My generation's paternal grandfather, Eugene Michael Dunn, and his wife, Hazel Loretta Nolan Dunn Youngs, had two children - my generation's father, William Edward (Bill) Dunn, and our aunt, Rita Jane Dunn Erickson Tumbiolo.
My mother reported that Eugene abandoned his family after Bill was born, came back years later, stayed long enough for Hazel to get pregnant with Rita, who was born in 1928 - ten years after Bill was - and left again for good. None of my generation ever met him, or had even seen a picture of him until I began assembling our family history and found a long-lost cousin who had photos of him.
Because there was no known contact between him and my branch of the family after he, in effect, disconnected, finding him turned out to be a challenge – a detective story, in fact. On this page of this blog I not only report the things I’ve found out about him, I also describe the process involved in learning his story, for that may also be of interest.
It started when Rita’s daughter, my cousin Noel Erickson Ray, provided me with copies of several family documents she’d inherited from her mother. Included was a copy of Hazel and Eugene’s June, 1917, application for a marriage license. It says he was a bookkeeper and that his parents were William Edward Dunn and Josephine [Barbara] Lauer, both from Steger, Illinois. Both were listed on the application as being dead at that time. The form does not say deceased; Eugene wrote “dead” on the application, which strikes me as interesting.
The 1900 Census shows that Eugene was born in July, 1898, and was living in Chicago, Illinois, with his father, William Edward Dunn and mother Josephine Lauer Dunn. Five older siblings also lived with them as well. The other children were Ella (born Sep, 1884), Stephen (born Dec, 1892), John (born Jun, 1894), Rosa (born Sep, 1895), and Julia (born Sep, 1896). Eugene was one year old.
The 1910 census shows the now widowed 39-year old Josephine and her children living in Crete, Illinois. Her husband had died in 1908, and the census shows that she'd had eight kids. Eugene was age 11, and all six of her living children were there with her (two others had died, reportedly of scarlet fever).
Not related to the census, but fitting here in the timeline, we have the certificate, "In Remembrance of First Communion", for Eugene dated June 11, 1911. The event tool place at St. Liborius [Catholic] church in Steger, Illinois. Eugene would have been not quite 13 at that time.
The 1920 census shows Eugene living in Chicago with Hazel. His occupation was "clerk - die casting" – from which I surmise that he was employed in a clerical job with some sort of factory by that time. Even though their son, Bill, was born in 1918, he's not recorded in this census, which seems odd.
The Marriage Application and Draft Registration
Marriage records for Lake County, Indiana - where they were married - lists his name as Eugeno, obviously a typo, which at first kept me from finding them because I was spelling his name correctly. Later it occurred to me to look for Hazel, which worked; the record shows their marriage date as June 20, 1917.
At that time males in both Indiana and Illinois were required to be age 21 to marry without parental consent. On his marriage license application Eugene's date of birth is shown as June 8, 1896. However, in fact, he would have been just shy of age 20 at the time, so he lied about his date of birth in order to get married without parental consent. His father had died in 1908, but although Eugene claimed that both his parents were dead, I later learned that his mother actually lived until 1942. So, he also lied about that as well.
His 1918 World War I draft registration card shows his date of birth as July 8, 1898, which is the correct date. The draft registration also shows that he was living in Steger, Will County, Illinois, was a clerk, and his nearest relative was Hazel Dunn. It was the first time I'd seen a middle name for him on anything.
The Social Security Act was signed into law by President Roosevelt in 1935. A database called the “Social Security Death Index” (SSDI) containing information about most of those who died while enrolled is available online. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA) website, the SSDI contains a listing of persons who had a Social Security number, who are deceased, and whose death has been reported to the SSA. But I couldn’t find Eugene in the SSDI.
So what happened to Eugene Dunn? That was my dilemma. At that point in my search here’s what I knew:
■ He was born in 1898 in Illinois;
■ He was married in 1917 in Indiana;
■ The last census in which I found him was for 1920, which shows that he lived in Chicago with Hazel;
■ I couldn’t find him in the 1930 census, the latest one publicly available;
■ I couldn’t find him in the SSDI.
I’d found information about other family members living both before and after Eugene’s era, but could find no trace of him having a life after fathering Rita in 1928. I found no evidence that he ever remarried or had other children, or that he was even alive after Rita’s birth.
Another aspect of this story is that if his parents were both dead at the time of his marriage in 1917 - which at first I thought was true - they would both have died before he was 20 years old. That seemed unusual, and made me wonder whether there were health issues or an accident of some sort that caused their deaths. If it was health issues, I wondered if it could have been something genetic that caused Eugene’s early demise as well.
At that point I was thinking that Eugene may have died after Rita was born in 1928 and before 1930. If so, he would have missed the 1930 census and would not have been enrolled in Social Security because it didn’t come into existence until 1935.
