Chain Migration of the Dibben Family Part III: Walter Dibben (1860-1899)

SS Servia (1881):
Considered the first “modern” ocean liner –
Library of Congress

Walter Dibben was the 8th child of Reuben and Mary Ann Boiling Dibben. He was born in January 1860.

(Reminder about the English Dibben Family – Reuben and Mary Ann (Boiling) Dibben’s children who made it to adulthood: John, George, Mary Ann, James Clark, Alfred, Richard, Edwin, Walter, Frederick, Francis and Wilfred)

I have found Walter in the 1861 and 1871 English census records living with his parents. I have not found him in the 1881 census but he showed up in ship immigration records arriving in New York on the SS Servia on Jun 11, 1888. He was 27 years old and was a blacksmith like his father and brothers. He planned on going to Illinois – undoubtedly to join his brothers working at the steel mill.

Walter Dibben Immigration 1888 –

I have not found any records of him arriving in Chicago and what he did until 1891. The city directories are not perfect and there was so much influx of new immigrants to Chicago, they did not always catch everyone at home to get their information. The absence of the 1890 US census is an obvious gap.

What I have been able to find out: he married Mary Ann Latham on November 26, 1891.

Walter Dibben and Mary Ann Latham Marriage – 1891
Chicago, IL

They had a little boy named Walter Thomas Dibben on 29 March 1893.

Walter Thomas Birth Record 1893 –
Illinois, Cook County, Birth Certificates, 1871-1940,” database, FamilySearch ( : 18 May 2016), Walter Thomas Dibben, 29 Mar 1893; Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States, reference/certificate 3464, Cook County Clerk, Cook County Courthouse, Chicago; FHL microfilm 1,287,939.

They are not listed in the city directories until 1896 and 1896 when Walter is living with his brother Alfred at 9120 Superior Ave. Was he living with his wife and son? Maybe. It is difficult to know.

Alfred and Walter Dibben 1896 Chicago City Directory –

In the 1900 Census, Mary Ann (listed incorrectly as “Margaret”) and her son Walter Thomas are living with her family the Lathams. I wasn’t able to find Walter Sr. in the census.

Walter Thomas Dibben 1900 Census –

What happened to Walter after 1897 when he disappears from the city directories again?  I couldn’t find a death certificate in Chicago. But I did find a death record in England on April 4, 1899:

Walter Dibben Death Record April 4, 1899 –
Permission to reproduce when Crown Copyright acknowledged

He must have returned to England sometime between 1897 and 1899. I suspect he was very sick with diabetes (his primary cause of death.) There was plenty of work in Chicago, so he didn’t return to England for work. Was his marriage over? Was he unable to take care of them because of his diabetes? Working at the steel mill was brutal work and if one had a chronic disease, it would be more wearing on the body than for others. Some things we will never know. I hate that.

And what happens to Mary Ann and Walter Thomas? Another sad story…Walter Thomas died in 1905 at the age of 12.

Walter Thomas Dibben –
Funeral Announcement 1905

Walter Thomas is buried at Rosehill Cemetery where my 2nd Great Grandparents John and Olive Dibben are buried.  He is not at the same cemetery as the other Dibben brothers who worked in south Chicago are buried. He is not in the same cemetery as his mother Mary Ann, so I like to think maybe John paid for his nephew Walter Thomas to be buried with his family.

Mary Ann must have been terribly distraught to have lost her husband and her only child. I was happy to see that she remarried a widower John W. Leigh in 1907. He was an engineer and also worked at the steel mill. He had a son Cecil about the same age as her son Walter and hopefully being a mother to him gave her some happiness. John died in 1923 and she died in 1947. They are buried together at Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago.

Follow-up: I am ordering the death certificate for Walter Thomas to see what he died from and I am going to check to see if they got a divorce or not. I suspect not, but I will check.

Next:  Frederick Dibben – bigamist?

Update 3/19/20 – I received the death certificate for 12-year-old Walter Thomas. He died of “uremia caused by acute nephritis – cold following tonsillitis.”  A quick “google” search gives the following information from the National Health System in the UK:  “The causes of acute nephritis in children are different compared to adults. In children, it is most commonly caused by an infection, in particular, by the streptococcus bacteria. Streptococcus is usually responsible for sore throats, but can trigger a response in the body that leads to the glomeruli being damaged.” One of the many reasons I am grateful my children were born after antibiotics were developed!

Also, there was no divorce found for Walter and Mary Ann Dibben in Chicago.

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Chain Migration of the Dibben Family Part II – Edwin/Edward Dibben (1858-1886) and Death at Rolling Mill

Edwin William Dibben was the seventh child of Reuben and Mary Ann Dibben. He was 22 years old when he appeared in the 1881 England census living with his parents and working as a bricklayer.  He does not appear in any other English census records after 1881 and I couldn’t find a death record for him.  Where did he go?

