An Attempted Act of Genealogical Kindness

On Wednesday, Randy Seaver posted this item about the discovery of some love letters between a Navy man and his wife during World War II.  Seems the letters were found in a trash can at a thrift store  in Grass Valley, California, about 50 miles north of my location.   The letters came from Claude Dawson in the South Pacific to his wife Nadine H. Dawson in San Francisco.

The story appeared in The Union, the local newspaper of the Grass Valley area.   The newspaper is publishing the letters over the next few weeks to help identify the rightful owners.  The matter also appeared in the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness chat forum.  And Chris Dunham picked up the ball and made it one of his Genealogue Challenges.

Well, of course, I couldn’t resist all that, especially with a local angle to it.  So at an hour when I’m usually in bed, I went to work on it.  Here’s what I found:

Claude Everett Dawson was born on March 15, 1910 in Missouri. (California Death Index–available at  His parents were difficult to identify, but his maternal grandparents were Albert and Belle Carlton of St Louis, MO.

To try to find his parents, I looked at the 1900 census for St Louis where I found the Carltons.  I reasoned that one of the Carlton daughters who was still at home in 1900 might be Claude’s mother.  There were five girls in the Carlton household in 1900: Jessie, 19; Fannie, 17;  nine year old twins, Mina and Nina; and Adelle, 7.  Any one of these girls could be Claude’s mother except Nina, who in 1910 married a man named J.B. Welch (Missouri Marriages 1805-2002 Database on  Of course that fact does not rule her out as Claude’s mother, and indeed would perhaps be consistent with other facts in this matter.

At some point when he was less than ten years old, Claude was shipped to California to live with his uncle Warren Lee Carlton in Oakland. (U.S. Census, Alameda County, Calif., 1920). His grandmother Belle Carlton joined that household as well (U.S. Census, Alameda County, Calif., 1930).   Claude Dawson attended Woodrow Wilson Junior High School in Oakland in the late 1920’s where he was a thespian and an athlete. (See “Students to Enact ‘The Gypsy Rover,'” Oakland Tribune, Nov. 26, 1925, p. 29; see also Oakland Tribune, Feb 21, 1926, p4, col. 4 [list of Wilson Jr. High  School Volleyball players]. In the late 1930’s, Claude attended University of California at Berkeley. (See “Barber Shop Quartet Tunes Up;  ‘Too Slow’ Says U.C. Jitterbug,” Oakland Tribune, Oct 8, 1938, p. 2). It’s not clear what he was doing during the rather lengthy time between when he should have graduated from high school and the time he was a U.C. sophomore; also, I cannot tell if he graduated from Cal.

Claude apparently worked to put himself through school.  Accoording to Alameda County voter registration records, in 1934, he was a “drug clerk,” residing at 575 46th Street in Oakland. From 1936 through 1940, he was at 3765 Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland.  The first several years he appears to have been in some company’s “shipping dept.” In 1940, his occupation is listed as  “federal employee.” Also in 1940, he moved from Lakeshore to 535 Stockton, also in Oakland.

Nadine Henry Dawson first appears in the voter registration records in 1942. She and Claude were then living at 840 York Street in Oakland and their occupations were given as  “civil service clerk” and “federal clerk” respectively.

Available records reveal little about Nadine Henry Dawson, except that she was born on Nov 7, 1913, in Washington State and her mother’s maiden name was Edwards (Calif Death Index).

After the war, Claude resumed his federal civil service career as a manager with the Social Security Administration in Oakland and Alameda. (See “Legislative Club to Meet,” Oakland Tribune, Dec 30, 1958, p. 6, announcing that Dawson, manager of SSA District office will be guest speaker at luncheon meeting of Women’s Legislative Club).

The Dawsons may have had at least three children born in Northern California who would be of an age to still be alive. I found recent addresses for two of those potential  children. There may have been at least two grandchildren born.  However, later today, I was in touch with the newspaper reporter who is covering this case.  She says that at least one of the putative children denies any relationship.  From the letters (which she has seen, but I have not, she can tell that the dates of birth of the other children I identified are probably too early to be those of Nadine and Claude. All of which goes to show, again, that we really need to see some source documents here: birth certificates, death certificates, the SS-5’s, before we can call the case “solved.”

Nadine H. Dawson died on March 30, 1994, in San Francisco at age 80. Claude Everett Dawson followed his wife in death on May 1, 1994 in San Francisco, at age 83.

We’ll stay on this story and let you know what happens.


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2 Responses to “An Attempted Act of Genealogical Kindness”

  • Lore Lawrence says:

    Intelius has records of the last address — and it is in Oakland. If he died in 1994, then there should still be a few people on that street who remembered him, possibly people from churches, local stores, etc. It’s a question of taking the time and expense to canvass the area.

    If he worked for the federal government, you might be able to scare up people who knew him through employee associations, even if those people were much younger.

    That is, if these letters are real. You can’t rule out a hoax, because you don’t know the provenance of the letters.

    I do think it is really an invasion of privacy that these letters were published. If any relatives are still living, they must be mortified. And if there was a fractured relationship, this episode can only intensify the pain. I am a former journalist, and this does cross the line. A story is one thing, trying to fill the empty pages of a diddly-squat paper with someone else’s private correspondence is unprofessional and screams of penny-saver provincialism.

  • Randy Seaver says:

    Hi Craig,

    Good work here. Are you looking for obituaries for Claude and Nadine?

    Death certificates would provide a next-of-kin too.

    Your experience matches mine with 20th century research – lots of bits and pieces and many holes in the records.

    It may be that their children were disowned by their parents or otherwise split from them. I would hate to see this purported “love story” turn out badly. But it might.

    Cheers — Randy

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