Thursday, May 26, 2016

"A Pernicious Habit"

St. Paul Globe, 14 May 1882, p. 10; Chronicling America image
If you read last week's post, you know the tragic ending of the teenage romance of Jennie Fawkner and Albert Drake. More than 130 years later, a reader of the article in the St. Paul Daily Globe can not know how faithfully the facts were reported, but the essential fact is clear -- a 16 year-old boy died on the streets of St. Paul as result of a romance gone sour.

The boy was far too young to die. Both families must have been devastated. This is real family history that can never be totally swept under the carpet.

The incident occurred on a downtown street, in broad public view. The front page coverage surely made the incident the talk of the town. A gun was involved. This was not the wild west; this was St. Paul, the capital of Minnesota, nearly 25 years after statehood. In the next issue of the Globe (14 May 1882, p. 10), a stirring letter to the editor spoke to an issue that is with us yet today.

 Apropos to the untimely end of young Drake by suicide... is it not about time for the proper authorities to initiate more stringent measures to prohibit the carrying of concealed weapon[?] It is true that the law forbidding it exists, but it is equally true that it is, with rare exception, a dead letter upon our statutes... or city laws.

The anonymous letter writer asserted that as many as two-thirds of all boys 14 and older carried weapons, and urged the police to make "sudden and unannounced" searches for the weapons.

St. Paul Globe, 14 May 1882, p. 10; Chronicling America image

He (or she) added:

There seems to be a morbid desire in our youth to be the owner of such an implement of death; he seems to attach a certain greatness to it; it makes him feel like a man! Ah, there's the rub! Men set the example and youth is bound to imitate. The question naturally arises, "Why do so many men carry concealed weapons?"

 The writer acknowledged that "the law-abiding and orderly class of citizens" feel the need to carry guns for self-defense, but went on to lambast lawyers for using the law to protect criminals.

The story and the letter are eerily similar to stories and commentaries we read today -- although today drugs or gang grievances might be involved. This is a nonpolitical blog -- or nearly so. Opinions varied then and opinions vary now. I draw two lessons from the newspaper story and the letter to the editor. First, newspapers are a wonderful source for getting a feel for the places and times our ancestors lived. Second, today is not as different from the past as we like to think.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Singular Suicide: Tragedy finds the Fawkners

Unexpected family history stories are buried in historical newspapers, and the explosion of searchable digitized images of them makes it easier than ever to find news about your family.

While searching for news about the George Fawkner family of St. Paul, Minnesota, I stumbled upon a story printed in the 11 May edition of The Albert Lea Standard, published in Albert Lea, Minnesota, about 100 miles south of St. Paul. This story popped up because the optical character recognition had caught the name "Fawkner" in a story titled, "A Shooting Sensation in St. Paul." I at first thought the search engine had given me a false positive hit -- that is, I though the OCR had mistaken another name for Fawkner. Then, four lines into the story, my eyes caught "the daughter of Mr. George Fawkner."

The opening passage of the article read: "A singular suicide occurred in St. Paul recently. A school boy affection on the part of Albert Drake, a sixteen year old, for Miss Jennie, the fifteen year old daughter of Mr. George Fawkner, developed into a wild and frantic passion." When Jennie's mother "delicately broke the news" of her objections due the the youth of the parties, Drake "was inspired by jealousy to take her life." After Jennie "by presence of mind" frustrated his efforts, he turned the pistol on himself. That's it -- just the facts.

I have used the article in lectures about historical newspapers to make a rather pedestrian point. Notable stories were often picked up by distant newspapers. The search engine I was using did not pick up this story in the St. Paul newspaper, but found it in the Albert Lea paper. Had I limited my search to St. Paul, I would not have found it. I thought it odd that the story had not appeared in St. Paul.

St. Paul Daily Globe, 2 May 1882
Well, it had. A week earlier. The newspaper search engine I was using just didn't find it because the St. Paul paper spelled the name "Fawker." The morning after the tragedy, the St. Paul Daily Globe (4 May 1882) carried the news in column 1 of page 1. And, the St. Paul paper went into much greater detail, albeit somewhat vaguely.