(Reminder about the English Dibben Family – Reuben and Mary Ann (Boiling) Dibben’s children who made it to adulthood: John, George, Mary Ann, James Clark, Alfred, Richard, Edwin, Walter, Frederick, Francis and Wilfred)

I thought Edwin might have come to Chicago to join his older brothers, but he does not appear in any of the Chicago City Directories (they so seldom fail me…). I started looking through other records and I found a marriage for an Edward (not Edwin) Dibben and Charlotte Teed on October 28th, 1884.

Marriage Certificate for Edward Dibben and Charlotte Teed (County Clerk, Cook County, IL) via IRAD

Well, this could be him, the age didn’t match exactly, but these old Chicago marriage certificates don’t have any other data e.g. witnesses or names of parents to confirm the connection.

I  started looking at the newspapers for any mention of “Dibben” and found something that busted it all open.

The Inter Ocean Chicago, IL – Oct 16, 1886 (Newspapers by Ancestry)

Edward Dibben was killed when the roof caved in at the Repair Shop at Rolling Mill’s Southworks plant on October 10, 1886. His brother Alfred Dibben testified at the inquest which validates that this is Edwin Dibben and explains why he does not appear in more records for Chicago.

The Inter Ocean Chicago, IL – Oct 16, 1886
(Newspapers by Ancestry)

Frederick Teed, Edwin/Edward’s brother in law also testified:

The Inter Ocean Chicago, IL – Oct 16, 1886 (Newspapers by Ancestry)

Southworks – Illinois Steel 1899 (Hathi Trust)

Both men testified about the safety practices of the mill and how that contributed to the collapse of the building. Alfred testified that the building may have fallen from the “dross from the vessels, which is sometimes very heavy, and is cleaned from the roof once a week, might have caused the fall.” Frederick says they hadn’t removed it in two weeks.

In the end, the jury concludes he died from being crushed by the roof falling, but the cause of the roof falling was unknown.

Edward Dibben Death Certificate October 10, 1886
(County Clerk, Cook County, IL)

In researching the history of Rolling Mill (later Illinois Steel and then US Steel), I found that in 1896 a hospital was built at the plant. The description tells it all as far as how dangerous working at the plant was for its workers.  Illinois Steel was selling how humane and state of the art their facilities are, however it begs the question about the working conditions that require an on-site hospital. Of particular note is the “post mortem room” in the basement anticipating that some workers will die on the job. It brings to mind the Haymarket Riot (1886). The Jungle (1906) by Upton Sinclair and the rich labor rights history of Chicago.

Illinois Steel Company 1899 pg. 17
(Hathi Trust)

I still need to determine if there was a lawsuit filed by Charlotte Teed Dibben for the work-related death of her husband. I haven’t been able to find a record for her after Edwin/Edward’s death. I hope she landed on her feet.

Next: Walter Rueben Dibben (son of Rueben) and another sad story for the Dibben Family

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Christmas Through the Years – Olive & Dee Remembered

I am feeling a little melancholy this Christmas. I am very conscious about time passing and the people who are no longer with us. I am still grieving the loss of my Grandmother as we just passed the first anniversary of her death and I miss my mother who has been gone for 8 years.

Strangely looking at these pictures of my Grandmother and my Mom makes me happy. It is a reminder to live life well and enjoy every moment.

Unfortunately, the picture below is slightly damaged, but it does have all my great grandparents (Dibbens & Deys) on my mother’s side in it. It also is the earliest picture taken at Christmas that I have.

The Dibben Family in 1932
Left to right: Margaret Dey, Olive Dibben, Minnie Dibben, Viola Mundorf, Leroy Mundorf, Nell Dibben Mundorf, Alice Mundorff, Walter Dibben (in the front sitting), Lawrence Mundorff and Blanchard Dey

Isn’t this a great picture of Grandma Olive? – she seldom smiled so widely and my mom is even smiling (odd for her teenage period)

Christmas 1959
Olive Dibben Kemp, Bob, Ruth and Dee Dee Cork Kemp Joy Sybrandt

This picture below is one of my favorites because it is one of the few four generation pictures I have with me and my Great Grandmother Minnie before she died.

Christmas 1965
Rachelle (me!), Olive Dibben Kemp, Minnie Dey Dibben, Dee Dee Kemp, Aunt Ruth

A new four generation picture with my daughter Marissa.  A rare moment we were all together during the Christmas holidays, this time in Arizona to see my Mom.

Christmas 1994
Olive Kemp, Rachelle, Marissa, Dee Dee Sybrandt

Another special photo – 2009 was the last year my Grandmother traveled during the holidays (she was 92!) and both my children were home at the same time too.

Christmas 2009
Olive with her Great Grandchildren Marissa and Cameron

We are all so spread out all over the country now and we are seldom all together at the same time, especially during the holidays when travel is expensive and stressful. So it makes me appreciate the times we are together and that “family” is made with those you love.

