Sunday, March 7, 2010

American Gothic: The Dickersons, circa 1906

Until a few weeks ago, I'd never seen a picture of a Dickerson dating back any further than the 1940s, and even then the only Dickersons I'd ever seen were my Papa, father, uncle, and siblings. So when I got in contact with a cousin-by-marriage and received this picture of my great-great-great grandparents Henry Davis & Eliza Katie Snow Dickerson and their family, taken in about 1906 or possibly a bit later, I flipped.

My jaw dropped. For years now, I've kind sorta known these names and suddenly, they're people.

That angry looking girl in the back is Berta May, my 3x great aunt. She died of tuberculosis in 1909, when she was barely seventeen. I love her fierce iron grip on her parents' chairs and how annoyed she looks, as if she'd rather being doing something useful. Berta May and her mother, Eliza, look so stern and serious compared to little Pearl, front and center, who looks as if she's terrified she'll burst into a giggle fit any moment. Henry & Eliza were staunch Baptists who lived on a farm out in the sticks, that's where the severity and the sun in their faces comes from.

In the back row, next to Berta, is my great-great grandfather Walter, born in 1896. He lived until 1989, and while I'm not certain he and I ever met, there's an entry in my baby book for a "pillow and sheets" from "Walter & Rosa" with a question mark next to it, where my mother listed the new-baby gifts and cards. Thanks to a legacy of divorce in my direct paternal line, there's a good chance that in 1984, my mother had no idea who Walter & his second wife Rosa were.

The boys in the front row are Lester Thomas, Henry Dewey, and Arch Bradsher, along with their sister Bettie Pearl. I know quite a bit about Dewey's family, and I'm in touch with several of his descendants. About Lester, Henry, and Pearl I know very little. Pearl married her cousin, James Oscar Wrenn, the son of Delilah Jane Dickerson (Henry's sister) and her husband, James B. Wrenn. James B. Wrenn's relation to Mary Ann (Henry & Delilah's mother) is unknown, but they were most likely related with some level of consanguinity. If a pair of my first cousins decided to get married tomorrow, I'd be pretty concerned, but all the cousin marriages among the Dickersons in the 1800s and early 1900s don't really bother me. Cousin marriage wasn't nearly as taboo as it is today, probably because the genetic consequences weren't nearly as well known, especially not way out in the county where the Dickersons lived.

Every single one of Henry & Eliza's children lived and died in Person County, just north of Durham, where I grew up. I ran into Dickersons occasionally, but only once did I meet one with whom I had a definitive connection. Still, between Henry's four sons and all of their sons, there's a good chance nearly any Dickerson anywhere near Roxboro is my relative.

I'm fairly certain this photo was taken out in Granville, at the home of Henry's younger brother, George Edward Dickerson, but I'm not sure. It may also have been taken at Henry's farmhouse in Allenville, near Roxboro. George Edward was married to Eliza's sister, Mary Elizabeth Snow. (I've always wondered whether they had a double-wedding or not.) George & Mary's children and Henry & Eliza's children were each other's "double cousins," meaning they shared both sets of grandparents, as opposed to just one. Genetically, double cousins are equally as related as half siblings. I think (and I'm no geneticist, I'm just guessing), I think descendants from George's male line are equally as related as I am to both James L. Dickerson and the Snow sisters' father, Joseph A. Snow.

Even though Henry, Eliza and Walter are my direct ancestors, I find myself most fascinated with Berta. Many families, especially large ones, lost children to disease and disaster in those days. Researching just the census records of Henry & Eliza would never reveal that they had two more children who died in infancy. It seems likely that this is only photograph ever taken of Berta May, and if it weren't for the 1900 US Census and this photograph, we might never have known she existed at all. Luckily Henry & Eliza had a big, close knit family and their children told their children about Berta, Oscar, and the unnamed infant Dickerson, all three of whom might otherwise have been lost.

