Friday, September 18, 2015

By Jurgen! I Think I've Got Him!

We all have our share of genealogical brick walls, those ancestors who frustrate our every effort to learn more about their origins. Some we learn to live with -- or at least that's what we tell ourselves.

One of my thickest brick walls has been my 4th great grandfather, Justus Jurgen a.k.a. Justice George. He was one of many soldiers who settled in Nova Scotia after the American Revolution; in his case, the 60th Regiment (Royal Americans) was mustered out at Halifax in September 1783. Like Justus, many members of the regiment were of German origin.

Justus received a land grant in Guysborough County and eventually married Maria Reuter, daughter of one of his compatriots, Johann Henrich Reuter. Their marriage was recorded in the Manchester & Guysborough Township Book, as follows:

24th November 1795 - Justus Gurgeon was married to Mary Rider

"Gurgeon" was one of several variations on Justus' surname, which eventually settled into George. This particular variation was largely forgotten until recently.

Last month, during a search of the German Baptismal Records on, I found one near match:

Johann Justinus Gergens, christened 17th April 1757, Evangelical Lutheran,
Bad Durkheim, Pfalz, Bavaria, son of Johann Philipp and Anna Barbara Gergens.

Could this be Justus Jurgen?

Johann Justinus Gergens would have been 19 years old at the start of the American Revolution. But he was a Lutheran, while Justus Jurgen's children were a mix of Catholic and Anglican. However, religious options in the area were limited in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The Church of England was basically the only show in town.

Further research is required to determine if Johann Justinus Gergens stayed in Germany or if he did in fact join the 60th Regiment. I've been trying to reach another researcher who specializes in certain families, including Gergens, from Bad Durkheim, but I've yet to make contact. If anyone knows Gordy Gergen, tell him I'm looking for him. ;)

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Spy Who Eluded Me, Part 4: Post-War Migrations

The Spy Who Eluded Me, Part 3: What Might Have Been  

Following the American Revolution, David Dobson relocated to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, where he married the widow Hannah Richardson on 2 August 1784.

Hannah is as much a mystery to us as David once was. She was probably connected to James Richardson and his brother Alexander, who ran a tavern near David’s. Many years later, Alexander acted as a land agent for David, so he was not Hannah’s first husband. Too little is known of James to hazard a guess as to whether or not he was married to Hannah. Further research into the Richardsons of Charlottetown is clearly indicated.

Whatever David’s fortunes after his brief service in the Royal Fencibles and subsequent imprisonment in Boston, he seemed to have accumulated a moderate measure of wealth (records indicate that he sold both his inherited properties, in 1784 and 1789). Apparently denied the land grant that the other Fencibles received in 1784, he was still able to purchase two lots of Charlottetown land from Lt. Governor Walter Patterson on November 28, 1786.

David’s reasons for relocating to Charlottetown were not apparent, given his lack of a land grant. Perhaps his Loyalist stance would not allow him to live so near his brothers-in-law, William Wells and William Jones, who were both accused of supporting the Eddy Rebellion. Maybe he simply felt the need to make his own mark or to remove himself from the scene of his capture.

David spent his early years in Charlottetown as a tavern keeper, but he switched to farming by 13 April 1790, when he sold one of his town lots to Thomas DesBrisay. Around this time, David Dobson Jr. was born.

Shortly after this, the family moved back to the mainland, settling at Hammonds Plains in Halifax Township. In 1793, David Sr. made a living as a labourer, employed by the Blue Bell Inn and/or Farm (owned by John Clark of Charlottetown) on the Windsor Road.

David Sr.’s status changed to yeoman (farmer) by February 24, 1798, at which point he sold his second Charlottetown lot to John Ross. The transaction was reversed on September 28th. In both instances, Alexander Richardson, Postmaster and Island Attorney, acted as David Sr.’s agent. Alexander’s relationship to Hannah (widow Richardson) Dobson was not indicated. Nor was Hannah mentioned on the deeds, suggesting that she had passed away by then.