Happy Holidays & Winter Solstice – May the spirit of love, reflection and peace be with you and your families this season!

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Chain Migration of the Dibben Family Part I – Alfred Dibben (1854-1908)

We have established that 2nd son George Dibben came to the United States by 1864 and John Dibben in 1873. But we have a mystery if the other siblings James, Alfred, Edwin, Richard, Walter and Fredrick may have come too. Luckily, one of these brothers was easy to prove so we will start with him.

(Reminder about the English Dibben Family – Reuben and Mary Ann (Boiling) Dibben’s children who made it to adulthood in order of birth: John, George, Mary Ann, James Clark, Alfred, Richard, Edwin, Walter, Frederick, Francis and Wilfred)

Dibben’s Chicago City Directory 1877 (Fold3)

John Dibben’s brother Alfred (Dibben Brother #4) joined him in Chicago as early as 1877 according to the Chicago City Directory. He was 23 years old and worked as a laborer (most likely at North Chicago Rolling Mills). He lived with his brother John at 97 Coventry for a few years but moved out by 1880 where he was a boarder with the Magnes England family:

Alfred Dibben 1880 Census (Family Search)

Alfred returned to England sometime between 1880 and 1881 which is both substantiated by disappearing from the Chicago city directories after 1879 and by a marriage record to Caroline Turner on 21 Aug 1881 in Worthing, Sussex, England.

Did he go home to marry his sweetheart? Probably. Because he returned to the United States via New York on 7 Apr 1882 on the Parthia.

Alfred Dibben 1882 Passenger on Parthia (Family Search)

Illinois Steel Works So. Chicago 1890
(Library of Congress)

He appears in the Chicago City Directories starting in 1890 through 1908 working as a “melter”, “steelworker” and “ironworker.” He lived in South Chicago and worked at the Rolling Mills/Illinois Steel South Works facility. Southworks was located on the Calumet River, near Pullman and railroads. It was by 1889  the “largest most modern plant in the Chicago region, covering 260 acres.” (City of the Century by Donald L. Miller)

Caroline and Alfred had seven children: Arthur R. Dibben (1884), James Edward (1886), Earl Dibben (1890), Caroline (1893), Fred (1894), Harold Raymond (1895) and Louise (1898). Because of the loss of the 1890 census, I may never have known about James and Harold because they died in 1892 and 1895 respectively. I was able to locate them at the Illinois Regional Archive Depository (IRAD) in the “Illinois Death Index Pre-1916” database.  Searching on only the last name, I found Dibben’s who died in the time period I was researching.

Dibben Deaths on IRAD

I ordered the death certificates using Chicago Ancestry again (reasonable prices and very quick response).  Unfortunately, these older death certificates do not tell the parents names….but they did have the address where they died which matched the address of Alfred Dibben in the city directory….have I told you how much I love city directories???

Alfred Dibben – 1892 Chicago City Directory

James Dibben Death Certificate – Chicago, IL

Alfred died on 11 Oct 1908 of stomach cancer and Caroline died on October 27, 1922, also of stomach cancer. Which makes you wonder about living and working so close to the steel mill….

Alfred Dibben Death Certificate – Chicago, IL

As much as I have found out about Alfred and his family, I feel like I am missing details of how much they interacted with the other part of the family. I don’t have pictures of this period and there were no stories passed down about them. I hope there is some descendant of Alfred (or any Dibben!) looking for information and they have a picture or information to exchange!

Next Time: Dibben Brother # 6 Edwin aka Edward and the steel mill accident.

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The Dibben Family Divided – Immigration to America vs. Remain in England

Rueben and Mary Ann (Boiling) Dibben had 11 children that lived until adulthood. I have reviewed the census records, marriage records and death indexes on Find my Past to determine if they stayed in England and this is what I found:

  • John Dibben b. 1842 – Immigrated to Chicago, IL
  • George Dibben b. 1847 – Immigrated to Chicago, IL
  • Mary Ann Dibben b. 1850 – She remained in England and marries Stephen Baker.
  • James Clark Dibben b. 1851 – ? – He does not appear in any English census records after 1861.
  • Alfred Dibben b. 1854 – ? He married Caroline Turner on 21 August 1881 at Broadwater Parish, Sussex. He does not appear in any English census records after 1861.
  • Richard Dibben b. 1856 – He remained in England and married Mary Jane Tierney.  (though he is missing from the 1881 census.)
  • Edwin W. Dibben b. 1859 – ? He does not appear in any English census records after 1881.
  • Walter Reuben Dibben b. 1860 – ? Ah, he is a tricky one…he does not appear in an English census after 1871, but he died in Sussex in May 1899.
  • Frederick Dibben b. 1865 – ? Another tricky one. He is not in the 1891 census but married Elizabeth Richardson in 1896 and remains in England after that point.
  • Frances E. Dibben b. 1866 – She stayed in England and married Arthur Miles.
  • Wilfred B. Dibben b. 1868 – He remained in England and married Gertrude Richardson.

