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52 Ancestors: #9 The Alice Bangles

March 25, 2014 by  
Filed under 52 Ancestors 52 Weeks

This post #9 in the 52 Ancestors blog challenge is about my great-grandmother who was a woman from the island of Bermuda named Alice Dickinson. I know she had at least three children – Frederick, Clarissa and Renee. Frederick was my maternal grandfather and he was born in Bermuda on December 12, 1889. Years later, he would honor his mother by naming two of his daughters after her. One was my mother, Alice Vivian.

Panoramic view of Bermuda in 1911. http://ow.ly/uX1Qz

Panoramic view of Bermuda in 1911. http://ow.ly/uX1Qz

I don’t know if “Dickinson” was Alice’s maiden or married name. But I have heard family rumors that she was somehow related to a “Dr. Tucker” from Bermuda who may have been related to her. Sadly that’s all I know this side of my family.

Except that at some point, one of her granddaughters – my Aunt “Dottie” (Alice Dorothy) gave my mother (Alice Vivian) a pair of gold bangles that belonged to the original Alice.

Here they are.

These gold bracelets belonged originally to my great-grandmother Alice.

These gold bracelets belonged originally to my great-grandmother Alice.

The bangles are beautiful and came to me from my mother when she died in 2013. Unfortunately I didn’t know about this gift from Aunt Dottie until after she had passed away and my mom already had dementia. So I never got to ask the hundred questions you know I have:

  • How did my great-grandmother come to have bracelets made of gold?
  • Who gave them to her?
  • Did Aunt Dottie have other things that originally belonged to Great-Grandmother Alice? What story did they tell about her life?
  • Did Aunt Dottie ever meet Alice because I know my mother never did?
  • Who were her parents?
  • What was her full name?
  • Who did she marry?
  • Was she related to the Tucker family in Bermuda?
  • And so on and so on…

The bad thing is that most of the Bermuda records that could answer some questions for me aren’t digitized yet. The other bad thing is that getting to Bermuda is quite an expensive hike from my home in Michigan.

But I still have family in Bermuda – lots of cousins who are descended from Alice like I am. They’re now interested in learning more about her and the rest of our Bermuda heritage. So it’s like having troops on the ground. I don’t have to do all the research myself.

The other good thing is that Bermuda is a very small place with excellent British record-keeping. Genealogy research there, at least in my limited experience, is a much easier that tracking down ancestors across the great expanse of the United States.

So Alice – I haven’t forgotten about you. For now, I’ll let your gold bangles be a constant reminder that you are waiting for me to discover your story.

And I will.

52 Ancestors: #8 A Prince of a Man

March 25, 2014 by  
Filed under 52 Ancestors 52 Weeks

In this 8th post of the 52 ancestors I’ll write about in 2014, the focus is my great-grandfather, Prince Albert Weaver. I’ve always wondered where he got that name. When he was born November 24, 1860, there was a more famous Prince Albert living, who was the beloved Prince Consort to England’s Queen Victoria. Maybe Great-Grandpa was named after him.

My Prince Albert was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Nathaniel D. and Cornelia C. Weaver. But by the 1870 United States Census, Nathaniel was deceased and Cornelia was living in Washington, D.C. as a widow with two children – Ellen C., age 16 and Albert, age 10.

From the census records, it looks like Prince Albert spent his entire childhood in D.C. because he’s still there as a 19-year-old laborer living with his mother, Mary C. Weaver in 1880.

On September 2, 1889, Prince Albert married Jennie Daisy Hood who was originally from Waterford, Erie County, Pennsylvania. Despite the fact that they married in Cleveland, Ohio (not the deep South), the interracial marriage of Prince Albert and Jennie was still very controversial. In fact, Jennie’s father, my great-great grandfather Andrew Coover Hood never spoke to her again.

Jennie and Prince Albert Marriage

Although times were often tough, Prince Albert and Jennie remained husband and wife until his death forty-one years later on February 17, 1931. Together the Weavers had one son, Earnest and five daughters, three of whom would die in childhood. The surviving girls were Clarissa Mae and Hazel Edna – my grandmother.

I only have the one photo below that shows my great-grandfather. It was taken on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey in about 1920. Prince Albert is circled in green and my great-grandmother Jennie is the woman with the black hat on the left. The young couple on the right are my grandparents, Hazel and Frederick Dickinson and the baby –

Well that’s my mother, Alice Vivian who was born in 1919.

My great-grandfather, Prince Albert Weaver (he's the one circled in green).