From the parties interested and those who saw the shooting the following particulars have been obtained. Some months ago Albert Drake, the boy shot shot himself, and who, had he lived, would not have been 16 years old till August next, commenced going with a little girl named Jennie Fawkner. The little Fawkner girl is about the age of the boy, probably not quite as old -- a little over 15 years.

The Daily Globe related that the Fawkners lived in "the brick dwelling on the southeast corner of Eighth and Minnesota Streets" (pull out the city directories and Sanborn fire insurance maps!). Jennie was of "slight build, dark hair and eyes, and interesting and bright in conversation." Albert, the son of William A. Drake, had been attending Curtiss' Business college. Albert had never formally called at the Fawkner home; he and Jennie had met as schoolmates.

Several days before the tragedy, Jennie had told Albert about her mother's concerns, but he did not seem overly agitated. They had conversed normally at church, but on Wednesday morning he was "pale, nervous, and ugly." When Jennie and her sister encountered Albert on the way home from school, he pulled a pistol from his pocket and "placed the muzzle of it close to her face." She ran. He fired and missed. As the two raced up Eighth Street, a young man took note of the situation and rescued Jennie by pulling her into a store. Witnesses thought Albert believed he had killed Jennie. Near the corner of Eighth and Pine, he shot himself (witnesses heard two shots in rapid succession).

The newspaper story gives more details that neither Fawkner nor Drake descendants would enjoy (George Fawkner has no living descendants). The young man who rescued Jennie was identified as Edward Erickson.  One wonders if his descendants have heard the story.

Finally, the newspaper noted that the revolver used was known as the "Bull Dog" pattern, with a barrel about three inches long. Today, gun rights are a hot political issue. What did St. Paul denizens think in 1882? Next week's blog tell what one reader of the Daily Globe thought.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Case Solved: Robert was Freddie's Father!

Two weeks ago, I concluded: "It seems safe to conclude that Freddie's parents were probably Robert G. Fawkner and Mary Combs." (Parents for Freddie Fawkner, 9 May 2016). With what I found today, it more than seems safe.

As you may recall, Freddie Fawkner (15 Feb 1894 - 1Nov 1895) was born 10 months after Mary E. Combs married Robert G. Fawkner. Baby Fred was buried in Arcola, Illinois, Township Cemetery. The only question was whether the Robert G. Fawkner who married Mary was the Robert G. Fawkner of Arcola who married Nellie (Marion) Brown in 1895.

Here's the clincher. The 16 February 1894 issue of the Indianapolis Sun reported the birth of a boy to Robert and Mary Fawkner. This Robert Fawkner of Indianapolis was without doubt the Robert Fawkner from Arcola. An 1889 Indianapolis city directory listed Robert G. Fawkner living in Indianapolis at the same address as his father, James C. Fawkner. Robert was a railroad conductor. As a railroad employee, he appears to have moved around a good bit.

I still don't know where the Fawkner-Combs marriage occurred, and am not certain there was a marriage -- except that Mary sued Robert G. Fawkner for divorce in 1908.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Whoa, Nellie -- Who in the World was Mary?

Little Freddie Fawkner was probably the son of Robert G. Fawkner and his 1893 wife, Mary E. Combs. I think. And, Robert was still married to Mary when he wed Nellie (Marion) Brown in 1895.

Whoa, Nellie! Something is rotten in the State of Illinois. Because, it sure looks like Robert was a bigamist.

Let's review the chronology.
  • Robert G. Fawkner married Mary E. Combs in April 1893.
  • Freddie W. Fawkner was born February 1894.
  • Robert abandoned Mary in March 1895 (according to her divorce complaint).
  • Robert G. Fawkner married Nellie B. (Marion) Brown in October 1895.
  • Freddie was buried November 1895 in a plot purchased by Mary E. Fawkner in the cemetery in Robert G. Fawkner's hometown.
  • Mary E. Fawkner filed for divorce from Robert G. Fawkner in 1908 and was granted a divorce in January 1909. He did not respond to a summons to appear in court -- because he was living with Nellie.
Nellie had been divorced from Richard Brown less than a week when she married Robert G. Fawkner in 1893 in Madison County, Illinois. She and Richard had married in June 1888 in Montgomery County, Illinois. Nellie was probably the daughter of the Thomas Marion whose family lived in Crawford County, Illinois, in 1880.

