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



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52 Ancestors Week 5: Census – My Most Unusual Census Record and the Eloise Asylum

Eloise Infirmary 1912

Annie's GhostA few years ago I read the memoir Annie’s Ghost by Steve Luxenberg. It begins with the death of Luxenberg’s mother and finding out that he and his siblings were now responsible for the grave site of an aunt he never knew about.  His mother had always said she was an only child and had not revealed she had a sister Annie who had been a patient at the Eloise Asylum just outside of Detroit, Michigan. He spent the next few years researching everything he could about Annie, his mother’s family and the history of Eloise. It was a fascinating story about family and how this asylum was a refuge and home for many and a prison for others depending on the patient’s individual experience.

Eloise History

Eloise started out as a poorhouse in 1832 and developed into a mental hospital, tuberculosis sanitarium and infirmary/poor house. According to Wikipedia, “It had its own police and fire department, railroad and trolley stations, bakery, amusement hall, laundries, and a powerhouse. It also had many farm buildings including a dairy herd and dairy barns, a piggery, a root cellar, a Tobacco curing building.” There were over 10,000 residents during the Great Depression but it started to wind down operations in the 1950’s until it finally closed in 1986. Only a few buildings still remain, but there is an active internet and Facebook community trying to preserve the history of the people that lived there for over a 150 years.

Eloise and the Mattson’s

When I was researching what happened to my 3rd great grandfather John Conway Mattson’s 2nd wife Rebecca Oberlander Mattson (and sister to my 3rd great grandmother) and their two sons Joel and Eric Mattson, I was shocked to discover that they were at Eloise in the 1930 census! They had continued to live in Buffalo, New York after the death John Mattson in 1899 until sometime before 1920. They were still living in Buffalo according to the 1915 New York State Census. Rebecca was working as a cleaning woman, Joel was a milk driver and Eric was a machine helper. At some point, before the 1920 census was taken, they made the decision to relocate to Detroit, Michigan where they still lived together. By then Rebecca was 69 year’s old and retired, but Joel (51) worked as a salesman and Eric (38) as a laborer.

1920 Census Mattson_Joel O Michigan Header1920 Census Mattson_Joel O Michigan

But by 1924, Rebecca has passed away at the Eloise Infirmary. How long had she been sick and been at the hospital? Was she a resident? So far there aren’t records to determine this definitely.

Oberlander_M J Rebecca Death Cert 1924 MI Wayne0001

However, we do know that by 1930 Eric and Joel are residents at Eloise.

Mattson_Joel O 1930 Census Eloise Michigan edited

1930 Census – Joel Mattson at the Wayne County Home and Insane Asylum, Eloise, Michigan

Mattson_Eric 1930 Census Michigan edited

1930 Census – Eric Mattson, Wayne County Home and Insane Asylum, Eloise, Michigan

Just why were the brothers inmates of the asylum? Was it poverty or illness? They do not appear to be in the same ward so that indicates they had different conditions. There is certainly much more to this story. Eloise was not just a place where people were sent to when families didn’t know what to do with their mentally ill, but a place where people voluntary went to receive care and where a large group of nurses, doctors and support staff were needed to maintain the smooth running of the institution….just what role did it play for the Mattsons? Of course there isn’t a simple answer to that. More later….

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52 in 52 – Week 3 Longevity: Mary Dorthea Knorr Mattson (1856-1958)

mattson_mary-dorthea-knorr-and-william edited

Mary Dorthea Knorr Mattson – Picture from Sally K. Green

Longevity is not just about living a long time, but it also implies perseverance and resilience. One doesn’t just have a body that survives through many years, but it must have a spirit that sustains through difficulties, deaths, betrayals and pain.  Mary Knorr Mattson was such a person. She is my 2nd great grandmother on my mother’s side.  Born in 1856 to German immigrants Bernard and Dorthea (Wetzel) Knorr, she lived until 1958 – she was 101 years old when she died! Imagine all the things she witnessed in those years? The inventions alone must have amazed her…the telephone, cars, airplanes and miraculous antibiotics.

Mary was most likely born in Buffalo, New York, though later census records have her birth in Canada. This is still a mystery yet to be solved. (There will be a theme here.) Her father, Bernard Knorr was a tanner and her mother Dorthea took care of their nine children.

