On a table
beside my bed there's a burled walnut box full of treasures. Not jewels or
gold. These treasures are all about family. In fact, the box itself is a treasure. Made for my great-grandmother as a Christmas gift in 1867, it has been passed down from mothers to daughters and, over the years, lovingly
filled with little pieces of our history.
Noble Dickenson was my
great-grandfather and this is his "Sundries Book". Leather-bound,
with a little brass clasp, the book measures just 2 by 3-1/2 inches. Noble carried it with him from 1868 to 1870 as he travelled, worked,
and saved for his future.
entries in the little journal are almost completely illegible now – time has
taken its toll on the "indelible" pencil lead. Most of the readable
entries are Noble's accounting records, income, expenses, and lists. But there are also moments of observation that bring his world to
On March 29th, 1870, he wrote: "Noticed the first bluebirds of the
year today on our way to split up an elm tree we felled in James Will's wood.
Joe and I. No robins as yet observed." It must have been a long, cold
winter in Norwichville, Ontario.
later, another interesting entry: "Notes of our journey to the States,
April 22nd, 1870. Left Norwichville on the morning of the 21st. Roads in a
[...] state with snow. Got into Woodstock at 1 o'clock same day. Had dinner or
supper of carrots and started for Detroit in the night at 1 o'clock. Got into
Windsor at 8 in the morning and crossed the river right away on the boat. Staw
(sic) in Detroit until evening. Got tics. on the 5 […] for [ ....] Willy rather cross. I thought vegetation in
general was farther advanced than in Canada. From Detroit to G. Haven, from G.
Haven to Muskegon, from Muskegon per [...] to Frankfort."
Willy was Noble's brother William … and I'd probably be rather cross,
too, if dinner after a long day of travel turned out to be carrots. Just carrots! (That can't be right, but the word sure looks like carrots to me.)
By June 25th
of 1870, the brothers had arrived in the thriving metropolis of Muscantine,
|Muscantine engraving, 1865, Barber and Howe, Public Domain|
"Bought pants at Silvermans, Muscantine" and went on to list his
purchases. Apparently I come by my love of shopping honestly – this is quite a
list. It's quite a hefty expenditure, too, at a time when his earnings averaged 75 cents a day.
After his five month, 2500 km (1600 mile) journey, Great grandpa Noble Dickenson returned to
Norwichville (now known as Norwich), Ontario where he served the town as Post
Master until October of 1886. He married great grandma Margaret Gainfort on
March 5th, 1871 and together they raised a family of nine – three boys and six
girls. According to family lore, Noble and Margaret first met via telegraph,
making theirs one of the world's first "online" romances.
The ancestry bug has bitten and I'm feeling the pull to discover more secrets
from the past. There are plenty of clues and starting places hiding in the
little treasure box beside my bed, so stay tuned for more. (And, yes, I am
writing a story about Noble and Margaret's telegraph romance. How could I
you discovered about your family history?
where you've heard that before? The title of this post is a quote from My Autograph by Susanna Moodie (1803-1885):
"What—write my name!
How vain the feeble trust,
To be remembered
When the hand is dust—"
is the blog of Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington
Labels: 1800s, ancestry, Cheryl Cooke Harrington, country life, Dickenson, family, family story, history, Iowa, memories, Michigan, Muscantine, Norwich, nostalgia, Ontario, Susanna Moodie