When she married Robert G. Fawkner in 1893, did Nellie have any idea that Robert was still married to Mary? (One point of caution: no record of the 1893 Fawkner-Combs marriage has been found). And, who in the world was Mary?

Mary presents about as much conflicting evidence as I've ever encountered concerning one individual. A few days of internet research produced the following points of evidence.
  • Mary stated in her divorce complaint that Robert G. Fawkner's last known residence was Harrison, Kansas. The court record states that a summons to Robert was printed in the Warrensburg Times.
  • There is not a Harrison anywhere near a Warrensburg in Kansas. In fact, the U.S. Newspaper Directory lists no such newspaper. There is, however, a small town named Harrison a few miles west of Decatur, Illinois. Three or four miles north of Harrison is Warrensburg, where a paper named the Warrensburg Times was published between 1885 and 1931, according the the U.S. Newspaper Directory (
  • It is likely Mary had a child, Freddie (1894-1895) (see the May 9 post), but the 1900 U.S. Census states she had no children living or dead.
  • The 1900 census listed Mary E. Fawkner as a daughter of N. L. Combs. She had a brother, Lester W., 14.
  • The 1910 census listed Lester, 22, as Mary's son; they were living in Decatur. In 1930 and 1940, Lester was living with his mother, Mary Fawkner, in Akron, Ohio.
  • Lester's 1918 marriage license identified his parents as Charles F. Combs and Mary E. Fawkner, and stated that he was born 20 July 1885 in Whitley County, Indiana. His World War II draft registration recorded that he was born in Indiana on the same date.
  • Mary Fawkner's 1941 obituary reported that she died at the home of her son, Lester W. Combs. Her death certificate has not yet been viewed.
  • His daughter, Patricia, was the informant for Lester's 1953 death certificate. She did not know the names of either of his parents. The certificate includes Lester's Social Security number, so his application might answer some questions.
  • Several family trees at* identify Mary E. and Lester W. as siblings, but one (Ted F. Bubert II Family Tree) places Lester as the son of Mary E. Fawkner Combs. It states that Mary married "Charles F."
Lester was born about eight years before Mary Combs married Robert Grant Fawkner. If Lester was Mary's son, she apparently had had either a previous marriage or a dalliance that produced a child (Lester) in Indiana. A marriage record has not been found.

So, was Lester the son of Noah Coleman Combs  or the son of his apparent daughter, Mary? Noah died in 1906 Macon County, Illinois. His will might answer the question. As a matter of fact, his death was apparently the trigger for Mary to file for divorce. In her divorce suit, she stated that she wished to assure that her one-tenth inherited share in a piece of land not fall into the hands of Robert G. Fawkner.

The big question remains: Why did Mary wait more than 13 years after Robert left to file for divorce?
* Family trees, all viewed 9 May 2016, include: Muna, Rushing, Tuttle (; Combs Family Tree (; Davis-Buehler Family Tree (; Ted F Bubert II Family Tree (; Brown Family Tree (

Monday, May 9, 2016

Parents for Freddie Fawkner

The blogger missed last week's self-imposed deadline because, although he traversed the Grand Prairie of Illinois at the maximum legal speed, he didn't get home from the Ohio Genealogical Society conference in time to figure out what to write. Then, there was the other problem -- his mind was so full of family history discoveries that he didn't know where to start.

Let's start with Freddie Fawkner. Only one thing about Freddie is known with certainty. A small gravestone in the Arcola (Illlinois) Township Cemetery states that Freddie was born 15 February 1894 and died 1 November 1895.*

The James C. Fawkner family lived in the Arcola area from the late 1870s to the mid-1890s, but no known records identity Freddie's place in the family. James C. Fawkner died in 1889. His wife, Julia, died 14 May 1894, but her age (about 52) and the fact she had another son named Fred (1880-1946) eliminate her as a candidate for Freddie's mother. Possibly, one of her sons -- Robert Grant (b. 1863), James Henry (b. 1869),  or Cyrus Gatewood (b. 1877) -- was the father.

