Surfing with the Dickermans

I seem to be riding a wave of ancestral energy that’s been becalmed for decades and now unfurls through an exhilarating family history project. The Internet speeds the ride. For example:

William Morgan Davies (see previous post about my great great grandfather’s Civil War diary) married Louisa Dickerman in 1862, in the midst of his service with the Union army. Louisa’s fourth cousin, Edward Dwight Dickerman, who was an insurance adjuster and signed himself “E.D.”, compiled a 650-page family genealogy, published in 1897. It includes anecdotes, historical context, and research into primary sources, such as church and municipal records of Dorchester, Massachusetts, from the 1630s.

These records constitute evidence of the arrival of Thomas Dickerman from England to one of the first colonies that formed after the success of the Puritans at Plymouth. His grandson Isaac was a big shot in New Haven in the mid-1700s. E.D. provides the text of Isaac’s will, which contains the curious locution, “I give & bequeath unto my well beloved wife, Elizabeth Dickerman, a scarf & vail [sic].”

Thomas goes on to describe the property he’s leaving her as well, but I got stuck on the scarf and vail. It sounds like a euphemism, but for what? Is he suggesting she enter a nunnery?

I googled the phrase and came up with only one precise match, so precise that I did a double-take. Google Books contains a scan of Families of Dickerman Ancestry: Descendants of Thomas Dickerman, an Early Settler of Dorchester, Massachusetts, furnished by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

The physical book has an excellent index through which one can locate any of the thousands of descendants of Thomas Dickerman, down to the generation represented by William and Louisa’s four children (including my great grandmother, Mary Davies Wingebach). But on Google Books, it’s even easier to search for a name, and if I’m away from home and want to look someone up, I don’t have lug along a 650-page book with a cracking binding.

On the other hand, the Internet lacks the musty old-book fragrance. It’s good to have both. I wonder if E.D. is gratified to make it onto the Internet.

Meanwhile, if you know anything about the scarf and the vail, please leave me at least a clue.

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5 Responses to Surfing with the Dickermans

  1. Barbara Bash says:

    Wonderful to feel your exploration here !
    Keep me posted – and I will watch for a “vail” definition
    to come floating through my world . . .

  2. rainegifford says:

    Hello Violet, four years later on my own genealogical adventure – my aunt recently passed along a spine-cracked 1897 edition of E.D. Dickerman’s tome, and having located my great-grandfather and his family (he had 8 siblings I had never heard of!) I went online to see what I could find on ED himself. No ideas about the scarf and vail, but nice to know someone else is connecting with this record. Regards.

    • visnow77 says:

      It’s an amazing book, isn’t it? All the historical stuff and the little family tales. ED’s family fascinates me, although they’re something like 4th cousins of my line. Google Elizabeth Street Dickerman, the daughter of George Sherwood, ED’s brother and co-author–she was the 2nd woman in the US to get a PhD in mathematics. Did you find anything on ED in the Googlesphere? And who was your great-grandfather? I’d love to know. If you’d rather pursue these questions by email, I’m at

  3. Joan Dickerman Stiles says:

    I, too, have the book! My father was Arthur Brooks Dickerman, 1920-2013. His father was Arthur Enoch Dickerman, etc. My cousin and I plan to add as much information as we can find, and in the meantime I am thrilled to find your blog! Thank you for your dedication!

    • visnow77 says:

      Oh my! I just found Arthur Enoch in the book. Your line traces back to the original Thomas through his son Thomas. My line comes through Thomas, Jr.’s brother Abraham. So we are something like 10th cousins–

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