Searching for the Dibben Family has been like a game of tag or Red Rover switching between England and the United States, going back and forth trying to see who stayed and who immigrated. Oh, if it were so easy to determine if they did one or the other! In some cases, it appears that they gave the United States a try, but returned to England. I had heard about this pattern for the Italians, but I did not know the English did it as well.

Dibben Name Frequency in England

I have been fortunate in that Dibben is not a very common name in England. I have found a variety of spellings: Dibben, Dibbin, Dibbens, Dibbons, Dibons, Dibens, and even Dibble, but it does not add a significant amount of people to find if you know where to look.  Using these tools has helped to narrow down where they might be based on their birth date and county/parish they were born.

Dibben Name Frequency in 1871 Census by Location

Dibben is an even less common name in the United States. Finding them in the U.S.  is quite easy in the 1880 census when there are only 16 people with that name, but the lack of an 1890 census gives some challenges.

Dibben Name in United States Census

Luckily I have the Chicago City Directories that were published almost every year between 1839 and 1923  (available on Fold3) and newspapers. I have also ordered more marriage and death records that may fill in the gaps.

Next: We will hopefully be finding out what happens to James, Alfred, Richard, Edwin, Walter, and Frederick in the coming weeks when those records arrive.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Remember to share your family stories with each other and keep those ancestors alive.

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Two Brothers Married Two Sisters: The Story of George Dibben

Remember when I mentioned that John Dibben had 10 other sisters and brothers? John was the oldest and one is tempted to believe that he would be the leader in immigration to the United States. In fact, that was what I have thought for a long time.

I had been told by my grandmother that “two brothers married two sisters.”  Her grandfather John Dibben and his younger brother George Dibben married sisters Olive and Florence Marner. I had ordered marriage certificates from the GRO in England and validated John married Olive in 1869 and George married Florence in 1874 in the Parish Church of Broadwater in Sussex, England. Notice that George lists his occupation as “mariner”; this will be an important clue later. (Florence step-father Robert Slather signed as her father.)

George Dibben and Florence Marner Marriage 1874 –
Permission to reproduce when Crown Copyright acknowledged

When they gave their immigration years in the 1900 census records, it confirmed that John and Olive immigrated to Chicago in 1873 and George and Florence in 1875. The Chicago City directories verified their immigration. John first appeared in 1974 and George in 1876. Well, that would have been it, except the further I started to dig into their records and a hunch on my part, all led me to different conclusions about the Dibben family immigration story.

For this post, we will focus on George Dibben because he has the most interesting story to tell. Bear with me…the exciting part comes at the end. 😊

George and Florence came to America together in 1875. They had a little girl Olive Grace in 1876 and then sometime around 1878 they moved to Kansas to a homestead where George became a farmer. In 1879 their daughter Viola May was born. Farming must not have worked out, because in 1880 I have two census records for the family; one in Kansas

George Dibben 1880 Census (

and one in Chicago where Florence and the girls are living with John and Olive.

John Dibben 1880 Census Chicago

I also have a homestead record in Kansas for George signed 1 Oct 1880. Perhaps Florence put her foot down and wanted to be in Chicago with her sister and her family? By 1881, George is back in the Chicago City Directories working as a steelworker at Rolling Mill and living a few blocks from John and his family.

Dibben Family – Chicago City Directory

Chicago Map 1978 – George Dibben in Green and John Dibben in Blue
David Rumsey Collection

George and Florence have another daughter Edith in 1884 and a son George Jr. in 1892. They bought a house on 3429 Marshfield Ave. in Chicago in 1888 and lived there until it is put up for sale in 1903. (Chicago Tribune accessed through

And then after 1903 they do not appear in the Chicago City Directories….where did they go?

This is when I started to explore the Ancestry hint that I had put on hold – I didn’t “Ignore” it because I just had a feeling that it might be true, as crazy as it might seem.

George Dibben Civil War Pension (

You can see why it seems crazy…a Civil War pension record and this George Dibben died in Alabama. But I couldn’t find George after 1903 and I truly believe truth is often stranger than fiction.  It was worth checking out.

I found the Navy enlistment record in 1867 for this George Dibben on Ancestry and it states that he is from England, is 20 years old and has been serving for 3 years. Remember how George Dibben’s marriage record said he had been a “mariner”?

Navy Enlistment Record 1867 (

I was able to access the death certificate for George Dibben in Fairhope, Alabama at a Family History Library, which stated that he:

  • was 50 years old
  • died on May 1, 1908
  • was from England
  • had resided in Fairhope for 5 years
  • was a farmer
  • but there was no information about his family and no signatures of a family member

I went back to my newspaper searches and combed through every Dibben entry for Alabama and Chicago.  I saw that probate for a George Dibben had been filed in Chicago in September 1908 (Chicago Tribune accessed on My “spidey” sense was tingling all over! I could take the leap, but good genealogists wait for the documents.