The Arcola Township Cemetery office has no information about Freddie or the burial, except that the plot was purchased by a Mary Fawkner. There was no Mary in the Arcola Fawkner family. Who was Mary?

The first clue comes from a newspaper story that reported that Mary E. Fawkner filed for divorce from Robert G. Fawkner in the fall of 1908 in Macon County (Decatur), Illinois. In her petition for divorce, she stated that she married Robert G. Fawkner 13 April 1893 and that he abandoned her in March 1895. She asked the court to restore her maiden name: Mary Ethel Combs. So far, so good -- the timing of the marriage is right for a February 1894 birth. There is one problem: no marriage record has yet been found in Macon or nearby counties (still looking).

Other sources complicate matters. The 1900 census enumerated Mary E. Fawkner living with her parents in South Macon Township. It recorded that Mary, a divorcee, had no children, dead or living. This evidence is not immediately alarming because, given her situation, Mary might not have wished to publicly acknowledge her loss of a young child.

Another newspaper story introduces a more serious problem. The 26 October 1895 edition of the Alton Evening Telegraph reported that Nellie Marion Brown received a divorce from Richard Brown and, yet the same week, married Robert G. Fawkner of Arcola.  His Arcola residence strongly implies that he is the same man who married -- in fact, was still married to -- Mary Combs. Was he a bigamist? Did Mary know that Robert was married to Nellie?

According to documents in the Macon County divorce case file, Mary told the court that Robert G. Fawkner's last known residence was Harrison, Kansas. Actually, city directories and censuses reveal that he was living with Nellie in East St. Louis between 1905 and 1910. (He has not been found in the 1900 census). When the Macon County Court issued a summons for him to appear in Decatur, he did not respond. Perhaps, he was just far enough away to be out of sight of Mary and Macon County authorities. When Robert did not respond to the summons, the judge accepted Mary's version of events and granted the divorce.

Neither marriage worked out well for Robert. In 1920, Nellie was living in Leyden, Cook County, Illinois. Robert ("Grant") Fawkner was living with his sister's family in Carlton County, Minnesota; he said he was single. They were still apart in 1930; Nellie said she was married and Robert Grant said he was single. In 1940, Robert said he was a widower (Nellie had died in Cook County, Illinois, in 1935).

It seems safe to conclude that Freddie's parents were probably Robert G. Fawkner and Mary Combs. But, who in the world was Mary? Next week's post will make her identity as clear as mud.
* For earlier thinking about Freddie, see J. H. Fonkert, "Tales from Three Cemeteries: Ole Peterson, Freddie Fawkner, and Katharyn Fawkner," Minnesota Genealogist, 46:3 (2015), pp. 20-6. For more on Robert G. Fawkner, see this blog's 13 August 2015 post.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Gravestones in Grandpa Steve's Briar Tract

The blogger is in Mason, Ohio, awaiting Thursday morning's kick-off to the 2016 Ohio Genealogical Society Conference. This is my fourth appearance at the conference in five years.  My first visit in 2012 was a memorable one -- not just because of the great conference in Cincinnati.

Some 15 years ago, Grandpa Steve posted a story -- part creative writing and part non-fiction -- on an internet website for writers ( He described a walk on a frosty morning from his home on Greens Bottom Road, just north of English, Kentucky, passing under Interstate Highway 71, to the Briar Tract to visit the old Demint Cemetery where his ancestors were buried.  Grandpa Steve's story captured my interest because of the following passage:

The trees may be 100 or 150 years old or even back to 1796 when Jarret Demint cleared this land and built a group of cabins, aided by his brothers-in-law Jacob Lamb, John Faulkner, and Dan Rollins who later had his garden by the pear trees.