Knorr_Bernard 1880 Census edited

Bernard Knorr Family – 1880 Census, Buffalo, New York

In 1876, when Mary was 19 she married Ellis Mattson who was a 23-year-old puddler (iron working). They got married at the East Presbyterian Church in Buffalo.

Mattson_Ellis 1876 Marriage Record to Mary Knorr East Presbyterian Church Buffalo NY Ancestry edited

Just a few years later in August 1879, Ellis drowned in Buffalo Creek, leaving Mary pregnant with her second child and their two-year-old daughter (my Great Grandmother Susan Dorthea Mattson).  When they have a topic for “Stupidest Ancestor” I will write about him and his ridiculous death.

After Ellis died, Mary did not move back in with her parents and instead stayed with her husband’s family the Mattson’s. She even moved with them when they returned to their home state of Pennsylvania. She can be seen living with their large family in the 1880 census. I find this curious that she chooses Ellis’s family over her own and perhaps it says something about her relationship with the Knorr’s.

Knorr_Mary Dorthea 1880 Census

John C. Mattson Family – 1880 Census, York, Pennsylvania

She stayed in York, Pennsylvania until 1886 when she moved back to Buffalo, New York. She supported her two girls as a “tailoress.”

Knorr_Mary D Mattson 1887 City Directory Buffalo Tailoress edited

Mrs. Mary Mattson, 1886 Buffalo City Directory

In 1889 things get murky. There is no Mary Mattson who appears in any records until the 1900 census and suddenly she had a son named William Mattson!

Knorr_Mary D Mattson 1900 Census pg.1 edited

Knorr_Mary D Mattson 1900 Census pg 2 edited

Mary Mattson Household – 1900 Census Buffalo, New York (pg 113 B and 114 A)

Knorr_Mary Marriage Not Found Record 1887I searched in the isolated Buffalo Archives ( It was an adventure to go out to this small dark office building in an isolated and destitute industrial area that hadn’t seen any industry in 50 years. They practically required a secret password. I felt sorry for the civil servant assigned out there all by themselves.) It was there that I found an entry of a Mary Mattson marriage in the index records in 1887, but when the archivist did a search for the actual marriage record none was found. Perhaps she did get married and the certificate is just lost or maybe they applied for a license and didn’t follow through with the ceremony? Either way, the mysterious father of William is gone by 1900 and they are living under the name of Mattson again. Because the 1890 census was destroyed, and no marriage record exists I haven’t found a way to determine who this man was. Did he die, or did he just leave? I suspect that he left because there would be no reason to take back the name of Mattson if he passed away. No, I believe that Mary felt some type of dishonor or shame and made the choice to resume the last name of her first husband.

What is interesting is that William went by the last name of Mattson for the rest of his life. William never told his wife’s family about his real parentage. When I exchanged e-mails with William’s great-niece, I had to tell her that it was impossible that Ellis Mattson was his father because he had died in 1879 and William was born in 1889!

By 1910, Mary and William lived with her oldest daughter Susan and her husband Wilber Shuart according to the census.

Knorr_Mary D Mattson 1910 Census edited

Wilber Shuart Household – 1910 Census, Buffalo, New York

After 1910, Mary’s children looked for opportunities in other parts of the country and started to leave Buffalo. When her oldest daughter Susan’s first marriage ended (divorce or death TBD), she became a mail order bride and moved to South Dakota in 1913 to marry Frank Cork (my Great-Grandfather). Her daughter Ellice married Claude Lewis Fassett and they moved to Oklahoma by 1913. Her son William may have left then too. There are no records of any Mattson’s in the Buffalo City Directories after 1913. Perhaps he was moving his way across the country? He finally settled in Los Angeles sometime before 1917. With no reason to stay in Buffalo, Mary moved to Oklahoma to live with Ellice according to the 1920 census.