(6) Me
(5) Dad / Mom
(4) Papa / Grandma
(3) Roland Guy Dickerson / Bessie Jane Hicks
(2) Walter Gray Dickerson / Ombrice Harris
(1) Henry Davis Dickerson / Eliza Katie Snow

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Richard Crymes, Citizen and Haberdasher of London

My husband is the 15th son in a documented patriarchal line. Our son (whenever we have one), will be the sixteenth. Check it out:

1. Richard Crymes / Elizabeth (born in the early 1500s)
2. Thomas Crymes / Jane Muschamp
3. Sir Thomas Crymes / Margaret More
4. Sir George Crymes / Alice Lovell
5. Sir Thomas Crymes / Mary Bond
6. William Crymes / Christiana (first in America, arrived mid-to-late 1600s)
7. George Crymes / Mildred Bellamy
8. George Crymes / Nancy Dudley
9. Thomas Crymes / Nancy C. Westmoreland
10. William Martin Crymes / Macinda Adelee Battle
11. John Edward Crymes Sr. / Selma McCracken
12. John Edward Crymes Jr. /Queenie Mae Rogers
13. R. C. Crymes / Husband's Grandmother (Living)
14. Husband's Father (Crymes) / Husband's Mother
15. Husband and I

These guys are practically a history lesson unto themselves.

Plugging your ancestor into his or her time period, discovering how he fits in not just where he lived, but when he lived, and creating a narrative based on in-depth research is the ultimate accomplishment of a good family historian, at least as far as I'm concerned. Perhaps the greatest challenge is finding enough reliable information about an ancestor to make him or her more than just a name on a pedigree. The British tendency towards scholarly packrattery combined with the modern availability of records and directories online makes the life story of Richard Crymes accessible some 450 years after his death, if you know where to look.

The earliest mention of Richard Crymes, haberdasher appears in 1534, the year of the official Church of England break with Rome, not long after Henry the Eighth's marriage to Anne Boleyn and the birth of Elizabeth I. The king granted a few chunks of land around London to Richard and two others - including John Crymes, a clothworker who may have been Richard's brother, or perhaps a cousin. (The two lived near each other in the Old Jewry area of London and had a few business dealings together.) We might guess that Richard was born sometime between 1500 and 1515, towards the end of or just after the reign of Henry the Seventh, around the time of the invention of the wheel-lock gun and the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

Richard was a member of the Company of Haberdashers, whose Guild Hall was a block or two away from St Lawrence Jewry, where Richard was a parishioner. Haberdasheries in Tudor England were quite unlike the modern purveyors of men's clothing. Today's haberdasheries (if they even exist outside department stores, which is rare) primarily sell men's accessories; items like shirts, tie clips, and collar stays. But in Richard's time, a haberdashery was more like a late medieval five-and-dime, selling everything from swords to fabric notions. In 16th century London, haberdasheries were extravagant businesses, often brightly and fabulously decorated, over the top and ostentatious enough to encourage customers to part with their money, not unlike today's upscale department stores. I like to think that Richard was as over the top as the store he ran might have been.

Richard was definitely a fabulously wealthy commoner by the standards of the day. In 1541 he paid more in lay subsidies (think: income taxes) than anyone else in his entire parish.

In April 1546, at the height of a conservative wave of the English Reformation, Richard and his wife Elizabeth purchased Buckland Monachorum for about £1500. Buckland was the site of a former abbey seized by the crown as a result the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries Act in the late 1530s. Buckland Monachorum was to be Richard's country estate, and he had Crapstone Barton Farm built for this purpose, though it's unknown how much time he actually spent there. Richard appears to have maintained his usual residence in London, where he ran his business. The Crapstone Barton Farmhouse is still standing and occupied to this day, though it has been out of the family for a few centuries. In October of the same year just a few months before the death of Henry VIII, Richard purchased a second chunk of seized church property, Lubenham, in Leicester.

Crapstone Barton Farm as it stands today.

When the child-King Edward VI was barely eleven years old in 1548, Richard was nominated for Alderman of the Bishopsgate ward, but the nomination was rejected in October.

A few years after the Ale Houses Act 1551 created registration and licensing standards for taverns, both Richard and John Crymes were called to serve as sheriff. Being named sheriff in mid-16th century London was something akin to modern jury duty, the idea being that the wealthier members of society (of which there were few) ought to take turns holding office. On the first of August 1552 John (the clothworker) was chosen. He quickly begged off and was charged a fine for shirking his duties. His fines were paid by September 6, and a new sheriff was chosen by September 28. Richard's turn came about a year later, in July of 1553. Like John, Richard too begged off and was slapped with a fine. At least one source has incorrectly supposed that Henry Machyn's August 1, 1552 diary entry refers to Richard, when in fact it refers to the other Mr. Crymes.

While Richard was avoiding becoming sheriff, poor Lady Jane Grey was the proclaimed Queen of England, locked up in the Tower of London for the entire duration of her nine (or thirteen) days "reign," which ended when Mary I rode into London with a large retinue of supporters to legally ascend the throne in late July.