Whether David and Hannah had children other than David Jr. was not indicated in any extant records. What was recorded was David Jr.’s marriage to Elizabeth Jones on 29 August 1808 in Westmorland County, New Brunswick. He was said to be “late of Manchester, Co. of Sydney, NS.” Obviously, his family had moved away from Halifax sometime prior. However long he stayed in the area, he doubtless had the opportunity to know his grandmother, Mary Forkinther, by then known as Granny Forky. She may even have attended his wedding.

Elizabeth Jones was “of Westmorland” County and was apparently a daughter of William Jones, a Welshman. His wife, Mary “Polly” Dobson, was David Sr.’s younger sister. Thus, David Jr. and Elizabeth were first cousins.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Getting in Synch

I recently upgraded to Family Tree Maker 2012, which allows me to synch up with the tree I store on

It's only been a few days, but I already appreciate the feature. Not only do the two "versions" match, but the synching also covers photos. With older versions of FTM, I could download a gedcom from, but that wouldn't incorporate any of the photos (have thousands) that I've either found on the site or uploaded myself.

I still prefer to work on the site --'s hints work better in an online environment -- but I love the fact that I have a 100% accurate backup on my computer.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Spy Who Eluded Me, Part 3: What Might Have Been

The Spy Who Eluded Me, Part 2: War and Captivity

Following the prisoner exchange of 1778, David Dobson seems to disappear from public records for about 12 years (more on that in part 4).

I've so far found reference to two other David Dobsons during the time period in question:

Silver belt plate worn by
soldiers of the New Jersey
Volunteers, 4th Battalion
1) Private David Dolson (a.k.a. Dobson in some source documents) appears on the muster roll of the New Jersey Volunteers, 4th Battalion, Capt. Ryerson's Company in September 1779. In December, he transfers (on detachment with Capt. Ryerson) from Capt. William Van Allen's Company into the American Volunteers (Ferguson's Corps of Riflemen and Rangers) in New York. The Volunteers are soon shipped to South Carolina for a prolonged campaign ending with their defeat at the Battle of King's Mountain (7 October 1780), where Private Dobson is wounded and captured. He is listed as "deceased in the Southern War" on the April 1781 muster roll of the New Jersey Volunteers, 4th Battalion, Capt. Wm Van Allen's Company). But what if reports of death were greatly exaggerated?

2) On 30 November 1781, refugee David Dobson of the Township of Tennicock is assaulted and robbed of a large sum of money by two soldiers of the Regiment du Corps near Brooklyn Church, Long Island, New York. In his memorial for assistance, he states he has a wife and four small children to support. He claims that Lord Rawdon and General Lesley witnessed his services to his country (in the "perilous capacity of a guide"). He also claims to have been captured and "tried for his life" by the Rebels but to have made his escape from prison. His assailants, Conrad Sonderwein and Adam Goebell, are hanged for their crime by August 1782.

Are these two men connected to each other or to my David Dobson?

In the one confirmed record of my ancestor during this period, David Dobson of Cumberland sells 350 acres of inherited land to his stepfather George Faulkinther for £60. While the deed is dated 9 December 1780, it isn't registered until 4 March 1782. But the language of the deed suggests that David is present in Cumberland, Nova Scotia, at the time the document is drafted. Does this rule him out as being the same man as either of the two identified above?

I need to get my hands on more primary source documents!


Friday, November 11, 2011

Their Names Liveth Forevermore

Canso War Memorial
Emma must have wondered at the cause of such grief.

The Great War tried the spirits of millions and costs countless soldiers their lives--a huge loss, almost impossible to comprehend at times.

Emily Myra "Emma" (McLellan) Swaine lived most of her life in Canso, Nova Scotia. As three of her four sons went off to war, she probably felt a mixture of fear and pride. Young men died in battle. She knew that. But she couldn't have known the toll the war years would take on her family.

The first strikes came from an unexpected quarter. Her father died in early 1915, a month short of his 88th birthday. A sad passing, but Angus McLellan had lived a long life and could go to a well-deserved rest.

The year passed quietly until the Holiday season. Just four days before Christmas, Emma lost her husband Samuel. He'd recently celebrated his 53rd birthday and readily believed he'd see many more until brought down by heart failure.