Knorr_Mary D Mattson 1920 Census edited

Claude Fassett Household – 1920 Census Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Sadly, Ellice’s husband Claude died in 1923. She was able to make a living as the owner of a cigar store and supported her mother. Then in 1935 Ellice married for the 2nd time to J. Andrew Arnett. What conversation happened between the siblings about who will take Mom? The country was in the middle of the depression and her adult children were, fortunately, all employed but it would be a sacrifice for them to take in another person if money was limited. Poor Mary, did she feel like a burden and vulnerable being shuffled from one house to another?   It must have been difficult to pick up everything when you are 79 years old, but that is what Mary did. In 1935 she moved across the country to Los Angeles to live with her son William and his wife Anna. I hope Mary was happy in her final years in the sun of Los Angeles and she lived contently in retirement in a garden with a breeze.

Knorr_Mary D Mattson 1940 Census edited

William Mattson Household – 1940 Census, Inglewood, California

Knorr_Mary D Mattson Grave Marker Forest Lawn Glendale CAWhen Mary died in 1958, her son had her buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills. This is one of life’s hits and misses…I was born 5 years later, and I lived less than a half hour away from her grave never knowing anything about her or my great-uncle William because my mother didn’t know about that side of her family. My grandparent’s divorced when Mom was a baby and she never knew she had a different father until she was an adult. Mary must have known about my mother, her great grand-daughter, but she wouldn’t have made an overture to meet her. These were different times when divorce was a secret to be kept and still a scandal – she knew all about hiding family secrets.

But now I have found Mary Knorr Mattson and I will remember her strength and tenaciousness to endure through all that life may throw at you. I like to think that might be a family trait.

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52 in 52: Week 2 – Photo: Robert Downey Kemp (1918-1992)

Kemp_Robert Downey 1944 Guam

Robert Downey Kemp on Guam in 1944

Oh, it is so difficult to choose a single perfect photo! But, I decided that I should honor my step-Grandfather, Robert Downey Kemp. I love this photo of him taken during WWII when he was stationed in the South Pacific laying telephone wire for the military.

Bob, as he was known to friends and family, was an avid photographer and scrapbook enthusiast. The only reason my family has photo albums is that he put them together. He even diligently went through all my Grandmother’s family photos, put them in albums and tried to label them with whatever information he could get. I suspect he started to do this after his in-laws had passed away because many of the photos are not labeled if the photo was before his tenure in the family started. (Most pictures are labeled from 1935 on – the year he met my grandmother, but they didn’t get married until 1946 which of course is another story!)

Thank you, Grandpa, for teaching me the importance of taking photos and labeling them. Thank you for caring about the family heritage when it wasn’t technically yours. You are another example of how “step” is a bad term for family relationships.

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52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Week One – “Start” – Richard Joy (1940-2007)

Ironically, the person who finally got me to start researching my family history was not related to me biologically. When my step-father (who adopted me when I was 10) died in 2007 at the age of 67, I realized how much I didn’t know about him. Richard (Dick) Joy had been in my life since I was 5 when he started to date my mother. When my dad (he was always my Dad) died, I realized that there was a limited amount of time with my relatives and I needed to start capturing family history from those who remained.

Dick Joy - Hot Rod Magazine

Dick Joy – Hot Rod Magazine

Richard Joy, Jr. was born in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1940 to parents Richard Joy Sr. and Mary Jane Hughes. After graduating from High School, he moved to Los Angeles with friends to work as a photographer on Hot Rod Magazine. When he was drafted in 1964, he served in Germany until 1966. When he returned to the states, he was hired as a graphic artist at The Ledger a newspaper in Glendale, California. It was here that he met my mom Diana (Dee) who was working as a secretary after her recent divorce from my biological father.

1969.10. Diana and Dick JoyAfter a short courtship, they married in 1969 and had my sister Raquelle in 1971. They were a beautiful couple and had much going for them, but both had difficult childhoods that didn’t serve them well under the crush of marriage and daily life in the 1970’s.

He was a kind, quiet, introverted man who had been a consistent presence in my life when other things were chaos. When my parents got a divorce when I was 13, I lived with my mother for a short time, but she was an alcoholic, so I moved in with Dad. My sister Raquelle joined us soon after. He later remarried to my stepmom Jill who had 2 daughters, Jennifer and Cayley. It was 5 women and my Dad. He took it in stride and was proud to be our father despite any mishaps we had along the way.

