William Edward Dunn

William Edward Dunn (WED - 1861-1908), Grandfather of William Edward (Bill) Dunn (1918-1986)

◄ This undated picture of him was provided by his granddaughter, Mary Green Starasinic, and is copied from an old tintype photo. Based upon his appearance and the fact that he was an officer of a railroad toward the end of his career, I estimate that this picture is circa 1900-1905. (Click on photo to enlarge it.)

◄ His widow, Josephine Barbara Lauer Dunn, was raising this family on her own when this photo was taken, circa 1916. Two other daughters, Rosa and Julia, had died of scarlet fever as children. WED's eldest daughter, Ella (from a previous marriage in which his wife died), was probably on her own when this picture was taken. This photo was provided by Colleen Dunn Becker - WED's granddaughter - and her husband, Ken Becker.
(Click on photo to enlarge it.)

William E. Dunn is, to me, one of the most interesting characters in our family's story. He was my generation’s great grandfather, one of the sons of Michael and Bridget Grace Dunn - who were illiterate Irish-Catholic immigrants. WED was, therefore, a first-generation American who rose to achieve great acclaim in his industry, was highly admired in his community, dealt successfully with his personal demons, and loved his family deeply.

He was born in 1861, but I haven't found any formal documentation of his date of death. Having said that, we do have evidence based upon newspaper articles about him and a letter of condolence written to his widow, Josephine. One news article says that even though he was sick, he kept working until a few days after Christmas [of 1907]. The letter of condolence is dated January 8th, 1908, so we know he died after Christmas and before January 8th. Based upon this evidence, I've surmised that his death probably occurred early in 1908. The news articles and letter are transcribed below.

How I Found Out About Him

When I began the process of assembling our family history, cousin Noel Erickson Ray provided me with copies of several family documents she'd inherited from her mother, Rita Dunn Erickson Tumbiolo. Included was the June, 1917, marriage license application for my generation's grandparents, Hazel Loretta Nolan and Eugene Michael Dunn. It lists his father's name as William Edward Dunn and his mother's maiden name as Josephine Lauer, which is how I first learned who they were.

Later, in trying to locate records about Eugene Dunn and running into a brick wall, I employed the services of a gal by the name of Molly Kennedy, who does genealogy research in Illinois. She found an obituary for WED’s daughter Helen, which listed Mary [Green] Starasinic as Helen’s surviving daughter. She even found Mary’s phone number for me as well. Hoping she was still alive, I called Mary. Wow! It turned out that she had visited our family in East Chicago, Indiana, when we were kids, and immediately knew who I was, even though fifty-plus years had passed since our last contact. She had tons of information and photos to offer about the family, and it was very exciting to later meet her and her husband Joe. They provided the articles and letter reproduced below.


The 1900 Census shows that WED was born in Nov­ember, 1861. (From other records I believe it was in Edwardsville, Illinois.) That census shows that he was age 38, and he and his family lived at 4241 S. Princeton Ave, Chicago, Illinois. His occupation is listed as "R.R. track foreman". Living with him were his wife, Josephine, age 29, and the six children they had at the time, with my generation's grandfather, Eugene Dunn, being the youngest at age one.

here to see a 2008 photo of the house where WED and Josephine lived in 1900. Click here to see a "historic" pre-renovation photo of it taken in 2000. (If a PIN number is needed to access the photos, it's 20-04-222-030-0000.)

You may ask how I came up with an online photo of WED's home from more than a hundred years ago. Answer: The census is organized by the street name and number for each house. As a result of an inquiry I posted on a genealogy message board, I became acquainted with a terrific gal named Kate; she did a look-up for the photo in the Cook County, Illinois records and sent a link to me.

Here are the children recorded in that census:
Ella (born Sep, 1884);
Stephen (born Dec, 1892);
John (born Jun, 1894);
Rosa (born Sep, 1895);
Julia (born Sep, 1896);
Eugene (born July, 1898).

Ella was 15 years old at the time, but WED and Josephine had been married for only about eight years, so, as mentioned above, Ella was from his previous marriage. That marriage ended with the death of his first wife, whose name was reportedly also Ella.


