Senior Power:“… something special for seniors -- like a visit to a senior center...or simply researching a family tree. ...” Dale Carnegie (1888-1955)

Sunday February 20, 2011 - 03:06:00 PM

In high school, I was placed on something called the Regents Diploma track. Almost everyone there was headed for college or the military. It was rumored that the Daughters of the American Revolution chapter provided college scholarships for members’ daughters. My mother trekked up to a Poughkeepsie, New York cemetery to document family history that would help to establish her, and thus, my, DAR eligibility. 

Her several greats-grandfather, Samuel Dodge (1730-1807), had been a member of the Legislature and served in the Revolution as Lt. Colonel in the Dutchess County, New York Regiment. He went missing in 1777, imprisoned by the Brits at Fort Montgomery, and mustered out in 1782. P.S. The “catch” to getting the DAR college scholarship -- a length-of-time-a-member qualification. 

A few years ago I discovered all those accumulated and inherited documents. I am a Dodge family descendant, part of the Block Island, Tristram Dodge branch. I was able to construct a family tree as well as to flesh out its many leaves using, mainly, the Internet and online tools. 

The first known Dodge in America was Tristram Dodge Senior, a fisherman born in England circa 1607. He came to Massachusetts with his four sons and joined the original settlers of Block Island in 1661. It is not known why Tristram and wife Ann emigrated to Massachusetts, but there is speculation that their migration was not voluntary. He was a Baptist and may have joined the Scottish Presbyterian army to fight against Oliver Cromwell, ending up serving seven years’ servitude in Massachusetts. Ultimately, they joined other Dodges on Block Island in 1667, and they all became Freemen in 1670. 

Circa 1721, Thomas Dodge built a house at Cow Neck on the north shore of Long Island. “My” Samuel Dodge was born there.The brown-shingled Thomas Dodge House is probably the oldest extant house in the Port Washington area. Seven generations of the Dodge family lived in the house located at today’s 58 Harbor Road, Port Washington, New York. It is listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places and is open by appointment. 

Coal dealer Alexander Forbes Dodge was born in New York City, as Manhattan Island was known, in 1796. His daughter, my great grandmother Mary Dodge, was born in 1839 and grew up cozily with her family and two older sisters, Elizabeth and Charlotte, at 36 Orchard Street, in the Tenth Ward of lower Manhattan, two blocks away from today’s 97 Orchard, the not-to-be-missed Lower East Side Tenement Museum

Their mother taught at Houston Street Industrial School. New York’s “Industrial schools” were staffed by volunteers and administered by the State Board of Charities to serve orphans and abandoned children. The 1850 Census records a servant in their home: fifteen year old Margaret Langley, born in Ireland. By 1862 they had moved uptown, and Alexander’s business address was 81 Wall. His Civil War service in the New York Militia provided his widow with a pension of $8.00 a month commencing in 1878. 

In 1850, married women could not own property, sue, or keep money they were able to earn, although they might be required to pay taxes. Colleges and professions did not admit them. A respectable unmarried or widow woman in need of a paying occupation might consider work as a seamstress or tutoring, or she might become someone’s char. My widowed great grandmother, Mary Dodge Wardell, taught piano in the back parlor. My spinster great Aunt Aggie was an unpaid servant in her younger brother’s home. 

A year ago I was contacted by an eBay vendor who had discovered me via the Internet. She listed “an interesting piece of ephemera, a birthday booklet Thy Birthday by [my great aunt] Charlotte Dodge Brombacher, printed in Munich, 5 pages inside, each with two stanzas of poetry and illustrations. Wirths Brothers New-York London Munich Printed in Munich." The World Catalog lists five sentimental ditties by Charlotte, published in the 1880’s andin university library collections. 

Recently I received an email from a cousin in England of whom I was totally unaware! And I have just learned of the Hispanic Dodge site. provides the fascinating background of Juana de la Trinidad Sandoval and Henry Lafayette Dodge. 

I started my family tree with a Poughkeepsie tombstone and nine generations of Dodges. I learned a lot, querying by online searches and emails historical societies and online archives, hospital records, librarians, government records, genealogy publications, and cemeteries, and census tracts. 


Senior citizens, memoir writers and family historians are interested in genealogy. The Berkeley Public Library’s BIN (Berkeley Information Network) responds to a ‘genealogy’ key word query with societies, libraries, and resources, including the library’s own Berkeley History Room, the California Genealogical Society and Library, East Bay Genealogical Society, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Oakland Family History Center, Chinese Culture Center and San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society. 

On Tuesday, March 22, from 6 to 7:30 PM at Central, 2090 Kittredge St., Berkeley, CA 94704, the Berkeley Public Library plans to conduct a public training on using Be sure to confirm date and time (510) 981-6100. is described by an instructor as a basic basic. “…a great (nay, the gold standard) genealogy database. One may purchase it for home use, or use it in the library for free…. at least basic internet knowledge is a must to use this great tool… we also offer a Basic internet skills class here at the Central Library every Monday (from 6-6:50PM) & Thursday (10AM-11AM).” 

Your public library is a good starting point for learning about one’s ancestors and constructing a family tree. Next, get a pc! Email and Internet access are essential. Libraries have Genealogy Online for Dummies, by Matthew L. Helm and April Leigh Helm. It offers advice on researching family history on the Web, including search strategies, data sharing, government records, genealogical software, and publishing the results on the Web. 

As you progress, “bookmark” useful websites on your pc. For example, cemeteries, libraries’ online catalogs, historical societies. Here are seven of my genealogy-related bookmarked web sites: 


Five states have made recent advances in aid-in-dying. Montana, Oregon and Washington have legalized this choice at the voting booth or in the court. Right-to-know laws are an effective vehicle to empower patients in states where a referendum or lawsuit is just not feasible. For example, the Right-to-Know Act in California and the Palliative Care Information Act in New York State. Each passed. Doctors in these states can no longer withhold information about hospice, palliative sedation, suspension of invasive care, and other means of assuring a comfortable death. “Unwanted care” is a new area of health care policy and practice. Note: I’m not referring to a same-titled manga and anime. 

Restoration of the Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services rule – briefly put forth by the Obama Administration at the end of 2010, is needed. It was mischaracterized as “death panels” by anti-choice zealots. For more information, contact Compassions & Choices (POB 101810, Denver CO 80250 if you’re not yet online). 


Wednesday, February 23, noon, free admission, Hertz Hall, UCB, JAZZ X TWO The Advanced Creative Jazz Sextet, Myra Melford, director; UC Jazz All-Star Ensemble, Ted Moore, director 


Responding to Senior Power columns, Berkeley resident S.R. described recent experiences visiting the Elmwood Nursing Rehabilitation (Internet), which is listed by Medicare as Elmwood Care Center and as Elmwood Sanitorium-- a for-profit corporation with an overall rating of one star of a possible five. S.R.’s attempts to visit a patient-friend, were unsuccessful. The friend’s existence was acknowledged by staff, but he had seemingly been lost! S.R. noted “placidly indifferent” staff, a lack of posted ombudsman notice(s), corridors lined with people sitting in wheelchairs, and lack of security, i.e. there was no controlled entrance-check point: it was possible to enter the building and wander about freely. 


Helen Rippier Wheeler can be reached at 

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