Underground Echoes: Where is Velda Dunn?

Special to the Gazette

Velda Dunn, aged 16, 1930
Velda Dunn, aged 16, 1930

Velda Lillian Dunn-Acker, 20, gave birth to her only son Donald Jay Acker, February 27, 1934 in Los Angeles but died during the delivery. Her siblings retrieved her body for burial in Martinez and broke off all contact with her husband and son. This past July, we received an email from Todd Acker on behalf of his father Donald (now 84), wanting help in locating her gravesite and any information about her and her family. All he had to go on was a yellowed copy of her obituary (which incorrectly states her first and last names) from an unknown newspaper that reads,

“Last Rites will be held here Sunday for Mrs. Velma Dunn Ackers, 20, of Los Angeles, former resident, who died in the Southern city earlier this week. The body will arrive today and the remains will be at the Scott & Greene parlors. Rev. Harvey Miller will officiate at the services which will be held on Sunday afternoon at 2 o’clock in the Curry Chapel and interment will be in Alhambra Cemetery.

Deceased was the wife of Jack Ackers of Los Angeles, and the sister of Mrs. Natalene Bennett of Monterey, Ray Dunn and Earl Dunn of Martinez, George Dunn of Concord, and Walter Dunn of San Francisco.”

We began our research with the 1900 census listing Velda’s mother Sarah Dunn, 26 (a daughter of immigrants) as a recently hired cook for the McCauley family in Placer, California. Living with her are sons Harry, 4 born in California, and Raymond, 2 born in the Arizona Territory. Velda’s father Henry T. Dunn, 35 is living separately as a border in Placer, while working as a miner Foreman. The Dunn’s have been married 6 years.

From the 1910 Census, we found the family living in Virginia City, Nevada in a rented house with 10 farm animals. Henry T. 44, is working as a Foreman for the Cyanide Works, while Sadie L. 37, looks after her 5 children: Harry 14, born in California, Raymond 12, and George 9, born in Arizona, Natalene 4, and Walter 2, born in Nevada.

As a side note, we located a number of voter registrations for Henry living in California while working as a minor. First during 1886 -1888 he’s in Columbia, Tuolumne County, then 1892 Cargo Muchacho, San Diego County, and finally Havilah, Kern County in 1896. The last two list him as 6’1”, brown hair and eyes, fair complexation with a scar on his left thumb.

Next, we discovered Velda was born with her twin brother William “Billie” Earl on December 11, 1913 to Henry Thomas and Sarah Louise “Sadie” Dunn in Martinez. City Directories from 1914 – 1918 confirms their living throughout Martinez. 1914 – 402 Richardson, Harry works for PG&E and “Ray” is a machinist. 1915 – Castro near Mellus, Ray joins Harry at PG&E. 1916 & 1918 – 608 Mellus, Ray returns to being a machinist while Harry remains at PG&E.

Unfortunately, the 1918 Influenza Pandemic strikes the Dunn family killing their father Henry on December 15 and their mother Sadie on December 24, 1918. There’s a good chance that Henry’s mining work for over 30 years contributed to his illness. The Pandemic becomes the second deadliest disease outbreak in human history, killing an estimated 3% – 5% of the world’s population. With their parents’ sudden deaths, the younger siblings were split up to be raised by their older brothers and extended family.

The 1920 Census shows: Velda’s twin Billie Earl 6, living with Harry 24, (still at PG&E) his wife Ada 17, and Ada’s sister, Sulie Thompson 20, (ship yard riveter) on Smith St, Martinez; Velda 6, living with her maternal grandmother, Louisa Mersich 74, aunt Della Hamblin 33, and cousin Arthur Hamblin 12, on Berrellesa St; and finally Natalene 14, living with Ray 21, (back at PG&E) with wife Maybelle Evelyn Eckberg 20, at the Rose Apartments on Ward and Green St, Martinez. George 19, (PG&E driver) married Maybelle’s sister Mildred Viola Eckberg 16, on December 6, 1919, and is shown living in the same Rose Apartments.

A then and now look at the potential gravesite of Velda's from 1934 and a current view from 2019.
A then and now look at the potential gravesite of Velda’s from 1934 and a current view from 2019.

During our correspondence, Todd reported that his father Donald found a box of his mother’s items which included photographs (more on that later) and books of stories she had written. Todd stated that two of the stories he read had a similar theme of families torn apart by tragedy and struggling to get back together. He shared with us her short story written in 1928 called, “A Little Lonely Lad.” It reveals unexpressed emotions concerning her parents passing and the family transitions that followed (and will published in its entirety on our website).

The 1921-1923 Martinez City Directories shows the brothers still working for PG&E and keeping their families close despite several moves. 1921: Ray’s family – 1101 Smith St, George’s – 1023 Smith St, Harry’s – 1001 Smith St, while Natelene is now living with Lousia and Velda at 402 Berrellesa St and a clerk for D. Stathakis. 1922: Ray’s – 1015 Smith St, Harry’s – 1005 Smith St, and George’s – 514 Thompson St. 1923: Ray and George’s families don’t move but Harry’s does to 602 Berrellesa. However, the 1925 City Directory shows Harry’s family living at 2502 Humboldt, Oakland while still working for PG&E.

By the 1930 census, the family is now scattered. Harry 33, wife Ada 27, daughter Betty 9, and son Harry Jr. 5, live at E. 33rd St, Oakland. Raymond 32, wife Evelyn 30, their son Raymond Jr. 9, and his brother, Billie Earl 16, live at 1013 Highland Ave, Martinez. George 29, wife Mildred 27, daughter Miriam 10, and son George 1, live at 1025 Green St, Martinez. Natalene 24, husband Frank D. Bennett 26, daughter Jane 7, are living on Monroe St, Monterey. Walter 22, is a US Army private stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington. Finally, Velda 16, (a soda fountain counter girl) grandmother Louisa Mersich 85, (a tire factory inspector) are living with her aunt Della Hamblin 43, on W Queen St, Inglewood with a border.

Velda 18, marries John Thomas Acker 31, on March 5, 1932 in the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Ana. The following year her grandmother, Louisa dies on June 1, 1933 in Los Angeles. Nine months later, she passes herself on February 27, 1934.

Although we located her parent’s gravesite in the Alhambra Pioneer Cemetery, we could not find a listing or marker for Velda. Referencing the earlier mentioned photos, one seems to be of Velda’s gravesite taken in 1934. However, after finding the depicted location we discovered a few missing headstones leaving her grave unmarked. Which brings us back to Donald and Todd’s original question, where is Velda Dunn-Acker? If anyone has any information on her exact resting place, her marker, or the Dunn family, please contact us as the Acker’s would be extremally grateful for your help.

Judie and Joseph Palmer are two of the founding members of the Martinez Cemetery Preservation Alliance (MCPA) and the Potter’s Field Restoration Project. Both have a passion for discovery, history, genealogy, anthropology and archaeology. The MCPA is always looking for any information or photographic evidence regarding the Alhambra Pioneer Cemetery, Potter’s Field, or its residents as well as monetary or material donations to finish this and other future projects. If you have anything to share, would like to donate, become a member, or volunteer, please visit their website martinezcemetery.org, email them at martinezcemetery@gmail.com or call them at (925) 316-6069.

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