to the hardware industry profiled George and his store in 1912.  On April 26, 1912, an article ran describing George's use of the Warren System of Hardware Store Fixtures.  It included two photos of his store's interior (shown above).  The article reads as follows:

The views herewith presented show the interior of the retail hardware store of the Florence Hardware Company, Douglas, Wyoming, which is completely equipped with the Warren System of Hardware Store Fixtures.  The steady growth of the company's business necessitated the installation of these fixtures, and in commenting upon them, George W. Dickson, Jr., secretary and manager of the company, warmly endorses the Warren shelving.

The Florence Hardware Company was organized in 1897, succeeding the firm of R.H.  & F.S. Knittle, and occupied previously an iron clad building with about 125 square feet of floor space, from which it had grown to a three floor main building, of which the pictures are the interior, each 75x50 feet, having a cement basement, main floor and second story, the basement being used for surplus and original package shelf hardware, stoves, etc., the second floor for the display of similar goods entirely and the upper floor for the showing of furniture and kindred lines.  In the rear of the building is the original store building described above which is now used as a shipping room and for surplus shelf goods.  Adjoining the main building and extending from the street front to the alley the company have shops in which they have a blacksmith shop, wood working and tin shop, covering 50x125 feet.  Across the street they have a lumber yard, which is complete in all its parts, farm machinery of all kinds, together with wagons, wind mills, field fence, fence wire, and roofing.  This occupies a space of 145 feet frontage.

Regarding their shelving the company write: "When we bought the Warren Shelving, we debated for some time the advisability of buying shelving for the open goods, such as enamelware and queensware, but now that we have it installed, we do not hesitate to say that we made no mistake.  It will be noted in the views we have one entire end or side of the building for the shelf hardware, with the glass fronts, together with a bolt rack, which is certainly a fine addition, and on the rear and opposite side we have the queensware and enamelware all open except one section which we had enclosed, in which to keep the fancy china or cut glass.   The floor proper, being the size it is, enables us to display a great many goods without showing any crowding and it is our intention to display on the floor all goods from time to time as the season demands.  We have no hesitancy in saying that we believe the Warren system of shelving in the hardware line will increase the sales two-fold at the very least, and as this locality becomes a more populous community we will reap better results even than the above."



George continued running this store until about 1935, when he retired.  In 1935, George and Janet moved to Dade, Florida, where they could enjoy year-round sunshine and a more leisurely lifestyle. 

It appears that both of George's children moved to Florida around the same time that their parents did.  The 1940 U.S. Census shows their son Edward Dickson living in Dade with his wife, Velma, and their daughter, Mary.  He was working as a news reporter.  George and Janet's daughter Mary also seems to have moved with them to Florida in 1935, but by the time of the 1940 census, she had moved to Los Angeles and was working as a stenographer.  It's quite likely that she connected with her aunts and cousins there.  Her aunts Elizabeth Davock Dickson and Annie Dickson Rutherfurd were both living in Los Angeles at the time, as were Annie's five sons.

Mary Adamson Dickson at age 16

George Dickson, Jr. died in November 1945 at the age of 73.  He was survived by Janet, his wife of thirty-eight years, both of his children and at least one grandchild.  Both of his sisters outlived him, but he was predeceased by his younger brother Wilfred.

Friday, May 8, 2015

George William Dickson: From Canada to California


George William Dickson, my second great-grandfather

I've been writing about my Rutherfurd and Dickson ancestors and the years they spent in Douglas, Wyoming.  My second great-grandmother, Annie Dickson Rutherfurd, was very close with her parents, George William Dickson and Mary Elizabeth Bellangee.  She followed them from Ontario, Canada to Wyoming in the late 1800s, and then joined them in Los Angeles in 1913, after the death of her husband. 

Mary Elizabeth Bellangee Dickson, who I've previously profiled, lived to be 85 and was fondly remembered by her granddaughter, my grandmother LaVerne Rutherfurd Smith.  While my grandmother left no personal recollections of her grandfather, George William Dickson, who died two years before her birth, she was always very interested in knowing more about him and his ancestors.

George William Dickson was born December 11, 1838 in Buffalo, New York.  His parents were William Dickson and Mary Ann Browning, both immigrants.  His father was from Northern Ireland and his mother was born in Leicestershire, England.  George was the third of six children born to William and Mary Ann in America.  His sisters were Esther, Sarah and Elizabeth Dickson.  His brothers were John and Robert Dickson.  George's father, William, was a ship's captain on Lake Erie, and George followed in his father's footsteps.  He, too, became a sailor and then a ship's captain.

A drawing of Buffalo Harbor circa the late 1850s, when George William Dickson would have been sailing these waters.  (Source: Historical and Statistical Gazetteer of New York State, Published by R.P. Smith in Syracuse, 1860)

George William Dickson married Mary Elizabeth Bellangee in either 1863 or 1864.  There is some discrepancy about the date and location of their marriage.  Family records indicate that the nuptials took place in Hamilton, Ohio.  However, the book "Early Settlers of New York State, Their Ancestors and Descendants, Extracts from Vol.3, No.11 (May 1937)" says the marriage took place in Buffalo, New York.  The New York State Census records from 1855 and 1865 also list Buffalo as George Dickson's place of residence.  Mary Bellangee and her family had moved to Ohio from Milwaukee sometime between 1861 and 1863.  Mary's mother, Amelia Brown, was from the Buffalo area.  It's unclear whether George and Mary met and married in Ohio or Buffalo, but there's a case to be made for both locations.

