Friday, September 24, 2010

My Dunning Discovery

Next weekend would've been my great-grandfather's 126th birthday, so to celebrate we'll make our annual excursion to the tiny hamlet of Francisco, Indiana, to visit with several generations of David Dunning's descendants. Though he passed in 1977, at the ripe old age of 93, we continue the tradition started by his family decades ago. We still meet at his farm on Wheeling Road that holds so much in the way of memories, including how he fed and raised nine kids there. Only two of his children will be able to share in the festivities October 2-3, my Uncle Les (88) and Aunt Ginny (85). Yes, they are great-aunt and uncle, but we've always called them by the moniker Mom used to address them growing up.

It is fitting that my latest genealogical discovery involves Les and Ginny's grandparents, my 2nd great-grandparents, Albert Charles "AC" and Sophronia (Morrison) Dunning. Since they died in 1932 and 35, respectively, all I had were bits and pieces of family stories and folklore. I only found some old pictures of them while going through my late grandmother's things a couple of years ago. Here is one of the family taken about 1884.

That's my Great-Grandpa David sitting in his father's lap. The two older boys, George and Robert Charles, died when they were 25 and 13, respectively, so I never knew them either. Aunt Bessie is seated in Sophronia's lap.

Needless to say, I had no clue where they lived other than the old census records that gave their residence as White River Township in Gibson County, Indiana. Well, lo and behold, the 1881 Atlas of Gibson and Pike Counties shows the location of the old family home in the White River bottoms. I had studied that map several times at the library and online before I discovered the AC Dunning farm about midway between Patoka and Hazleton and west of the highway about 2 miles. It was sitting right there under my nose!

So on my last visit to the area (just last week), I was able to get access to the old property in the river bottoms from the current owner. Unfortunately, the Dunning home is gone, bulldozed by the current owner five years ago. But I walked where my ancestors once lived, along an old creek and down a steep, sandy, one-lane road eroded into the side of a hill. Driving down that narrow lane was like stepping back in time. I could imagine the horse-drawn carriage or wagon bumping down the sandy slope, through a corn field, around an old barn and to their two-story, white, wood-framed farmhouse. They raised their children in that home, along with some chickens and livestock. The current landowner says he knocked down an outhouse and chicken coup in addition to the old house. He walked the property with me, pointing out the location of everything. In fact, if you look on Google Earth, you can still see the footprint of the house.

I look forward to seeing the family this weekend and hearing more old stories of David Dunning and his parents who survived floods and the hard life of late 19th-century farming. I can't wait to ask Uncle Les and Aunt Ginny if they have any memories of the old home in the river bottoms. All I have is a picture taken beside the house in the teens or 1920's. AC and Sophronia are elderly, their children all grown, at least David and his three surviving sisters (three brothers died, the two mentioned above and one as an infant). As I said, it was a hard way to live back in the late 1800's in rural, southwestern Indiana.

We'll gather at the spot where my great-grandfather celebrated his 93rd birthday nearly 34 years ago. He is buried at Fairview Cemetery just one mile west of his home (pictured above about 1993). I remember attending his funeral as a 9-year-old boy. It was a tragic year for me, as I lost my Grandma and Grandpa Doyle in March '77. Still, the reunion brings back great childhood memories, not just of Grandpa Dunning, but of the whole family gathering to tell stories, play games and, yes, eat our fair share of down-home goodness! We'll be doing it again in a matter of days, and I cannot wait!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

One Mermaid's Spirtual Journey

My aunt Sarah started blogging last year. Today, in remembrance of 9/11, she posted a great blog @ One Mermaid's Spiritual Journey: "Peace and Love" is the only way. I hope you'll take a minute to read her thoughtful and spiritual insights.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

James Hussey Letter dated 12 Sep 1862

I've been building my family tree online for the better part of 8 years, but only recently purchased access to the vault of records on Today, I made one of the coolest finds to date. First, let me give you a bit of family history...

Back when Indiana Territory was a vast wilderness of tall timber, unspoiled watersheds and every kind of wild beast, my pioneer ancestors came from all points south and east to settle this veritable, backwoods paradise. Of the New England-born pioneers, was the family of Richard and Aphia (Mills) Hussey.

According to Gibson County newspaper man and historian Gil R. Stormont, the couple and their 4 children left Maine and travelled overland through the Genessee Valley (NY) to Washington
County, Ohio. Richard Louis Hussey (1789-1851) was a cabinet maker there for four years. Aphia bore him two more children before they left in late 1821 for Gibson County, Indiana, locating 5 miles east of Princeton, near Francisco. There, Richard cleared a farm and opened a blacksmith shop. He is my 5th great-uncle on Mom's side.

The last of the four children to be born in New England was James Madison Hussey (1817-1862). He would have made the long overland trip as an infant, knowing only thick woodlands of southwestern Indiana as home. After many years service to his father, clearing and cultivating a farm, James owned and operated a flour and a saw mill on the Patoka River in nearby Kirksville (now Wheeling), Indiana. That was before he heard the call of duty to put down the rebellion. James enlisted in the Union Army on August 2, 1862, and served as First Lieutenant in Company B, 65th Regiment, Indiana Volunteers.

It wasn't long before 1st Lt. Hussey contracted a serious illness and found himself bedridden at Camp Comeback in Henderson, Kentucky, southward across the Ohio River from Evansville. It is at this juncture we come to the present moment and my great find. Thanks to another Ancestry member, some of J. M. Hussey's correspondence has been saved in digital format for antiquity. Below is a scanned image of the opening of one of his last letters to his wife, Sarah, dated (on my birthday, no less) September 12, 1862. (Click on the image for a more readable, full-size version.)

By early November of that same year, James Madison Hussey was dead. He never recovered from his illness, as historian James T. Tartt recalls, James died of pneumonia in a Henderson, Kentucky, hospital. He received a military burial on the family farm back in Indiana. Now owned by the McConnell family, Lawrence Cemetery sits at the corner of a field just off Fairview Road near Francisco.