Friday, August 25, 2017


William Stevenson Dobbins
April 28, 1821 to January 25, 1847

            As a genealogist, I often run into people from the past who seem to have left very few footprints to follow.  They exist on paper in a minimal way, and except for the genealogist, might very quickly move past the "Immortal Nobody" category. 

            That is the way I would describe William Stevenson Dobbins, born in Ohio in 1821, who was the youngest child of Robert and Catherine Dobbins, the youngest brother of 7 siblings, and  eventually the husband of Sarah Brand. 

            He did nothing important enough to get written up in a county history book, although if he hadn't died at the young age of 25, he might have distinguished himself in some way.  In fact, many researchers have wondered if a William S. Dobbins was even a part of the family.  He was not given any property by his father like all the other children received; and he was not mentioned at all in the Session Minutes of the Bennington Presbyterian church, whose membership list included every member of the Dobbins family and whose pastor was his own father.   

            Some researchers wondered if perhaps he was simple-minded, thus not in a position to be treated like all other family members.   He was buried in the Dobbins Cemetery, but the stone was silent.

            In my research I found two important issues:  In an old Family Reunion paper dating from 1911, this story was handed down. " It was customary then to have wood cut for Sunday use on Saturday by the boys.  At one time, when he was away on one of his long trips, the boys failed in this duty.  The father returned on Saturday and sent his son Will out to chop the needed wood.  He did not hear the axe, and went out to see what was the trouble and overheard the following soliloquy:  'R. B. D.  Roaring Big Devil – this is a hell of a work.'  To the boy’s astonishment, the father appeared, saying, 'Tut, tut, tut.  I’ll teach you to take your father’s name in vain – to the woodshed we’ll go.'" 

            In all my research done over the last 40 years on the Dobbins family, this is the only time William was ever given a body and a personality, albeit one of a bratty teenager.  In a county history book there is a single line that said a William Dobbins married a Sarah Brand, but no documentation of that fact in the county courthouse marriage records turned up.

            William remained an immortal nobody for a long time because another researcher and I, both on the trail of this young man, failed to move on a probate file in the county for what appeared to be a person by the name of William L. Dobbins, not Willian S. Dobbins – in spite of the fact that sometimes old handwriting "L"s and "S"s are confused with each other.   

            When I finally decided to try one last time to either "rule in" or "rule out" this man by taking this final step, I sent for, and received, a William Dobbins' probate records.  One paper showed that his widow, Sarah Brand Dobbins, turned over her appointment as executrix for her husband's estate to Robert B. Dobbins.   And in this probate material it became obvious that William's middle initial was "S" -- for Stevenson, his grandmother Dobbins's maiden name – Elizabeth Stevenson Dobbins.

            William is truly an immortal nobody.  He will not be remembered for anything he did – except act like a brat and be so immortalized in an unpublished family reunion paper and sent to me by a Dobbins still living in Illinois.  But he did acquire enough worldly goods by farming the land that there was need for probating his estate when he died at age 25..  He left a wife, but no children.  His tombstone is in the Dobbins Cemetery (now the Clemens Cemetery) in Fulton County Illinois. 

            I do believe that is enough for William Stevenson Dobbins to take his place here in my Immortal Nobodies blog.

Friday, August 18, 2017


Feb. 28, 1934 - Jan. 1, 2017

            Shirley and Marv Abrams were, first of all, Jerry's friends; I "acquired" them after marrying Jerry in 1975.  Over the next 30 years we saw the Abrams socially many times – most often at Temple affairs but also at dinners when one of us felt the need to "get together to eat and catch up" on our busy lives.   I was very fond of both of them, and our get-togethers were always just super!

            We were saddened when Marv died in 2014 after a long illness, but we were shocked, as well as saddened, when Shirley died suddenly on January 1, 2017.  It wasn't until I read her obituary that I had any idea of what I DIDN'T know about her.  She never talked about herself.

