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.