WED's First Marriage

I interrupt the timeline of WED's life to insert information I became aware of after this page was first created. Here's a message about WED's first marriage (reformatted for easier reading here) received from his granddaughter, cousin Colleen Dunn Becker (daughter of Francis [Smiley] Dunn). It brings to light the fact that WED not only had a previous wife (Ella) and daughter (also Ella) from that marriage, he had several children - another family - before marrying Josephine Lauer:

"Dear Pat,

I think you are on the right track. Some of the Dunns you found probably are distant relatives. Remember that [WED's] marriage to Josephine was his second marriage. His first marriage was to Ella Ryan. She may have been from Ireland. My mother told me about her.
They [WED and Ella] had several children. My mother mentioned:

♦ William Dunn (Bill) - born May 4,1881;

♦ Ella (Helen) Dunn - born September, 18,1884, in Jacksonville, Illinois and died in Peru, Fulton, Indiana in 1960 [Editor's note: Other records cause me to believe she married and became Ella Dawson. Here's a link to the page of this blog with that information];

♦ Mary Dunn - born November 1,1882 and died January 22 1890, and;

♦ Anna (SP?) Dunn - born December 25,1886.

I know Bill Dunn [above] had at least two sons, Patrick and Joseph. Unfortunately when my mother was telling me all this information I was not all that interested and should have taken better notes.

My mother talked about the farm that relatives would visit and I believe it was Bill Dunn and/or his son's farm. When WED's first wife died, their daughter, Ella Dunn, evidently lived with WED and Josephine as noted in the census of 1900. I thought it was interesting to find that the two girls, Rose E. and Julia M., were still alive. I go to their cemetery when I possibly can to have their gravestone uncovered. The girls are buried on top of WED [in his grave].



Another of WED's granddaughters, cousin Mary Green Starasinic (daughter of Helen Dunn Green Wolf), sent the following:

"I remember visiting a cousin Patrick Dunn on his farm in Pana, IL. and that he had relatives who lived nearby. I cannot recall any of their names or where they lived. However, Pana and Raymond are cities close together and in southern IL. where Edwardsville is..."

Edwardsville is where WED and Josephine lived when they married, so it makes sense that other family members would be in the area. Bottom line: It appears we have other undiscovered Dunn family members out there somewhere. Perhaps we'll be able to find them one of these days.

Now, back to the original timeline.


The 1900 Census also shows that Josephine Dunn was born in December, 1870, shortly before the Chicago Fire.

Trivia: The Great Chicago Fire
On the night of October 8, 1871, a fire started in a barn owned by Catherine and Patrick O'Leary 1-1/2 miles southwest of downtown. (Thus was born the legend of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow starting the fire.) Fanned by a strong wind in a city largely built of wood structures, the blaze raged for nearly 30 hours. Flames spread as far as the city's northern limits before finally dying out in the early morning rain of October 10. Much of the downtown and surrounding areas lay in ruins; 300 were dead and a third of the city's population of 300,000 was left homeless.


WED's Second Marriage

WED and Josephine were married 11 Feb 1892, and their marriage record from the state of Illinois shows the following:

Place: Madison County, Illinois [Their church marriage certificate lists each of them as living in Edwardsville, which is in Madison county.]

His parents: Recorded as Michael Dunn and Brigetta Grace (her name was actually Bridget); Grace was her maiden name, not a middle name.

Her parents: Recorded as Caspar Lauer and Erma Schwarz (the correct spelling of their names is Casper and Emma).

Witnesses: Patrick Donahue, Lizzie Lauer (Josephine's sister Elizabeth) and a Catholic priest whose name was August Schlegel.

Josephine’s parents are shown in the 1900 census as having been born in Germany. When I saw that it was the first inkling I had that our paternal heritage is anything other than Irish. Until that point I'd always understood that it was Irish only. (See the Mathias Schwarz page of this blog to learn about Josephine’s very interesting line of our ancestral family. Through her Schwarz line we are distant cousins of two U.S. presidents.)


WED was born during the U.S. Civil War, would have grown up in the post-war reconstruction years, and died at age 47. He became one of the pioneers in the building of railroads during that era. Starting as a laborer called a "railroad hand", he held increasingly important positions with various railroads, including becoming a company officer, and at one point had 680 employees under his direct management.

Trivia: Railroads have been around since long before I was born, so I've always taken them for granted. However, if you think about it, someone had to build them - and WED was one of the men who did so. In looking for some history about railroad building in Illinois I came across this site, which has many photos and stories about that era.

Below is a transcript of an undated article about a going-away banquet given for WED. Based upon this and the letter of condolence, it appears that the occasion for the banquet was his move from St. Genevieve, Missouri, to Chicago, where he would take on the job of building yet another railroad.

