Half of Southern California consists of mountains and deserts. The other half is where the people live. 24 million of them in 2020. 21 million in 2003. What used to be a land of a thousand towns and villages is now one big metropolitan area stretching from San Diego on the Mexican border to Santa Barbara 218 miles up the Pacific coast. In August of 2003 we embarked on a one-week roadtrip to see if we could find the descendants of Everett and Mabel Dwyer among those 21 millions. Well, we really did some homework before we set out, making a number of phone calls, writing a couple of letters and sending out numerous email messages before we left our home in Northern California. So we weren’t just driving blindly. But did we drive!
There are two ways to get to Southern California from the Northern California Bay Area. You can take Highway 101 down the scenic coast — many towns, many possible stops for breaks, very slow drive overall. Or you can take I-5 down through the west side of the San Joaquin Valley — no scenery, not too many places to stop, very fast drive overall. We decided to take I-5 down and 101 back up, making a loop through Central and Southern California.
Stop 1 – Pasadena (August 10th)
We turned off I-5 when we reached I-210 and followed the signs to Pasadena.
Pasadena is at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains about 15 miles northeast of downtown LA. It has become famous for its annual Rose Parade on New Year’s Day and the subsequent Rose Bowl football game. Everett and Mabel settled in east LA and moved to various towns in the area over the years — Altadena, Pasadena, South Pasadena, Alhambra. We found one of their grandsons, George D Sweeney, in Pasadena not too far from where he was born. I wrote to George and we exchanged phone calls prior to our travel down south. He was glad to see us and he talked a lot about his family and his own personal life. George was born in 1935, one year after his grandfather died and two years before his grandmother died. He had an older sister Patricia whom he worshipped and a brother one year younger and another brother born ten years after him. George’s mother Margaret — most likely named after Everett’s mother — died in 1984. She was Everett and Mabel’s first child (b.1910). His father George P Sweeney died just a couple of years previously at the age of 90. George P worked for BF Goodrich rubber company for 20 years and then went to evening school. He received a teaching credential and then moved to Oceanside to play tennis and teach grammar school. George P was born in Sweeny, Texas. The town was named after one of his ancestors. George D ( his middle name, btw, is Dwyer) told me that his father was a very good tennis player. His Mom played tennis, too.
George considers himself the black sheep of the family because of his life of alcohol and drugs. He related that the biggest event in his life was a stupid accident at a friend’s house when he was 25 years old where he ended up burning about 85% of his body.
He never regained his health and now was nearly blind and living in a home for men in similar positions and conditions as his. George lived off a Veteran’s Administration disability for 20 years and was now living on social security and Medicare. He spoke lovingly about his sister and he was hospitalized for seven days after she died in 2000. He also spoke proudly about his brother-in-law Don who was a standout football player for UCLA back in the day and most members of the Sweeney family were devout UCLA football fans.
George gave me his brothers’ phone numbers as well as his brother-in-law’s. I called his younger brother Jim who was living with his second family in Ontario. He told me that he had three kids by his first wife — born from 1968 – 1973. And he has a seven year old son named Sean with his second wife. I guess Sean is 24 years old now. George’s other brother Mike (Everett Michael) had recently retired and was now living in Huntington Beach. He taught math and coached football for many years in Bishop, Riverside and Pico Rivera.
George was in the army from 1954 – 1957 (serving mostly at Fort Ord) prior to his accident. He died several years ago and is buried in Pasadena’s national cemetery. Mike died two years ago.
Stop 2 – Riverside (August 11th)
We spent the night in Pasadena and the next morning drove to Riverside to have a cup of coffee with Don Birren, George’s brother-in-law. Don was a star lineman for the UCLA Bruins football team in ’55 and ’56. In 1956 the Bruins went 7 and 3, losing only to Michigan, Oregon State and USC. In 1960 Don went to work as a physical education teacher and coach (including head football coach for five years) for Riverside Community College and he retired 38 years later and was awarded the title of professor emeritus. Pat and Don made their home in Riverside and raised their two kids — Alex and Jennifer — there.
Stop 3 – Ontario (August 11th)
From Riverside we headed back on I-10 (aka the San Bernardino Freeway) to the Inland Empire town of Ontario where our son-in-law Brian’s folks then lived and we had a nice family dinner with Frank and Sylvia and Sylvia’s sister Betty and her husband Tony at their home in nearby Rancho Cucamonga. Brian grew up in Upland which is about halfway between Ontario and Rancho Cucamonga. He attended high school in nearby San Dimas and then chose to enroll at St Mary’s College in Moraga where he met our younger daughter and the rest is history.
