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Trying a little ‘Sideways Thinking’


I haven’t really had enough time to keep up with my genealogical research, or writing, because of this wretched wet growing season on the farm.  But now most of the crops are in, and I have had the time to review my summer strategy for researching family history.

In review, my gt2-grandfather William Dunn and his 3rd wife, young Louisa Alwine, had 6 daughters ; Martha Joanne,  Clara Frances, Ida Flora, Bertha Elizabeth, and Sarah Ellen, and Mary Louisa, between their marriage (his 3rd) in the early 1860s until Louisa’s death in the late 1870’s.  I do know that in 1880, their grandparents  Martha and Levi (her second husband) were raising their eldest grand daughter Martha Joanne Dunn, and their youngest Clara Frances Dunn.  I do not know who was keeping the other four bereaved daughters.

The only daughter I have found a lot about was Mary Louise, who married David Clabaugh, of Altoona, had five children, and lived their until her death in 1941.  I decided this summer to try a bit of  ‘sideways research’.

I came across several of the sisters mentioned in their half-brother Andrew’s 1902 obituary; he died insane in the county home.  It also mentioned “Miss Clara and Miss Bertha in Hollidaysburg”.   There is a tantalyzing clue also mentioning “Mrs. Alsam Miles of  Cambria County”.  Unfortunately this last clue has not borne fruit.

Poor Clara followed Andrew into the Blair Co. Asylum.  Her 1906 obituary states “she is survive by three sisters” (meaning that two sisters had already died).

I punctuated my grim trip thru obituaries with a walk thru fifty years of Hollidaysburg and Altoona City Directories from 1880-1930.  I found many of the Dunn descendants there, including Bertha, Ida, and Sarah, in 1900-1903, as domestics, including working at the Franklin House.

My latest treasure from the Blair Co, Genealogy Society, which has been fielding my obituary requests, is Mary Louisa’s 1941 obituary write-up, that lists “Sister Bertha Bryan of Altoona”.  I have not yet found Bertha Bryan in 1910, 1920, and 1930 Altoona US Census records.

So, my preliminary guesses are that:

1) in 1941, only Bertha and Mary were left,

2) in 1906, Bertha, Mary, and one other sister had out-lived Clara, and

3) in 1902, Bertha, Mary, Clara, and the elusive Mrs. Alsam Mills were alive, at the time of their half-brother Andrew’s death.

If anyone out there has any more clues to this puzzle, please e-mail me at

Thank You – Thom Dunn Marti

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