Sometimes it starts with that picture in the attic. It falls out of its black corners and yellow cellophane as if to say, look at me, I’m here for a reason—challenging you to rediscover its past, to make the voice of its subject heard.
I think it must have happened this way for my sister, as she explored the small attic of our mother’s house a few months ago. Here among the musty bric-a-brac and old pictures, a single photograph shook itself free. Mrs. Grace Dixon: a woman none of us in the family had laid eyes on before, waiting buried deep within our archives for one of us to uncover her story.
Sis called me right away, and indeed, I was impressed with her find. I’d first heard of Mrs. Grace Dixon1 years ago, not through any family member, but rather via a brief biographical sketch in Phillip Judd and his descendants.2 At that time, I’d attempted to explore some of the facets of Grace’s life, and I admit that I’d given into genealogy’s worst enemy: assumption. Seeing her there in that old photo with her children, I winced at some of my previous speculations. My sister’s discovery became my opportunity to revisit Grace, and reevaluate what I thought I knew.
Grace Cerina Reid, aka Mrs. Grace C. Dixon, was born in Los Angeles during the last decade of the nineteenth century. Married at age fifteen, she was a mother of four children and abandoned by her husband by the time she was twenty-three. My grandmother Alta Sage (then Mrs. Alta Lee) married Grace’s son Clifford as her second husband, doing so twice, and well, the rest is history . As I have written before, growing up there was never any mention of Clifford’s parents – and certainly no mention of Grace. Indeed, any memories about Grace passed away with her son Clifford, nearly forty years ago.
It was about then that my somewhat-clairvoyant sister told me to “recheck the census” for Grace. I explained that I’d already found Grace living with her kids in Los Angeles in 1930, and had never found any trace of her after 1934. But being an obliging brother, I went back to the 1930 census to see what I could find. And what do you know? There, at the very bottom of the page listing people of the same household was a name I’d missed: “Leroy Horry, a cousin.” I hadn’t paid any attention to this stray cousin before, but as it turned out, he was the key to unlocking Grace’s mystery.
I quickly was able to locate a Leroy Robert Horry with birth and death dates in Boulder, Colorado. I even found a FindAGrave.com memorial containing a brief bio, saying that he’d lived in Los Angeles for a few years before marrying his wife—identified as Grace C. Dixon. 3 A somewhat vague Utah marriage index confirmed the union.
I admit, I was confused. Could the 27-year-old Leroy Horry who lived in Los Angeles with his 38-year-old head of household cousin Grace C. Dixon in 1930, really be the same Leroy Horry who just happened to marry a Grace C. Dixon in Utah in 1934? Did he really marry his much-older divorcée cousin? It was sure starting to look that way, but I wanted to be sure.
Records show that Grace Horry died in 1939, and that she is buried in Boulder without a headstone next to her husband Leroy. If this was the same Grace Dixon, it would explain why I never found record of her after 1940. I realized that I needed to get my hands on a death certificate for Mrs. Grace Horry, to see who were named as her parents and if that matched the meager information I had on Grace so far.
The thought of getting a death certificate out of Colorado was daunting, as the state is known for keeping close guard of its vital records. But then I realized: maybe the actual marriage record would help. I sent off a quick email to the San Juan County, Utah, Recorder’s Office, figuring I’d get the standard robotic answer: “Fill out this form and send your check here.” But that didn’t happen. Through the kindness of someone at a Utah county clerk’s office, a marriage record arrived in my inbox without any further ado.
While the document isn’t definitive, it’s at least pretty telling. Mrs. Grace C. Dixon of Utah lists her age as 43 on this certificate, the exact same age “my” Grace would have been in September of 1934. At this point, it very much looks to me like Grace ran off to Utah and married her younger cousin. I can understand how why nobody ever talked about Grace in later years, and why the only picture anyone has ever seen of her is over one hundred years old, left forgotten in an attic for much of that time.
I believe that in genealogy, it’s especially important not to be judgmental about the people who have gone before us. I know this is easier said than done. Right now, I’m just trying hard to fill in the true story about Grace without putting too much spin on her choices: a girl who was married at age fifteen, an abandoned mother raising four children. She was a woman who must have endured much, only to die by age forty-eight. Some will say that people like Grace are “survivors,” but perhaps it is better to say that Grace endured. I believe that she took one last grab for happiness when her cousin, perhaps a lonely guy himself, offered her a dream of a better life together.
Grace and Leroy were only married a few short years before she passed away. I’ve wondered if she was sick, or if alcoholism played a role, but that’s merely speculation on my part. I admit too that I’ve never explored just how closely related Leroy and Grace were—part of me doesn’t quite want to know. I would like to say that during the next thirty-five years, Leroy Robert Horry never remarried. He stayed in Colorado until his death in 1974, at which time he was placed next to the apparent love of his life, a woman once called Mrs. Grace C. Dixon . She lies there now, oddly without any gravestone, and only her smile from a once-lost photograph is left to tell her tale.
1 Grace Cerina (Reid) (Dixon) (Wilcox) Horry 1891-1939; She was briefly married to Thomas Wilcox, but returned to the name of “Mrs. Grace C. Dixon.”
2 Caroline Judd McDowell, Philip Judd and his descendants, 1923 pgs. 202-203
3 Leroy Robert Horry (1903-1974); See also: FindAGrave.com memorial no. 49999880
25 thoughts on “Saving Grace”
A very well written and interesting read. Thank you.
It’s these stories that make a person real. Theirs is a story to tell the younger generation. It might make them interested in family.