Puzzled – and a bit frustrated by then – I had run into a brick wall because of my limited knowledge of how to do genealogy research. To aid in my quest to find out what became of Eugene, I engaged the services of an interesting gal who specializes in doing genealogy research for Illinois–based families. She located an obituary for Josephine. Here’s the summary she provided:
"Obit for Josephine…
Chicago Heights STAR, Fri Oct 30, 1942: - she was survived by 7 grandchildren (son Stephen's children account for 4 of the 7) - one daughter, Mrs. Helen Green of Steger - and FOUR SONS: John of Chicago, Edward of Steger, Francis of Chicago Heights...and....drum roll please....EUGENE of NEW ORLEANS, LA. (that dog was in NOLA as of late Oct 1942!)"
Although I couldn’t do so because I wasn’t looking in the right place, she was also able to find him in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). Here’s her summary of that.
"Now - the trick is to figure out - -
If Eugene can be found in the SSDI - birthdate July 1898 --- there's only ONE that might match: (checked for Eugene Dunn in SSDI - with birth year anywhere from 1898 through 1902 -- because people lie about their birth year, but rarely the month & day)
Birth Date: 8 Jul 1898
Death Date: 15 Dec 1969
Social Security Number: 430-22-9821
State or Territory Where Number Was Issued: Arkansas
Death Residence Localities
ZIP Code: 72023
Localities: Cabot, Lonoke, Arkansas
I just had to look at a map - - Arkansas shares a border with Louisiana... What do you think?"
Since Social Security didn’t begin until 1935, Eugene could easily have been in Arkansas by the time he enrolled. So, the combination of Josephine’s obituary and the SSDI info led me to the conclusion that Eugene migrated south and lived there until his death in 1969.
As noted below, Eugene's brother John also lived in Arkansas. However, he predeceased Eugene, who – until health issues discussed below apparently interfered – lived out his days alone in Arkansas with his chickens. Chickens? Cousin Mary Green Starasinic (Eugene's sister Helen's daughter) reported that he raised chickens - and she gave me photos of Eugene that show that to be the case.
Molly, the gal who does genealogy research for Illinois-based families, had previously provided me with an obituary for Eugene’s mother - Josephine Barbara Lauer Dunn. She also found one for one of her sons, Eugene's brother Stephen Dunn. Then she sent me the following info about Josephine’s other children. (For daughter Helen's name to make sense below, we need to know that she was born Helen Dunn, married and became Helen Green - as seen in Josephine's obituary above - was widowed, remarried and became Helen Wolf - as seen below.)
“Chicago Heights STAR, Thurs, Sept 3, 1964
John H. "Jack" Dunn - retired president of Chicago Mill & Lumber Co - d. Aug 24, 1964 in Helena, ARKANSAS. Lived in Helena since 1934 - survivors include his wife Ruth; a sister, Mrs. Ray (Helen) Wolf of Steger IL; 3 brothers, Francis Dunn of Chicago Heights, Edward Dunn of Steger, and Eugene Dunn of Brinkley, Arkansas.
(OH YEAH - the very last line in Jack Dunn's obit -"He was preceded in death by a brother, Stephen, in 1938" - NAILED this Dunn line to yours. You may doubt, and you may scoff - but I can back up my "intuitions" with documentation...if not, I offer abject apologies, and forget about invoicing.)
Same newspaper - Feb, 7, 1975
Edward T Dunn - b. Jan 22, 1901 Chicago - evidently never married; survived by sister Mrs. Helen Wolf of Steger IL, and Francis Dunn of Chicago Heights IL
Same newspaper - Dec 10, 1987
Francis A "Smiley" Dunn - lifelong Chicago Heights resident - b. Nov 10, 1903 in St. Genevieve MO. Retired from woodworking for Caravelle Wood Products Inc. Survivors include his wife Edna; daughter Colleen Becker of Springfield VA; sister Helen WOLF of Steger IL and 3 grandchildren.”
Then she commented as follows:
“Helena AR - where John Henry "Jack" Dunn resided since 1934 - is in Phillips Co AR - which is adjacent to Monroe Co AR -- so John & Eugene only lived about 30-35 miles from each other.”
She later sent me the info below:
“We'd talked about trying to find ‘live bodies’ of Dunn siblings of your Eugene - I think I may have something to run with.
Yesterday at the Pres. Library, I found/printed the obit for the last surviving Dunn sibling - Helen M. Wolf - who died July 3, 1994 in Joliet - (formerly longtime resident of Steger). Services at St. Liborious Catholic Church in Steger. Her husband Jesse Wolf died in 1992; Survived by a daughter, Mary [Green] Starasinic of Joliet.
I just checked my NewsBank subscription, for obits for surname Starasinic - and found the following obit from January of THIS YEAR, indicating Mary Starasinic (husband Joseph) was still alive and in Joliet IL as of January 6, 2008:
Herald News, The (Joliet, IL) January 6, 2008
Deceased Name: Josephine "Jo" St. Germain (nee Starasinic) Age 83. Passed away Friday, January 4, 2008 at her late Joliet residence. Born February 5, 1924 in Joliet, to John and Barbara (nee Broaderic) Starasinic. A member of St. Joseph Catholic Church and its Altar and Rosary Society and St. Joseph Seniors.
