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.