A Look Back: My First Big Break

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.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “A Look Back: My First Big Break

  1. Dorthy

    I came across your blog in my search for information regarding my great great great grandmother, Frances Dawson, who married James Wright. My ggg grandmother was born, probably, between 1760-1765. She and James married in about 1795 – maybe in Georgia. James was originally from Amherst, Virginia, fought in the Rev. War, and was in Savannah, GA in about 1800. My ggg grandfather Robert Dawson Wright was born June 12, 1796 in Savannah. but the family, about 1802 or so, sold their bookstore and other businesses, went back to Virginia for a short while, and then migrated (with others, most likely – Dawsons, Dickersons, Robertsons, Hendersons, ???) to Louisiana. I’m wondering if you have ANY information on this family? Is this family connected to your Dawsons? Do you have any source information on this Frances Dawson?

    • Dev

      Hi Dorothy — thanks so much for your message.

      In regards to your Frances Dawson I’m just not sure. I have suspected that in addition to the three brothers (Joseph, William and Jonathan) that there might have been sisters too whose names have been lost to time and marriage. A birth date of around 1760 would put the Frances Dawson you have mentioned among them. It really wouldn’t surprise me if they had a sister but if she was a daughter of William Dawson and his wife Frances she would need to have been born prior to 1761 when William Dawson died and she would have been born in Cumberland County NC. I’m not sure if this fits with other facts that you have. After William Dawson’s death Frances remarried to Jefferson Williams around 1762-3 and they moved to the Old Edgefield District of SC around 1768-70.

      This brings up aonother interesting possiblity and that is in regard to Jefferson Williams. Jefferson Williams was mentioned in a few deed abstracts as living near or adjoining to the property of a man named Joseph Wright. These were for a property in Colleton County SC on Mountain Creek off the Savannah River. These deeds were dated 1773 and 1775. There is also a will for a man named Joseph Williams (d. 1804) in the Old Edgefield District where Jonathan Dawson and his half brother Davis Williams are both mentioned. Among the others mentioned was a man named Samuel Wright. Could either this Joseph Wright or Samuel Wright be connected to your James Wright?

      Feel free to wright me directly at dawson.devon@gmail.com if you think their may be something to this.

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