Thursday, March 31, 2016

George Fawkner -- Was he Entrepreneurial or just Unsettled?

George S. Fawkner is one of my favorite characters. To the best of my knowledge, he has no descendants, but I think end-of-line characters are worth remembering. After all, George had nephews, nieces and cousins, and he was part of their lives.

I like George partly for his middle name: Spencer. It's completely unimportant that you know this, but I think I like the name because I was born in Spencer, Iowa. George used his middle initial "S." religiously, but the only record I have seen giving the name Spencer is his widow's application for his Civil War pension, in which she swore that she was “the widow of George Spencer Fawkner who was enrolled under the name George S. Fawkner. The origin of the name is no mystery, however.  He was named after his mother's brother, Spencer Faulconer.

As last week's post revealed, George had tried harness-making and had a shaking law enforcement career in Illinois and Indiana after the Civil War. By 1880, the family was in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where the census stated he was a merchant "taking coal." He presumably moved to Minnesota after 1877, because his 3-year old daughter, M. Kate, had been born in Indiana. The family’s 1880 residence was apparently a multi-family dwelling with a half dozen families. Among them were printers, dressmakers, merchants and teachers; a couple of families had young female servants.

The first evidence placing the Fawkners in St. Paul was an entry in the “Removals, Alterations and Omissions” section of the 1879-80 city directory listing with the firm of “Bendre & Fawkner.” Bendre and Fawkner’s line of work remains uncertain.  No other mention of a Bendre has been found in city directories or the census, but Louis and Fritz Bender were tailors. The 1880-81 city directory hints at tailoring, placing George in the sewing machine trade, while wife Mary was engaged in millinery with her niece Miss A. D. Walker.

1883 St. Paul, MN, City Directory, p. 537.
George soon switched to the travel agency business.  Directories from 1884 to 1888-89 listed George Fawkner working for a travel agency, Matheny, Haney & Co. The family moved frequently, living at 286 Pleasant St. in 1884-85, and at 378 N. Franklin by 1888-89. Was George simply drifting from one trade to another, or making real financial progress?  A clue on the side of progress is the 1891-92 city directory, which identified him as the U.S. Government Inspector of Surveys. The family was now living at a fashionable address on St. Paul’s Cathedral Hill: 686 Dayton Avenue. A government job may have led to political connections, or possibly connections led to the job.  At any rate, George’s daughter Fairibelle captured the heart of Herbert C. Braden, the son of the Minnesota State Auditor.  They were married in October 1892.

Earlier, in 1887, daughter Jennie had married Thomas Parker Pease. Jennie died only 15 months later from complications of a premature birth. No surviving children are known. Thomas was boarding with the Fawkners on Dayton Ave. in 1889-90 and 1890-91. By 1893, Pease had moved to a downtown dwelling. 

The 1894 St. Paul directory reported that George Fawkner had moved to Minneapolis. The 1896-96 Minneapolis directory found George S. Fawkner still working as a travel agent and living at 118 E. 14th St. The 1895 Minnesota census recorded George’s family at 112 E. 14th St., but the state census did not record occupation. Likely, either the census or city directory made an error in recording the house number.

The duration of George Fawkner's tenure as Inspector of Surveys is uncertain, but as newspaper accounts from across the western United States attest, the job took him far from home on long train journeys. Local papers commonly made note that the Inspector was in town on official business. George might even have made a little money on the side. An Ogden, Utah, jeweler advertised he had for sale a quantity of opals acquired from George Fawkner, the U.S. Inspector of Surveys.
The Standard (Ogden, UT), 1 April 1893

Was this a case of entrepreneurial spirit, of a case of a man who had a hard time settling down? Since George's last descendant died in 1954, there are no stories to illuminate the evidence. Next week's post will take up George's last journey.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

George Settles -- Sort of

George Fawkner's adventures were only just beginning. Back home in Hendricks County after the Civil War, George and his brother Cyrus went into the harness-making business. Between November 1865 and January 1866, the IRS assessment lists included C.W. and G. S. Fawkner in a harness manufacturing business in Danville.

