Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Dandurand Family

My step-great-grandmother, Ozelda "Dandy" Dandurand

I was fortunate enough to have a living great-grandparent during my childhood. While Ozelda "Dandy" Dandurand Rutherfurd did not live near enough for me to get to know her well, I met her on several occasions. Dandy was the second wife of my great-grandfather, George Rutherfurd, and although she was not a blood relative, she was a kind and loving grandmother to my mother and her siblings, and very much part of our family.

Dandy and George

In an earlier post, I wrote about how George and Dandy met at the telephone company in Los Angeles, where they both worked. They married in their forties, after each had lost their first spouse. By the time I was a child, Dandy was quite elderly and was living in an assisted living facility in Medford, Oregon. She was in good heath, though, and when we went to visit her there she would walk around the grounds with us. She was able to leave the facility and visit us when we were nearby for a summer camping trip. I have a strong memory of her sitting in a plastic folding chair around a campfire, surrounded by tall pines. I must have been about nine years old.

Dandy with my brothers and me

Dandy died in Medford on her 101st birthday, March 20, 1997. I was a recent college graduate then, not yet interested in genealogy. Later, when I developed a passion for family history, I remembered the few stories I had heard about Dandy's past, before she married George. My mother had always told me that when Dandy was a young girl, her family had traveled the Oregon Trail in a covered wagon. It had apparently been a terrible journey and was something Dandy never wanted to discuss. With Dandy gone, and not knowing any of her extended family, I turned to the internet to learn more about her background.

Dandy and George on their wedding day
I knew that Dandy's father had been French Canadian, and I knew that they had lived in the Midwest before coming to the west coast. With a unique name like Ozelda, it didn't take me long to find my great-grandmother in the 1900 United States Census, living with her family in Knowles, Frontier County, Nebraska. Reviewing census data and city directories, I was able to put together some basics about Dandy's family.

Dandy and George at their retirement party

Dandy was born March 20, 1896. Her parents were Narcisse Dandurand and Lucy Isabella Dunn. Narcisse was born in Quebec, Canada in February 1866, and he was a 34-year old farmer in Nebraska by the time of the 1900 census. The 1900 census reports that his parents were both also born in French Canada, but I have not yet learned their names. Lucy was born in Nebraska in April 1872, the daughter of John Dunn and Margaret Wymore.

Narcisse and Lucy had at least six children together:

John Floyd Dandurand (1890-1956)
Bertha May Dandurand (1893-1986)
Ozelda Narcisse Dandurand (1897-1997)
Carrie O. Dandurand (1899-)
Eva A. Dandurand (1901-)
Thelma Hazel Dandurand (1910-1997)

On the 1910 census, there appears a listing for a child named Ralma H. Dandurand, aged 2, born in Nebraska. I suspect this may be a census error, and that child was actually Thelma H. Dandurand, who was born in Oregon three days prior to the census-taker arriving at the Dandurand household. While it's possible that there was a Ralma and she died after this census, I can find no other records for a Ralma Dandurand. It's also curious that Thelma would be left off a census, since she was very much alive when the census was taken on April 23, 1910. There's also the fact that Ralma is an unusual name, but similar to Thelma.

Another mystery is that Dandy's sister Helen does not appear in any records for this family. We know that Dandy had a sister named Helen with whom she was very close. My mother recalls Dandy talking about Helen frequently. Helen lived in Southern California, like Dandy, and in their later years they had planned to move to Medford together. Helen died shortly before the move, which was a great blow to Dandy. We know Helen existed, but don't know why she doesn't appear in census records with the family. I wonder if perhaps Helen and Eva were somehow the same person. Eva came to Southern California with Dandy and Hazel between 1918 and 1920, and they appear in the same household together in the 1920 U.S. Census. Hazel later married and moved to Northern California, but I have found no records for Eva after 1920. Perhaps she went by the name Helen? This is a total head-scratcher.

The Dandurand family appears to have left Nebraska sometime between the birth of Eva Dandurand in 1901 and their arrival in Oregon in 1908. In the 1910 U.S. Census, Narcisse Dandurand reported that he had been in Oregon for two years, which is how we are able to pinpoint 1908 as their year of travel.

While in Nebraska, the Dandurands lived in Knowles and nearby Freedom, in the southwestern corner of the state, not far from the Kansas state line. From there, it was less than a two day walk (today, less than two hours in a car) to reach the Oregon Trail, which followed the Platte River westward through Nebraska. Travel on the Oregon Trail had peaked decades earlier, and in 1908 it was possible to take a train west. We can only assume the Dandurand family did not have money to travel via train, and thus took a much longer and more dangerous route west. As to why the family would leave Nebraska in the first place, we can only guess. Lucy Dunn Dandurand's parents and siblings lived within a day's walk of her farm in Nebraska, and she and Narcisse had been farming in and around Knowles for nearly twenty years. Did the farm fall on hard times? Were the Dandurands lured west by stories of fertile farmland and increased opportunity?

The Oregon Trail's location in Nebraska. Approximate location of Knowles is marked with a X.

The stories of hardships on the Oregon Trail are well known. Dandy would never share stories about her experience, but hinted that it was a terrible journey for the Dandurand family. I wondered if a family member had died en route to Oregon, but it appears that they all made it to Portland alive, according to the 1910 U.S. Census, taken two years after their arrival. Their hardships on the trail were more likely those commonly reported: sickness, hunger, exposure to the elements, threats from bandits, and physical discomfort.

The Dandurands settled in Portland, Oregon, which was a city of over 200,000 people in 1910. This must have been a big change from the plains of Nebraska. Narcisse Dandurand bought a house on Detroit Street and in the 1910 U.S. Census claimed he was working as a farmer. His eldest son, John Floyd Dandurand, got work as a boilermaker, and eldest daughter Bertha May took a job at the local telephone company. Dandy was still in school in 1910, but she would later follow her sister Bertha into a telephone company career. Despite their success in traversing the Oregon Trail and establishing themselves in a new state, in the decade that followed, the Dandurand family unraveled.

John Floyd moved to Seattle in about 1916, where he married Dollie Davidson. Bertha May married Joseph Hague in 1912, and they moved to Astoria. Carrie disappears from records completely after 1910. It's not clear if she died, or if she married and moved away. As their children grew and left the home, the Dandurand marriage withered. In either 1919 or 1920, Lucy left Narcisse and married Fred Linton, a steamfitter (essentially, a plumber) who was also living in Portland. They took the three Dandurand girls who remained at home, Dandy, Eva and Hazel, and moved to Los Angeles. Narcisse went to Seattle, where he can be found in a boarding house in the 1920 U.S. Census. He may have gone there to be near his son, John. Both Lucy and Narcisse would eventually move back to Oregon, but their marriage was over.

I wish that Dandy had shared more stories about her youth and her experience on the Oregon Trail. It seems these were things she was glad to leave behind as she embarked on adulthood in Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, she had a successful career and two happy marriages. She was a great companion to my great-grandfather after the death of his first wife, and a loving grandmother to his grandchildren. She lived to age 101, long enough to see nearly the entire twentieth century. I'm very glad to have been able to meet her and to share a little bit of her story.

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