The ensuing years brought more suffering to bear on poor Emma. Her eldest sons Arthur and Roland died in France in 1916. Benjamin, her youngest boy, shared their fate in 1918. She also lost her stepfather, a nephew (Percy Lumsden), and her husband's cousin, but nothing could compare to losing three of her six children.

Arthur E. Swaine

Roland Judson Swaine

Benjamin Wallace Swaine

Percy John Lumsden

How relieved she must have felt knowing that she still had her only remaining son, Edward, and her daughters Margaret and Jessie to comfort her through it all.

In 1925, the Town of Canso called upon Emma to unveil their new War Memorial to the town's fallen heroes. The inscription must have brought fresh tears to her eyes.

"To the Glory of God, and in loving memory of those who made the supreme sacrifice in the World War, 1914-1918." A list of 23 names followed, but she would have seen only three. "Their names liveth forevermore."

Emma left Canso five years later, choosing to live on the other side of the province with her daughter Jessie. She died in 1946, far from home, but her family laid her to rest in the Canso Baptist Cemetery, next to her husband and sons--never parted in their hearts.

The names of Arthur, Roland and Benjamin Swaine, along with thousands more, are also recorded in The Books of Remembrance. The six books--First World War, Second World War, Newfoundland, The Korean War, South African War/Nile Expedition, and The Merchant Navy--are physically located in the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill (in Canada's capital city Ottawa).

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Spy Who Eluded Me, Part 2: War and Captivity

Typical attire of a soldier in
the Royal Fencible American
The Spy Who Eluded Me, Part 1: Across the Sea

Civil unrest in the New England colonies had erupted into destruction and violence. The self-styled Patriots—rebels in the eyes of those loyal to the King—declared their independence from Britain on July 4, 1776. Twenty-three days later—one day short of the third anniversary of his father’s death—David Dobson enlisted in the Royal Fencible Americans at Fort Cumberland, Nova Scotia. Under the command of Colonel Joseph Goreham, the Loyalist regiment braced itself for the anticipated incursion of rebel forces into Nova Scotia. They didn’t have long to wait.

The Eddy Rebellion, named for Cumberland settler Jonathan Eddy, presented a threat to the future of Nova Scotia. Eddy and his supporters believed that Nova Scotia should follow New England’s example. Loyalist settlers preferred their emotional bond to the monarchy.

November 1776 proved a pivotal month in the life of Private David Dobson. On November 5th, he was sent by Goreham to assess Eddy’s forces. His was a spying mission, albeit unsuccessful. When he did not report back by November 7th, he was presumed to have deserted or been captured. Goreham maintained faith in his operative, however, and David was officially listed among those captured by the rebels.

By November 12th, those prisoners were relocated to Boston, presumably to be kept in a military stockade. That Private Dobson avoided being executed as a spy spoke either to his luck or his personal charm. Since good fortune seemed in short supply, his personality must have dazzled.

David’s brother, George Jr., was the only adult male remaining on the Dobson homestead. Brother-in-law William Wells was near at hand, but he had his own growing brood with which to contend--not to mention the shadow of his apparent involvement with Eddy's rebels. When George was pressed into service aboard a Yankee privateer, management of the farm would have fallen to his mother.

Perhaps coincidentally, both David Dobson and George Dobson were listed among dozens of Loyalists held aboard the brig Rising Empire and scheduled for a prisoner exchange in 1778. Family tradition holds that George was released and allowed to return home due to ill health. But is it possible that the brothers were imprisoned and exchanged together?

Prisoner exchange list, page 1
Prisoner exchange list, page 2
Following the exchange, David's whereabouts become a mystery. Does he return to the family homestead with George? Or does he perhaps continue his military experience? Part 3 will focus on what might have happened.


Friday, October 7, 2011

The Spy Who Eluded Me, Part 1: Across the Sea

When I started researching my family tree in 1990, I quickly hit a brick wall in the form of my fifth great grandfather, David Dobson. Available records were limited to a one-line entry on an 1817 tax record, which revealed he was over 50 years old and of English origin (not very helpful).

But good fortune (mostly in the form of other researchers, including but not limited to members of the Dobson Family History Group) stepped in over the next eight years, bringing more documents into play and shedding a brilliant light on David's "lost" story.