This is when I decided I needed to hire a genealogist in Chicago. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get to Chicago to order the probate for at least a year and that most likely it was in the Archives which would mean waiting for a couple of weeks before it could be retrieved. Sometimes it really is worth hiring a genealogist in the area. Kim Stankiewicz was great and I recommend her services!

And what did she find for me?

Cook County Probate Court Record 1908

Yes, George Dibben did serve in the Civil War. I still need to get to Washington D.C. to get the pension records, but I am confident there are not two George Dibben’s married to a Florence who had lived in Chicago and died in Alabama in 1908.

So, George went to the United States first no later than 1864 when he was 18 years old. He returned to England after his service in the United States and married Florence. John was not the first Dibben brother to go to America.

Next: What about the other 9 siblings? Back to England I go, to track down the rest of the Dibbens.

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The Dibben’s Choose Chicago

Chicago After the Fire (1874)
Library of Congress

Why would John and Olive Dibben decide to move to Chicago, Illinois to start their new life? I have wondered what they heard about the city that helped make their decision to move there from England in 1873. Perhaps they heard about the Chicago Fire in the English newspapers that occurred on October 8, 1871, and the rapid development that happened afterward. According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, over 100,000 people lost their homes in the Chicago Fire, but by the end of 1872, most of the city had been rebuilt. The population grew from 298,977 in 1870 to 503,185 by 1880. This was a fast-growing, industrial city that needed immigration to supply all the laborers required to work in their factories. They especially needed skilled workers to make rails for all the railroad tracks connecting the country. What better opportunity for a blacksmith?

Bessemer Steel Process 1876 by Alfred R. Waud – Library of Congress

I have been unable to find any shipping or immigration records, so the Dibben’s may have entered through Canada first and then traveled by boat or railroad to Chicago. When they arrived in Chicago, John found work as a blacksmith at the North Chicago Rolling Mill Company.

Rolling Mill was the first “large iron and steel plant in the Chicago area.” When they added a Bessemer furnace in the 1870’s, “it allowed them to produce steel rails in huge quantities.” The company employed over 1,500 men in the 1870’s and expanded to over 6,000 in the 1880’s between their facilities in North Chicago and South Chicago near the Pullman Company. (Encyclopedia of Chicago)

John worked for 30 years at Rolling Mill as a blacksmith, laborer, pitman, steelworker, and in later years as a watchman until his retirement in 1912.

John and Olive first take a residence close to the mill as you will see in the map below, but they move often as their circumstances improve getting further away from the factory into a nicer neighborhood. (You can click on the map to see the years they lived in the different residences.) They finally settle at their home on 994 Wood Street from 1881-1902.

Chicago Map 1878
David Rumsey Collection – Rolling Mill in RED Dibben homes in BLUE

After coming to America, John and Olive had four more children in addition to Harry: Eleanor in 1875, Mary in 1878, Robert in 1881 and Walter in 1886. Sadly, their daughter Mary died in the same year she was born. Childhood illnesses could be just as fatal in America as they were in England. Fortunately, four of their seven children survived until adulthood.

Next Time: John and Olive Dibben did not come to America alone and there is another part of this story that I didn’t fully understand until I started digging into the Chicago City Directories and remembered a story my Grandmother told me.

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The Dibben’s of Sussex, England

Originally when I started this blog entry, I wanted to write about my Great-Grandfather Walter Dibben who was an entrepreneur from Chicago and made his fortune in Los Angeles with only an 8th-grade education.  But I have found that I can’t really tell his story without first telling the story of his parents John Dibben and Olive Marner who emigrated from England to Chicago in 1873. Walter was most definitely a product of his upbringing and the obstacles his family faced proved to be the biggest drive for his ambition. So first, let me tell you about John and Olive.

John Dibben was born in 1843 and raised in Worthing, Sussex, England. His father Reuben Dibben was a blacksmith and his mother Mary Ann (Boiling) was at home raising their 11 children. John followed his father in his career and was apprenticed as a blacksmith by the time he was 17 years old according to the 1861 census.

Olive Marner (born in 1849) lived a mile away from John in Broadwater.  Her mother also named Olive (Bright) ran a grocery store. According to the 1861 census, Olive (Jr.) is living with her mother, her 3 brothers, her sister Florence and a boarder Robert Slather. I have been unable to find a death certificate for Olive’s father so it is unclear if he died or ran off from the family. Olive (Sr.) later marries Robert Stather…so there is definitely a story there to be researched.

Olive and John married at the Parish Church in Broadwater on the 19th of Sept 1869 when she was 20 years old and he was 27.

