Thursday, August 27, 2015

Chapter 20: Doubling Back to the Montrose Graveyard

Note: This post is revised from the author's article that appeared in The New Montrose Journal, 7:4 (June 2011), p. 3 and was reprinted in the Keokuk (IA) Daily Gate, 19 May 2011, p. 5.

You may recall that the story of James C. Fawkner's life passed through the quiet Mississippi River town of Montrose, Iowa (see Chapters 8 and 9).

The satellite view of Montrose on Google Maps on my computer screen looks much like what I saw a a few years ago from 30,000 feet on a flight from Memphis to Minneapolis-St. Paul. I see a pleasant-looking town with a square-grid street layout fronting on the Mississippi River. On the north side of town, I see the roof-top of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. What I can not see is a gravestone that helped solve a family history puzzle.

I had never seen Montrose from ground-level, but I knew I needed to visit. As I knew then, and you know now, my wife's second-great-grandfather, James Fawkner, lived in Montrose from about 1856 to 1860. He and his wife Elizabeth lived next door to river pilot William Owens. As you also know, after his first wife died in the early 1850s in Hendricks County, Indiana, he remarried to Elizabeth Stephens, and the couple set out for Montrose.

Why Montrose? A look back to the 1850 U.S. Census gave a clue. James Fawkner had an older stepbrother, Cornelius Fawkner. Cornelius had been born about 1822 from one of their father’s previous marriages in Kentucky (see blogger's article in National Genealogical Society Quarterly, 99 (September 2011), 165-84). Cornelius Fawkner (spelled “Faulkner” in the census) was living in Montrose in 1850. He was a boatman living with – yes the same William Owens, a carpenter at this point in time.

Cornelius Fawkner had married Elizabeth Kite in Hendricks County, Indiana, in 1841. Oddly, with the appearance of Cornelius’ half-brother James in Montrose in 1856, I lost track of Cornelius and Elizabeth. (I later learned that Cornelius died in the 1860s in St. Louis, where he was a river boat pilot).

I knew that Cornelius’ Fawkner’s mother was Ida Cozine, whose family was part of what is known as the “Kentucky Low Dutch.” My curiosity about Montrose went up a notch when I attended the 2009 “Dutch Cousins” gathering in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. There, I met Linda Hayes of Montrose. Linda’s family was descended from the Low Dutch.

I have since learned that a handful of Dutch families – notably the Dorland and van Arsdal families – had settled in or near Montrose. I began to wonder about possible relationships between the Fawkners and these Montrose families. So, in April 2011 I posted an article on this blog (in its formerly active days) about some Dutch families that migrated from Kentucky to Montrose in the 1840s and 1850s.

The Internet connects people with common interests at warp speed. The next day, I got a phone call from a Montrose history buff who had seen my blog. She was Barbara Macleish, who lives just a few miles across the Mississippi from me in Minneapolis. She knew about Fawkners in Montrose. She told an amazing story about the St. Barnabus graveyard stones having been removed some 40 years ago and mostly lost. Then a few years ago, four stones were found under a row of trees near the old graveyard (which existed before St. Barnabas was established). Barbara put me in touch with Mary Sue Chatfield, a Montrose resident who had photographed the gravestones. It was my good fortune that one of the four stones reads:

Wife of
July 15, 1850

Elizabeth had died six weeks before the census-taker visited on August 28. I now knew a little bit more about the life of Cornelius Fawkner. I still didn’t (and still don't) know if he and Elizabeth had any children.

I did know, however, that I needed to visit Montrose to see the place that young Cornelius and James Fawkner brought their families. Although I had missed Montrose, I had been to Lee County before. In one of those serendipitous twists of family history, ancestors on both my and my wife’s side of the family passed through Lee County in the mid-1800s. My Romkey and Gerloff ancestors spent time a few miles north on either side of the Skunk River. So, Lee County has a strong family history pull for both my wife and me.

I have now been to Montrose, where Mary Sue and her husband gave me a grand tour around the small, history-rich community across the river from Nauvoo. And, I now have my own photographs of Elizabeth's grave -- not as good as Mary Sue's.  Elizabeth Kite Fawkner is not related to me.  She is only distantly related by marriage to my wife, but she has given me one of my most memorable family history research experiences.

