When I began doing family history research I started, as I am sure many do, with my surname to see what I could find. I only got as far as my Great Grandfather before meeting my first “brickwall” ancestor. For several years “Don” Dawson was as far as I could get with my Dawson line.
He and my Great Grandmother (Nora Nichols) ended their marriage around 1918. I asked my father about him but he could only tell me that Don wasn’t talked about much in the family. Nora apparently had hard feelings towards Don that persisted for the rest of her life.
Nora and Don’s only child was Harlan Dawson and he was my grandfather. He died unexpectedly when I was still quite young so I never had the chance to talk to him about his life and his family. However, over two decades after his death I did get the chance to get to know him a little better. In 1992 I received some of his old papers and photo albums that had belonged to his mother, Nora.
There was a wealth of information in that material and in many ways going though it started me on the path to my career as a professional archivist. That is a subject for a different post though. What is important here is that among the photo albums were pictures of many people including many of my grandfather as a boy and as a young man, many of Nora as a young mother and even a few of Don as well. It was amazing to see snippets of their life as a family.
This wasn’t the breakthrough though. In the back of one album there was an envelope glued to the inside that contained loose photographs that had never been added for one reason or another. When I sorted though them I found something I never expected. Among the pictures there were two yellowed and brittle newspaper clippings about the death of a man named Reverend William Dawson. Both clippings were from 1914 – one was his obituary and the second was in regard to a memorial fund set up to honor his memory.
From the obituary it was clear that Reverend William Dawson was Don’s father. It also had the full spelling Don’s first name which was Donnel and not Donald as I had originally thought. The fact that Nora had kept not only images of Don but these clippings about his father indicates that although she may have born a grudge about the end of their marriage there was a part of her that wanted to preserve those memories as well.