In February 1866, George married his former school-mate Mary C. Burks. The wedding was at her father’s home near Danville. By 1870, George and Mary, with daughters Jennie, 3, and Ferris, 1, were in Tuscola, the county seat of Douglas County, Illinois. Both daughters were born in Illinois, so George and Mary presumably made the move 80 miles west soon after their marriage.

Here is where the fun starts. The 1870 U.S. Census stated that George's occupation was "Depty Shff" -- deputy sheriff. I have no idea what his qualifications were. By 1874, George was back in Indianapolis, where the city directory listed him in the coal business. But, law enforcement must have still called him. In January 1875, the Indianapolis News reported that he was collecting bills for the sheriff's office.

All may have been well and good, but by June things turned sour. On 17 June 1875, the Indianapolis Sentinel reported: "The demolition of a house occupied by George Fawkner, on Massachusetts Avenue, yesterday, gave rise to one of the liveliest free fights, or rather series of them, that has enlivened that vicinity for a long time." When George returned home that evening, he found the house being torn down.

He ordered them to desist and encouraged them to come down by propelling brick bats at them. Just as Fawkner heaved a well burnt bat at an Ethiopian on the roof, which missed him by a hairs breadth, Shover [owner of the house] replied with another piece of clay and being the better marksman, struck Fawkner on the shoulder. The latter got his innings, however, when he wrested the second missile out of Shover's hand, and worked it with good effect on his enemy's head.

The next day, the Indianapolis News identified George as "one of the Sheriff's baliffs." He had been arrested for the brickbat incident and now, at the courthouse no less, "severely assaulted" the contractor.  Mused the News, "it is well to inquire of the Sheriff if private citizens cannot transact business in his office without danger of attack from bailiffs whose duty it is to preserve the peace, not to break it in this outrageous fashion. If these are the sort of men to act as officers people ought to know it."

This may partly explain why George was soon off to Saint Paul, Minnesota, where in 1880 he was a merchant "taking coal."

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Vernal Equinox Musings

The vernal equinox is upon us. The sun will sun due west -- if I'm not mistaken, everywhere on earth this evening (I guess somewhere far the the east it is already on its way down).  Every place will have 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of dark -- possibly give or take a few minutes because of orbital anomalies I don't understand.

So, while I should probably be working on my regular Thursday blog, it seems a good morning to break away from the usual and share a few fun experiences of the past several days.

First, this past week I had the pleasure of speaking about writing in a webinar for the Writer's Special Interest Group of the Association of Professional Genealogists. We talked about how editors help broker the idea exchange between authors and readers.  What a nice group of writers and aspiring writers this is. I'm going to join the SIG. If you are an APG member and an aspiring writer, I recommend you do the same.

Second, this morning I found a very nice comment on my March 10 post ("My Favorite Question -- Why There?). The commenter shared that she also is intrigued with what I call geo-genealogy -- why ancestors did what they did where they did them. I enjoyed the story she related about her grandmother's body was transported from the Oregon Coast to Idaho for burial.

Finally, I received an interesting email that I nearly overlooked. The email was titled "Erik Andersson and More" -- which should have immediately grabbed my interest, but that I at first took as likely spam. The first sentence read "Today -19th March 2016 -- is the 130th anniversary of Erik Andersson's birth." Then it clicked: Erik Andersson was the Swedish-American farmer who applied for citizenship in Ringgold County, Iowa, the same day as my grandfather. The email writer is Erik's granddaughter. She had stumbled across my 19 November 2015 post. She said she learned from my blog things she had not known about her grandfather. In turn, she told me a few things I did not know. Most fun for me, she recalled memories of places in the small Iowa town where my grandfather lived -- the same places and people I remember from the 1950s.

Mornings like this make me glad that I am blogging regularly about family history. The clock is ticking, but I do hope to post my regular blog at its usual time later in the week. I will be picking up the story of George Fawkner after her came home from the Civil War.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Fawkner, by George!