The blogger will be vacationing next week in an Internet wilderness, so this blog will also take a one-week vacation. The anticipated next post will be September 10.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Chapter 19: Seeing the Forest, not just the Trees

If you've been with us from the start some four months ago, you have gotten a close-up picture of the James and Julia Ann Fawkner family. You've learned the details, as best we know them at this time, of James' and his children's lives. More research will produce more details, but it is time to step back and look at the big picture.  It is time to describe the forest, not just the trees.

This can be a challenge for detail-oriented genealogists. Those family members around the Thanksgiving table don't always want all the details. They want to know the essence of the family.

This research adventure started with the biographical memorial booklet prepared for Elizabeth Ann Fawkner's funeral in 1952. It pointed to the Fawkner family in Arcola, Illinois. A little census sleuthing took the family back to Boone County, Missouri, where James had married Julia Ann Angell in 1862. This was pretty basic family history research, but it soon became evident that the story was not quite so simple.

  • James was over 30 when he married Julia Ann. Might he have been previously married?
  • Living with the family in Missouri in 1870 was Ann Sears, 21 years older than James and 34 years older than Julia. Was she related? (Remember, the census did not record family relationships until 1880).
  • An affidavit in James Fawkner's Civil War pension file mentioned the funeral of a first wife in Indiana. Who was she? Were there any children?
  • A probate file for James' son Fred indicated that Fred (deaf himself) had a deaf half-sister. Was she a child from the first, or other previous, marriage?
 If James' life could be placed in a nutshell, the story would be something like this. At age 10, James' life changed forever when his father died in 1839 on the Indiana prairie. After his mother remarried, he had three full brothers, one full sister, and xxx half-siblings. Raised in a blended family, James married his stepfather's daughter (from a previous marriage). She soon died and James remarried to Elizabeth Stephens and went west to the Mississippi River town of Montrose, Iowa, where Josephine and Ida were born. The marriage fell apart, James abandoned wife and daughters, and went back to Indiana, where he enlisted in the Civil War. The war took him to Missouri, where he married the "girl at the top of the stairs," but it also took him to a Confederate prisoner of war camp. James and Julia went back east to Arcola, Illinois, where James struggled with poor health and died a poor man.

James and Julia's childrens' lives also took unexpected twists and turns.

Robert Grant moved around working for the railroad. He  married a divorcee in 1895, but the couple separated before 1920 and lived hundreds of miles apart.  He had no known children.
  • Julia married George Watson, an Arcola man, in Colorado. They spent time in Indiana and back in Illinois, before farming in northeastern Minnesota. As was well until their son, Fred, was asphyxiated while taking a bath in his Uncle Cyrus' home and the daughter died just months after marrying.
  • Cyrus attended the Illinois Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and took up barbering in Duluth, Minnesota. Having moved to Minneapolis, he endured the tragedy of his nephew's death. His marriage might also have had a few bumps -- afterall, he advertised in a Denver newspaper for an eligible young woman -- marriage intended -- in 1922.
  • Elizabeth Ann married an Arcola man, Frank Ehlenbach. They were the first of the family to settle in the Duluth-Superior area. There marriage also frayed; they lived apart in 1920 and 1940 with Elizabeth stating she was a widow.
  • James Henry married in Superior, Wisconsin, in 1900, but his marriage soon failed. He moved to California, remarried, and worked in a variety of sales jobs until establishing a liquor business. Census evidence suggests he also separated from his wife.
  • Frederick Perkins was perhaps the star of the family. Deaf, like his brother Cyrus, he also attended the Illinois deaf school, where he learned the photography trade. He worked in studios across the eastern U.S., before dying in Virginia. He, too, late in life seems to have separated from his wife.
One might conclude that this family was not good at marriage. However, that would be too judgmental. We have no first-hand knowledge of events. We don't know what personal circumstances or challenges might explain events. Surely there were many more positive life stories that we simply don't know about. The problem for a family history researcher is, perhaps, that negative events are more likely to leave records, creating an unbalanced view of past lives. If there is a lesson in the Fawkner family story, it is perhaps that life could be messy -- even in the 19th century.

 But, wait, you say. What about Ida and Josephine -- the daughters of James and his second wife, Elizabeth Stephens? I am going to hold their stories back for a while. When we get back to them, their lives will only reinforce the theme. Families are complicated; each person has their own story, and that story can be amusing, inspirational, or tragic.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Chapter 18: Man of some Mystery: Robert Grant Fawkner

Finally, we take up the first-born child of James and Julia Fawkner. Robert Grant Fawkner was born 10 August 1863 in Boone County, Missouri; might his middle name have honored Ulysses S. Grant?

