Genealogy is a form of time travel, a scavenger hunt of sorts that turns one into the archaeologist of ancestral times.
Full of unexpected surprises, twists and bends, it’s also an incredible way to learn early American history — and English, Scottish, Irish, German, French and Polish history in my case.
My most recent family find occurred three weekends ago as I tried to Google the distance between Southhold, Long Island in New York state and Morristown, N.J., for a map I am taking to the Dickerson family reunion this weekend.
Instead of mileage, a 1907 postcard of Dickerson Tavern popped up. I learned several things:
n Taverns were important community gathering places and way stations along the first roads of early America.
n Dickerson Tavern was a American Revolution Revolutionary War hotbed in the 1770s. The building no longer exists, but a bronze historical plaque marks where it once stood. Tavern owner Peter Dickerson and other revolutionaries decided at a mid-1770s meeting there to recruit a militia to defend Morristown, which served as winter quarters for George Washington and Continental Army troops in 1776-1777 and again in 1779-1780.
n Benedict Arnold’s trial and court-martial proceedings also were held there in 1780 for alleged profiteering while in command of the American Continental Army at Philadelphia. He was cleared of all but two minor charges, but later defected to the British Army.
Finding the postcard felt like Christmas and striking gold at the same time.
Capt. Peter Dickerson of Morristown was a fourth-generation descendant of Philemon Dickerson, who arrived in 1637 at the Massachusetts Bay Colony and later moved to Southold, where he was one of the earliest settlers. Philemon’s descendants were among a group of Presbyterians who moved to Morristown two or three generations later.
When I first started gathering family history seven years ago, I often asked myself why I would trek around cemeteries, travel to Niagara County, N.Y, and to East Germany to track down long-gone relatives.
I don’t ask that anymore. The answer is simple. I enjoy it.
Genealogy, for me, sheds light on my family and the nations where ancestors have lived. It mystifies, clarifies and mystifies again, generation after generation.
The postcard is one of several finds I’ll take to the this year’s second annual Dickerson reunion.
Others include: pictures of the Michigan 23rd Infantry Regiment’s Civil War battle flag and regimental flag; an early 1900s photograph of three generations of Michigan Dickersons, including a little dog named Tanner; a Civil War tin-type of my great-great grandfather, Charles; and a family account written for the 99th birthday of a great-great-great grandmother who was the daughter of a French soldier who fought in the Revolutionary War.
Treasures, every one.
Reach Loraine Anderson care of the Record-Eagle or at email@example.com.