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!

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