My great-grandfather, Prince Albert Weaver (he’s the one circled in green).

Over the years my great-grandparents lived in Cleveland, the United States census records from 1900-1930 show that Prince Albert worked as a carpenter and a laborer. From our oral family history, I always heard he was a brick mason too. But the person who told Prince Albert’s story best was his eldest daughter and my great-aunt – Clarissa or “Clara” as we all called her.

By the time I came along and was old enough to express an interest in my heritage, Aunt Clara was my oldest living relative – and the self-appointed family historian.

My Great-Aunt Clara, as we called her. She was one of Prince Albert's daughters.

My Great-Aunt Clara. She was one of Prince Albert’s daughters.

At some point, Aunt Clara sat down and wrote a letter about her father and his life. So best you should read who he really was in her words rather than mine:

Bio of Prince Albert by his daughter, Clarissa.

Bio of Prince Albert Weaver by his daughter, Clarissa. Page 1

Bio of Prince Albert Weaver by his daughter, Clarissa. Page 2

Bio of Prince Albert Weaver by his daughter, Clarissa. Page 2

Bio of Prince Albert Weaver by his daughter, Clarissa. Page 3

Bio of Prince Albert Weaver by his daughter, Clarissa. Page 3

From Aunt Clara’s story, it seems that Prince Albert felt himself a failure. But as William Faulkner once said:

All of us failed to match our dreams of perfection.

What I see in my great-grandfather is someone who kept trying, who was a good husband, who raised three children and had even had one daughter graduate from college back when most women didn’t finish high school. In my book, Prince Albert left a legacy of perseverance and that made him a prince of a man.

I wish he had known that.

52 Ancestors: #7 My Father, the Possibilities Man

February 18, 2014 by  
Filed under 52 Ancestors 52 Weeks

It seems only fitting that my latest post for 52 Ancestors 52 Weeks be about my father, whose 94th birthday would have been this week. My father, Thomas Melvin Batchelor was born on February 16, 1920 in Hamtramck, Michigan – a small city next to Detroit.

He was two months premature and had head full of pale blonde hair that would soon turn into the flaming red hair he was known for in his youth – along with a million freckles.

According to my grandmother, the doctor who delivered my dad said, “If he makes it through the night, he’s got a chance”. Fighter that he was, Dad not only made it through that night, but went on to survive a childhood of poverty and illness during the Great Depression.

Dad and Grandma. This is the earliest photo I have of my father, circa early 1930s.

Dad and Grandma. This is the earliest photo I have of my father, circa early 1930s.

Even though he grew up without material things, Dad never talked about how bad things were. He always focused on the good from those days. His nickname back then was “Hamtramck Red” and boy did he have some great stories.

I remember how he used to tell us about wearing “welfare” plaid flannel shirts (the exact same shirt every other boy in school had too) and having to eat chicken toes so that no food went to waste. I’ve always wondered if he was just pulling my leg about that.

When Dad was about 12, he injured his leg in a fall on the ice. Not having money for a doctor, my grandmother took my father to a faith healer. Whatever the treatment was, Dad ended up with a serious bone infection.

Luckily for my father, one of their neighbors was a nurse and she intervened to make sure Dad got proper medical treatment. But it was grueling and landed him in a convalescent home for a year.

Remember, back then there were no antibiotics. The ongoing treatment required his doctors to cut his leg open to the bone and pack the wound with chlorine, as I recall. I can’t imagine what this must have been like but Dad recovered although he had to wear a built-up shoe because the infection stunted the growth in his leg.

My father’s disability never kept him from being a straight “A” student and graduating from high school with honors. Many years later, I recall Dad’s extreme interest in every report card I brought home and his annual display of every one of his own report cards from the first through the twelfth grades. All “A”s and one “B”! My father was truly a tough act to follow but we sure did try.

Dad went on to major in art at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan with a full scholarship and according to him – 2 pairs of pants he wore all through college until they were shiny and paper-thin from being ironed so much.

During the time my father was in undergrad, my grandmother was working as the “help” for the dean of the Wayne State medical  school. One day the dean asked Grandma what her son was studying in college and she replied that he was an art major.

My father's self-portrait in chalks when he was about 17. He left off his freckles!

My father’s self-portrait in chalk when he was about 17. He left off his freckles!

Then the dean asked how Dad’s grades were. My grandmother said, “Excellent.” And that’s when the dean said –

There’s not much money to be made by a young colored man in art. Do you think he’d be interested in medicine?