            Her "other" life, besides being a wife and mother, had started out as a PTA president. Later she took leadership roles in the local United Way, Heart Association, the Jewish Federation, and the County Education Coordinating Councils.  She often received "Leader of the Year" awards from these groups.  Her volunteer efforts became so valuable to the LA County Dept. of Education that they created a full-time position for her at the main office in Downey.  She led vital programs on the education of the homeless and on addressing truancy in the schools until her retirement in 2011. 

            She continued her community activities as a long-time board member of the Jewish Federations of Los Angeles and the Eastern Region of Southern California, the Jewish Family Service and by serving on the prestigious JENNY Commission, reviewing the qualifications of appointed judges in the state.  She was twice invited to the White House to participate in the White House Conference on Children and Youth both in 1972 and again in 2002.

            She always made sure that family and friends came first.  She regularly met with groups of friends and prided herself on being present at important occasions in the lives of her loved ones.  She is survived by her two children and five grandchildren.

            Do I miss her?  You bet!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


          Dorothe Gould-Pratt came into my life sometime around 1996, excited to learn that I was researching and compiling material on Americans buried in a Protestant cemetery in Istanbul.  She had lived in Istanbul for many years, and we discovered we had many friends in common.  It was one of those friends who suggested that since Dorothe was living in southern California now, she should make contact with me to talk about that cemetery, which also had been one of Dorothe's interests when she was there.

          Dorothe did, and for a few years, she and I met, discussed Turkey, Istanbul, friends there, and – of course – the cemetery.  She dug into her files and provided me with many letters and research from another friend of hers, "Charlie", who had been financially supporting this Protestant cemetery.   What she put in my hands was material that I never would have known of otherwise. 

          Meeting Dorothe was one of the most delightful things that I could experience.  At the time, she was living in Santa Barbara, and when I met her for the first time, I saw a very small and artsy woman, a jaunty tam on her head, a longish gauzy coat flowing in the winds off the coast of that lovely town, and a walking stick, helpful to both her legs and her image.  Her personality was as warm and inviting as her appearance.  And like women who instantly form a bond, we talked our heads off every time we met.

          We talked almost exclusively about what I needed for my book – not only did she give me some ideas of where I might find additional information on those people in the cemetery but also on the visual look of the book – layout, graphics, etc.  It was always over lunch – indoors or outdoors but always in some cute little nook that she had discovered in the short time she lived there.   We never talked about ourselves: the subjects were Cemetery, Istanbul, and book.  

          She ultimately decided to go back up north; I published the book in 1998.  Later I heard that she had died in 2000.  She was 88.  It wasn't until just recently, in searching the internet for someone to use in my Immortal Nobodies blog, that I googled her name and found an obituary.  Here's what I missed:

          She was the daughter of a Ukiah farmer, and studied art at Oakland's California College of Arts and Crafts, and also at the San Francisco School of Fine Arts in the 1930.  She had lived in New Orleans, LA, New York, Puerto Rico, San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Santa Rosa, as well as in Turkey.

          In 1961 at the age of 50, she boarded a freighter from New Orleans to Turkey in what would become a 23 year journey into the Middle East.  She worked a while for NATO, hosted a radio program called "Dorothe Learns Turkish", and found her lifetime interest in Turkish wood-block printing.  She used her artistic talents in many ways with this art form, from providing displays in museums, to creating hand block-printed scarves and other clothing for fashion lines out of New York.  Her business expanded to Australia, Beirut, Italy, England, Puerto Rico, to name a few.

          Although I didn't know it, at the time she moved north after we met she was already working on new designs and fashioning new garments until a few days before her death.  She left many cousins and many more devoted friends.  She is buried in the Old Rural Cemetery in Santa Rosa.

            I am so sorry I missed out on knowing what all she had done with her life.  I have never looked at the cover of my book without thinking of her as I knew her.  Now I look at it and regret what I didn't know.