Survived by her two children, Laurence (Diane) Saint Germain of Chicago, and JoAnne (Richard) Davidson of Joliet; seven grandchildren; three brothers, Louis (Loretta) Starasinic of Joliet, Joseph (Mary Lou) Starasinic of Joliet, and Leonard (Janet) Starasinic of Texas; two sisters, Barbara (late Robert) Smrekar of Crest Hill, and Margaret (late William) Norton of Joliet; and many nieces and nephews.”
She located the address and phone number for Mary Green Starasinic and sent that information as well, and said:
“Mary Lou Starasinic is the daughter of Helen M. (Dunn) Wolf - and your Eugene was Mary Lou's uncle.”
I called Mary (as she prefers to be called). After I introduced myself she said, "I used to have a relative in Indiana by the name of Patrick Dunn." I told her I was in Indiana - and she then reeled off the names of all five East Chicago Dunn kids - more than 50 years after her last contact with us - and told me she used to visit our family often!
Among other things, she told me that - with her mother, Helen - she remembers visiting her uncle Eugene in Arkansas, and said she had a photo of him on the front porch of his house there, which she later gave me. She told me he never remarried after leaving Illinois, and she had no info about what he did for a living in Arkansas. However, the photos Mary provided lead me to conclude that he became a chicken farmer there.
I don't know whether or not I'll ever find his obituary and/or death certificate, which I’ve tried to locate, but at this point in my search I had a live person who had knowledge about that generation of Dunns. Hip, hip, hooray!
I wanted to find out what became of Eugene, and I now had at least a partial answer. Mary knows nothing about the why of his leaving Hazel and their kids, for she was young when that happened and either wasn't told or doesn't remember anything she may have heard.
A 1944 Letter From Eugene
I asked Mary whether she knew of any other living members of the Dunn family and she provided me with contact information for her cousin, Colleen Dunn Becker, the daughter of Francis Anthony Dunn, who was known as Smiley. I contacted Colleen and was able to meet her and her husband, Ken Becker, when they passed through Indianapolis in the summer of 2008. Another long-lost cousin who knows something about the Dunn family of old! Hip, hip hooray again!
From Colleen I received a copy of a letter written by Eugene. The envelope is addressed to both her parents, although the letter itself appears to be directed primarily to Edna, Colleen's mother.
The letter includes no significant info about him, but it's the only document I've seen that gives us any glimpse of him as a person. He was in New Orleans at the time, which is consistent with the info in Josephine's obituary. It's dated 1943 but the postmark on the envelope is 1944, so he was apparently confused about the date.
New Orleans, LA,
May 30, 1944
Mr. and Mrs. F.A. Dunn
[Francis Anthony Dunn]
2420 Chicago Road
610 So. Carrollton Ave.
New Orleans La.
(Click on the above link, put your cursor on the picture
that appears, hold your left mouse button down and move
from left to right to see what the area looks like these days.)
May 20, 1943
Dear Edna, Colleen and Worm Digger
Yes Edna, he may tell you he was making a garden but I’ll bet not one worm got away. All the while he was digging didn’t you notice that fishy look he had in his eye?
I[t] certainly was great to hear from you and hope and pray that little Colleen will grow to be as fine and sweet as her mother. I have another little gift for her, and she will sure appreciate it when she is just a little older. It is something you just can’t get in Chicago. It is something for her to play with.
I am glad that the weather is nice there now Edna, on account of poor Smiley, wanting so bad, to make a garden, and you do know Edna that if he did not take those worms and feed them to the fish, they might eat the seeds and poor Smiley’s work would be for nothing. Can he help it if they are not careful when he finds fish and they get caught on the hook[?] No of course not. And I’ll bet some of those fish don’t even appreciate what he is doing for them, and not go near the hook. Ungrateful little devils.
You say you are not as good with the pen as I am, [but] your writing looks mighty precious to me, I am always so glad to hear from you all. Also remember you do not get the practice I do. You know Edna it just depends on whose eyes look at it that determines how it looks.
Well I must get downtown so will sign off for now and will be waiting anxiously to hear from you. Would also like to hear from [his sister] Helen but I guess she is just to (sic) busy. Tell them hello! for me please. Write soon. Please!
Love to all!
610 So. Carrollton Ave.
New Orleans La.
Excuse pencil – no pen point
Trivia: The comment about the pen point interested me, for it seems to refer to the need for a point (called a "nib") on a fountain pen. In looking for a date when ballpoint pens came into existence I learned that the first ones in the U.S. went on sale at Gimbels department store in New York City in 1945 for $12.50 each, so he wouldn't have had access to one at the time he wrote this letter.
World War II was still underway at the time of the letter, so I wonder why he wasn't in the military, knowing that he registered for the draft in 1918. Having said that, he may have had health problems that exempted him from serving, for Colleen reported that he had a drinking problem, and in fact spent the last years of his life in a coma. He was institutionalized during those years, with the expense for it being paid by his well-to-do brother, John Dunn, until John died.
As I understand it, Eugene's other relatives were either unwilling or unable to continue paying the cost after John's death, so the decision was made, in essence, to pull the plug. All in all, the story of Eugene Michael Dunn is an unhappy tale of a reportedly very intelligent man who abandoned his young family, moved to Arkansas to raise chickens, and ultimately died alone after years of being in a coma. Not a pretty story.
Last updated 4/30/09