Stop 4 – Hemet (August 12th)
From Ontario we headed back east on I-10 past Colton and Redlands to Beaumont where we then headed south on highway 79 to the San Jacinto Valley community of Hemet where we met another second cousin, Joan Rice. We heard about Joan from her mother Dorothy, Everett and Mabel’s third daughter (b.1914), and the author of that famous letter in The Search for Everett, Part One (see here). Unknown to us, Joan lost her husband Jack a week before our visit and she was not in the mood to talk a lot about her family. We did learn about her four daughters and later her Uncle George talked to us about her husband Jack and his military life. And when we finally met her mother we learned more about Joan’s eldest daughter Trixie who happens to live across the Bay from us (we would meet Trixie and her daughter Ashley a few weeks later).
Stop 5 – Temecula (August 12-13th)
From Hemet we drove east on highway 74 and south on I-215 until it merges with I-15 and then continued on I-15 to the town of Temecula where we stayed for two nights.
Temecula is famous for its vineyards and there was a winery within walking distance of our motel and of course we just had to do a little winetasting during our stay.
Stop 6 – Fallbrook (August 13th)
From Temecula it was just a short drive to Fallbrook in north San Diego County near the entrance to the sprawling Camp Pendleton Marine Base. There on a hill full of avocado trees we found George D Dwyer, Everett and Mabel’s youngest child (b. 1922). George Sweeney’s middle name is Dwyer, after his mother’s maiden name. George Dwyer’s middle name is Duncan, after his mother’s maiden name. George was 12 years old when his father died and 15 when his mother died. For the next two years George lived with his sister Margaret (he called her Marge), his aunts Mildred and Carolyn and finally with his sister Kathryn (Kay). After high school George joined the Army. I wrote about George’s exploits during World War II on the 70th anniversary of D-Day (see here). George and his wife Gloria took us out to lunch and he told us about his war experiences and his subsequent oil business.
George and Gloria had five kids. The two girls were born in Wyoming when he was working in the oil fields up there. Then two more (Mark and Danny) were born in Midlands, Texas. He told me he knew George H. W. Bush when he was working in Texas but not his son George W. Matt, the youngest of the five, was born in Newport, California in 1967, ten years after Danny. 4 of their 5 kids live near each other in Orange County and another, Danny (who we would meet that night) in Murietta in Riverside County.
By this time I had learned a lot about four of Everett’s kids but not much about the fourth daughter, Kathryn (b.1916). George Sweeney mentioned that she had a miserable life and died young of alcoholism. When I asked George Dwyer about his sister I sensed some family friction and guessed that some family members had blamed Kathryn’s addictions on her husband Leonard. George informed me that he spent a few months of his senior year in high school with Kathryn and Leonard and he claims that he never once saw his brother-in-law take a drink. George also mentioned that his sister Marge tried to help her sister Kay but was not able to.
Stop 5B – Back to Temecula (August 13th)
We returned to Temecula that afternoon and met another second cousin, Danny Dwyer, that evening. Danny lives in Murrieta, just up the road from Temecula, and he met us at our motel and took us out to dinner at a local restaurant. Danny told us about the time he and his younger brother Matt lived with their Mom on the island of Majorca in the Mediterranean Sea while his father worked in the Libyan oil fields. Many years later Danny went back to Majorca to see if he could find the Spanish kids he played with but he couldn’t find a single one. They had all moved out of the neighborhood. He also mentioned that one summer during his high school years he worked in the South American jungles with his father. I asked him about his brothers and sisters and he told me that he and three of his siblings all attended an Angels baseball game the previous evening. His sister Christie lived in New York for many years and just recently moved back to California. His sister Terry was divorced and raising her daughter Daisy by herself. His older brother Mark is an architect and his younger brother had just returned from Iran where he flew a Marine helicopter.
Stop 7 – San Diego (August 14th)
After Temecula we drove south on I-15 to San Diego where we visited Bennette’s cousins. Bill Benavente is the son of my wife’s Uncle Jose and Evelyn Blas is the daughter of her Aunt Rosalia. Bill has lived in San Diego for several years. Evelyn lived there years ago and was visiting friends and relatives from her current home in Charlotte, North Carolina. Evelyn celebrated her birthday during our visit and we all celebrated the next day by visiting a nearby casino.
Stop 8 – San Clemente (August 15th)
From San Diego we turned around and headed back north on I-5, stopping at San Clemente to visit my wife’s niece Vinny and her two teen-age sons, Kevin and Jason.
Vinnie is the daughter of Bennette’s sister Anita. She lived with us for awhile when she was in the fifth grade. She also lived in Washington state for awhile during the early years of her marriage and now resides in San Antonio, Texas. We visited her there with our grandson in 2012 (see here).
San Clemente is the southernmost of Orange County’s beach towns and is known for its long wharf. In 1969 Richard Nixon bought a home in San Clemente that he used as his “Western White House” during his presidency.
Stop 9 – Santa Barbara (August 16th)
From San Clemente we drove up I-5 to central LA and then took Highway 101 to Santa Barbara, one of our favorite California cities — home of the Queen of the Missions.