2007.12 Dick Joy message about wakeWhen my Dad finally lost his 20-year battle with lung cancer and was in the hospital on a ventilator, this is what he wrote to tell us what he wanted for his wake and what was most important to him – keeping us together as a family when he was gone.

I haven’t written about Dad during the ten years since he passed away. That part of my heart is still tender and researching his life somehow makes the fact that he is gone more real. I have a research folder for him where I put the eulogy I wrote for his wake. I think that it is still the best way to honor him now.

We are having this wake at Dad’s request with Hawaiian shirts, sunglasses, margaritas, stories and alcohol flowing. This certainly honors his Irish roots and his spirit the way he wished. It is important that we have a ritual to honor the memory of a great man. No, he wasn’t a millionaire and he didn’t create an invention, but what he did was much more difficult – to live every day with moral integrity in his actions and his words.

He didn’t speak much…you may have noticed that? We once took an 8-hour driving trip with just the two of us from L.A. to Flagstaff and we didn’t speak the entire trip. Dick Joy believed that you lead by example and only speak if you really had something important to say or if it might make someone laugh.

He taught me many important lessons, but the most important were:

  • To love unconditionally and completely. Our father had 4 girls, but you may not know that only Raquelle is his birth daughter – the rest of us came to him by marriage. But he walked all of us down the aisle when we got married. When I was holding his hand this last week and telling him how lucky I was to have him as a father, he said: “No, I was the lucky one.”
  • He believed that you should treat everyone equally and respectfully. We often discussed politics and he always defended the weak and those who couldn’t protect themselves. He never judged anyone by color, religion or exterior characteristics – he cared how you lived your life.
  • He could be demanding and insisted that you should use the skills and benefits you were given. He believed you should work hard and pay your own way. When I was 15 and doing what most 15-year old teenagers do during the summer – watching tv, he told me “don’t you think you should get a job?” It only took one comment from him and I had 2 part-time jobs by the end of the week.
  • He taught me that one should not spend energy on negative thoughts or feelings towards people or conditions. When he was diagnosed with cancer 20 years ago, he never took it as a death sentence. He loved life and his family and cancer wasn’t going to interfere. When he couldn’t play tennis anymore, he got his motorcycle and played golf. When he couldn’t fly anymore because of his need to travel with oxygen, he would drive to the places he wanted to go. He was often sick and pushed himself to do things we know were hard, but he wasn’t going to miss a moment of life while he was here.
  • He taught me the appreciation of a good meal, that food tastes better fresh and when made with love. He was an excellent cook, watched cooking shows when he retired and was famous for the family runzes. Some of the most recent memories of him were in the kitchen where he taught my daughter Marissa to make runzes and when he and Raquelle made gumbo for the whole family in Puerto Penasco last October for our Mardi Gras theme day.
  • He taught me about commitment and devotion. He and Jill have loved each other for 30 years, through kids, new jobs, moves, grandchildren and health issues…they have had difficult times and they still continued to play, laugh and love.

I don’t want you to think Dad was perfect, though I am pressed to find a fatal flaw. There are faults that did make him bearable to live with.

  • Dad was not mechanically inclined. He once had my moped in our living from for almost a year in parts, waiting for the day when he was going to fix it.
  • He didn’t like yard work; not when you could be outside playing tennis, riding his motorcycle or some other sport. Moving to Arizona with a rock garden worked out perfectly for him.

1995.01 Dad as Baby New YearFinally, the last thing that made Dad particularly wonderful was his sense of humor. When looking through pictures the last few days, I was struck with how much fun he had and how silly he could be! He put spoons on his nose and chopsticks in his mouth to make walrus teeth. He dressed up in costumes every Halloween or for a family calendar. There is a lovely photo of him as “Baby New Year” in a diaper and just this last Halloween he was a Hell’s Angel.

So, this is Dick Joy’s real legacy to laugh and love and make each day count.

2006.10 Puerto Penasco

I think Dad would be happy that I was researching our family history. I wish he were here so I could tell him about everything I have found…..

P.S. Regarding Blogging –  I have been posting irregularly due to my work schedule which has resulted in a lack of time, focus and energy to write. I make no promises to write 52 times in 52 weeks! But hopefully more than 12 in 12 months. Thanks for your patience.

Posted in 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, Joy Family | Tagged | 5 Comments