Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday's Obituary - Bertie Burr Dawes

NEWARK, O., Feb. 8 - Mrs. Beman Gates Dawes, widow of the founder of the Pure Oil Co., died today in her home at the Dawes Arboretum six miles south of here. She was 86. She was a sister-in-law of Charles G. Dawes, vice president under Calvin Coolidge.

Mrs. Dawes devoted most of her later years to developing the 400-acre arboretum, which she and her husband founded "for the pleasure of the public and the education of youth."

A native of Lincoln, Neb., she was a friend of William Jennings Bryan, three-time Democratic presidential nominee, in her youth. Bryan's first law desk was in Mrs. Dawes' father's office.

When Mrs. Dawes was 19 she received the U.S. Treasury Life Saving Medal, one of the highest civilian awards for heroism. She had saved two girls caught in the Blue River near Crete, Neb.

She was one of four women who have received the medal.

Her husband was a U.S. congressman from Marietta in 1896.

Mrs. Dawes is survived by four of her five children, Beman Gates Dawes Jr., of Cincinnati, Carlos Burr Dawes of Columbus, E. Cutler Dawes of Newark, and Henry Dawes of Hartford, Conn.; 14 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren.

Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio, February 9, 1958

The back story

Bertie Burr Dawes isn't exactly one of those relatives I would have gone looking for. We're really not even related at all. Through the magic behind the scenes at, I see that she is the aunt of the wife of the husband of my first cousin, twice removed. She doesn't even qualify as shirt-tail kin. But I found her story and her family interesting.

Recently, I received a message from another Ancestry user who noticed we shared some of the same family members in Nebraska. My correspondent is new to genealogy and not sure of the direction to proceed. I said I would dig around a bit to see what I could come up with on her line.

Digging in to that family got me hooked. I will admit that Focus is not one of my best research qualities. That journalism blood continues to flow through my veins and I still tend to go after a good story line rather than remain focused on my direct lineage.

My research on Saturday afternoon took me in some fascinating directions that I never would have imagined. I was looking into the Burr family - barely related at all. One of the Burr women was the second wife of the man who had been married to one of my kin (he was a widower after his first wife committed suicide). I'd already gathered that these people traveled in the well-to-do social circles of Lincoln, Nebraska in the 1920s and before. A plethora of society page articles from newspapers describe their galas, parties, weddings and overseas travel.

I already had Bertie's father in my Ancestry tree: Carlos Calvin Burr. I did some searching on him and it didn't take long for me to learn that he had been the 12th Mayor of Lincoln, Nebraska between 1885 - 1887. Then I discovered that the man he beat in the election was John Fitzgerald, the brother-in-law of my great grandfather, Daniel Kelly. Only a few hundred votes separated the two candidates.

I discovered marriage and cemetery records on various members of the family by using the wonderful database of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Genealogical Society. Then I discovered many of the family members are buried at Wyuka Cemetery here in Lincoln. Shouldn't every cemetery have a searchable database of all interments? I added some memorials to FindAGrave when I found confirmation of the burial locations. My next outing to Wyuka will include photographing at least a dozen tombstones.

V.P. under Silent Cal

I continued reading various news articles and information I found on the web about Bertie Burr. She married a man named Beman G. Dawes. The Dawes name has historical significance in Nebraska. Beman Dawes' brother was Charles G. Dawes who practiced law here in Lincoln. The Dawes Plan for World War I won him the Nobel Peace Prize and he served as our nation's 30th vice president under Calvin Coolidge. Bertie's husband, Beman, served two terms in Congress and became head of a large oil company. Always looking ofr a political connection, I discovered from Ancestry that the former vice president is the brother-in-law of the aunt of the wife of the husband of my first cousin 2x removed. In other words, not really related!

Back to Nature

Bertie Dawes
Tree Dedication
June 1929
Perhaps the most interesting discovery in this family saga is that Bertie and Beman Dawes founded the Dawes Arboretum near Newark, Ohio in 1929. Today, it covers more than 1,800 acres and has more than 15,000 living plants. It is open every day of the year except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission is . . . Free. One of the articles I discovered indicated that the couple is buried in a private mausoleum on the grounds.

I know that I certainly enjoyed learning more about Bertie Burr and her family - and learning some more about Nebraska and national political history in the process.

If my travels ever take me to Ohio again, I know that I'm going to want to spend some time at this beautiful oasis created by Bertie and Beman Dawes.

If any of my blog readers have visited the Dawes Arboretum, please share your comments below. I'd love to read about your impressions of what seems to be a beautiful area.


  1. I love how you investigated this "family" of yours, and especially the part about the Dawes Arboretum. Until the end, I wasn't sure if it was still in existence, but see that it is. Too bad it is so far from both of us, I so want to visit. Thank you, enjoyed this very much.

  2. Barbara - Did you check out the web site for the Arboretum? There are a lot of beautiful photos of the flowers and foliage that I'm sure you would enjoy. They also have a great collection of photos on their Facebook page.

  3. Hello Susan -- I really enjoyed this blog entry. Bertie was a legend (even to her own family). The history surrounding the Burrs/Dawes is fascinating! I never tire of it! I've been to Daweswood (Dawes Arboretum) several times. It is definitely worth visiting and a beautiful place. We have trees dedicated to family members there as well. I really enjoy your blog! Best Wishes!

  4. drennenr - Thanks for the comment! I think that maybe we keeping hopping around each other on our trees on! At least it's a similar handle. I tend to go a bit astray sometimes, but I always have to follow a good story and this was, indeed, that! Glad you enjoy the blog. Thanks for stopping by and posting.