Richard lived to see the reigns of five English monarchs (six, if you count poor Jane Grey), from the waning years of Henry VII to the early years of Elizabeth I - one of the most fascinating eras not only in British history, but in world history as well. He was wealthy, generous to his friends, and clearly a shrewd businessman, leaving behind a sizable fortune upon his death.

When Richard Crymes died in the seventh year of Elizabeth I's reign on September 17, 1565, he left behind a four page will. Miraculously, the 445 year-old document survives to this day, in the National Archives of the United Kingdom. Richard asked to be buried next to his pew door at St. Lawrence Jewry church. He left Buckland Monachorum to his eldest son Ellis, Lubbenham to his second son Thomas, and properties in Islington to his daughter Mary. He left a small sum to be divided amongst his kindred near Witton, in Cheshire (where he was likely born) as well as funds for the maintenance and repair of a local bridge. He willed money to the Queen's highway fund, put £300 in trust for his granddaughter (forfeit if she married without family approval), left £40 for each of his three grandsons by Ellis, and he made provisions to provide charcoal for the poor folks in his parish and elsewhere. He forgave his debtors, left a few small sums to his friends, and a few big sums to his children; £800 to Mary and £1000 to Thomas.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are several more records in the U.K National Archives (mostly lawsuits) plus a few books I can't get local or online access to. Eventually I'll get my paws on all of those records and work them into Richard's history.

Until then, there are a few projects I'm working on, including:
  • A full transcript of Richard's will, translated into modern terms, and fully annotated. This is about half done.
  • An interactive Google Map, with markers for all of Richard's holdings and the other places he frequented.
  • A narrative on the Crymes family legacy in Devonshire.
  • A (probably futile) attempt to discover Richard's parentage.
Wills from both of Richard's sons, Ellis and Thomas, have also survived, giving us a direct link to the next generation of Crymes.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Crymes Family Cemetery

There are probably thousands of old family burying grounds across the country (especially in the southeast) that have been entirely lost to the elements, vandalism or progress. But not so the Crymes Family Cemetery (N34 44.640, W82 10.206), the final resting place of my husband's four and five times great grandparents.

Just off the road in a subdivision of homes on what used to be the land of his ancestors is a small cemetery, with a handful of graves. The two oldest belong to George Crymes (also spelled Grymes, Grimes, and Crimes) and his wife, Nancy Anne Dudley, married in Virginia in 1786 - my husband's great-great-great-great-great grandparents in a direct paternal line.

George and Nancy Crymes settled in Greenville, South Carolina after the Revolutionary War. They moved south from George's birthplace of Lunenburg, Virginia in 1796. According to his obituary, George joined the Continental Army at age 16 and was present at the surrender of Lord Cornwallis. (Which just happens to have occurred across the street from where I went to junior high - Yorktown Middle School.) The Daughters of the American Revolution don't seem to have approved George Jr. as a patriot ancestor just yet - though he clearly shows up in the Revolutionary War rolls - not to mention the fact that you didn't fib about being a Continental Soldier in 1845. You'd have gotten caught. His father, George Sr., though too old too fight, definitely rendered aid to the Revolutionaries and is DAR approved. More on this when I write about the fistful of Revolutionary ancestors in my husband's line, a motley group that includes a woman!

Next up are Thomas (son of George) and Nancy Crowley Westmoreland Crymes, my husband's great-great-great-great grandparents.

Thomas, from what I've gathered so far, was a farmer, merchant, and possibly co-tavern owner. Born in 1797 in Virginia (my guess is that George moved to Greenville ahead of a pregnant Nancy, or that George's obituary was slightly off as to when the family moved south), Thomas married Nancy Crowley Westmoreland in 1822. According to his obituary, he died very suddenly in 1838, predeceasing his parents by a few years. Nancy Westmoreland lived well into the 1880s, never remarrying as far as I know.

William Martin Crymes who moved to Haywood, North Carolina, is the direct ancestor of my husband's branch of the Crymes tree. William Martin was the son of Thomas & Nancy and he appears to have been named after his uncle, Thomas' brother, Col. William Martin Crymes who is buried here.