It's a long story that needs to be told elsewhere, but John Faulkner was my wife's 3rd-great-grandfather. He is not buried in the Demint Cemetery -- he died in 1839 in Hendricks County, Indiana. But, his first wife (of four) was Elizabeth Nuttal, the daughter of Elijah Nuttal, might have been buried there. Elijah Nuttle owned several hundred acres of land along Mill Creek, where it empties into the Kentucky River. Jacob Lamb, Jarret Demint, and Dan Rollins (Rawlings) were other sons-in-law of Elijah Nuttal. They all received land from Elijah's estate in the late 1790s.

A small piece of the longer story is part of a lecture I am giving Saturday at OGS. For now, let me tell you that during the 2012 conference, I drove to English, Kentucky, in hopes of finding and visiting with Grandpa Steve. I had managed to identify him and locate him from clus in the story he posted on the internet. About half way to English, I tried  calling. I got a "this number has been disconnected" message. I wondered. When I got to Greens Bottom Road, I stopped to ask directions of a couple of older men sitting out front of their house. They told me that Grandpa Steve had died four months earlier. I never got to meet him (I had talked to him on the phone several times). I searched, but could not find the cemetery.

Fast forward to today, 27 April 2016.  We returned to English. Knocked on a few doors. Met Grandpa Steve's cousin, who told us where to look for the cemetery. We found it. Completely overgrown. Muddy and wet from an overnight rain. Fill of thorny brambles. But, I found three stones, including those of James and Elizabeth English -- namesakes of the town. There are supposed to be several more stones there, but I would have needed a machete to find them. Still, it was an amazing experience.

I must stop here. I have much to do before tomorrow's lecture, and the conference center internet is acting up, making it difficult to save this post on Blogspot. I have a great photo of the English stone, but the wireless refuses to upload the image to Blogspot.  I will add it later if I can. (I think I just  managed!) Meanwhile,  I am keeping my fingers crossed that it survives the wireless and publishes as scheduled tomorrow morning. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Case of George -- Wanderlust or Health Tourism?

Even though San Francisco officials had trouble confirming it, George S. Fawkner did die in the city in 1897 (see 14 April 2016 post). His body was shipped to Ontario, California, where he was buried in Bellevue Memorial Park cemetery. You can see photos of two gravemarkers at (memorial no. 20,877,969). A second marker, possibly placed by the Grand Army of the Republic, identifies him as a veteran of Co. H of the 7th Indiana Infantry.

In a future post (next week?), I will explain why George is buried in Ontario, east of Los Angeles. This post takes up the question of why he was on the West Coast at all. As mentioned last week, George was in the grocery business in Portland, Oregon, for a year or two, before traveling south to California. His wife, Mary, was back in Minneapolis during this time.

George had traveled widely in the West as U.S. Inspector of Surveys. Mary must have been used to his travels. It is not known how she took George's death, but she certainly wanted her due from his Civil War pension. Her statements to the Pension Board give at least one version of George's travels.

In an affidavit given 3 October 1898, Herbert and Faribelle Braden (George's daughter) stated that George and Mary "were never divorced and except for soldier absence on business they lived together as husband and wife up to the date of George S Fawkner's death."

In a letter to her attorney in March 1899, Mary explained George's West Coast sojourn.

Previous to my husband's death we lived in Minneapolis for two years. previous to his death he was not able to stand the cold winters in that state and he was compelled to change climate and he had been in Oregon [lightly crossed-out] away from home for over eight months he found Oregon was not a benefit to him, so on April 20th 1897 or near that time he left that State for Cal. going to San Francisco by water, took a sever [sic] cold which settled through his whole body...

Mary Fawkner Inability Affidavit, 16 May 1899; G. S. Fawkner Civil War pension file

She added that George had found changing climates was better than medication, but admitted that he did take "Patent Medicines" [her quotation marks]. In May, Mary filed an inability affidavit in which she stated that, while in Portland, he made several trips to Vancouver, British Columbia. Why, she did not say.

A more detailed reading of the pension file leaves no doubt that George S. Fawkner was seriously injured in a battle at Strasbourg, Virginia, and that he probably did have trouble with physical labor. Yet, he worked in several jobs, made political connections, and traveled extensively while Inspector of Surveys. He no doubt did hope that Oregon would be good for his health, but he may have suffered from a bit of wanderlust, as well.