Monday, January 7, 2013

Katharyn Fawkner and the Fountain of Youth

I will be lecturing on a favorite topic next week at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy.  A core challenge in genealogical research is establishing certain identity. I will be discussing several examples of differentiating or merging identities. One case involves a woman with no known descendants, Katharyn Fawkner.

For ages, people (especially women?) have found it convenient to trim a few years off their age. A friend of mine -- a longtime Minnesota State Demographer -- used to joke that demographers have determined that, on average, people age about a year every 12 months.  But, we genealogists often find ancestors who aged only seven or eight years between decennial censuses.

At the time of the 1880 U.S. Census, G. S. Fawkner of St. Paul, Minnesota, had three daughters, the youngest being "M. Kate," age 3. All three were still at home in 1885, when the Minnesota census listed "Kate," age 8.  Kate, 17, was enumerated with her parents in Minneapolis in 1895. Kate was aging at a pretty normal rate.

But, as she approached adulthood, time started to slow down. A Civil War pension file revealed that Kate's father died in San Francisco in 1897 while traveling. Three years later, the 1900 U.S. census found his widow and daughter, "Catherine Faulkner," in San Francisco; the census reported that Catherine was born in Indiana in May 1879.  This was seemingly a slight understatement of her age, but no problem.

Time continued to slow. The 1910 U.S. census found mother and daughter in Chicago. "Katherine M." was 28, implying an 1881-82 birthdate. This was still not alarming for a young, single woman possibly hoping for a husband.

Katharyn seems to have evaded the census enumerator in 1920 and 1930, but I picked up her trail in passenger records. She traveled to Europe at least three times during the 1930s, using passport no. 287,505. The 1930 passport application file was in the name of Katharyn Fawkner, who claimed she was born 8 May 1883 in Indianapolis; she said her father was George S. Fawkner. George's daughter had trimmed six years from her true age. She was really 53, but said she was only 47. She may have used a dated photograph to bolster her claim.

Births were not registered in Hendricks County, Indiana, when Katharyn was born about 1877. When she applied for her passport, an associate of her deceased father entered an affidavit supporting her birth date. Her passport was now an "official" record of her birth, and she appears to have used the 1883 birth date the rest of her life.  Katharyn's death certificate repeats the claim that she was born 8 May 1883. The woman that traveled to Europe in the 1930 was the 3-year old girl living in Minnesota in 1880.

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