It’s Thanksgiving time. Come on in and meet the Dunns…

It’s been 5 months since I started this blog, and I guess I’m a little surprised that I’ve not introduced you to any of my Dunn ancestors, save my grandfather, Bill. I’m still learning about them, through research and DNA. Since Dunn is my maiden name, I’m a wee bit fond of them. They continue to be a bit elusive, so my search for more about them is undoubtedly going to take a lifetime.

I’ve told you a little about my grandfather. I was fortunate enough to have him in my life well into my adulthood. He died in March 1995, and the world is a little bit smaller with him gone. He was a mover and a shaker, a hard working and hard playing man. He made friends easily and there were few people he truly didn’t like. He was one of those people that easily found common ground, and might have been able to get a door knob to talk to him. He was quick to smile and laugh, and he was just a fun person to be around. I miss him a whole lot.

I wish I knew if this was a unique trait to him or if it’s something he inherited from his father, George Oliver Dunn. Nobody really knows. My great grandfather died in 1938, when Dad was a year old. Naturally, Dad doesn’t remember anything about him, and those that did know him are long gone as well. Only the stories remain.

I certainly listened when they were offered, but I wish I had thought to ask more questions about his parents and their childhood memories. It’s just going to have to be enough to live with the stories I do know. Dad is also eager to learn more about his grandparents and what they were like as children. He’s hit up his cousins to see what photos and artifacts there might be in Aunt Alys’ attic.

What I do know about George is that he was the only surviving son of William Henry Harrison Dunn and Martha Eleanor Wilson, born on the 8th of July 1878 in Mount Comfort, Indiana. George was the 3rd child and 2nd son, but only knew his sibling order as the oldest son because his older brother died at the age of 1 the year before he was born. He had six sisters, and until their mother died in 1913, were close. He married my great grandmother, Claudia Alys Whitaker, on 28 Mar 1900. They had 4 children: Verne “Vee”, Bill, George and Alys.

Claudia and George Dunn in California, visiting Vee.

George and his siblings (Cora Jane, Mary Frances, Neva Grace, Sara, Bessie Fae and Ruth) lost their father in 1908 and their mother in 1913. After Martha Eleanor died, the surviving siblings had a rift over the estate. His sisters fought him in court and their relationship was fractured (to say the least) from that point forward. He kept in touch with Cora and Ruth, and eventually mended fences with his other sisters after time had healed some of the wounds. Mary died in 1899 from typhoid fever, and George died in 1938 at the age of 60. Claudia outlived him by another 29 years.

Dunn Family in 1903 in front of their new farmhouse, l-r: William H. H, Martha, Bess, Sara, George, Ruth. Grace and her husband and daughter are in the carriage. Photo courtesy of Mark Linvill.

Before all of that mess, he had assumed his father’s role as running the only grain elevator in rural Indiana roughly 20 miles east of Indianapolis.

It was a successful operation until the great depression. He took eggs and chickens and other items in lieu of payment until he either declared bankruptcy or closed his doors for good. He was apparently good with numbers and became the Hancock County auditor until he got sick and moved to Plymouth, Indiana, where he died shortly thereafter. From all accounts, he was the love of Claudia’s life, and when he died, she was devastated. That devastation was emotional and financial. Her children would take turns caring for her until she died.

William Henry Harrison Dunn (b. 1848) and Martha Eleanor Wilson (b. 1854) were married on 2 Oct 1872. William had lost his first wife and daughter the year before. He and Martha had a long and happy marriage until their deaths in 1908 and 1913, respectively.

Both William H. H. and Martha were the children of Indiana farmers, William Abner Dunn and Henry Bascom Wilson.

William Abner Dunn was born in 1816 in Abbeville, South Carolina, to Samuel Agnew Dunn and Mary “Polly” McGee. He married Frances Ann Harvey in 1837 in Franklin County, Indiana. Frances died in 1892 of La Grippe and Will died the following year, presumably of the same ailment according to their obituaries and other news articles. They were both from pioneer families in Indiana, though both their families hailed from South Carolina. They had 11 children: Mary Jane, Nancy Caroline (who would become the 2nd wife of Martha’s father), Milton L., Martha Emeline, Sarah T., William H. H., Andrew Jackson, Franklin M. L., an unknown infant daughter, and James P. H. It would seem as though they had an affection for naming their sons after former presidents. Anyone want to help figure out who might be Franklin M. L. and James P.H.? I’ve Googled ad nauseum and come up with nothing.

