Pierce Dunn / Ireland

By Patrick William Dunn

The bible tells us that in the beginning God created Adam and Eve. From there, this interesting website
offers a genealogy that purports to lead from them to the Dunns. It’s called “The ancient genealogy of Ó Duinn according to O'Hart's Irish Pedigrees”.

Ó Duinn is just one variation of what became the Dunn name as it was translated from the original language and evolved over the centuries. At generation 130 in the Ó Duinn genealogy it says,“Terence Dunn: his son”.

(Click on the map to enlarge it.)

For this Family History blog I’ll pick things up at a later generation. The furthest back I’ve been able to get on our Dunn line is Pierce Dunn, my generation’s great great great (GGG) grandfather.

Descendancy Chart: Pierce Dunn to William Edward Dunn

Great Great Grandfather of William Edward Dunn
My father was William Edward Dunn, and for some time I’ve been assembling information about our family history. I became aware of Pierce Dunn when I received - from England - a copy of the British marriage certificate of his son, Michael Dunn, which records the names and occupations of the parents of the bride and groom. That certificate shows Pierce’s occupation as “farmer” at the time of the marriage in 1853.

Because Michael’s birthplace is recorded in several places as being Ireland, it's apparent that Pierce was also from Ireland. And, based upon when Michael was born, I originally estimated that Pierce was probably born circa 1795 -1805. However, I was not able to document that, and the death certificate discussed below indicates that he was born about 1808.

Life in Ireland was extremely difficult in that era, and because Michael’s marriage took place in England in 1853, we know that he had emigrated there by that time. My research suggests that Pierce also emigrated to England in the mid-1800s because of famine in Ireland caused by the potato blight there.

The Death of Pierce Dunn
After receiving the British marriage record for Michael and Bridget Grace Dunn, I did some research on Ancestry.com for "Pierce Dunn". The only reference I could find was the following:

■ Name: Pierce Dunn
■ Year of Registration: [of death] 1858
■ Quarter of Registration: Apr-May-Jun
■ District: Liverpool (1837-1934)
■ County: Lancashire
■ Volume: 8b
■ Page: 94

In one record, Pierce's grandson - Michael and Bridget's eldest son, Peter - was reportedly born in Lancashire, England, and in another source as having been born in the village of Glossop, in Derbyshire, which is near Lancashire. And their immigration record shows that Michael and Bridget departed from Liverpool when they emigrated to the U.S. in 1858, so in looking at the information above, my lightning-quick mind said, "Yes! Maybe this is our Pierce Dunn!"

I have now received a copy of the British death certificate for Pierce Dunn. It was delivered personally from England by the father of a friend who is originally from England and now lives in the U.S. Her father, while visiting his daughter here, took advantage of that to make this delivery, for which I'm very grateful.

Info Shown on the Certificate
Source: General Registry Office, Registration District: Liverpool, 1858 Death in the Sub-district of Dale-Street, in the County of Lancaster
When and where died: 17 June 1858, 5 Johnson Street
Name: Pierce Dunn
Sex: Male
Age: 50 years
Occupation: Coffee Hawker [I wondered, "What was a hawker?" If this is him, he apparently gave up farming after emigrating to England.]
Cause of death: Chest Affection Certified [Could this mean infection?]
Signature, description and residence of attendant: Robert Johnson in attendance, 25 Duke Street, Liverpool
When registered: Eighteenth June, 1858
Signature of registrar: George Pilkington

Along with some other questions, I posted the following inquiry on an online genealogy message board centered on Derbyshire, where Pierce’s son Michael was married before emigrating to the U.S:

“I have an 1858 British death certificate that says the deceased was a "coffee hawker" What was a coffee hawker? If this is my GGG grandfather, he apparently gave up farming after emigrating from Ireland to England. Does that sound like a likely occupational change for an Irish immigrant in that era?"

I received the following responses from members of the message board:

■ I don't have the genealogy you seek, but a coffee hawker is a coffee seller. The phrase "Hawking his wares" means the same thing.

■ It would mean he was selling coffee door to door or on the streets by cart. Hope this helps.

■ Or instead of selling coffee door to door he could be serving coffee in a coffee shop.

■ A hawker was a peddler, i.e., he sold goods door to door, if he came over [from Ireland to England] and was without money he may have turned to anything to earn a crust, so could well be selling coffee door to door - although I don't know how readily available it was at that time.

If he was a farmer in Ireland he may well have been a tenant farmer who lost everything in the potato blight; then again it may be just what [his son] Michael told the registrar.

I later ran across a U.K.-based genealogy website listing names of old occupations - with explanations of what they mean in current language. There I found the following:

"Hawker / Huckster
Peddler or street seller. Itinerant street dealer who carried his wares with him. Often used as a term of abuse."


So, the information above answers the questions of what a "hawker" was - as well as how a man who was a farmer in Ireland could later become a peddler in England. And the notion that he was a tenant farmer who lost everything as a result of the potato blight is consistent with what I've learned about the conditions in Ireland in that era. Here's the page of this blog where that subject is discussed.