In fact, my father was interested. He applied, was accepted and offered a full scholarship – again. But there was just one little problem. At that time, the medical school had a rule. They only accepted two African-American students in a class. And the class was full.

So Dad waited a year for his “Black” slot. He continued his studies, received his masters in pathology and taught at the university. When he was finally admitted to medical school, my dad’s life was full steam ahead. During that time though, racial tensions were heating up in Detroit.

One summer afternoon in 1943 while he was in med school, Dad went out on a date to Belle Isle in Detroit. Belle Isle is a small island and public park in the middle of the river between Detroit and Windsor, Canada. It’s connected to Detroit by a bridge – the only way on and off the island.

That evening the racial tensions in Detroit reached a boiling point when a riot between Blacks and White sailors from the nearby naval armory broke out on the Belle Isle bridge. My father was still on the island when all of the riot started. (Here’s a separate post with more about his experience in the 1943 riots).

The sad news is that my father’s leg was injured again in the violence that night. But Dad got patched up and went back to his medical school studies. In 1944, he met my mother, Alice Vivian Dickinson at a picnic given by friends. These two brilliant and attractive people fell in love and married in 1945.

My parents at their wedding in June, 1945. They were married for 57 years.

My parents at their wedding in June, 1945. They were married for 57 years.

While my father finished medical school, Mom taught school. They had great plans for the future that were unfortunately derailed by an unexpected roadblock.

Dad was suffering from a persistent bone infection in his leg from his injury in the 1943 riots. Antibiotics still weren’t widely available and he’d have to do another year of treatment in the convalescent home. Here he was in his last year of medical school with a coveted internship waiting, a new wife – and someone was telling him to sit on the sidelines.

Well Dad’s response to this was –

No way!

Instead he made the decision to have the doctors amputate. Nothing was going to stand in the way of my father achieving his goals – not even his own leg!

Dad sped through his recovery and graduated with honors in the top 10% of his class – or so he thought. It wasn’t until he retired from the practice of medicine many years later, that my father learned he had actually graduated first in his class – an honor we believe was denied him because of his race.

After medical school, my father and two other Black physicians built their first clinic in Detroit. That was the beginning of my dad’s long career that would span 54 years of practice. Here’s a photo taken at the opening of the Conant Gardens Medical Clinic –

Here's a picture of my mother and I at the opening of Dad's first medical clinic.

Here’s a picture of my mother and me at the opening of Dad’s first medical clinic.

I was the eldest of my parent’s three children and I still claim to be my father’s favorite. I’m sure my sister, Paula and brother, Thomas would argue that point! The truth is that he loved and inspired us all.

The 83 years of my father’s life weren’t easy. But he never let anything get in the way – racism, illness, poverty or the lack of confidence that he could do what he set his mind to. Dad lived a life filled with a unique blend of amazing goals, great achievements, laughter and wisdom that never seems to end, even though he passed away on October 24, 2002.

My father's obituary from the Detroit Free Press, October 30, 2002/

My father’s obituary from the Detroit Free Press, October 30, 2002/

My father wanted to be cremated and we honored his wishes. Dad’s ashes are interred next to my mother’s at the Historic Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit, Michigan  –

Historic Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit where my father's ashes are interred.

Historic Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit where my father’s ashes are interred.

For those of us who knew him – and the generations to follow, my father left a rich legacy of wonderful memories, family history and life lessons; the most important one being that anything is possible. My dad’s faith in “possibilities” was passed down to me and continues to be the beacon that lights my way through life.

My father and his signature smile with the gap between his front teeth.

My father and his signature smile with the gap between his front teeth.

I love you, Dad. Always, always.

52 Ancestors: #6 Puritan Wife and Mother Hannah Littlefield Cloyes

February 12, 2014 by  
Filed under 52 Ancestors 52 Weeks

For my 52 Ancestors post this week, I’d like to introduce you to Hannah Littlefield Cloyes, a Puritan wife and mother and my 9th great-grandmother on my maternal line. As with many of my women ancestors, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries, there is often no record of their lives beyond birth, marriage and death. That’s if you’re lucky (and persistent). I was – and I did discover these milestones for Hannah.

Hannah was born 10 July 1633 in Titchfield, Hampshire, England. She was the daughter of Edmund Littlefield and his wife, Annis Austin who immigrated to the American colonies, along with many other Puritans seeking to escape an increasingly Catholic England for religious freedom in America.

