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?
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.
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.