Thursday, March 30, 2017


In the College Park, Maryland Branch of the National Archives, in the State Department Decimal File 367.1161/11(1930-39) I found a letter sent to the State Department by M. K. Moorhead, American Consul General Istanbul.  He was enclosing a list of American citizen buried in the Protestant cemetery, Ferikoy-Istanbu and in the British cemetery at Uskudar nearby.  Here is part of this letter:
 "A rather interesting American buried in the British cemetery at Uskudar is Ransford D. Bucknam who brought the Turkish cruiser HAMIDIEH from Cramps shipyards in Philadelphia, where it was being refitted, to Istanbul.  It appears that the Sultan Abdul Hamid became very fond of Mr. Bucknam who was captain of the American Merchant Marine and gave him the honorary rank of Admiral in the Turkish navy and also created him a Pasha.  It is reported that Bucknam Pasha during the Turkish-Italian war did very good service for the Turkish navy in breaking through the Italian blockade and also during the Balkan war very often navigated vessels in raids in the Mediterranean and other waters.  He died in 1915 of heart failure."

When researching for my book "A Fine Place of Rest: Americans Buried in the Protestant Cemetery, Ferikoy-Istanbul, Turkey" I did not come across his name as being in Ferikoy, and I only put this little blurb in my book because I wanted the entire letter accompanying the burial list sent to the State Department in 1935 by M. K. Moorhead shown.  I have since learned that Bucknam was born in Nova Scotia - and have no idea why Moorhead would list him as an American buried at a British Cemetery in Uskudar.  To be an American he would have had to be naturalized, and since I am not researching him I will probably never know.

John McFarlane, director of The Nauticapedia Project, whose vision is to celebrate and highlight the maritime heritage of British Columbia, and I "met" via the internet and exchanged what information we had on this fellow.  It is amazing how someone who was a perfect candidate for my blog "An Immortal Nobody" could have turned out to be so interesting.  In fact, he is noted on several websites and there is much speculation about, for instance, the women in his life.  As genealogists know, facts and fiction comes from strange places sometimes..

Thanks to John McFarlane for permission to reprint these photographs.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Beginning in 9th grade I determined that until I knew for sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would focus on Journalism classes.  I was lucky enough to have some good teachers and I did well.  I also made some very good friends.

By the 11th grade I was the Page Two (of four) editor, with Marty Sklar being editor and my mentor. The following year I was elected Editor and one of my Page editors was Marty's younger brother, the fellow pictured above, Bob Sklar.  Bob was a year behind me in school and obviously on the path to being Editor in his Senior Year.

The kids in the Journalism class were a close knit bunch; most of us didn't bother with study halls because there was a paper to put together and we spent that time in either in the "High Life" office or in the print shop downstairs, where we helped put the next issue of the paper to bed.

Bob and I became good buddies and became one of my page editors, too.  He was probably the happiest person I had ever met. He wasn't a silly-funny person, he just found the happy side of everything.  When I had a decision to make, I always brought Bob into the debate; he was smart, sharp and - well, the laughter you see in the picture above is the way we always saw him.  It was always his working pose, too.  Such a personable kid; a good friend and a good buddy.

Bob and I said our goodbyes in June of 1953.  His little "farewell" to me is still sitting in my yearbook, a treasure I've kept all these years.  The next year he did, in fact, become Editor of The High Life, and I went off to college.  We never met up again.

He did well for himself, a full and rich life.  He graduated in 1958 from Princeton, received a doctorate from Harvard, and among other things, "was a professor of cinema studies at New York University's Tisch School of the arts for more than 30 years," according to William Grimes of the New York Times.

I would never have known this about my buddy, except that in July of 2011, I saw an announcement of his death in Barcelona from a brain injury sustained in a bicycle accident.  Damn! I thought, my buddy is gone.  All the years from 1953 to 2011 telescoped in my brain and it was as if he still was my buddy helping me put out a good high school newspaper -- and all those intervening years not have any feeling of separation from a really neat friendship.  I am so sorry he is gone, but so happy that he made such a life for himself and a mark on the academic community..

Sunday, March 19, 2017


1923 - 1957

Shirley Lappin  was born on July 11, 1923 to Ben and Belle Mark Lappin.  She was an only child. Belle's older sister had no children, and her youngest sister, Bertha, Mark Title gave birth to Jerry in 1929 and Judy in 1933.  These cousins were all born in Los Angeles and  raised in the southern California area.  They saw each other weekly, however, when the three families gathered at the family home in Boyle Heights every Sunday for dinner.