Like his surviving brothers and sisters, he passed through the Duluth-Superior nexus. And, like his siblings, his life journey hit a few bumps along the way.  In 1889, when he was 26, he was a railroad conductor in Indianapolis -- about 20 miles east of his father's hometown of Danville. Indeed, living at the same address was his father, James C. Fawkner, who would die within the year. Nearby in Indianapolis was James' brother (Robert Grant's uncle), John E. Fawkner.

Robert Grant Fawkner of Arcola married Nellie B. (Marion) Brown of Upper Alton 23 October 1895 in Madison County, Illinois. Things had happened quickly. A one-paragraph story in the Alton (Ill.) Evening Telegraph (26 October 1895, p. 5)  reported that Nellie had within the week received a divorce from Richard Brown and had on Thursday married Robert Grant Fawkner of Arcola. Nellie brought to the marriage a son, Garnett, from her marriage to Richard Brown. The family made its home in East St. Louis.

The family seems to have escaped the census-taker in 1900. Grant, as he was known in the family, still worked for the railroads. A 1908 directory of East St. Louis, Illinois, listed Robert G. Fawkner as a railroad switchman. The 1910 census listed R. G. Faulkner, 46, a railroad switchman, Nellie, 40, and a son Garnett, 17, at the same address. The census incorrectly reported Grant’s birth place as Illinois. Robert Fawkner, a 42-year old conductor from East St. Louis, was injured in a January 1910 accident on the Indiana Harbor Bell Railroad.

Genealogists sometimes get tripped up by the "same name, different man" problem. What follows could  be such a case.  On 5 September 1908, Mary E. Fawkner filed a petition for divorce from Robert Fawkner; the couple had lived together three years. Four months later, it was reported: "In the circuit court Thursday morning Mary E. Fawkner was granted a divorce from Robert G. Fawkner" (Decatur Herald, 6 September 1908, p. 7 and Decatur Daily Review, 21 January 1909, p. 11). The Fawkner name is unusual; might this have been Robert Grant Fawkner? If so, his life story just got more confusing. Remember, he had married Nellie Brown in 1895. While not found in the 1900 census, the family appeared intact in East St. Louis in 1910. Did something go wrong with the marriage between 1895 and 1910 -- something wrong enough to make room for a second Robert Grant Fawkner marriage?

In 1910, the divorced woman, Mary E. Fawkner, was head of household in Macon County, Illinois; Also in the household was a son, Lester, 24, and a sister, Lena combs, 42. Lester was probably actually Mary's brother. Lester and Mary were son and daughter of N. C. Combs in 1900 in Macon County. Already, in 1900, Mary E. Fawkner was listed as divorced -- remember, the divorce was apparently not official until 1909. No Combs-Fawkner marriage record has been found (an online Illinois marriage index only goes forward to 1900). Nothing can be concluded until a marriage record or court divorce file is found and examined, but because no other Robert Fawkner can be found in the vicinity, the man Mary divorced might be our man.

Whatever had happened earlier, something might have gone awry with the Fawkner-Brown marriage by 1920 when Nellie was living with her son in Leyden, Cook County, Illinois. Several hundred miles away, Robert G. Fawkner was living with his sister and brother-in-law (George Watson) in Carlton County, Minnesota. He was a "checker" for the railroad. Now a farmer, he lived next door to the Watsons in 1930; Nellie and Garnett still lived in Leyden. Grant continued to live in Carlton County in 1940.  His stepson, now married, lived in Leyden. Garnett's mother, Nellie, had died in 1935.

Robert Grant Fawkner's life remains mostly mystery. As best is known, he had no children -- no descendants with stories to tell. Like his siblings, he seems to have encountered marital problems. He apparently remained close to his sister, Julia. As always, more research might yield a clearer picture of his life.

LESSONS: First, this post reminds me of one of the benefits of writing a narrative account of what I know. It made me aware that there are some unsolved riddles in Robert Grant's life that beg for more research. Second, after writing about each of James and Julia Fawkner's children, I recognize the need to step back and look at the big-picture story of the family. I will try to do that next week.