Once married, George and Mary had five children.
  1. MARY DICKSON, born 1866 in Hamilton, Ohio or Buffalo, New York.  She died as an infant.
  2. ELIZABETH DAVOCK DICKSON, born 1868 in Point Edward, Ontario, Canada; died 1952 in Los Angeles, California.  She did not marry.
  3. ANNE AMELIA DICKSON, born 27 October 1870 in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada; died 1952 in Hood River, Oregon.   She married (1) John T. Griffin and (2) Malcolm Brakspear Oliver Rutherfurd.
  4. GEORGE WILLIAM DICKSON, born 16 April 1872 in Point Edward, Ontario, Canada; died 1945.  He married Janet Adamson.
  5. WILFRED BELLANGEE DICKSON, born 1 January 1875 in Point Edward, Ontario, Canada; died 1937.  He married Grace Clift. 

Their first child, Mary, died as an infant.  Sometime after her death and before the birth of their second child, George and Mary relocated to Point Edward, Ontario, Canada.   This area was a major shipping center, and George worked as a ship's captain on Lake Huron.  His children spent time on the waterfront and sailing on the lake, witness to the rapid growth of Point Edward and the surrounding cities.

The area [Point Edward] remained sparsely populated until 1859 when it became the crossing point into the U.S. for the Grand Truck Railway. Rapid development followed and in 1864 a town plan was laid out for the community called Point Edward, reportedly after Queen Victoria’s father, Edward, Duke of Kent. In 1870 a steamship service was inaugurated to transport immigrants and supplies to western Canada and by 1873 the town contained stores, hotels, sawmills and large immigration sheds. Five years later it was incorporated as a Village with a population of more than one thousand. (source: villageofpointedward.com)

Point Edward and its much larger neighbor, Sarnia, where the Dickson family also lived in the 1870s and 1880s, was a critical shipping hub on the Great Lakes.  From these towns, ships could access Lake Huron, the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair.  Ships went back and forth between Canada and the United States, making it one of the busiest inland waterways in the world.

George William Dickson

Point Edward and Sarnia were experiencing a massive growth in population and job opportunity at the time the Dicksons lived there.  Shipping was not the only industry that was growing exponentially in the area.  Newcomers flocked to careers in lumber, oil, railroad work and ship manufacture and repair.  This would have been an exciting time with much possibility for George Dickson and his family.

A view of modern day Sarnia Harbor, courtesy of Tourism Sarnia-Lambton.

In 18891, when George Dickson was fifty-one, he retired from shipping.  His son, George William Dickson, Jr., had been offered a job in a telegraph office in Douglas, Wyoming.  George, his wife Mary and their children George Jr., Wilfred and Elizabeth all relocated to Douglas together.  Their daughter Annie, my second great-grandmother, would join them shortly thereafter, when her marriage to John T. Griffin failed in 1894.  It's not clear why the entire family decamped to Wyoming, so far from the waterways that had enabled George's career, but the Dicksons liked to do everything together.  Some years later, several of them would move as a group to Oregon, and then to Los Angeles.

 In 19002, George's sons, George Jr. and Wilfred, departed Wyoming for Nebraska.  They took work as railroad station agents in Long Pine, which is in Brown County, some 300 miles to the east of Douglas.  While George Jr. returned to Douglas and established a hardware store in town, Wilfred remained in Long Pine, working in railroad management, for the rest of his life.  This marked the first time in George's sixty years that any of his children had been away from him for a significant time.

George William Dickson in 1898, aged 59

The 1900 census shows George William Dickson, aged 61, working as a "warehouse man" in Douglas. However, he was not employed much longer.  In 1908, according to records kept of the Douglas Hospital, George, Mary and their daughter Elizabeth moved to Portland, Oregon.  Elizabeth's colleagues at the hospital stated that George planned to retire in California, but apparently they went to Oregon first.  The 1910 census shows all three Dicksons living in Portland.  According to that document, George was not working in 1910, but living on his own income.  At 71, he was properly retired.

Sometime between 1910 and 1913, George, Mary and Elizabeth fulfilled their dream of moving to California.  They settled in Santa Monica, near the ocean, perhaps at 3009 Ocean Front Walk, where Mary and Elizabeth remained in 1920, according to that year's census.  George lived the last three to six years of his life next to one of the most beautiful stretches of beach in California.

George William Dickson died on New Year's Eve, December 31, 1916.  He was 78 years of age.  His legacy is an important one, because it was he who brought his family west to California, where most of his descendants still live.  His commitment to keeping family close and his love of the water were apparent until the end of his life.





1 The year of the Dickson family's move to Douglas, Wyoming was 1889, according to the 1920 US Census. In that census, George William Dickson, Jr. lists his year of immigration to the USA as 1889.



2 Brothers George William Dickson, Jr. and Wilfred Bellangee Dickson are listed in the 1900 US Census in both Douglas, Wyoming and Long Pine, Nebraska. The Long Pine census was taken on June 5, 1900. The Douglas census was taken on June 13-14, 1900. There are several possibilities for this appearance in two different locations. The brothers could have taken a trip home to Wyoming after June 5 and before June 13. They could have made that trip in plenty of time via railroad. Or, just as likely, the brothers were in Long Pine at the time of the Douglas census, but a family member or neighbor still included them in the accounting of family members.