St. Mary’s Church Broadwater (picture taken by Harry Dibben in 1928)

The newly married couple moved Islington (now northern London) where he worked as journeyman blacksmith by the 1871 census.

Worthing, Sussex to Islington is a distance of 58 miles. It takes an hour and a half on a train today.

They were living at 104 Georges Road in a building with 16 other people. All the adults in the families were skilled laborers: bricklayers, butchers, printers, and a dressmaker.  They were no doubt serving the growing population of industrial London. The conditions must have been crowded and keeping things sanitary must have been a struggle.

It was here in Islington, that they lost their first child Olive from a rare birth defect on the 8th of March 1871 when she was just 11 weeks old. 

Dibben Family Bible – 1st death is their daughter Olive Dibben in 1871

They returned to Worthing before the birth of the 2nd child John Jr. Sadly, he died on the 18th of March 1872 from marasmus (malnutrition/failure to thrive).

John Dibben Jr. Death Registration -permission to reproduce when Crown Copyright is acknowledged

Olive quickly became pregnant again with their third child. Their son Harry was born on the 17th of March 1873 at the Dibben family home and business on Montague Street in Worthing.

Home and shop of the Dibben’s on Montague Street in Worthing, Sussex. Harry Dibben took this picture on his trip to England in 1928.

Perhaps John and Olive feared the death of another child due to the conditions their daily lives exposed them to or they were unable to make a satisfactory living, but whatever their reasons, they made the decision to immigrate to the United States. Though no record of their ship crossing has been found yet, the records indicate they traveled to America sometime in 1873 after the birth of Harry. They made their way to Chicago to begin their new life. 

More about their life in Chicago in the next post!

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Our Matriarch is Gone – Olive Margaret Dibben Cork Kemp (1917-2018)

0142df5cb921367b0b2f39b1dc778f2e48457ca97cIt’s been a hard year…I know I haven’t posted in a long time.  I have simply not had the time or mental space to write or do genealogy. One of the biggest reasons is that my beloved Grandmother Olive passed away in December at the age of 101.

She had slowed down the last few years, but her mind was still tracking. I can’t tell you what a hole this left in the lives of our family…truly she was our matriarch.

I have never written about her in this blog because she was still living and for someone who hated modern technology and was extremely private, she would have hated anything being out in the media. Hopefully, she will forgive me posting about her now and know that it is done in love and remembrance. We miss her!



Eulogy January 4th, 2019

I asked my Grandmother in her early 90’s what she thought was the secret to her longevity. She said “Getting up, getting dressed and getting out of the house every day.” This sounds like simple advice, but it says a lot about her approach to life in general. Like most people, she had challenges throughout the years, but she powered through, she kept moving and touching the lives of those she held close.

Olive was born in Chicago, Illinois on October 25, 1917, and was named for her grandmothers Olive Dibben and Margaret Dey. She was proud of having her roots begin in that very American city of industry and grit. She often talked about both her parents working in the city that invented the department store. Before Olive was born, her mother Minnie was a bookkeeper for Hart, Schaftner and Marx, a men’s Haberdashery store. Her father Walter was a notions salesman for Carson, Pieri and Scott in their wholesale division before he opened his own store. But they didn’t stay in Chicago; Walter believed there was more opportunity in California and moved the family to Glendale in 1923 when Olive was 6 years old. Walter opened the First Street Store in Los Angeles in 1924.  The “store” as it was called in our family played a huge part in Olive’s life.

Olive attended a private French elementary school in Glendale.  Later in life she tried to teach all of us French to varying degrees of success.  When she lived in Glendale she often visited her grandparents Margaret and Blanchard Dey who had also moved to California for Blanchard’s health. Grandpa Dey had been a pianist and piano tuner back in Chicago. She loved to listen to him play the piano and this began a lifelong love of music for her. In retirement, Grandpa Dey raised chickens which she thought of as her pets of course!

01b53f47df4e2cbd59bf4d0818ea78e81efd3292bfIn 1927, the family moved to South Pasadena where Olive attended Los Flores Elementary School. Her favorite uncle Harry lived with them and she often talked about Harry’s extensive collection of books. It was from Harry that she developed her interest in England (where he was born), history and literature. It was also when she got pets of her own: Roger, who was part Russian Wolf Hound, Peg a Scottish Terrier and canaries.  She went to the Rialto Theater in Pasadena on Fair Oaks every Saturday for the matinee and sat in the balcony.

Olive attended South Pasadena Junior High and High School and played field hockey, tennis, and volleyball. She sang in the Presbyterian Church choir and the school Glee Club. She was in the Peter Pan Players, the High School Drama Club and French Club. She hung out with a group of girls:  Jenner Brohm, Sandy, Edith, Dolly, Eleanor and Virginia.  Jenner’s father “Pop” drove the girls to all the high school football games, to the movies, shopping on Saturday and to the beach.  Her friend, Chet Halsey took her to the senior prom. Sadly, he would later die in WWII.