“The officers and employees of the Ill. So. [Illinois Southern] invited W.E. Dunn to a banquet they caused to be prepared in his honor at the City Hotel Sunday evening. The table was laid with 84 covers for the guests. While the banquet was in progress the Ste. Genevieve Orchestra rendered several selections. At the conclusion of the feast C.J. Stanton, the able attorney of the company in Missouri, as the spokesman of the assemblage, made a neat little address in which he expressed the feelings of high regard of all present for Mr. Dunn and presented to him a fine gold watch and chain and a beautiful meerschaum pipe as tokens of their esteem, and to Mrs. Dunn a tray with a set of beautiful silver ware, a silk umbrella and an elaborate centerpiece constructed of cut flowers and wreaths. Mr. Dunn was overcome with emotion at this fine demonstration from his fellow officers and subordinates, and in a few heartfelt words expressed his gratefulness for the honor done him. Mr. Dunn will move to Chicago in about a month.”


The Death of William Edward Dunn

His sudden and untimely death elicited strong and emotional responses both in Chicago, where he lived at the time, and in St. Genevieve, where he'd lived previously. Following is a transcription of his obituary; the publication in which it appeared is not known, but it seems it would have been published in January, 1908.

Death of William E. Dunn
William E. Dunn, superintendent of construction on the Chicago Southern railway, died at home in Crete last Saturday evening at 6 o’clock. Mr. Dunn had been ill but a short time, and expressions of deep sorrow greeted the news of his death throughout the community. He caught cold three or four weeks ago, but thought little of it and continued working, exposing himself to all kinds of weather until a few days after Christmas, when he was forced to give up and take to bed. By this time his lungs were badly congested, and although everything possible was done to save his life it proved to be of no avail. Mr. Dunn was a man of splendid physique, and all his life enjoyed good health, but the weeks of exposure he had to undergo while superintending the construction of the railroad, in which he took as much interest as though it were his own, had weakened him, and he was unable to make a successful battle for his life.

William E. Dunn was born at Raymond, Illinois, and was 47 years old at the time of his demise. He began railroading at an early age as a section hand, and soon had charge of a section. When John R. Walsh began building the Missouri Southern railway he chose Mr. Dunn as superintendent of construction, and the work was so well done that when it was decided to build the Chicago Southern “No one else was thought of to lead the way.” It is said to be one of the best built roads in the United States, and to Mr. Dunn’s efficiency and untiring energy is due in a large measure the completeness of the work. It is to be regretted that his untimely death prevents him from witnessing the complete fruition of his labors. He will be missed by employer and employe[e] alike, for while he was ever courteous and yielding to his superiors in office he was always just and generous to those in his employ. A widow and eight children survive to mourn the loss of a devoted husband and a kind, loving father. The funeral services were conducted at St. Liborius Catholic church at Steger Tuesday at 10 o’clock, after which the remains were taken to Mt. Olivet cemetery, Chicago, for burial."


This article contains neither the date nor the name of the publication in which it appeared, but it seems it would also have appeared in January, 1908.

"William E. Dunn Dead
This community was shocked to hear that William E. Dunn of Crete, Ill., had died of pneumonia at 6:30 p.m. last Saturday. Mr. Dunn was at the time of his death Road Master of the Chicago Southern railroad, the construction of which he had only a short time before his death completed. Mr. Dunn was widely and favorably known among the people of this vicinity, having been here several years during the building of the present Illinois Southern Ry., which to this day is one of the finest pieces of road in the country, and is a lasting monument to his ability as a railroad builder.

He was a conscientious Christian gentleman, who not only enjoyed the unbounded confidence of his employer, Mr. John R. Walsh, but also the respect of everybody else who ever came in contact with him or had business relations with him. When Mr. Dunn was called to Chicago from here, the parting was a most pathetic one, and none regretted it more than he did when the time for parting came, and he has more than once expressed hid desire to return to Ste. Genevieve and establish a permanent home here. He loved our city, and he admired our people. He leaves his wife, a most estimable lady, with a large family of children to mourn his too early demise, and we assure them that this community sympathizes with them in their great loss. But it was God's will. Peace to his ashes."


We also have this article, which is without a title, date or name of the publication in which it appeared, but it, too, would have been written in January, 2008, it seems.

"His large number of friends and admirers in this city were deeply grieved to learn of the death, Saturday last, at Crete, Ill, of appendicitis, of W.E. Dunn who formerly occupied the position of Illinois Southern Road Master and made his home here. He leaves a wife and five children. The remains were taken to his home in Chicago. The deceased was one of the very best types of men this world produces. Modest, unassuming, diligent, eminently fair, he was true to himself and his God at all times. That he was esteemed goes without saying. He was a man amongst men whose superior character and whose traits and customs made men, without exception, regard him as a superior man and always a friend. He was buried with the rights (sic) of the Catholic Church, whose laws he observed to the letter and whose spirit he loved as a mother loves her child. It will be the occasion of a pang of grief to all his friends to read this notice of his death as it is to the recorder hereof. May his soul rest in peace."


