Friday, October 19, 2012


I was having dinner this past Saturday evening with one of my friends at Kow Kow Chinese Restaurant in Lincolnwood.  If you haven't eaten there, you should - you're in for a treat.  Anyway, during dinner the topic of this blog came up and I was telling her how I go about finding stories that I think are interesting and informative but also yield enough information to make up a sufficient blog entry.  I also mentioned that it was a challenge, albeit a fun challenge, to come up with a new story every week.  She said, "Why haven't you told the Bernie story?"  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that she was right.  Here was a story, already at my fingertips that was interesting, and it also tells readers how I undertook one of my early genealogy searches. Each search is different by its very nature but it is still entertaining to follow the trail.  So, for your amusement and amazement is my story about Bernard (Bernie) Dording, my mother's first love. 

When you are growing up you hear your parents discussing events in their lives with each other and with friends and relatives.  When you are very young these stories are not interesting, but as you get older and begin to see your parents as people, you find the stories of their past interesting.  Through the years my mother would occasionally mention Bernie Dording as a fellow she was engaged to (before she met my father, she would hastily add) but who had died of cancer before they could be married.  My father didn't come along until after Bernie was gone, so he never had much to add to the conversation, although I'm sure he did not enjoy hearing about Bernie, his competition from the grave.

One day after my mother died in 2003 I was thinking about "The Bernie Story" and I wondered what Bernie had looked like.  My mother had not kept any photos of him, so I was curious as to his looks.  I decided to do whatever I could to find a photograph of the late Bernie Dording.

Because I am a "list person" I started out by writing down everything I could remember my mother had said about Bernie:  (Instead of referring to her through this entry as "My Mother" I will call her what everyone else called her: "Betty").

1.  Bernie Dording had been captain of the football team at St. George High School in Evanston.  St. George was an all-boys Catholic high school that had been run by the Christian Brothers but closed in the 1970s.
2.  Bernie had lost his right arm to cancer, and it was ultimately cancer that killed him.

3.  Even though she knew he was dying Betty still wanted to go through with the wedding.  Her mother (my grandmother) said no - she didn't want Betty to be a young widow - or even a widow with a child.

4.  Betty was not allowed (by her mother) to be at Bernie's bedside when he died, although she was permitted to go to the wake.  Betty was horrified that Bernie's sister was taking photographs of Bernie lying in his casket.

5.  Bernie had a brother who was a priest at a church "way out in the sticks".  Bernie's Mother used to travel out to stay with the priest and keep house for him.

6.  Bernie had at least one sister (the one taking photos at the wake). 

That's about all I had to go on to try to track down the Dording family. My objective was to find out as much as I could about Bernie, and ultimately if possible to find a photo of him (even one of the infamous casket photos) to satisfy my curiousity.

Like with most genealogy searches, I started with the census.  I always thought Betty was saying "Bernie Dougherty" so I started there, but none of the facts or dates seemed to line up.  One of the suggested entries was for a "Bernard Dording" and things seemed to line up, so I was off.

The 1920 Census shows the Dording Family in Iowa:
     Nicholas - Head of Household - Age 57 - Carpenter
     Mary Dording - wife - Age 47
     John Dording - Son - Age 14
     Catherine Dording - Daughter - Age 12
     Bernard Dording - Son - Age 6

It also shows that Nicholas had been born in Luxembourg.  Mary was born in Wisconsin, but her parents were born in Luxembourg.  The children were all born in Iowa.

There was also another brother, Paul Dording (1901-1972) who had already left home by 1920.

The 1930 Census shows the Dording Family (without Nicholas who died in 1927)

(the grave photos did not come until MUCH later, but I will put them in where they fit into the story).

now living in Evanston - at 130 Elmwood Avenue.

130 Elmwood, Evanston

Mary Dording - Head of Household - Age 57
Katherine (now spelled with a "K") - Age 22 - Registered Nurse
Bernard - Age 16
John "AB" (Abroad) - Age 24
(John Dording was at seminary in Austria from 1928-1932)

At the time I started this project the 1940 Census had not been released yet, but since my parents married in 1941, I assumed that Bernie had died before the 1940 Census. 