A quick reminder... I am glad you are reading my blog, but I am writing these posts at least partly for myself. They are a way for me to informally gather together some of what I have learned of the Fawkner, Fonkert, Zorgdrager, Tidball, Morstad, and other families. These posts are not intended, and should not be used, as research reports. While I try to generally identify major sources within the narrative, I do not fully cite sources. Readers may contact me for more information.

I haven't even started with the Tidballs or Morstads, but it is time to get back to the Fawkners, by George! If you'd like to review, the Fawkners took center stage in this blog between April and October 2015.

Over those six months, we focused on the family of James C. Fawkner (1829-1889). Born in Kentucky, James was the oldest of the five children of John C. Fawkner and Ann B. Faulconer. George S. Fawkner, born 23 May 1839 in Hendricks County, Indiana, was the youngest. He never knew his father, who died a few weeks earlier. George's middle name, Spencer, came from his mother's brother, Spencer Faulconer.

George S. Fawkner, Indiana Historical Society
George came of age just in time to go to war. This is, of course, fortuitous for a family history researcher because of the records the war generated. Beyond censuses, most of what is known about George comes from his Civil War pension file.

Immediately before the war in 1860, George was living in the household of Robert Coleman in Kenton County, Kentucky. Why was he there? This is a mystery worth solving because if might give clues to family relationships (George's maternal grandmother was a Coleman); for now, we must let it pass. In any event, George was soon back north of the Ohio River. He enlisted 20 August 1861 in Company H of the 7th Indiana Infantry; he was mustered-in 7 September.

While on detail as a Scout as Strasburg, Virginia, on 20 March 1862, fragments from an exploding shell struck George Fawkner, injuring his right lung and breaking bones in his right hand.  Three months later, during a downhill charge through enemy lines at Port Republic, his frightened horse threw him against a log, causing renewed hemorrhage of his lung.  His reward was a furlough home.

Muster rolls showed him absent July through October, but The Adjutant Generals’ Office reported that George was discharged 6 August 1862 by reason of promotion to 2d lieutenant, Co. E, 8th Kentucky Cavalry Volunteers.  Later corrected records of Company H stated that George Fawkner was discharged at Alexandria. Are you confused? I am.

George resigned from the Kentucky Cavalry 6 December 1862. Back in Hendricks County, IRS tax records indicate that he probably sold horses with his brother Cyrus. Whether business was slack or he just hankered for the army, he was soon back in uniform. He received a $60 bounty and was promoted to 1st Sergeant when he enrolled for a three-year term in Co. L of the 9th Indiana Cavalry at Indianapolis in March 1864.  He gave his residence as Kelso in Dearborn County, just a few miles from the Ohio River and just inside the Indiana-Ohio border where it touches the Ohio River. Kenton County, Kentucky, is just across the river.

George was promoted from 1st Sergeant to 2nd Lieutenant 31 January 1865. During his 1864-65 service, he saw detached duty at Louisville; Rodney, Mississippi, and later with his unit at Vicksburg in March and April of 1865. In March 1864 he was absent buying horses for the Company.

At the end of the War, George was 26 -- perhaps ready to settle down. He did marry, but he didn't settle much. Next week's post will cover the next chapter of his life.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

My favorite question -- "Why There?"

How many times have you heard a curious child ask, "Why?"  I'm afraid I've lost a bit of my innocent childhood curiosity, but in my dotage, my favorite family history question is "Why There?"

We genealogists spend a lot of time on who (names), what (births, marriages, and deaths), when (dates) and where (location). Our databases are full of who, what, when, and where. Those databases don't usually have a place for "Why?" I'm especially interested in migration and the geography of family history. I always wonder: why did they settle there?

  • Why did Johan Månson settle in Iowa? (see November 2015 post)
  • Why did Sipke Zorgdrager immigrate to Stephenson County, Illinois (see March 3, 2016 post)
  • Why did James Fawkner take his young family to Fort Madison, Iowa? (see June 4, 2015 post)
I think this question so enriches family history research that I developing a new lecture titled "Why Were They There" for presentation at the Southern California Genealogical Society's Jamboree in June ( and the Northwest Genealogy Conference in Arlington, Washington, in August (

Probably the two most obvious reasons for an ancestor settling there are livelihood opportunities or friends or relatives who preceded them. Chain migration is classic. One satisfied immigrant from a family, or even an entire village, often became a magnet for many more to follow. The result, especially in the western Midwest and Great Plains, is a map dotted with hundreds of urban neighborhoods and small towns with strong ethnic identities that persist a hundred or more years later.