Hannah is listed as a 5-year-old passenger with her mother, five siblings and two servant men who sailed on the “Bevis”. They landed in Massachusetts in May 1638 and soon moved to Wells, Maine where Edmund Littlefield was one of the original settlers.

There is no record of Hannah’s early years in Maine. We do know that her father was well-to-do and as such, Hannah likely had a somewhat privileged lifestyle. As a young Puritan girl, Hannah (who was also known as “Anne”) would have been educated to read the Bible and write. Ultimately, the life goals for her were to marry, maintain a home, raise a family and be pious.

How a Puritan woman like Hannah Cloyes might have dressed.

How a Puritan woman like Hannah Cloyes might have dressed.

Hannah married Peter Cloyes (Clois, Clayes) around 1662. Peter was originally from Watertown, Massachusetts but had also moved northward into Maine. The couple settled there and had five children. I am descended from Hannah and Peter through their daughter, Sarah who married John Cunnabell (Cunibal).

Hannah died around 1680. There are no specifics about her death. She was, however, alive and mentioned as a beneficiary in her mother’s will in December, 1677. But by 1682, her husband, Peter Cloyes had remarried widow, Sarah Towne Bridges in Salem, Massachusetts who would later be accused of witchcraft.

Although there’s so much I’ll never know about Hannah Littlefield Cloyes, I’ve tried to understand who she was by reading about the lifestyle of Puritan women in 17th century New England. It’s given me a broader perspective on how my 9th great-grandmother might have lived.


[1] Colonial Times; part 2, pp. 45-207, lists passengers and the ships they arrived on (3,600 passengers on 213 ships). From the Custom House records of English ports. Much of the information is contained in nos. 7906 and 7907, Savage; nos. 1672 and 1674, Drake; and no. 3283, Hotten. Also Edmund West, comp.. Family Data Collection – Births [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2001.

[2] Pope, Charles Henry. The Pioneers of Maine and New Hampshire, 1623-1660. n.p., 1908.

[3] Torry, Clarence A. New England Marriages Prior to 1700. Baltimore, MD, USA: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2004.

[4]  Maine Wills 1640-1760 by Wm M. Sargent; page 76: The Last Will and Testament of Annis (Austin) Littlefield.

52 Ancestors: #5 What I Don’t Know About Grandpa Could Fill An Ocean

February 4, 2014 by  
Filed under 52 Ancestors 52 Weeks

Participating in the 52 Ancestors 52 Weeks blog challenge has forced me to face one of the biggest brick walls in my family research – my immigrant grandfather, Frederick William James Dickinson from Bermuda. Grandpa is an enigma because there’s so much I don’t know about his early years and his ancestry. My ancestry.

My grandfather as a young man in Bermuda.

My grandfather as a young man in Bermuda.

Because I have had a running streak of success researching other branches of my family tree, I’ve been guilty of putting Grandpa on the proverbial back burner instead of pushing forward to discover more about him.

Guilty as charged.

But as I started to list the 52 ancestors I want to profile this year and wrote down my grandfather’s name, it hit me that  –

What I don’t know about Grandpa could fill an ocean.

And somehow I had missed the boat to get across. So enough’s enough! Blogging about 52 ancestors this year has now turned into a big call to action for me to create a game plan for researching my grandfather’s early years starting with:

  • What I know
  • What I don’t know and
  • How I can fill in the gaps.

Of course, there are no guarantees I can break through this genealogy brick wall but clearly no barriers come down if I ignore the problem. So here goes!

What I Know

1. My grandfather was very secretive about his life in Bermuda before he immigrated to the United States on May 28, 1917.

Passenger list from the Bermudian, the ship my grandfather sailed on to the United States

Passenger list from the Bermudian, the ship my grandfather sailed on to the United States

My mother remembered that when she was little and living in their home in Cleveland, Ohio, her father would get letters from family back in Bermuda. But he never shared the content of those letters with her and her siblings. Because of this, his children knew very little about his life before them.

In fact, the mystery continued into my lifetime. Three years after Grandpa Dickinson died in 1958, we took a family trip to Bermuda. Our Aunt Hazel (my mother’s younger sister) came along with us. My mother and aunt had never been there and were pretty excited to see their father’s birthplace.

After we checked into the hotel, I distinctly remember Mom picking up a Bermuda phone book and flipping through the pages to see if she could find any people with the last name of Dickinson. She did – and imagine our shock when that impromptu phone book search led to my mom to her half-sister, Dorothy, who they didn’t know.

