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.

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