0136f5c4307cc5f0de6c1a9f4a94029bd6e99b1858_00001Olive graduated from South Pasadena High School in 1935. And that summer her parents rented a house on Balboa Island. She remembered this summer fondly because she met a young man named Bob Kemp who taught her to drive.

She attended Occidental College from 1935 to 1937 and studied music and literature, but her father thought she should have a practical education.  Walter sent her to Bright McMann Business College from 1937-1938 where she learned typing, dictation, bookkeeping, shorthand and flower arranging. (I think this might be the reason she never really cared for getting flowers.) Olive remembered Mrs. McMahon as being strict and not very friendly.  She insisted they took the 1st job they were offered whether they liked it or not.  Olive took a job at the law office of Renwick and DeVoore and stayed for less than a year. She said they were cheap and made her work long hours! She quit and got a job working for the Southern California Gas Company.

In 1936, Olive’s friend from Occidental College, Hope Harper, invited her to go to Annapolis for June week to visit her brother. She often talked about all the brave wonderful men they met and danced with. They later went back to Annapolis in the fall of 1941 to see a friend from Chicago, Allan Gernhardt. But when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7th, his class graduated early in February of 1942.  Allen was killed onboard the Smith in the Battle of the Coral Sea in October 1942.  All the young men Olive met in her visits to Annapolis served in WWII and quite a few died during the war. It was a highly emotional time with men going off to war and romances happened quickly. In 1942, Olive was visiting her aunt and uncle in Riverside and while there she met Arthur Cork at the Mission Inn.  He was stationed at March Airfield in Riverside before he was shipped out to the Pacific Theater.  They got married on May 16, 1942, and on March 6, 1943, their daughter Diana Lee was born. But this marriage was not meant to be and they divorced soon after.

01fe5412c02cd2ccb0a8b500a7971c3a13e2666e86_00001Like many women during WWII, Olive wrote to her friends who were serving in the military to keep up their spirits while away from home. She renewed her friendship with Bob Kemp who was a family friend from the Balboa summers and sent him letters when he was stationed in Hawaii, Guam and Tiapan. Through their letters, they fell in love and when Bob came home in 1946, they married on February 20th. They soon had their son Bob and a few years later their daughter Ruth.

01b596cf8463daf5bbd342d429880f2ab037df122f_00001Bob went to work at First Street Store working as a manager and eventually taking over the running of the store when Walter retired. Olive raised their three children until they all graduated from school. With time on her hands, she was finally free to explore her passion for animals and became a docent for the Los Angeles Zoo for 20 years. She led school groups for a few years but her favorite job was working in the nursery with the primates. She loved the baby gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees. When you wanted to see pure joy on Olive’s face you have only to look at her holding a primate baby (which includes humans.) She loved babies! She would sing them French lullaby’s, play patty cake, teach them sign language and rock them asleep. When she finally retired from the zoo, she continued to support rescue groups for horses, pigs, dogs, cats, wolves etc. There wasn’t an animal she didn’t love.

015021973f8bc5606900a85e307ad67115471c378e_00001She and Bob traveled a lot in retirement. They reached a compromise in going to places that he could golf, and she could see historical sights or animals. They took cruises and went to Europe, Africa and Australia.  They also regularly visited their grandchildren, me and my family in Seattle and Raquelle in Arizona.

When Bob died in 1992, she continued to travel to see family or to travel with family. She was taking trips to Seattle for 2 weeks visits up until she was 96!

A few years after Bob died, the store went through a financial crisis caused by unethical management. Olive at 80 years old, made the decision to step in and take a hands-on role in the business. With the help of Martha and other longtime loyal First Street employees, they kept the business going. Grandma was determined to explore every avenue to turn things around and she enjoyed working with the women of First Street. It took a long time before she could accept that the store’s life had run its course and couldn’t compete with big chains like Target and Walmart. She reluctantly made the decision to sell in 2007.

Olive Margaret Dibben Kemp touched the lives of many people in the 101 years she was here on this earth. We all knew her a little differently and called her different names: Olive, Grandmere, Oma and GGO, but we are united in our love for this wonderful woman.  She understood the power of relationships, and I just need to look at all of you who are here today, to know that she touched all of you.

IMG_0077Both my sister Raquelle and I saw her as the mother figure who swooped in and rescued us from a turbulent childhood. She picked me up from school, took me to doctor’s appointments and bought school clothes for me. But what she really did was taught me to have a love for learning. My best memories of childhood are of Grandma taking me to Vroman’s and letting me get as many books as I wanted. She never told me no about the number of books I could have or the type of book I could read.  My mother told me that when I was five, I told her I was going to college. I don’t have a memory of that, but it never occurred to me to do anything else and that was because of Grandma. She believed in the power of education and supported all of us to attend financially and emotionally.

