Thursday, May 14, 2015

Chapter 5: Fawkner? Faulkner? Fortner? or Was it Faught?

I will start this week with a bit of a spoiler alert. We usually put quite a lot of trust in obituaries because we assume a family member who knew the score provided the information. Or not.

 If you've been with us the past few weeks, you know that Ann Fawkner married Wesley Sears in 1841 in Hendricks County, Indiana. We first encountered Ann and Wesley in the 1850 U.S. Census, and from probate and guardianship records determined that James C. Fawkner was a son from Ann's first marriage to John C. Fawkner.  You might also remember that the family name has appeared in at least three spellings: Fawkner, Faulkner, and Fortner.

 Republican (3 January 1895, p. 7) reported that Ann died "of the weaknesses of old age." A pioneer of the county, she had settled in Hendricks County in 1831. This is true: John C. Fawkner bought government land there in 1831. The obituary continued: "She was twice married, her first husband was John Faught." A Hendricks County death certificate did not ask for a spouse's name.
By the time of the 1860 Census, Ann was a widow; Wesley had died in 1859. Ann lived another 35 years. An obituary in the Danville (Ind.)

Faught? Surely the newspaper editor heard the name incorrectly. But, we are genealogists, right? So, we decided to check-out this John Faught guy. Well, there was, indeed, a John Faught in the neighborhood. In 1850 a 22 year-old John B. Faught lived with his apparent father, Paul Faught, in Marion Township -- the same township where the Sears-Fawkner family lived. Between 1831 and 1837, Faught purchased government land in sections 30, 31, 32, 33, and 34.  John C. Fawkner's four purchases were in section 25 and 36, making Fawkners and Faughts near neighbors.

The problem is that Ann married Wesley Sears, and was still married to him when he died in 1859. In 1860, 1870, and 1880, she still lived with one or more of her children from the Sears marriage. John Faught married Mary Pierson 13 September 1855 in Hendricks County. They were enumerated together in 1870. He died before 1880, when Mary was living with her brother's family in Center Township.

Clearly, the obituary was incorrect.  Ann Sears had not previously been married to John Faught; the person giving the news to the newspaper might have been confused. Two of Ann's four sons had died; the other two were not living near Danville. It is thought that her daughter was deceased -- at least, she has not been located in the 1880 census or later.  Likely, the informant was from the Sears family, none of whom would have had any first-hand memory of John Fawkner, who had died in 1839. Possibly, the informant was Ann's granddaughter, Ida, who lived about 25 miles away in Indianapolis. We will meet Ida next week. 

The informant is not known, but one thing is certain: Ann's first husband had been dead nearly 55 years when Ann died. There was a Faught family in the neighborhood. It is not surprising that the informant confused John Faught with John Fawkner.

LESSON: Information from any source can be wrong. Always think about who the informant  might have been and consider whether the informant was likely to have known the facts. A confused informant leads to confused evidence.

A bigger surprise is coming next week when we will ask the real Fawkner family to stand up.

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