Monday, March 28, 2011

Where is Dresdon Tennessee?

This is a story in which I almost make a fool of myself. But before I do, I want to let you check my work. I started out trying to track the travels of Elder William Shanks Berry just prior to his being killed in Aug 10, 1884. One aspect that confused me was that he noted that he was visiting his relatives and that he went to see his father’s old cabin in Dresdon, Tennessee. But at no time could I tell that ever went to Dresden in Weakly County Tennnessee where so many biographies say he was born. So I started tracking his travels day by day, using his journal as a guide.

Elder Berry’s visit with his relatives comprise much of the month of July. Starting on the 4th of July which he spends in Nashville, he makes his way east of the city by train to Lebanon, the Wilson County seat. From Lebanon he walks and hitch-hikes seven miles to the tiny postal town of Shop Springs. There he meets several relatives. Some he even meets by accident. At one point he asks a total stranger if she knows where Mrs. Sims lives and it turns out he is talking to Mrs. Sims herself.

Over the course of three weeks he meets dozens of cousins and spends his time, apparently sans companion, visiting and collecting names. It is almost as if he is writing for his mother’s benefit, elaborating on his exact relationship only when it comes down to second and third cousins, and then only by adding who their parent or grandparent was, as though that were enough to properly identify their relationship.

At one point he made a side trip to his father’s old cabin.

Thursday July 17th. I went to Shop Springs post office to send a letter home.

I walked to Dresdon, Tennessee and saw my father’s house. It is 18 by 30. It is made of logs and lumber. The two chimneys are of stone and brick. It has one door in the west, one in the north and one in the south. The windows and in the west, north and south and two up stairs. There is a spring about 6 rods south east of the house. There are few peach and locus trees about the place. I met and old black man by the name of Eliga Tompson. He said he knew my mother. He said his father was Joe Shanks and that he belonged to grandfather Shanks. He said he saw my father have a fight with Bill Belt. I stayed here all night.

The next day he walked back to a cousin’s house in Shop Springs. So where ever he went it wasn’t too far from Shop Springs.

From this I start thinking... maybe he wasn’t born in Dresden, Weakley County, but in Dresdon, Wilson County. It isn't uncommon for genealogist to know only the town and have to look up the county from an index of some kind. But a quick search turned up no such location. I checked with historians more familiar with Wilson County and still nothing.

I started to doubt myself when I found an 1840 census listing Jesse Berry (William’s father) as living in Dresden, Weakley County. Maybe they moved from Wilson County to Weakley County and William was just confused when he named the place in Wilson County Dresdon. Not everything people write in journals is correct.

But the 1840 census doesn’t name anyone except the head of household. So it might not even be the right Jesse Berry. And as I start looking at birth records for each of William’s siblings, I start to see more conflicts. Some were born in Lebanon in Wilson County, others were born in Dresden in Weakly County. And there doesn’t seem to be a pattern for when they moved from one spot to the next.

I start looking at the support documents others have collected for the Berry family living in Weakley County. None of them are really county specific. But marriage records in Tennessee are specific to the county where the marriage was issued. I know Jesse married Armela Shanks in 1820 in Wilson County. Their oldest son John Williams Berry, William's older brother, was married in Wilson County in 1842.
I know they joined the church in 1842, though the baptism record doesn’t say where or by whom they were baptized. By 1844, they are living in Nauvoo, where Jesse died and was buried.

So here is my theory. The family knew they lived in Dresdon, Tennessee. So that is what they recorded. Years later, more nitpicky genealogists filled in the counties where the family had left it off. Not knowing where Dresdon was, they looked it up. What they found was Dresden, in Weakley County. They assumed it must be the right one, since it was the only one they found. I know I haven't proven this theory yet, so help me out here. Are there holes in my logic, and how would you go about proving or disproving this?


Last Lemming said...

This is a long shot, but I found a Dresden Court in Davidson County, not far from the Wilson County line. At that point, the county line runs through the middle of J. Percy Priest Reservoir, so it occurred to me that perhaps Dresdon is now under water. This is all 22 miles west of Shop Springs, however, which seems a long way off.

Incidentally, I have a Dresden, Tennessee connection. My g-g-g-grandfather married a woman (from whom I am not descended) who was born in Dresden, Weakly County.

BruceAllen said...

Mmmmm. I hadn't thought of that. There are several reservoirs built by the TVA in the early part of the 20th century. I think the communities they flooded were documented too. I'll see what I can find. Thanks

Amy T said...

First question: are you working from a diary typescript or a copy of the original? Typescripts can be unreliable.

Second, do you have a historical map of Wilson County? Have you plotted his travels on the map? Calculated how far he could travel in a day? I'm trying to remember the distances mentioned in Wilford Woodruff's diaries, and it seems like he would travel up to 30 miles a day by foot. But I would have to check that. How far is Weakly County from Wilson County? How far is the location that Last Lemming mentions?

Third, I've seen an English ancestor list her birthplace as the crossroads where she was born.

Fourth, this county history from 1886 lists a Thompson but not a Berry, Shanks, or Belt, and mentions Lebanon and Shop Springs but not Dresdon or Dresden:

Well, that's probably enough random thoughts and questions!

Actually, one more note. I just looked at a history of Davidson County on Ancestry since Last Lemming mentioned that location, and it has 42 references to Berrys.

Good luck!

Justin said...

FWIW, I found an "Elijah Thompson" living in Wilson County in the 1870census and an "Elija Thompson" living in Wilson County in the 1880census.

Bruce Crow said...

Amy, I had hoped you would comment knowing that you have done similar tracking for John Morgan.

Sadly I do not have the original, only a poorly transcribed typed copy from the Church History Library. I'm not sure the CHL even has the original.

I haven't found the right historical map, but I have been able to plot his progress. He did about 3-5 miles a day with lots of visiting. But he also back tracked frequently. Weakley County is 150 miles away, where as the place LL spoke of is only 22 miles away.

Bruce Crow said...

Justin, that might be our man. Perhaps I can track a census map to his house and from there see if other inhabitants feel they were from Dresdon too.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Great post. Our traditional family matriarch, Catherine Ellen Camp Greer, was from Dresden.

We've always assumed it was "DresdEN" from writings but perhaps deserves a closer look.

BruceAllen said...

Nate, I think every family tree might benefit from a little closer inspection. OUr tools are so much better today than they once were.

BruceAllen said...

I spent a couple of hours at the archives last week. I showed my copy of William's journal to the archivists. One said "A Mormon Missionary in Tennessee? He must have been lost."

To make a long story short they thought Dresdon must have been a very small community named after its first settler. Perhaps there might be descendents with the same or similar name

We did find a Jesse Berry (William's father's name) who owned land in 1825 and 1830 on Round Lick Creek, the headwaters of which are in the right spot.

The oldest map of Wilson County they had was from 1907. No Dresdon on it.

According to state records, the only community covered by the creation of Percy Priest Lake was the town of Old Jefferson.

Last Lemming said...

Oh well. Thanks for the update.