The “Lost” Son of Warren Perry Thomas & Marion Dixon

Warren Perry Thomas (1860-1896) was my 2nd great grand-uncle, which means he was the brother of my great-great-grandfather Horace Luther Thomas.  As I have written about previously, Warren was killed in a tragic locomotive explosion near Yantic, Connecticut that killed three of the four-person crew.  Warren’s brother Charles Franklin Thomas, the conductor, survived. Following his death, Warren’s wife Marion Dixon was said to be in very bad shape: WarrenThomasClip1896 She did, however, receive an insurance policy of $1000 to help her in this difficult time:

Settlement for Warren's Death.

Settlement for Warren’s Death.

The first newspaper clipping also mentioned Warren’s two children, a “young son and daughter”.  We knew that the daughter was Mildred Marion Thomas (1895 – 1987), but for almost two years we didn’t know what happened to the son.  Marion and Mildred are together in the 1905 census for Gouverneur, NY, and also un the 1910 census for Burlington, Vermont.  No son in either case.  We supposed that the boy had died in childhood as often happened back then, or that his mother, ill, alone, and overwhelmed with two children, had perhaps sent him to Canada to live with her relatives there.  He was noted as “unknown son” and we left it as that. Then earlier this week I found that Mildred had died in California, and that she had married a man named Willard Henry Speer [her third husband, as it turns out].  Since my cousin Jeannie Halversen lives in California and knows its genealogical resources very well, I asked her if she would accept the mission to find Mildred’s death record and/or obituary to see if she had any living descendants.  She agreed and was very successful, determining that Marion had married three times, but didn’t have any children from any of those marriages, so there was no hope of finding a living descendant of Warren’s there.  A dead end. However, Jeannie sent me a follow-up email with an interesting tidbit:

On the California Death index there is a Delbert Wilford Thomas b-24 May 1885 Canada English, d-4 June 1969, San Francisco, California.  Mothers maiden name is Dixon. He has 1903 listed as the year he moved to the United States from Canada.  Since Marion and Warren were married there in 1880 it is possible that it could be the son.  Thoughts?

What followed was a thrilling evening of genealogical research.  Jeannie and I went back and forth for hours, each person putting one more piece of the puzzle in place with every turn.  Eventually, by 1:30am Wisconsin time, we had determined that Delbert was indeed the missing son of Warren Thomas.  We had also found two living descendants of his and gotten their phone numbers.  I waited until morning to call them, and we have been in touch since then.  A more complete version of the story of Warren’s missing son can now be told, thanks to his grand-daughters Sharon & Susan Martin.

Delbert Wilford Thomas, or “Skipper” as his family called him, was born on 24 May 1885 in Winchester, Ontario, Canada, the home town of his mother Marion Dixon. His grand-daughters say that his second wife Laura “Tommy” Johnson came from a Mormon family, although apparently Clifford Johnson, the patriarch, was something called a “Jack Mormon”, which sounds something like a “Lapsed Catholic”.  He swore and drank, so wasn’t particularly strict.  Laura’s mother Millie “Johnnie” Apperly was described as a “cowboy’s wife”.  Millie was in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and was very upset because she left her hat collection in the house and the family wouldn’t let her run back inside to get them when the quake struck.  There is also a rumor that one of the commanders of “Franklin’s Lost Expedition” to the North Pole (where there was cannibalism and lead poisoning) was a family member from that side.

Delbert Thomas was said to have ridden with Teddy Roosevelt in Cuba when he was only 14 or 15 years old having lied about his age to join the cavalry.  Susan said that Delbert’s mother came down to Cuba to pull him out of the cavalry after informing them that he was too young to serve!  It was also her impression that he was in the Cavalry in WWI. Laura’s Johnson’s family were horse traders, and Paula Thomas grew up with her parents following a circuit of horse-racing that went from Vancouver to Tijuana, Mexico and back, racing at horse tracks along the way.  It was apparently a bit like a traveling circus in that everyone was a band (riders, trainers, owners) and there was some degree of community child-rearing that went on.  Susan said that Paula told her about Seabiscuit being in that same circuit and that the rider and trainer of Seabiscuit were friends of the family.