Aunt Dottie shared later that she had actually met my mother as an infant during a visit to New York City where Mom was born. According to Aunt Dottie, who was a little girl then, her father took her by the hand over to the crib where a baby was sitting and said –

This is your baby sister.

But for whatever reasons, Mom, Aunt Hazel and Aunt Dottie were never given the chance to get to know one another until all those many years later on our trip to Bermuda. Making up for lost time, it was wonderful to see the three sisters bond immediately.

Our vacation morphed into an enthusiastic family reunion where we got to know Aunt Dottie, her husband, Leon Eve, a host of new cousins and even my grandfather’s first wife – Mrs. Robinson.

2. My grandfather was born on December 12, 1889 in Hamilton, Bermuda, an island in the north Atlantic Ocean that has been part of British territory since 1609.

Map of Bermuda

Map of Bermuda

When I visited the island in the 1970’s, I made a trip to the Registry office and easily found Grandpa’s birth record. The man known to my family as “Frederick Dickinson” was actually Frederick William James Dickinson, born six years earlier than my mother had always believed.

No father was listed but the birth registration showed Grandpa’s mother as “Alice Dickinson”, a Black woman. I don’t know if Dickinson was her maiden name. As we got to know our Bermuda family better, I was intrigued to learn that my grandfather named both of his eldest daughters after his mother – Alice Dorothy (my aunt) and Alice Vivian (my mother).

Oral family tradition is that Grandpa’s father or maternal grandfather was a “Dr. Tucker”, a White Bermudian. What “they” (my late aunt and older Bermuda cousins) revealed is that when the alleged Dr. Tucker died, he left land in his will to my grandfather and his sister. But for whatever reasons, these two heirs never got their inheritance and the land was taken from them.

Or so the story goes.

The family grapevine also has it that my grandfather had two sisters, but I don’t know if that’s true, what their names were or if they have descendants still living in Bermuda.

3. My grandfather spoke with a British accent and was a staunch British citizen to the day he died. Becoming a United States citizen was never on his agenda even though he lived here for over forty years. One of the stories my mother used to tell of her childhood is when Grandpa woke her and her siblings up very early on December 11, 1936 to listen to the radio. That infamous day was when King Edward VIII of England took to the airwaves to announce his abdication and how he:

Found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility, and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love.

According to Mom, Grandpa was shocked that a king of England would give up the throne in favor for love. I guess my grandfather was not a big fan of Wallis Warfield Simpson, the woman Edward would soon marry and make the Duchess of Windsor.

4. Grandpa Dickinson was a life-long member of the Church of England.

5. He was married in Bermuda before he met my grandmother, Hazel Edna Weaver and had one daughter, Aunt Dottie.

What I Don’t Know (the short list)

  • About his father – who was he? Was his last name Dickinson, Tucker or Swann (as I’ve also heard through the family grapevine)? Was he even a Bermudian? Did he marry my great-grandmother Alice? Who were his parents? Where was he born? Was he baptized? What was his race? Did he own property? Did he have any relationship with Grandpa? When did my great-grandfather die and where is he buried? Did he leave a will?
  • About his mother – what was her maiden name? When was she born? Was she baptized? Who were her parents? Did she ever marry? Did she own property? When did she die and where is she buried?
  • About Grandpa’s childhood and early years – where did he live? What kind of life did he have? Did he have siblings (those two sisters)? What kind of education did he have? When did he marry Mrs. Robinson?

How Do I Fill the Gaps

I wish I could say there’s a visit to Bermuda in my near future but there’s not. So all my research has to be done online or with help from someone there on the island. My first step is to research and find out if any of the pre-1917 records I need to review have been digitized in recent years and put into a database that I can get access to.

The second step, and this is an important one, is to partner with my Bermuda cousins to tackle this research problem. Together we can sift through the information we have and start to break down the brick wall that’s kept all of us from knowing more about Frederick William James Dickinson.

The Bermuda cousins are as eager as I am to discover more about Grandpa Dickinson’s genealogy. How do I know? Because I emailed my Bermuda cousin, Melvin Dickinson this week about the research we need to do and he’s ready to get going.

Melvin is the grandson of my Aunt Dottie and he and his sons are the last of the Dickinson line. So this a real opportunity to hopefully get documentation in the form of both records and DNA.

And maybe working together as a family team, we finally can answer the question we’ve all had for years because we all have this photo –

Who the heck is this woman hanging out with our grandfather?

My grandfather on the beach in Bermuda prior to 1917 when he immigrated to the U.S.

My grandfather on the beach in Bermuda prior to 1917 when he immigrated to the U.S.

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