Newspaper image: Alton Evening Telegraph (Alton, Illinois), 26 October 1895, p. 5; digital image,, accessed 12 August 2015.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Chapter 17: James Henry -- Waiter, Used Car Salesman, Liquor Dealer

James Henry, sometimes known as just Henry or Harry, born in Illinois about 1877, was the eighth child of James and Julia Fawkner. Little is known of his early years, but like several of his siblings, he made his way to the head of Lake Superior. His sister, Elizabeth, and Frank Ehlenbach had moved to Duluth, Minnesota, by 1892 (see Chapter 16). By 1895, Henry was  at 1316 Tower Avenue in Superior, Wisconsin. He seems to have bounced back and forth between Superior and Duluth before settling into a restaurant waiter job in Duluth. 

The 1896-97 Duluth city directory found Henry “Faulkner” rooming at 318 6th Ave. W.  He was a waiter at Boyle Brothers Saloon and Restaurant. An 1898 newspaper article reported that "Mr. Barnidge, formely of the Hotel Northern, and Mr. Fawkner, late of Boyle Bros., Duluth have purchased the Hopkins restaurant [in Superior], and with their extensive experience are conducting a first-class house" (The Labor World, 1 October 1898, p. 3, viewed at

In any event, Fawkner seems to have soon returned to Boyle Brothers, where the 1898-99 directory listed him as head-waiter. Frank Ehlenbach had also been a waiter at Boyle Brothers. A young, single man, he stayed close to family. In 1896-7 he lived with the Frank Ehlenbach family. The following year, the city directory listed him at the same address as his brother-in-law George Watson. In 1900, was still a waiter; his brother, Fred, the recent graduate of the Illinois Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, was rooming with him at 120 W. 4th. St.

He did not stay settled. A short newspaper story reported that James Henry Fawkner, “formerly in business here, but now in Eveleth, Minnesota,” married Ernestine Sampson at Sacred Heart Church in Superior, Wisconsin, 23 August 1899. The couple planned to live in Eveleth after a short trip “south." (Duluth News Tribune, 24 August 1899, p. 8, col. 6).

Henry has not been located in the 1900 census, and is not listed in Duluth directories after 1900. However, he was still in northeastern Minnesota. James H. Fawkner declared bankruptcy in December 1900. By 1904 he was employed as a waiter in Minneapolis.

The Fawkner-Sampson marriage may have already foundered.  Ernestine Fawkner Sampson married Frances M. McAdams in Detroit in 1908. Henry may have already been in California. He was probably the James Harry Fawkner, a waiter, who was registered to vote in San Francisco in 1908. He might have gone to the Bay Area to be near an aunt who had moved there from Minnesota after her husband, George S. Fawkner, died in San Francisco. It's a long story, and can't be told here -- at least not, now.

As a resident of Oakland, James Harry Fawkner applied for a license to marry Mae Kehoe 12 April 1909 in Solano County, California. Was this the man from who married Ernestine Sampson in Minnesota? Yes, the marriage license stated that he was 33 and born in Illinois. By 1910, the couple had slipped down the coast to Los Angeles where James H. Fawkner was enumerated with a wife, Mayme, born in Canada. The told the census-taker they had been married eight years. Hmm?

Ironically, Ernestine Sampson and Mae Kehoe were possibly both born in Canada. Mae was probably the Mae F. Kehoe, 20, reported born in Michigan, daughter of Thomas F. and Mary Kehoe in 1900 in Detroit -- where Henry's first wife had remarried in 1908. Perhaps, Henry/Harry had followed Ernestine to Detroit, where instead of reconciling with Ernestine, he made the acquaintance of Mae.

The Fawkners lived at 611 W. Pico in Los Angeles in 1910. The city directory listed Mayme Fawkner as a milliner. The 1912-1915 directories listed James H. Fawkner engaged in the Cameron and Fawkner garage on W. Pico. His World War I draft registration stated that James Henry Fawkner was a machinist.. By 1921, he was in the used car business.

James Henry's second marriage probably had ended by 1930, when the U.S. Census enumerated May Fawkner as a widowed head of household in Los Angeles. She was not a widow. James Henry continued to appear in city directories through the 1930s. Several directories listed him as a salesman. The 1940 and 1941 directories placed him in "liquors." Indeed, a  niece who died recently in Hawaii told of going west from Minnesota less than a week before her uncle's death to care for him. James Henry Fawkner died 25 April 1942 in Los Angeles. He left his liquor business to the niece. As best is known, James Henry had no children. Mae Fawkner died 23 March 1937 in Los Angeles.

LESSON: When something doesn't seem right in a marriage, track down both parties. People, especially women, did not always tell the truth about their marital status.