There we met Everett and Mabel’s third daughter Dorothy (b.1914), or Dot as she prefers to be called. Dot lived in Southern California for more than 40 years. She divorced her first husband Martin Click in 1955 and later moved to Grass Valley where she married her second husband Paul Byrne. After Paul died Dot moved down to Santa Barbara.
We met Dot when she was 89 years old. She was volunteering a couple of days a week at the local senior center and was even finding the time to teach English as a second language to Mexican kids in the neighborhood.
Dot told us about her oldest granddaughter Trixie who also was interested in genealogy and had spent many hours documenting Mabel Duncan Dwyer’s family. She also talked about her problems with both her brother George and her son-in-law Jack, two military people who were very close friends with each other. During our visit she also talked about her sister Pat who lived in Florida with her husband. After he died and when she came down with cancer she decided to move back to California to be close to her sister Dot and her daughter Sue. The next day we heard more of this story from Sue on our last stop before heading home.
Stop 10 – Solvang (August 17th)
From Santa Barbara we continued up highway 101 to Solvang for our last stop before driving back home. Solvang is another of our favorite California towns. It is located in the Santa Ynez Valley which served as a backdrop for the movie Sideways which came out a year after our visit. We toured the Mission (Santa Ines) and walked around the Danish settlement and then drove to the next door community of Santa Ynez to have dinner with Sue Spahr Hodges, the youngest daughter of Olive (Pat) Dwyer, Everett and Mabel’s second daughter. Sue filled in the blanks about Dot’s story of her mother and talked a lot about her own brothers and sisters.
Pat married a Naval officer named Milton Pavlic in 1936. Milt and Pat had two kids, Mike and Trish. Pat’s husband was killed in the Pacific during World War II and she later married her husband’s best friend, another Naval officer named Otto Spahr. Otto’s father was an admiral in the Navy. So he was Otto II. Pat and Otto had two kids, Otto III (better known as Toby) and Sue. Mike was living in Atlanta, Toby in Charleston, South Carolina, and Trish in Pacheco near Concord, less than 20 miles from our home. Sue has a daughter from her first marriage to Sam Hershfield and a son from her second marriage to Robert Hodges. Sue cooked a wonderful dinner that night and before we left she gave me the email addresses for her siblings. The next day we continued our drive up Highway 101 to the Bay Area and in three hours were back home in Castro Valley.
We kept on meeting descendants of Everett and Mabel after we returned home from our week-long trip to Southern California. A couple of weeks after our return we drove across the Bay to Daly City to have a nice visit with Trixie Atkinson (my second cousin once removed) and her daughter Ashley (third cousin once removed). Trixie and I talked about our family histories and she gave me a copy of her Duncan-Stone Family History manuscript.
I also corresponded several times with Mike Pavlic, Sue Spahr’s half-brother. Mike told me that his daughter Beth was living in the Bay Area and we contacted her and invited Beth and her husband Brian Berry over for dinner. They were also guests at a Super Bowl Party we hosted the next February. Beth met several third cousins at that party (including my two daughters) as well as all my siblings and first cousins who were also her father’s second cousins. We saw Beth and Brian several more times at different events until they moved to Jacksonville, Florida. A few years ago Beth instigated a family reunion party at her Aunt Sue’s new home in Point Richmond. We met another second cousin at that party: Trish Churchill and her husband Monte and their daughter-in-law and grandkids. Trish’s son had to work that day and we never met him.
After I posted that D-Day article on their father in 2015 I heard from two of Danny Dwyer’s siblings. Terry and Matt both commented on that D-Day post and I corresponded a few times since then with Matt who had since that time in 2003 moved to Houston, Texas and was now living with his second wife and his son Liam was attending college in Texas.
It has been 17 years since our trip down south and many of the relatives we met that summer are no longer with us. George Sweeney died in 2012 and his brother Mike in 2018. George Dwyer died in 2013. He was preceded by his wife Gloria in 2007. Bennette’s cousin Bill’s wife Mary died in 2011. And Dot Byrne died in 2016 at the age of 102! Sue Spahr Hodges lost her half-brother Mike Pavlic in 2014 and her half-sister Trish Churchill in 2015. And Brian lost his father earlier this year and his Aunt Betty last year and his Uncle Tony in 2012. Brian’s Mom now resides in an assisted living facility in Danville close to her son.
So that’s the story of our search for Everett and his descendants. We managed to account for all five of his children and positively identified 14 of his grandchildren. Over the years we have been able to discover a few things about his daughter Kathryn and we believe she had two children and at least two grandchildren, both of whom appeared on my DNA Match List. I contacted both of them but neither chose to reply and so I will respect their wish for privacy.
I was glad to be able to converse with two of my Dad’s first cousins but neither had much to say about their parents. Dot had nothing to say about them. George told me that his Dad played golf and liked to drink and that his Mom was a saint. So we will leave it at that. But what a roadtrip!