- Associated Press - Friday, December 25, 2015

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (AP) - For decades, descendants of the Dickinson family have gathered at the home place in King George County to celebrate the holidays.

As several dozen grandchildren, great-grandchildren and various other relatives mill about the two-story farmhouse, most of them probably don’t give much thought to the couple who built the home in the early 20th century.

A piece of paper from the past has changed all that.

On Thanksgiving, family members gathered to read - and look at, but not handle - a letter written by Eubank Dickinson on Nov. 26, 1915. He and his wife, Lillie, raised their seven children in the farmhouse where current generations reunite.

With beautiful brushstrokes typical of cursive writing from that era, he wrote to his youngest sister, Ollie, saying his family wouldn’t be able to visit her in Washington for Christmas.

He and his wife had been so sick with fever - the family suspects meningitis - that they’d had to send their children to other relatives to keep them from getting sick.

“Ollie, it would give me much pleasure to come to see you all this Xmas, but I don’t think that I will be able to come,” Eubank Dickinson wrote.

His descendants collectively read the letter, 100 years to the day after he wrote it.

“This treasure gives us a rare window” into the household happenings of a century ago, said Paul Dickinson, who lives in Alexandria. “It’s the only personal letter we have from Eubank.”

Eubank and Lillie Dickinson were his great-grandparents. He had been working on a book about their son, Harold, and asked his own father, Gary, to look through his attic for family artifacts.

Gary Dickinson, who lives in Waldorf, Md., found a box that had been there about 30 years. Among the documents about Harold Dickinson’s work at the Naval Research Lab or his hobby as an amateur radio operator was the piece of paper that went back a generation earlier, to Eubank Dickinson.

“Paper must have been scarce then,” Paul Dickinson suggested because the letter was written on a page ripped from an old ledger. It had “223” in bold letters in the top-right corner.

The family doesn’t have many artifacts, said Sheri Dennison. She and her sister, Wendi Dennison Wynn, own the Dickinson home.

But one of the things they do have is a business ledger from the 1850s. A merchant near the same part of King George County - the Index area - ran a dry goods store and kept lists of customers and their purchases.

As word of the letter filtered through the family, Mitzi Smith, a cousin in Florida, asked if it might have come from the old ledger.

Family members flipped through the faded pages of hard-bound binder, and sure enough, page 223 was missing.

“This is just really miraculous,” Sheri Dennison said.

On Thanksgiving Day, Paul and Gary Dickinson reunited the letter with the ledger, which is kept at the farmhouse.

“It’s where our roots are,” Sheri Dennison said.

Even though she knew the letter would be presented at the celebration, she wasn’t prepared for the feelings it produced.

“I didn’t realize how emotional it would be to be able to go back and feel that closeness to our ancestors,” she said.

Her second cousin, Sandy Berry, also was glad to have the connection to her past. Ollie Olive, the sister Eubank Dickinson wrote the letter to, was Berry’s grandmother. She died when Berry’s mother was 12, so Berry never had a chance to meet her.

She didn’t know that her grandmother maintained ties to her King George roots, and that her grandmother’s brother regularly traveled to Washington to see her.

“It was really exciting” to learn more, Berry said.

Berry and her family typically have Thanksgiving dinner with descendants of Eubank Dickinson. She and Sheri Dennison also attend Round Hill Baptist Church. The family has paperwork showing that Eubank Dickinson’s father, Vinton, was re-elected a trustee in 1877.

“Our families have been members of Round Hill ever since,” Sheri Dennison said.

Wrayne Wynn, a great-granddaughter of Eubank Dickinson, was chosen to open the letter on Thanksgiving Day. She’s 14 - old enough to be careful with the artifact, but young enough to represent a current generation, her relatives said.

Wrayne clearly wasn’t as overcome with emotion as her older relatives. She said she had trouble connecting all the branches of the genealogy tree.

“Our family is too complicated,” she said. “Too many people.”


Information from: The Free Lance-Star, https://www.fredericksburg.com/

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