Her first marriage, in California, appears to have been with Alonzo Francis Dixon. He was born 29 Aug 1888 in Missouri and died 21 April 1953 in Contra Costa, California. His second wife was named Julia.
Fascinating. A great grandmother had no headstone and wasn’t buried with her husband. Genealogy lead to both deaths in a state hospital. Those records gave answers, and explains reasons for my grandfather’s reactions to so many things. I’m impressed that he became a well-loved father–through the Great Depression and losing three sons during WWII.
Interesting. Have you determined that Grace and Leroy were actually cousins? Grace may have told the census taker that to avert scandal. …or not. Cheers.
Michelle, I have – though it took me a bit to do so. The discovery of their actual relationship came about more by accident than anything else. At this point, I do not believe they had any agnate relation to each other. I believe that they referred to each other as “cousin” more as a familial term of endearment. The complexities here “between “Grace and Leroy” are multi-generational – and when you see these you may start to understand why he was referred to as “as cousin.” Since writing this post I have learned more about just how complex their relationship was.
I warn you, your head may hurt after reading this:
1.) Grace’s Grandmother, Phoebe Judd, married as her 4th husband “James Horry.” He was the grandfather of “Leroy Robert Horry” who married Grace.
2.) Grace’s mother, Mary Jane Peebles, daughter of Phoebe Judd, married as her 3rd husband one “William Horry” – who was a son of her mother’s 4th husband “James Horry”.
3.) Lastly, Grace herself married “Leroy Robert Horry” as her 3rd husband. He was the grandson of her grandmother’s 4th husband “James Horry.” Leroy Robert Horry was the son of “James Herbert Horry” who was the brother of Grace’s mother’s Mary Jane Peeble’s 3rd husband “William Horry.”
Lord, I think I have that straight! So in a nutshell Grace and Leroy were in the end only “cousins by marriage” – but also cousins by marriage that covered three generations of inter-marriages!!!
And yes, it makes my head hurt too.
Guess it made sending out Christmas cards a lot easier?!?!?!
“I’m my own grandpa. . .”
I’m curious to know if other evidence was found to prove that Leroy Horry was in fact Grace’s cousin. If not, isn’t it possible they falsely claimed a family relationship while in LA to avoid the stigma of living together unmarried?
Love stories of serendipitous breaks in brick walls like this, thanks. Reminds me of the 2 or 3 similar “whoa!” moments I’ve had over the years, and revives hope of more to come. I must add that I long ago came to terms with ancestors marrying cousins, including in several cases I’ve documented in my direct ancestry the marriages of 1st cousins. It sounds to our ears today like something of which one does not speak, but it was surprisingly commonplace, if a bit unusual, until not all that long ago, though Grace and Leroy are a bit more recent cases than any of mine. It’s another cautionary tale about why we should be slow to judge our forebears by the same norms under which we live our lives today.
Thanks Michael – And so true, “It’s another cautionary tale about why we should be slow to judge our forebears by the same norms under which we live our lives today.”
I’m wondering if “cousin” on the census record is correct?
Jeff, Great story! My heart goes out to her, she didn’t seem to have had a very happy life, but she persevered. Hopefully her time w/Leroy was a happy time? Thanks for sharing! Oh also in self interest (abashed smile) I’m a descendant of both John Howland & Richard Warren, plus 16 other Mayflower passengers. Thanks again. Jack MacDonald-Hilton Worcester, MA.
Interesting story. Reminds me of a great-grandmother I dove into — referred to by the family as a “tramp” (insert eye-roll) but the as the story unfolded her life was largely determined by the actions of a miser-like grandfather who seems to have left a legacy of family distrust and jealousy — proving once again that thee is often more to the story than family legends portray.
Why did people living in a small town in Colorado decide to get married in a small town in Utah ? Did Utah allow cousins to get married and Colorado didn’t ? I think Massachusetts law still allows cousins to get married.
Matt – I wondered this also. I’ve since discovered their actual relationship as being only “cousins by multiple inter-generational marriages” and not by blood – so their would not have been any impediment to them marrying in either state. Thanks for your note, sir!
Ha! My gggrandmother married her uncle. He was 16 years older than she. Top that!
Wonderful to read this and helps to support my current, almost obsessive, desire to find answers to a similar mystery. At 89, I think there might be more productive activities, but then again, I might piece something together for generations yet to come.
Is it possible for you to install a small headstone on her grave?
Thanks Carol – I wish I was able to do so. She does have a FindAGrave memorial #49999875 – and while not the same thing I’ve done my best to preserve her memory there.
Lovely. And I mean that in differing ways. This was a good genealogical delve, and perhaps we have learned of love through contentment.
Thank You very interesting.
That is a very good story. It’s amazing how stories find the top of a big pile pictures. My mom has been gone over 20 years. I started my ancestry 3 years ago. Long story short. My mom has a half sister. My grandfather had another life in a different state before he moved to a different state and married my grandmother they had my mom. My mom always told me she was the only child. Another long story short. The lady who was my grandfather first wife made something of her life. She made a good impact to many people and so did her daughter. When I first figured this out I was mad, shocked and felt bad for my mom. But once I seen what my grandfather “other family” did in their life with no help from him. I am very proud of them. I am in contact with a cousin 1 time removed.
Would love to know the names of your mother and her story. I also do Ancestry and a little information can lead to a long family story. Thank you.
Great detective work and interesting story. Thanks for sharing. We never know when starting a search what we’ll find.
As always, a great read.