Sunday, March 22, 2015

Where's the Family Lore?

Where's the family lore surrounding Burr Zelah Dornon?

I've been asking myself that question lately as I continue to investigate when and where my 4th great-grandfather died and was buried (Feeling out of the loop? Get caught up: Poor Guilty Creatures and Narrowing Burr's Window of Death).

Families tell and retell stories about their ancestors. Over time, a story may take on a life of its own as facts are embellished. Despite the distortion, at least there's a story to share. Skeptical genealogists can always do the dirty work of looking for kernels of truth that advance evidence-based research.

When it comes to Burr, though, there's not much narrative for us to pick apart. That surprises me. With nine children, you would think that bits and pieces would have traveled through the years.

Sadly, as FamilySearch notes, it only takes three generations for oral family history to disappear. It seems that Burr has suffered this fate.

Mindful of this reality, the incessant digging into Burr's past (along with the fantastic help of a handful of Dornon cousins) is cobbling together a narrative; restoring his history.

Buried on the Hill?
Speaking of Dornon cousins, I've connected with several of Burr's descendants on The Lawrence Register, a Facebook group dedicated to Lawrence County, Ohio genealogy.

Scottown Cemetery. Photo by Henry Dillon & used by permission
One cousin mentioned that a great-grandson of Burr - still living - thinks he recalls seeing a tombstone for Burr on a hill in Scottown Cemetery in Lawrence County. Unfortunately, many of the headstones have disappeared or were destroyed over the years.

We're trying to locate an early survey for the cemetery to see if a turn-of-the-20th-century census of burials includes Burr.

Another cousin is doubtful. He's been visiting the cemetery since 1969 and never recalled seeing a marker for our man in question. However, his caveat was that there were a few markers that were no longer legible because they were so worn and weathered.

Nine Lives: Burr's Immediate Family
What about Burr and his wife Sophronia's nine children? What do we know about that cast of characters? Who among them had and passed on the family lore? We have some descendancy mapping to do.

Albert Dornon: In June 1863, two of Burr's children - Joseph and Mary Susan - sell land that their father bought in Lawrence County, Ohio, to Albert. It appears to me that they're selling their stake in land that was inherited. I speculate the eldest child was the administrator for his father's estate.

Curiously, an Albert Dornon is enumerated in the 1860 U.S. Federal Census in both Lawrence County, Ohio (with a wife and two children) and in Jackson County, Virginia (with his parents and siblings). The age and state of birth are the same in both records. Burr's family lived in both counties. Is it the same man? Should we map out the children enumerated in Lawrence County? Albert's fate is unknown.

Albert Dornon: 1860 US Census Lawrence County, OH

Joseph DornonJoseph's son Burzilla Hoyte Dornon was born January 6, 1862 in Lawrence County, Ohio. It seems Joseph named his son after his own father. I realize that's a pretty standard practice. But is there more to it? Was he named in mournful homage to his grandfather? Perhaps. Or perhaps Burr Zelah was ill at the time of Burzilla's birth and the eternal writing was merely on the wall.

Burzilla H. Dornon death certifcate. Courtesy Roger Dillon.

Like his brother Albert, Joseph's fate is currently unknown.

Lorenzo wound. Pension Record.
Lorenzo Dornon: Two months after their mother Sophronia passes away, Lorenzo paid $200 for 100 acres of land that belonged to "Burr's heirs." This included his brother Andrew, and three sisters: Abigail, Anna, and Lucinda. Lorenzo turned a profit on the land, selling it about six months later for $600.

Lorenzo passed away in June 1910 in Lawrence County, Ohio. He's buried in the above-mentioned Scottown Cemetery. A veteran of the Civil War, he sustained a bullet wound to the left chest that remained lodged in his body.

I'm hopeful we can track down an obituary to see if it provides any details about his parents.

Mary Susan (Dornon) Vandegraft: Mary Susan married Jackson Vandegraft. They settled in Illinois and had at least six children. Mary is buried in McLean County, Illinois. As the eldest Dornon daughter, I wonder if she was the keeper of family heirlooms and stories? Are there photographs?

I have a very poor quality photocopy of a picture that includes three Dornon sisters and their spouses. Mary Susan is pictured with her husband. Despite the poor quality, you can make out her strong facial features and see the striking similarity to her sisters Anna and Abigail.

Although she passed away in February 1896 before the practice was common, I'm hopeful that an area newspaper included a death notice or full obituary. The McLean County Genealogical Society was unable to locate her name in their obituary index of the Pantagraph (the local paper). An independent search of the papers from that time needs to be commissioned.

Anna (Dornon) Benedick
Anna (Dornon) Benedick: Anna is my link to the family. She was my 3rd great-grandmother and married Albert Benedick (a Civil War veteran who was in the same regiment as Anna's brother Andrew).

She passed away in March 1913 after a life that was a "battle against infirmity...[that] she endured courageously, hopefully, patiently."

Her obituary notes that immediate survivors include only a brother. There's no mention of any other siblings, which is important as we consider when her mysterious sister Lucinda Dornon dies. Unfortunately, there's no mention in Anna's obituary of either of her parents.

Andrew Dornon: Andrew was Anna's twin. He was the longest surviving Dornon child. He eventually settled with his family in Colorado where he passed away and is buried.

Andrew Dornon

The Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado Springs was unable to locate a death notice or obituary for Andrew in their 1930 newspapers. It seems odd that there was no record of his passing, particularly since his wife survived him and could have overseen its publication.

Phebe Jane Dornon: Phebe Jane is a phantom. She's in everyone's online tree (including my own), but without any supporting documentation to confirm her existence.

Online trees give a birth and death date of July 14, 1850. That's a very exact date. Without a record to provide that level of detail, it seems that this information would have to come from family records. Who provided that information? I want to talk to that person!

Abigail (Dornon) Benedick: Like her sister Anna, Abigail married a Benedick brother (George). Also like her sister, Abigail's 1910 obituary makes no mention of her parents.

Abigail (Dornon) Benedick

We learn that in her final years, she was "subject to sinking spells due to heart trouble ... attended with great suffering." However, she "maintained a quiet and hopeful disposition and her cheerfulness and calm fortitude [attested] to the strong spirit and great courage and endurance which formed ... prominent features of the character."

Lucinda E. Sophronia (Dornon) Scannel Stanley: Lucinda's story was documented in Lost Lucinda: Like Father Like Daughter. I'm still searching for her death location and then, hopefully, an obituary that might shed light on her father's passing.

To-date, her last known recorded appearance is in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census. She's living with her second husband Levi Stanley in Stella Township, Woods County, Oklahoma.

1900 U.S. Census: Lucinda (Dornon) Stanley

A letter to the Woods County Genealogical Society requesting help in locating information on her life in Oklahoma and death was returned as undeliverable. I suspect the society is defunct. I'll need to circle back with the Oklahoma state genealogical society.

Dornon Descendants
Are you a descendant of Burr and Sophronia Dornon? Where do you fit into this puzzle? What information can you shed on the Dornon siblings? Let's swap family lore!


  1. I am looking for a Joseph Dornon, son of Samuel and Celia (Huntsman) Dornon. Do you have any connection with this family? Thanks!

    1. Thanks for your comment. Do you have an approximate time frame of when these folks lived? I believe my Burr Dornon may have had siblings.