Although I don't see anything in the death certificate that definitively ties him into our family, the following factors cause me to believe this is our Pierce Dunn:

■ The name Pierce is unusual. There are many Michaels, Edwards, Williams, etc. when I look up Dunns, but this was the only Pierce Dunn I could locate in that era.

■ The geography ties in to other information we have about our family. We know that Michael and Bridget were married in the area where Pierce died, that their son Peter was born in that area, and that they departed for the U.S. from that area. (The map above shows the geographical relationships.)

■ The dates involved seem to match. British censuses were taken in 1851 and 1861, and there's no record of Pierce or Michael and Bridget in those records. It appears they came to England after 1851, Michael and Bridget married in 1853, Pierce died in 1858, and Michael and Bridget left for the U.S. in 1858, thereby missing both censuses.

For those reasons - and in the absence of information to the contrary - I presume this is, indeed, our Pierce Dunn.

Michael is the only offspring of Pierce's we know of. Beyond that, I have thus far found no information about Pierce’s wife or any other children they may have had. Unfortunately, their missing those censuses leaves a gap in the records.


Do I have the correct name for him?
A friend provided me with the following:

1. English, Welsh, and Irish: from the personal name Piers, the usual Norman vernacular form of Peter. In Wales this represents a patronymic "ap Piers". In Ireland it represents a reduced Anglicized form of Gaelic "Mac Piarais", ‘son of Piaras’, a Gaelicized form of Piers.

2. Americanized form of some similar-sounding Jewish surname.

Michael and Bridget were illiterate, each having signed their marriage certificate with an "x", with the marks being certified by a priest and two witnesses. Because of their illiteracy, it seems they wouldn't have known if his father's name was recorded properly on their marriage certificate.

Thus, Michael's father's name could be "Piers", but recorded on their marriage certificate as "Pierce". So, while I've been looking for Pierce, his name may have been Piers or possibly even Peter, since Michael and Bridget may have named their first born son after him – which is the Irish tradition.

These thoughts about his name are idle speculation, but are worthy of being noted, I think.

Great Grandfather
On their marriage certificate, Michael Dunn is shown as being a "labourer". As discussed above, in 1853 he married Bridget Grace, who - at age 25 - is shown as being a spinster whose occupation was washerwoman.

They married at All Saints (Catholic) church in the village of Glossop, Derbyshire (county), England and emigrated to the U.S. in 1858. They arrived in New York, initially settled in the Alton area in Madison County, Illinois shortly after the last of the Indian wars in that area, and Michael became a farmer.

Birth: 1830-1835 in Ireland

Death: Michael appears in the 1870 U.S. cenus, but not in the 1880 census in which Bridget is recorded as being widowed. Thus, we know that Michael died between 1870 and 1880 in Illinois, probably after age 40 and before reaching age 50. (The variations in his reported age from different sources precludes knowing exactly how old he was.)

The 1860 U.S. census shows that Michael and Bridget were the parents of Peter - born in England - William, John, Thomas and Stephen Dunn. All but Peter were born in Illinois. Details about this family can be found on the Michael Dunn page of this blog.

This William Edward Dunn (there were two of them) was first a railroad hand and ultimately became a highly respected executive in the pioneering railroad industry in the post-Civil War era in Illinois. He married Josephine Barbara Lauer in Edwardsville, Illinois.

Birth: Nov 1861 in Edwardsville, Illinois

Death: Jan 1908 in Illinois, at age 47

Eugene Michael Dunn was at first a bookkeeper/clerk in Illinois, then became a chicken farmer in Arkansas. He married Hazel Loretta Nolan in Crown Point, Indiana in 1917. He abandoned her after fathering a child, returned ten years later, fathered another child and abandoned them again.

At least one of his siblings and one of his nieces is known to have visited him in Arkansas, but in the 29 years between the birth of his first grandchild and the time of his death, Eugene never met any of them or their children - his great grandchildren.

Because of being in a coma for an extended period of time, he ended his days in an institution, reportedly an extended care facility of some kind.

Birth: 08 Jul 1898 Litchfield, Illinois

Death: 15 Dec 1969, in Cabot, Arkansas, at age 71

Eugene and Hazel were the parents of William Edward and Rita Jane Dunn

William Edward Dunn
Known as Bill, he went from being a laborer at a steel mill in East Chicago, Indiana, to owning a bakery and small chain of donut shops in Hammond and the surrounding area in northwest Indiana.

He married Fleeta Claire Jones in 1940, fathered five children, and they divorced. He later married Jeanine Wells, fathered two more children and was widowed because of her untimely death. Still later he lived common-law with Ann Girski with whom he fathered another child.

Birth: 07 Jul 1918, Chicago, Illinois

Death: 29 Dec 1986 Hammond, Indiana, at age 68

With Claire, Bill was the father of Patrick, Timothy, Cory, Toby, and Molly Dunn. This group grew up in East Chicago, Indiana. With Jean, he later fathered Karla and Linda Dunn and was also the stepfather of Diane, Steve, and Carol Wells. Finally, he fathered Laurie Dunn and played a father role with the children of Ann Girski, Laurie's mother, with whom he lived in Hammond, Indiana, for several years before his death.

Last update: 1/22/10

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