Friday, January 15, 2016

From the Army to the Ministry?

Often when I am researching a family group -- father, mother, and children -- things fall into place as they should. They are listed in the records you expect for their age, time and place. Every once in a while, however, for one child's life my research may lead to more questions than answers.

Such was the case with Edward S. Dawson, my first cousin twice removed and son of Dudley Dawson and Willie Ann Jennings, who was my great grandfather's half-sister. Edward was born on 22 June 1885 in Amherst County, Virginia, according to his World War I and World War II draft cards. His California death index and Veterans Grave Site records indicate he was born a month later.

By the time Edward was 15 years old, his family had moved to a farm in Bedford County. Willie Ann (Jennings) Dawson died in 1903 when Edward was 18. Four years later, his father married again and moved to Lynchburg.

Edward enlisted in the U.S. Army on 18 January 1909 in Amherst County. It was a fairly unusual thing for a young man to do as the Army at that time was quite small -- only about 200,000 men with approximately 80,000 in National Guard units. His military experience did not last much more than a year as he was discharged on 17 February 1910 at Fort Baynard in Santa Clara, New Mexico, due to some sort of disability.

Fort Baynard, New Mexico, circa 1915; photograph courtesy of USGenWeb

Edward made his way to Danville, Virginia, by April where he was enumerated boarding with Able Ruse and another young person. All three men worked for the Salvation Army. When he registered for the World War I draft registration on 12 September 1918, he lived in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, and was an out of work waiter. The only reason I believe this record is correct is that his birth date and place are correct. He listed a son named William as his nearest relative. I believe this William was the William E. Dawson who lived with his aunt and uncle, Benjamin and Emma (Dawson) Hudson in 1920. William was born about 1918 in Virginia so it is likely that his father, Edward went to Pennsylvania after the death of his wife.

I am not entirely sure where Edward was in 1920 or what his occupation may have been. The best possible census record revealed he lived in Washington, District of Columbia, as a boarder in the home of a Baptist minister. The census record also indicated Edward was an evangelical minister and that he was widowed. What gives me pause is whoever spoke to the enumerator said Edward's father was born in Ireland and his mother in England and that she spoke French. None of this is correct and I have been unable to find any trace of who his deceased wife may have been or when and where they married.

Salvation Army workers distributing Christmas baskets in Chicago circa
1903; photograph courtesy of the Chicago History Museum

In 1930 Edward lived at 100 Merle Avenue in Hempstead, New York, in a home he rented for $60. The census record is now correct as to the birth locations of his parents. He had married again to a woman named Anna Bell, who is 24 years younger than Edward. They had a four-year-old son named George, who was born in New Jersey. Edward worked as a clergyman with a missionary organization. This fact leads me to be believe the 1920 census document is for "my" Edward.

I can find no trace of Edward in the 1940 census. In 1942, when Edward may have registered for the World War II draft, he lived in Philadelphia and worked at a snack shop on the corner of 12th and Market Streets. He listed William E. Dawson as the person who would always know where he was. Again, his birth date and location were correct. So I have no idea what happened to his wife, Anna Bell, or his son, George. And I do not have any idea who this William was. Is he the son from Edward's first marriage?

Edward's appearance was described on three military records. While the first two sound like the same person, the third does not really:
  • Army Register of Enlistments, 1910: 5'9" tall, brown eyes, black hair with a ruddy complexion
  • World War I Draft Registration, 1918: Tall, medium build, brown eyes, dark hair
  • World War II Draft Registration, 1942: 5'5" tall, 140 pounds, gray eyes, red hair with a ruddy complexion
I know nothing more about Edward's life until he died 11 July 1965 in San Francisco. He was interred in the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California.

Edward S. Dawson's Headstone with the possibly incorrect month of
birth; photograph courtesy of Find A Grave member Marvin & Samme
Temple via Tom Brocher

Because he moved around so much, I simply have no idea where to look for additional records. My analysis to date of the records I have found which I believe to be related to Edward looks like this:

Analysis of records found for Edward S. Dawson

My questions are:

  • Are all the records I have discovered for the same person or am I tracing portions of the lives of two men named Edward S. Dawson?
  • Who was his first wife?
  • Who was William Dawson, son? Is he the same person as William E. Dawson?
  • What happened to Edward's second wife, Anna Bell, and their son named George?
  • Where was Edward when the 1940 census was enumerated?
  • Why did he leave the ministry?
  • What was he doing in California where he died?


  1. Have you looked into the Edward B. Dawson (1912-1993) who is attached as his son on Find A Grave Memorial# 52537018? I know these "calculated relationships" are not always reliable. I have an ancestor with a military marker which is not his own and this makes me question the marker versus the person who is buried in the plot. ~ Cathy

  2. Yes, I have looked into Edward B. Dawson. Records for him are pretty complete and he is definitely not a son of "my" Edward S. Dawson. I sent in email to the FAG contributor with my evidence and entered an edit, but the contributor has not accepted the edit or responded to my email.