Paula and her family moved to San Francisco when Paula was school aged.  They lived in the “North Beach” part of San Francisco, which Paula described as having “no prejudice at all”.  It was basically a colorblind place where blacks and whites co-mingled in a totally free manner.  Later, when Paula was about high-school age the family moved to San Jose and Paula was shocked at the racism that was there.  There were big bands that came through with Black musicians and they were treated poorly in a way that she had never experienced in San Francisco. Laura was a WAC or something equivalent in WWI and went back during WWII.

Paula went to nursing school in San Francisco and the family lived on the famous Lombard Street where they were apartment managers in addition to their other jobs. Susan said “Skipper” played semi-pro baseball with the San Francisco Seals, although I’ve had no luck proving that part of the story so far.  Susan said he was very tall, 6’4″ or 6’5″ and “all knees and elbows”.  She has many memories of him sitting in a large chair in his living room listening to the Giant’s baseball games on the radio. Delbert had a boat and Susan has memories of going out on the bay with him.  She always thought of him as an “ex-military” man.  He had a strict, military-style mustache that was close-cropped and scratched when he kissed his granddaughters.  He was also a former dentist and “had a passion for dentistry”, so every time the granddaughters came to his house he was always looking in their mouths and examining their teeth.

She described Delbert as a “quiet man” who “lived an incredibly full life”.

Delbert Thomas, Laura Johnson, Susan & Sharon Martin 1960

Delbert Thomas, Laura Johnson, Susan & Sharon Martin 1960

Delbert “Skipper” Thomas’s first son, Harold Gordon Thomas was born in Hyrum, Utah on 10 May 1912.  His mother was Skipper’s first wife, Alice Stuart Richardson Weddell.  Alice was a Scottish immigrant who came to the US board the SS Devonia from Perth, Scotland on 16 May 1887 at one year of age.  She settled with her family in Shelburne, Vermont where her father Alexander worked as a coachman.

Alice and Delbert were married in 1909, and moved to Utah by 1910.  They lived first in Hyrum, where Harold was born, then in Salt Lake City.  Skipper was working as a dentist at that point.  In 1919 she and Skipper split up and Alice took Gordon back to Vermont where they were living with Alice’s family in Burlington in 1920. Alice remarried to David Phineus Carlton Stockwell, and they had three children, one of which survived childhood.  His name was Harland David Stockwell Sr.

On 31 Dec 1934, Harold married Dorothy Catherine Fortune, one of the nine daughters (no sons!) of William Fortune and Jennie Casey.  Dorothy had been married once before to Richard Joseph Ryan, but it doesn’t seem that they had any children.  Around the same time, Harold took a job with the City Fire Department of Burlington, VT, where he worked from 1934 to 1944. In 1945 Harold and Dorothy moved to East Hartford, Connecticut where Harold took a job with the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Division, one of the largest aircraft engine manufacturers in the world.

I still don’t know if Harold and Dorothy had any children, but they hadn’t had any before 1940. Harold died 13 Jan 1975 in East Hartford at the age of only 62.  His wife Dorothy died 2 Jun 1987 in the same town at the age of 81.

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About cthomas1967

Seeking to bring my ancestors out of the shadows of history and into the light. I have always been interested in history, and at a few different times I tried to do a family tree, but wasn't able to do it with the technology that was available then. On a business trip I visited the World War I Museum in Kansas City, MO and it was a very impressive establishment. While I was there I remember thinking, "Didn't my great-grandfather father fight in World War I? And wasn't his brother killed alongside him in some famous battle? I wonder if I can find out where he died." That's what started it all. View all posts by cthomas1967

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