David Dobson was christened 29 May 1753 at Ingleby Arncliffe, Yorkshire, England. The fifth child of George and Mary (Barker) Dobson, David spent the first 20 years of his life in Yorkshire. His remaining years were spent primarily in Atlantic Canada.

David never knew his paternal grandparents, Richard and Margaret (Watson) Dobson, or his maternal grandfather, George Barker. They all died before he was born. His maternal grandmother, Sarah (Carter) Barker, passed away when he was thirteen. From the age of three, David was well acquainted with death. He witnessed the burials of ten of his thirteen sisters by the time he turned seventeen.

His father was a devout follower of the teachings of John Wesley, often entertaining the controversial minister in his own home. While far below the £30 contributed by John Oastler, George’s investment of just over £2 in the “New Room,” a Methodist meeting house in Thirsk, was the second highest on record.

The lure of a distant shore and the will to spread Wesley’s teachings prompted George to remove to Nova Scotia with his wife and surviving children in 1773. David—with his siblings Margaret, George Jr., Elizabeth, Mary (a.k.a. Polly), Richard and John—was apparently supportive of his father’s decision. Given his later migrations, David may have done more than simply go along with his father’s decision.

Margaret made the journey with her husband, William Wells, another staunch supporter of Wesley. They had already started a family in Thirsk, and Margaret was expecting another child as they made ready to leave England.

Dobson family arrives in Boston (The Boston Post-Boy, 19 April 1773)
George Dobson and William Wells were released as “New Room” trustees on 4 February 1773, on grounds of “going into foreign parts.” They probably set sail with their families immediately thereafter. Family legend holds that Jane Wells was born during the Atlantic crossing. (Another source gives her birth date as 23 February 1772—which, allowing for resistance to the new calendar, should probably be 1773.) The families landed first at Boston, Massachusetts, where they remained for several weeks. Tragedy struck in April with the death of five-week-old Jane. She was buried in Boston, a permanent reminder of her family’s passage through the city.

Perhaps prompted by grief, as well as the growing unrest of the Boston colonists, the Dobson and Wells families pressed on with their journey. They landed at Nova Scotia on 18 June 1773, settling near Fort Cumberland at Point de Bute.

One might say that the new land welcomed George Dobson with open arms. He fell ill within a month of his arrival and passed away five days later, on 28 July 1773, at age 52. He had been in Nova Scotia exactly 30 days. George must have realised his time was near, for he drew up his will one day before his death. In it, he left everything to his beloved wife, Mary, with the stipulation that his two oldest sons—George Jr. and David—and son-in-law William Wells should each be entitled to a fifth of the land upon payment to Mary of £30 each.

George’s early death is too ironic to be ignored. The entire family must have been in turmoil. They’d packed up lock, stock and hollyhock, all because Papa wanted a new start, and they’d been left to deal with unfamiliar territory without him. Admittedly, many of his children were adults by then and fully capable of fending for themselves, but they still had to consider their mother and the younger children.

Mary Barker was far from being a shrinking violet, of course. She bore 18 children and still managed to outlive all but a few members of her family. Having lost many of her children in infancy, she was more than a little familiar with death. This was not a woman with a weak constitution. Doubtless her will was just as strong. I can imagine her taking charge after her husband’s death, guiding her grown sons through the task of establishing a viable farm in their new home of Point de Bute. George’s passing would have caused her tremendous grief, initially, but she probably recovered quickly, through both necessity and practice.

On 6 May 1774, David’s uncle Richard Dobson arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia, aboard the ship Albion. He had come from Yorkshire to settle the estate of his younger brother, George. Richard’s first wife and only child had died in the 1720s, and he had not seen fit to remarry until 1770. He remained in Cumberland the rest of his brief days, passing away 2 April 1775. He was buried next to George in the cemetery near Fort Cumberland. Since Richard had no sons, he left the majority of his assets—including a freehold estate in Yorkshire—to George Jr. and David. Like his brother, Richard attached stipulations to his bequests. His nephews were to pay all his debts and act as executors of his estate.

David Dobson's signature (from a 1776 document)
Events elsewhere in the colonies, however, were about to disrupt both their lives.