Like his son, William Abner Dunn was a farmer. Can I just say how delighted I am that I can post photographs of their faces while they were living rather than their tombstones after death? I’m incredibly grateful that Mark and his sister, Gay, have this expansive collection of photos. These are my only link to their faces, and I stare at them and see a variety of my family members with similar expressions (maybe not Frances, because it appears as though she’s lost her teeth in this photo). It can be a little unnerving, but mostly I’m thrilled.

Family lore has the Dunn family leaving Abbeville around 1832 and arriving in Franklin County, Indiana, about the same year. According to the census records, Samuel was engaged in Agriculture, so it’s probable that he was a farmer. William Abner was one of 9 children, their 3rd son and born 5th. Family lore also says that Samuel and Polly left South Carolina for Indiana because Indiana did not permit slavery. I so want that to be true, but I’m a little skeptical. Until recently, I thought it was the unvarnished truth, until Mark brought it to my attention that Samuel owned one slave in the 1830 census. If I could easily add an emoticon, it would be a frowning one.

Side story about that because it gives me pause. Samuel was born in 1775–in a time and place where slavery was the norm. He was first enumerated in the 1810 federal census with 4 members in his household and all of them white and free. In 1820, he had 8 free white persons in his household. But in 1830, he had 10 in his household, all of them white and free save for 1. In 1830 he was 55. Why??? By 1840, he was in Indiana and had no slaves. Did he buy someone to set them free? I honestly don’t know. I can hope that’s the truth. At any rate, Polly died in 1840 and Samuel died in 1846. They are both buried in the Dunn Cemetery in Hancock County, Indiana.

What I DO know is that his father, James Dunn, did NOT own slaves. He died in 1805 and left a will. No slaves were part of it, and he mentioned his wife and all living children. He was also engaged in agriculture and was illiterate. He was enumerated in the 1790 and 1800 federal censuses, and there were no slaves in his household for either one.

James Dunn was born in what is now Northern Ireland in 1734 (2 years after George Washington) and not much is known about his emigration to the colonies or when he married Agnes Agnew or when he moved to South Carolina. This continues to be an area I research, as my father and other ancestors before me have. Agnes Agnew was probably the daughter of Samuel Agnew who was born in County Down, Ireland. Both of them were Scots Irish with ancestors from Scotland. They were both Presbyterian.

James fought in the revolutionary war and sat on a petit jury during the war. He was the ancestor I used to join the DAR.

All the work on the Dunns was done long ago by my father, and a slew of other family members (like Mark’s mother and grandmother). Apparently, my great grandfather–George Oliver Dunn–made a trip to Abbeville with his father at some point in his life. They tracked down family members and later corresponded with them. When George died, all of our links to Abbeville died with him.

So I’m grateful to all my fellow Dunn family members who have kept our line going until this point. My research right now is trying to smash the wall down between James Dunn and his ancestors. That task, my friends, is only possible through DNA. We’re making progress, but ultimately, I think it’s going to take for me to get to Northern Ireland to dig some more. Two years ago, my father indulged me by taking a Y DNA test and entering his specimen into the Dunn Family Project on FTDNA. I don’t know why, but neither one of us was expecting any new revelation or surprise there. And we were both wrong and Dad was a little bit right.

Dad’s Dunn Y DNA test lumped us with a man who lives in England but whose surname is Dun. He was also grouped with 3 other fellows with the surname Dunn, whose common ancestor was another James Dunn who died in Massachusetts. They don’t know where their James Dunn was born, but all of their DNA takes them to Lanark, Scotland. My father long suspected our roots would take us back to Lanark, and he can leave this world knowing his research and hunches were dead on. I’m proud of him for that.

Through that Y DNA test, Dad and I have corresponded with a gentleman who goes by Skip. He’s a lovely person, and the best living gift that the DNA test could give. While we haven’t been able to exactly quantify the relationship between he and Dad–at least yet–we had yet *another* surprise…

After I posted my article about Thompson Maxwell and Josiah Crosby earlier this summer, Skip let me know that we have another shared common Crosby ancestor. After doing the mapping, it turns out that Skip and Mom are 10th cousins. So Skip is cousins to both my Dad and Mom. It truly is a small world.

So please join me and my family in our wish for you to all have a very happy Thanksgiving and holiday season. Valerie and I will be joining up with those we love back in Virginia, so we can cherish our living connections as long as we can. God bless!

Author: Betsey K.

Mother of two daughters, two Siamese cats and a 3 legged dog. Genealogy hack. Research nut. Search engine proficient. Daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, niece and ex-wife. And a person who strives for balance and peace.

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