Here's a transcript of the letter of condolence written to Josephine by C.J. Stanton, the company attorney mentioned in the article about the going-away banquet.

"Ste. Genevieve Mo. Jan. 8th1908

Mrs. William Dunn
Crete, Ills.

Dear Madam;

It is with much pain and sorrow indeed that I write to assure you of my deep sympathy for you and yours in this, your hour of trial and bereavement. I realize how utterly futile would be any attempt to, in the slightest degree, assuage the grief of one who has suffered a loss as great as yours, the loss of a true and devoted husband, a man of honor and of the highest integrity and one who, under all circumstances, was a true, faithful and loyal friend.

Your husband was "my friend" and during his absence from Ste. Genevieve I had always hoped that it would one day be again my good fortune to be associated with him socially as well as in a business way. God, however, has willed it otherwise and however hard it may seem it is true that He does for the best. He has taken away a truly just and noble man, for indeed the life of William E. Dunn was in all things worthy of emulation.

Again assuring you of the heartfelt sympathy of our family as well as myself, I trust that you may not forget that we shall appreciate any opportunity to serve you. My God bless you and your children, and may He strengthen you in your great trouble.

I am,

yours very respectfully,

[signed] C.J. Stanton"


Josephine and the Family Go On

1910 Census records that the household now looked like this:
Name: Josephine Dunn, age: 39, birthplace: Illinois, father's birthplace: Germany, mother's birthplace: Germany, home in 1910: Crete, Illinois, marital status: widowed, race: white, gender: female

Household members:
Josephine Dunn - 39, occupation shown as "none";
Stephen C Dunn - 17, working at a piano factory;
John H Dunn - 15, working at the piano factory;
Eugene M Dunn - 11;
Edward T Dunn - 9;
Francis A Dunn - 6;
Helen M Dunn - 2.

Note that between the 1900 and 1910 censuses, Edward, Francis (who became known as Smiley) and Helen were born, but Ella was gone. Ella would have been 25 in 1910, so presumably she was on her own by this point. Also note that Rosa and Julia are no longer in the household; I was told by WED's granddaughter that they died of scarlet fever as children, a source of great heartbreak for him.


Here's a link to the
1920 census. They are still in Crete, and in the household with Josephine, 49, are:
John - 25, a foreman;
Edward - 19, a machinist;
Francis - 16, a millwright;
Helen - 12, presumably still in school.

The males work for the piano factory; from other records we know that Eugene married Hazel Nolan in 1917 and is no longer in the household.


Here's a link to the
1930 census. The family is now living in Steger, Illinois. Still living with Josephine, 59, are:
Edward - 29, automobile salesman;
Francis - 26, is a sander at the piano factory;
Helen - 22, occupation shown as "none".


Josephine’s Death

Josephine lived until 1942; here's a transcript of her obituary from the Chicago Heights Star, October 30th, 1942.

Mrs. Josephine Dunn, 30 McKinley Avenue, Steger, died Wednesday in St. James hospital at the age of 71 years. A Steger resident for many years, she is survived by four sons - John, of Chicago; Edward, of Steger; Francis, of Chicago Heights, and Eugene, of New Orleans, La.; a daughter, Mrs. Helen Green of Steger, and seven grandchildren. Funeral services will be held tomorrow from the West End Fu­neral Home to St. Liborius church, Steger, at ten a. m."


Note that Eugene's location is listed in the obituary above as New Orleans. That bit of data was an important clue as to his whereabouts, for I'd been looking for him only in Illinois, and had been unable to find him. I discuss this in more detail on the page in this blog where I write about Eugene.

We'll never know why, but our "East Chicago" Dunn family was apparently estranged from our extended family as we were growing up, for we didn't know any of our cousins who descended from WED and Josephine. In fact, until I began assembling our family history I didn't even know they existed. It's been very exciting to make connection with cousins Mary Starasinic (daughter of Helen Dunn Green) and her husband Joe, Colleen Dunn Becker (daughter of Francis "Smiley" Dunn) and her husband Ken, as well as cousins Carla Busby and Dan Nolan and his wife Jennifer. (The Busby and Nolan connections are covered elsewhere in this blog.)

Even though the family relationship didn't last, I do recall visiting relatives in Steger with my father when I was a little kid - and my perception had long been that they were on the Dunn side. When I received a copy of Josephine’s death certificate and saw that her address at that time was Steger, it confirmed that my father and I were visiting some of the Dunns, probably in the 1940s or very early 1950s

For more about WED, see the page in this blog containing several emotional letters he wrote to family members. His and Josephine's marriage license can also be seen there.

Last updated 6/10/2010

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