Thursday, April 14, 2011

Braided Migration: Fawkners and Low Dutch

When I teach about migration, I like to compare migration streams to braided streams. Most maps of migration routes show generalized migration streams along major routes. These maps give us an idea of the major flows, but don't tell us much about individual families.

The reality is that individual families, while following the general flow, often diverted from these major routes. They wandered off the main flow, but still moved "downstream" in the same general direction, often returning to the main stream further on -- much like a river spread outs into several smaller streams that diverge and converge in a flood plain. If you are having trouble visualizing this, you might want to look at an aerial photograph of a braided stream -- you will find many on Google Images.

One of my favorite migration stories involves a New York Dutch community that spread to southeastern Pennsylvania, and then transplanted itself from Conewego, Pennsylvnia, to Kentucky around 1780. (You can read about the Kentucky Low Dutch at The Low Dutch community held together in Kentucky for several decades before the lure of western lands pulled many families away. A sizable contingent moved northwest into Indiana.

Hendricks County, Indiana, is where I picked up the trail of John C. Fawkner. He died there in 1839, leaving behind his wife Ann Faulconer and her five children, including James C. Fawkner, who will reappear shortly. All was well, until a reading of John's probate revealed apparent heirs from earlier marriages, including a son named Cornelius.

To make a long story a bit shorter, I was able to establish that John C. Fawkner married Ida Cozine in 1817 in Mercer County, Kentucky. Ida's father was Cornelius Cozine of the Low Dutch community. (A more complete account of this story will hopefully appear in print later this year).

Hendrick County court records included an 1846 indenture in which Cornelius Fawkner of Lee County, Iowa, released his claim to his father's land in Indiana. In short order, I found Cornelius in the Mississippi River town of Montrose, where he lived with the William Owens family in 1850. I always look a few pages forward and backward in the census, and in this case, I found a William Dorland family two pages earlier. I knew that the Kentucky Low Dutch included Dorlands, and wondered what was going on. I surmised that Cornelius was somehow acquainted with the Dorlands through the Low Dutch. Another researcher threw cold water on the idea, noting that Cornelius Fawkner was born in Indiana and the Dorlands in New York. I'm still not sure who the Dorlands were; I think they might have been the William Dorland, aged 50-60, with an apparent wife aged 40-50, living in King's County (Brooklyn), New York, in 1840.

But, I knew something the other researcher didn't know: Cornelius was born in Kentucky, almost certainly to John C. Fawkner and Ida Cozine. I also knew he was a half-brother of James C. Fawkner, who showed up in the same small Iowa town in 1856. Living where? Next door to the same William Owens family that Cornelius lived with.

Was this mere coincidence or something more? I started to think "more" when I noticed John Vanarsdal, his wife Mary, and an apparent widow Ann Vanarsdal, as well as the David Westerfield family living in Montrose in 1856. The Vanarsdals and Westerfields were also from the Kentucky Low Dutch community. Also in Montrose in 1856 was the Henry Vanarsdale family from Ohio. As I was writing this blog, I received an email from Low Dutch researcher Carolyn Leonard noting that some Conewego Low Dutch families opted out of the Kentucky migration and instead went to Warren, Preble and Butler Counties in Ohio. In fact, the Henry Vanarsdale family was in Preble County, Ohio, in 1850.

Despite their variant migration paths, I have little doubt that these families were all connected in some way. I know a few things: John Vanarsdal's wife Mary was a Westerfield; her sister Ann (the Montrose widow) married, first, Peter Vanarsdal, and second, Isaac Vanarsdal; and their father was James Cozine Westerfield. They all were of the Mercer County Low Dutch. They surely knew, or were related to, Ida Cozine's family.

I have not been able to unravel the whole story, but I have a hypothesis. Ida Cozine won a divorce from John C. Fawkner in 1826. From trial testimony, I know she had two young children, but I don't know what happened to Ida or the children after the divorce. Ida might have remarried, or died young; another Low Dutch family might have taken her children in. Ida's brother married Phebe Vanarsdal. Based on all this, I suspect Cornelius Fawkner went to Montrose because families close to his mother Ida were there. He may have been related to the Dorlands, Vanarsdals, or Westerfields, but I don't yet know how.

I'm not sure what path the Dorlands took from New York to Iowa, but the odds of them accidentally landing in the same small Mississippi River town as Cornelius Fawkner, the Vanarsdals, and the Westerfields are too rare for it to be mere coincidence. As good genealogists, we know that coincidence is not sufficient proof of association or relationship, but in this case, the explanation probably lies in something more than chance. I think we have a migration resembling a braided stream.

Note: This essay is not intended as a genealogical report meeting citation and proof standards of the profession. Researchers interested in sources for this essay are invited to contact the author.

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