Based on the above information I continued my search.  The Social Security Death Index said that John Dording was living in McHenry County, Illinois at the time of his death, so I was able to get a copy of John's death certificate:

Based on the information on the death certificate I went to the Justen Funeral Home in McHenry and asked them for any information they had on the Dording family.  They told me that Fr. Dording had been the pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Johnsburg, and was beloved by all.  I went up to the church and looked for his burial site, hoping that his family might be buried in the same place.  I found his burial site:

but no other Dordings were in the parish cemetery.  The parish office suggested I go to the McHenry Public Library to find a copy of Fr. Dording's obituary on microfilm.  Here's what I found from the McHenry (Illinois) Plain Dealer of December 19, 1984:

Fr. John M. Dording

The Rev. John M. Dording, 79, pastor emeritus of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Johnsburg, died Saturday, Dec. 15, 1984 in Freeport Memorial Hospital.  He was born May 17, 1905, in West Bend, Ia., the son of Nicholas and Mary Dording.

Father Dording attended St. Francis Preparatory school, Milwaukee, Wis., and Conception High School and College in Missouri.  His seminary education was at Innsbruck University in Austria, from 1928 to 1932.

On March 13, 1932, he was ordained and assigned to St. Joseph Church until his transfer to Our Lady of Good Counsel, Aurora, as pastor.  hen then became chaplain of the Illinois State Training School, St. Charles.

He was appointed pastor of St. Patrick Church, Heartland, St. Catherine Church, Genoa, and St. John the Baptist Catholic Church from September of 1963 to July, 1970, when he was named pastor emeritus.

Surviving are two nieces, Mrs. Eugene (Camilla) Kocol of San Pedro, Calif. and Mrs. Patricia Windle of Chicago, a nephew, James Dording of Danvers, Mass., and seven grandnieces and nephews.

He was preceded in death by his parents, two brothers and a sister.

Visitation began at 10 a.m. Tuesday in St. John's church, where an all-night vigil was held.  The Knighths of Columbus Fourth Degree Honor Guard assembled at 6:30 p.m. A wake service was conducted at 7:30 p.m. and the rosary was recited every hour until a Mass of the Resurrection was offered at 11 a.m. in the church with Bishop Arthur J. O'Neill of the Rockford Diocese officiating.  Burial was in the church cemetery.  Funeral arrangements were made by the George R. Justen & Son Funeral Home.

Based on Father Dording's obituary, I discovered the following heirs:

Niece:  Camilla Kocol of San Pedro, California
Niece:  Patricia Windle of Chicago
Nephew:  James Dording of Danvers, Massachusetts.

I checked various online phone directories and there was no listing for Patricia Windle of Chicago, so I assumed she was dead.  I did find a listing for Camilla Kocol and called her.  She was able to verify some of the information I already knew, but was really no help in providing anything else.  She suggested I call James Dording in Massachusetts because he was more knowledgeable about the family history.  I called James Dording and we had a very nice conversation.  He never knew his Uncle Bernie but remembered visting his grandmother in Chicago and that she lived right next to the "el" tracks.  He told me that he did not have any pictures of Bernie, but remembered seeing one many years ago.  The photo of Bernie he remembered was of Bernie at 17-18 years old.  He recalled "a very tall young man".  He was not aware of, nor had he ever seen, the infamous casket photos.  Dead end - again. He did tell me that Bernie was buried with his (Jim's) grandparents somewhere in Iowa.

Subsequent to the first time I called Jim Dording, I found out about the existence of the Illinois Online Death Index from the Mormon Family Research Cemetery in Wilmette, Illinois.  The people there are both very knowledgeable and very helpful.  They won't do your research for you, but will help you do your own research. 