Raquelle and I were talking about how much our memories of Grandma are rooted in this area (Pasadena). We cannot drive by a location without thinking of the time we spent here with Grandma. She took us everywhere including the Huntington Library, the Atheneum, the Norton Simon, Green Street Café, Twooey’s, the pharmacy where she met Karma, Margie’s shop, the post office, Bullock’s and Robinsons (now Macy’s and Target…quel dommage!), Church of our Savior and later St. Edmunds. Through her errands and field trips, she taught us about culture, friendship and community.

We also have our family stories of the things we would say to each other.  When we toasted she would say “here is looking up your kilt!” Or when we were taking her back to her hotel on a visit, she never wanted to be any trouble so she would say just drop her off in front….and it got to be a joke between us all “tuck and roll grandma, tuck and roll!”

013994f1dd4da398d2b7a52e52408fb3b305d8deaa_00001Olive was insightful, witty, wryly observant and at times had a wicked sense of humor. She also liked to gossip and dish. She knew who had the inside scoop to what was going on and she would find you!

She had a wonderful sense of style and seemed to get more adventurous and dress in brighter colors the older she got. We often told her that we would gratefully accept any of her hand me downs when she was ready to part with them.

And Olive could be stubborn. The quintessential reminder of this for me is her clothesline. It is 2018 and she never had a clothes dryer. She continued to hang her clothes on a clothesline until well into her 90’s because she didn’t like the way clothes felt from a dryer. She was fiercely independent, and she was 95 before she would ask anyone for help. Grandma knew her own mind and what she wanted and I think all her descendants have inherited that trait. And we are all proud of that…whether through example or genes she gave us all grit, determination and stubbornness.

01f8bd490fd81a6c6636ea3e24c46004d3aa2bcb55_00002She was also so generous  – to her family, friends, to church, and of course her animal causes. We have all been the recipients of her altruism. She was somewhat of an enigma. I have spent my life trying to figure out what made her tick…what motivated her. I know she loved deeply, but she was a product of older reserved parents and it wasn’t in her nature to reflect on her choices. I know she had regrets and disappointments like all of us.

She was a woman of her times – when one got married, had children, and supported your husband’s success. The problem was she really didn’t like to cook or clean house. In a different time, she might have picked a different life. But she knew how to make the best of the choices she had and created a lasting legacy.

IMG_4411She was our matriarch and no one deserves the title more. I miss her and I know you miss her too. I want to keep telling stories about her so that I can still have some new insight into her mind and heart.

Please come up and tell us a story about Olive and how she touched you. Because that is what she would want –  to know she made a difference in your life.

Posted in Dibben Family, Women Ancestors | 6 Comments

52 Ancestors: Week 9 – Where there is a will, there is usually a revelation…


Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash

You can tell a lot about a person from their will when it is combined with other genealogical documents. When someone makes a will, they have the chance to express their feelings about their family and friends. Sometimes it is very sweet and magnanimous with everything divided equally between siblings and the family all feel the love of the departed.  Maybe a cousin who helped them in the past is rewarded with a ring she once admired or charities that made a difference during a critical point in their life are given generous donations. Sometimes the deceased might love their child, but they didn’t trust that they wouldn’t spend the inheritance quickly and foolishly, so there are tight strings on the purse during the remainder of their life.

And sometimes a will gives people a chance to right wrongs and address grievances. It can be the last chance to control the resources and divvy them out just as they believe it should be. They can direct funds to ones they love or hate in a specific direction. It can give people the final word in a long argument.

I have seen a lot of wills over the last 10 years and most fall into the first category of loving generosity, but some have fallen into the last category. And let’s face it, these are much more fun and interesting!

I have written quite a bit about William Cork, my English 2nd great grandfather who came to Wisconsin in 1869. I admire his grit and kindness raising 10 children as a tailor. One of his sons was deaf and another blind and he sent them both to schools that would help educate them and develop skills to live in the world independently. But I don’t think he loved all his children equally. I think he may have been very disappointed in one of them and that just happens to be my direct ancestor, my Great-Grandfather Frank Cork.

I have a lot of evidence that Frank was a cad and maybe much more than that, but this is just one piece of the puzzle. At the time of William’s death in 1916, two of his children had died (Charles and Harry) and there were only eight left.  He left his estate to seven of them equally: Salina Conover, Bertha Nye, Hugh Cork, Arthur Cork, Edwin Cork, Walter Cork and Wilfred Cork.

William Cork Will 1916 children

His estate was worth approximately $850.00 which in today’s dollars would be worth about $20,000. Not a lot of money but for someone who made a modest income and had raised so many children, he had done well to save anything. Each of William’s children would have received about $120.00.

And what did he leave my Great Grandfather Frank? $5.00! I think it says it all, don’t you?

William Cork Will 1916 Frank 5 dollars



Posted in 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, Cork Family | Tagged , | 2 Comments