The fact that this old family burying ground is still accessible and in such great condition is largely thanks to the residents of the area, who I'm told keep an eye on the place and try to protect it from vandalism. Until about twenty years ago, many of the farm outbuildings were still standing, but they were torn down because they were structurally unsound and not safe. Last year, a girl scout troop led by T. Minten conducted a survey of the cemetery, cleaning it up quite a bit in the process. I am indebted to her for doing so and for many of the photos shared here.

A Slideshow of Every Grave in The Crymes Family Cemetery (includes multiple photos of every marker, photos of the cemetery as a whole, and a map)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Disappearing Dickersons

Some families are easier to find than others. My husband's family, the Crymes, left a paper trail all the way back to 16th century London. My paternal line, on the other hand, stops cold in 1819. Family lore is that there was a big falling out over the Civil War, not uncommon for families in the South, but I don't know any details on the matter.

The Dickersons were all over Granville County, North Carolina in the 18th & 19th centuries. My great-great-great-great grandfather, James L. Dickerson, was born in 1819, married to Mary Ann Wrenn on 3 December 1850, and died in 1874.

In 1860, James & Mary Ann still lived in Granville, along with their two oldest children. They lived with another family, the Rowlands, in Epping Forest near what is now Kittrell in Vance County.

Census records in 1870 & 1880 show that a Thomas Dickerson, a few years older than James, lived with the family. In 1880, James' widow Mary Ann Wrenn identified Thomas as the family's "uncle," and a Thomas Dickerson was the bondsman for the marriage of James & Mary Ann; so it would seem that Thomas was James' brother. Also living with the family in 1870 was the 71 year-old Elizabeth Dickerson, possibly the mother of Thomas and James.

Backtracking to the 1850 Census, a Betsy & Thomas Dickerson (of the correct birth years to potentially be the same Elizabeth & Thomas) are counted in the Raglands district, living with Rhoda Dickerson (84) and three young Dickerson men in their twenties; James, Morton, and William. It's possible that this James was our James, but not likely, as he's listed as 22 years old - about ten years younger than our James L. Elizabeth and Thomas appear to have not been counted in 1860, but it's possible that the record is simply illegible or incorrect. Or maybe no one was home.

Still, a theoretical picture of James' family begins to take shape. We know from his tombstone and from census records that James was born in about 1819. His apparent brother, Thomas, was a few years older, and their mother appears to have been named Elizabeth.

______ Dickerson, b. about 1795 or earlier?, d. before 1850?
Elizabeth _____, b. about 1799, d. after 1870
Thomas Dickerson, b. about 1814, d. after 1880
James Dickerson, b. about May 1819, d. October 1874

We know that James, at least, was born and married in Granville, so we can theorize that his family lived there at least between 1820 and 1850. Unfortunately, early 19th century censuses listed only the name of the head of the household along with the ages and genders of rest of the family, rather than enumerating each individual.

Examining the ages and genders of every member of every Dickerson household in the 1830 and 1840 censuses (and assuming that Thomas was indeed James' brother and Elizabeth his mother) suggests that a William Dickerson of Tabb's Creek was possibly the father of James & Thomas. But this "evidence" is entirely circumstantial and will need more proof to stand.

The mystery isn't helped at all by the fact that there were gobs of Dickersons in Granville County and the surrounding area in the late 18th and 19th centuries. James doesn't appear to definitively belong to any of them.

Of course, I don't know for certain that Elizabeth was James' mother. The 1870 census doesn't list the relationship of each household member to the head, so I can only guess.

It also seems likely that James' father was a descendant of John & Elizabeth Peace Dickerson, a couple from Virginia, from whom most of the Granville Dickersons descend.

Several Dickerson family historians have pieced the puzzle together about this far. Chances are we'll never solve it, unless a family bible magically resurfaces. James & Mary Ann had seven children that survived to adulthood, 5 boys, and 2 girls (who married into the Tatum & Wrenn families.) If there ever was a family bible, it may have been passed on to Frances "Fannie" (Dickerson) Tatum, or Delilah Jane "Jeannie" (Dickerson) Wrenn, if it was passed on at all.

Over the next few weeks I'll be writing some in-depth posts on what became of the children of James & Mary Ann. Maybe one day Google will reunite me with what genealogists like to call a "magic document," the missing piece that fills in a gap or a stonewalled line, whether it's in the form of a family Bible or a will that got packed up in an attic and never made it to the State Archives.

Until then, the documentable Dickerson line only goes back to 1819.

Record Slideshow for this Post (click here to see Census Records, Grave Photos, and more!)