Here are the Dording Family entries from the Illinois Online Death Index:

You can see that Nicholas Dording died in Evanston on October 15, 1927, Mary C. Dording died in Heartland on January 2, 1947, and Bernie died in Evanston on March 6, 1938.  I then requested copies of their death certificates from the State Archives (this was before Family Search) and it was then that I found that all three were buried in Marcus, Iowa (Holy Name Cemetery).  Nicholas' headstone was pictured above, here are Mary and Bernie's:

Nicholas Dording died of complications from prostate cancer:

Mary Dording died from a stroke:

And, as we knew, Bernie died from cancer:

When Bernie died, he was working as a salesman for a tobacco company, and lived at 1541 W. Fargo in Chicago:

1541 W. Fargo, Chicago
And, just as Jim Dording had remembered, 1541 W. Fargo is right next to the el viaduct.

All this information was fine, but it did not get me any closer to my ultimate goal, a picture of Bernie.  Remembering that Bernie had graduated from St. George High School in Evanston, I contacted the Christian Brothers Midwest Province to try to get a look at Bernie's yearbook, which would certainly contain at least one photo of him. They told me that one of the retired brothers had a copy in his office of every St. George yearbook ever issued.  So, one bright, crisp Fall day, I drove out to the Christian Brothers Provincial Office in Burr Ridge. The brother who had the yearbooks was not there that day, but he had left word, and they directed me to the yearbooks.  Bernie was part of the graduating Class of 1932.  The only 1930s era yearbook they had was for 1931, but all four years' students were pictured, so I figured I would find a photo of Bernie as a Junior.  Believe it or not, that year the Junior Class decided not to use photos, just a silhouette of each student! Boy, was I disappointed - a silhouette of Bernie did me no good whatsoever.  I asked what had happened to the other yearbooks from the 1930s and they told me that it was the Depression and no one could afford to buy a yearbook, so none were published.  

So there I was, at a dead end after my long and involved search for a photo of Bernie Dording.  The search that took me from Illinois to California to Massachusetts and back to Illinois had only yielded a silhouette of Bernie.  So I guess my hunt for a photo of the elusive Bernie was over - or was it?

Thinking that my unfinished quest would just have to go on the list as "incomplete" I put all my Dording family research away.  Jim Dording and I continued to trade phone calls and holiday cards, and he even sent me the memorial card for Fr. John Dording that had a photo:

and a photo of  Paul Dording and family in the 1930s on a trip to California that included a photo of Paul (and Bernie's) mother:

but no photos of Bernie.  

Several years later I was at my computer early one Sunday morning scrolling through listings on ebay.  One of my saved searches was for "Evanston" and as I was scrolling through all the listings for items relating to Evanston my eye stopped on a listing that offered:

1932 Yearbook - St. George High School, Evanston, Illinois

But that couldn't be - the Christian Brothers had told me that there was no yearbook printed for the Class of 1932 but there it was.  I immediately put a bid on the yearbook and fired off an email to the Seller telling them of my Bernie photo quest.  She emailed back, and offered to pull the listing and sell me the yearbook for $20.00.  In a flash I sent her the money via Paypal and she told me the yearbook would be on its way to me the next day.  Time slowed to a crawl as I waited for the US Mail to bring me the coveted 1932 yearbook that no one thought even existed.  Would my goal, a picture of Bernie finally be realized or had Bernie missed "picture day" or even decided he didn't want his photo in the yearbook?

After what seemed an eternity the package arrived.  With my hands shaking I flipped open the cover and started through the pages. "Seniors" thirty-seven, thirty-eight, thirty-nine...DARST, Edward Daniel...DAY, Virgil Baldwin, Jr...DITTMAR, George Walter Jr...DOLAN, Henry Parker...and...DORDING, BERNARD NICHOLAS!!!!!!!

So, for the first time since 1932, here is a picture of Bernie Dording's yearbook page:

and here is dear Bernie:

So, after a long and involved quest, I was finally able to attain my goals of learning about the Dording family and seeing a picture of my mother's first love.

The lesson here is that to be successful in genealogy research you have to be persistent, and you have to have a little luck.  Not all of my genealogy quests have ended as successfully as this one did, but half the fun is "getting there".

While I was reviewing my research for this story I learned that Bernie's nephew Jim Dording of Danvers, Massachusetts who had been so helpful with my research, died on February 23, 2012.

May Bernard Nicholas (Bernie) Dording, my mother's first love, and all the Dordings, rest in peace.

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