Shirley married Sid Priegel shortly before he went into the military service during World War II.  It was while he was overseas that Shirley was diagnosed with scleroderma, which at that time was an almost unheard of disease, and except in a few cases was almost always fatal.  Scleroderma was so rare that many physicians had never seen a case of it, and Shirley allowed herself to be examined by many physicians just so they could know what scleroderma looked like.  Her case was also written up in the prestigious JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association.)   

According to family history, she was treated at Cedars of Lebanon (now Cedars Sinai) Hospital in Los Angeles and because she and her mother had agreed to let her act as a “guinea pig,” Shirley was never charged a penny for the many, many times she was hospitalized.  During the years she lived after her diagnosis, her internal organs as well as her skin slowly hardened.  All the skin on her body became taut, which drastically changed her appearance.  It was, and is, a nasty disease.

She lived for 12 years after she was diagnosed, dying on  November 12, 1957 at the age of 34. 

She was my husband Jerry's cousin. 

Monday, March 6, 2017


January 14, 1839 - November 28, 1917

OBITUARY (Newspaper and publishing date unknown).

Mrs. Olivia Gillespie [Corel] McGee

Mrs. Olivia Gillespie McGee was born in Virginia in 1838 and came to Kansas City, Mo. in 1849 via the boat line to what was then Westport Landing.  She lived around that vicinity until 1854, in which year she came to Lawrence in a vehicle drawn by an ox team and settled on the claim on which is now embraced Oak Hill Cemetery, which her family afterwards sold to the City of Lawrence for a cemetery.

She was married to John Jacob McGee in 1860, who wooed, won and married her on the present site of Oak Hill Cemetery, where she was buried.

Mrs. McGee lived in Lawrence continually with the exception of the last few years when she made her home with her sons in Kansas City, of whom there are six, and one daughter, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., her husband, W. J. Vann, being chief engineer of the Ward Line Steamship plying between New York and Cuba, West Indian and Mexican ports.

Mrs. McGee's oldest daughter, Virdilla, was married on the old home place east of Lawrence to George T. Gaumer in 1881, removed to Yucatan a year or two later and resided there until the breaking out of the Mexican reolution, when they removed to the City of Mexico, where Dr. Gaumer was engaged in biological work by the Madero regime.  She died and is buried in the City of Mexico.  Her family still reside in Yucatan with the exception of John D. Gaumer, a son, who is attending a school of electrical engineering in Milwaukee, Wis.  His son visited his relatives last summer in Lawrence and Kansas City.

Mrs. McGee was living east of Lawrence during all of the stirring border war scenes, and entered Lawrence within an hour after the Quantrill gang burned and sacked the city.  Her husband was enrolled in the Kansas militia and was in the battle of Westport, and aided to drive Price away.

One of General Lane's children was taken ill during those stirring times, removed to her home at Oak Hill, and died there.

She came from Missouri, and one of General Lane's men arrived at her home and made away with some of their horses, while she looked on perfectly helpless to prevent the robbery.  However, it is needless to state that Jack McGee got those horses back into his possession at the point of a Colt's revolver in West Lawrence.

A brother of the deceased, and the only surviving member of the family, J. P. Corel, is still enjoying good health at eight-six years of age.  He has lived here continuously since settling in Lawrence in 1854, and still resides with his son, James H. Corel, on the claim he pre-empted from the government.

Mrs. McGee's youngest son, Thos. S. McGee, is captain of a Missouri battery in the 129th Field Artillery, stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  He attended her funeral.  A large number of relatives from Kansas City and Lawrence also attended the funeral.

Mrs. McGee is survived by a daughter, Mrs. William J. Vann, Brooklyn, N.Y., and six sons, Oliver C. McGee, John J. McGee, Richard O. McGee, Kansas City, Mo.; Albert McGee, Kansas City, Kansas; Solon N. McGee, Pascoe, Washington; and Captain Thomas S. McGee, One Hundred and Twenty-Ninth Field Artillery, Fort Sill, Oklahoma.