Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mine original records for genealogical gold

I'm sitting in Frankfort, Kentucky, pondering genealogy lessons after five hours reading documents from a single 1820s divorce case. This is a long story which can't be done full justice in a short blog post -- a much longer research report is on my to-do list.

This Kentucky research stems from an 1839 Indiana probate file that named four heirs that could not be accounted for in the marriage of John Fawkner to Nancy Ann Faulconer. Apparently, John had at least one previous marriage. Prior to finding the divorce case I studied today, I had proven one previous marriage, pretty well nailed the second and strongly suspected a third. After today, I have proven the wives in two and found convincing evidence that there was a fourth (I'm counting backwards here) wife.

For some time, I have suspected that John Fawkner had roots in Fayette County, Kentucky, so I searched a microfilmed index of Fayette County circuit court records. I found an 1826 Ida Fawkner v. John Fawkner suit, and smelled a divorce. I engaged a Kentucky researcher to pull the file at the state archives. She found the file, but it was so large (at least 60 separate documents) that she only copied one summary document to give me a flavor of the case. This one document offered some tantalizing clues, with statements about John Fawkner's "children from a previous marriage" and testimony that Ida was "the toughest of all his wives."

"Of all his wives" implied that Ida was at least the third wife. There's got to be more details in the file, I thought. Indeed, there is. One witness specifically named Ida as John's third wife. Two teen-aged children from John Fawkner's previous marriage testified. Two deponents identified themselves as siblings of Ida.

The lessons are: don't stop with the index, and when you get to the original records, read all the records. I'm only two-thirds of the way through the file, and still hoping to find more clues to John Fawkner's identity. Research in original records takes time, but can be worth the results.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Family History Month In the Upper Midwest

October is Family History Month -- a popular time of year for genealogy conferences and family history fairs. The Minnesota Genealogical Society jumped the gun a bit with its 2nd Annual North Star Genealogy Conference September 18-19. It was a great success, a reflection both on our outstanding featured speaker, Claire Bettag, but also on our terrific cadre of volunteers who ran a seamless conference operation. Other Minnesota-based speakers who volunteered they services were Linda Coffin, Pat Coleman, J. H. Fonkert, Dixie Hansen, Harold Hinds, Lois Mackin, Tom Rice, Hamp Smith and Sandy Thalmann.

Family history buffs in the Upper Midwest might want to check out upcoming events in Iowa and Minnesota.

September 26 -- "Taking Root: Family History Workshop," Moorhead, Minnesota ( -- featured speaker Alan Mann.

October 3 -- Waterloo Public Library, Waterloo, Iowa -- Dr. Tom Jones, 4-session workshop

October 9-10 -- Iowa Genealogical Society Annual Conference, West Des Moines, Iowa ( -- featured speaker: Timothy Pinnock

October 24 -- South Central Minnesota Genealogy Expo, Mankato, Minnesota( -- featured speaker J. H. Fonkert.

These are small, friendly conferences where you get the chance to get to know the speakers and other conference attendees. Make one of these meetings part of your Family History Month.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Internet is not a Source

I do a lot of genealogy teaching and lecturing, and develop three or four new talks each year. The past week, I've been preparing a talk on using the internet to find ancestral origins. It sounded like a marketable topic -- something that would appeal to a broad audience. It's also one of the most difficult talks I've ever prepared. We often hear genealogy lectures on types of genealogy sources -- the census, vital records, immigration and naturalization records. This talk isn't about any one type of record, but rather about a place where we find and view information.

The internet is not a source. It is more like a library or achive -- a vast depository of both junk and gems. We find many kinds of sources posted to the internet:
  • published material (much of it "self-published)
  • transcriptions and extractions from original sources
  • digital images of original sources (both primary and secondary)

We use these materials with the same care we exercise when examinng material from traditional "non-virtual" sources.

No one, with the possible exception of Cyndi (, can keep up with everything on the internet, just like no one can know about every source in every library or archive. But, we can be smart about search strategies. That, I have decided, is the key point of my new lecture.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Low Dutch Colony of Kentucky

They say you're not much if you're not Dutch. Well, I think that's probably a bit of an exaggeration, but it is a good thing to be Dutch. My Dutch ancestors settled in the 19th-Century Iowa Dutch colonies at Pella and Orange City. Yours perhaps went to Michigan or Chicago, or maybe Wisconsin. I think of the Midwest Dutch as the "New Dutch." That would make the 17th-Century Dutch in New York the "Old Dutch."

I don't have any "Old Dutch" ancestry, but I've become particularly interested in a slice of the New York-Pennsylvania-New Jersey Dutch who struck out for Kentucky in the 1880s. They formed a tight-knit colony in Mercer County, Kentucky, not far from the better known Shaker community at Pleasant Hill (to which a few Dutch defected). A group of descendants from this so-called "Low Dutch" colony is holding its third Dutch Cousins Gathering September 23-27 in Harrodsburg.

I'm going to attend. Why? Because I have been researching an elusive Methodist minister who married a daughter of the Dutch Cozine family about 1817. I don't know where John Fawkner was born, but he was married at least once before he married Ida Cozine. The Fawkner-Cozine marriage apparently didn't end very happily. I suspect religion might have played a part. At any rate, on my way to the Dutch Cousins reunion, I'm going to spend some time in the Kentucky state archives researching Ida's divorce suit against John.