I am still unsettled about just which case studies I will use in my lecture. Johan Månson, Sipke Zorgdrager, and James Fawkner are all candidates. But, I'm also thinking about why, only a week after his marriage in Bristol, England, John Tidball took his wife to a southern Minnesota farm in 1884. I'm also wondering why a Italian teenager landed in a small town on the North Shore of Lake Superior. And why, my young German great-grandfather went directly to southeast Iowa in 1866.

Perhaps my favorite "why there" story involves a casket. Katharyn Fawkner did in Los Angeles in 1954. The story of how she got from Minnesota to California, which an in-between stop in  Chicago, is a good one. But this is the story about her life after death. You see, her California death certificate stated that burial was in Woodland Cemetery in New York City. Why there? The answer involves a cousin who married into wealth. The story is a bit too involved to tell this week, but if Katharyn's spirit moves me, I might tell it next week. This, of course, also could by my segue way back to the Fawkner family -- a family about which there is so much more to share.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Ikea Effect -- Dutch and Ostfries in Illinois

Picking up where we left off last week... So, Sipke Zorgdrager went to Illinois in 1868 because his sister and brother-in-law had gone the previous year and, presumably, sent back good reports. Of course, the next question is, why did Foppe de Graaf and Jantje Zorgdrager settle at Ridott?

The answer to that question is simple enough. Several Terschelling families had settled in Illinois in 1865. They included Winterberg, A. A. Roos, C. C. Schaap, L. H. Smit, C. Naber, H. P. Kooyman
J. A. Roos, C. R. Buren, and W. W. Brower. Arjen and Jan Roos were brothers. This group appears to be the first significant batch of Terschellingers to leave the island for the Illinois prairie. But, why did they go to Illinois?

The key figure is Winterberg. He was Hendrik Fredrick Theodore Winterberg, a 32 year-old hoofdonderweizer (headmaster). Hendrik Winterberg, a native of Hengelo in the eastern Netherlands province of Overijssel, married Ikea Dirks Ammerman 22 May 1862. You might remember that my great-grandfather Sipke Zorgdrager married Tryntje de Vries exactly one week earlier -- Sipke's marriage registration was no. 9 in 1862; the Winterberg marriage was no. 10.

That is quite a coincidence, but what really matters for this story is what the marriage registration tells about Ikea Ammerman. It recorded that Ikea was born at "Bunder Baulande, ook genaamd Bunderhei, in Hanover" --  Bunder Baulande also known as Bunderhei in Hanover, Germany. It turns out that a handful of Ostfriesen families had emigrated from Germany to the Stephenson County area by 1860. Among the 1864 immigrants arriving at New York on the Bremen was Wubbe Dirks Ammerman -- Ikea's brother. (It is not certain where he settled originally, but he was in Stephenson County in 1880.) This, no doubt, explains why Hendrik Winterberg and Ikea set out for Stephenson County.
S.S. Bremen passenger manifest, New York, 1964
The 1870 census of Ridott and Germany Valley townships found Dutch, including Sipke Zorgdrager, living among families from Hannover and "Os. Friesland." Terschelling is only about a hundred miles down the coast from Ostfriesland (East Friesland), so it should probably not be surprising that the Terschellingers and Ostfries had connections of some sort -- perhaps fishing or some other kind of commerce. The key may have been religion. In 1829, a young Ostfries dominie (minister) was called to the Midsland church on Terschelling. Marten Geerds Polman served at Midsland until his retirement in 1869. Ikea Ammerman was his niece; she had probably come to Terschelling to keep house for her uncle.

Most of the Illinois and Iowa Terschellingers came from the middle part of the island -- Midsland and the small hamlets of Kinnum and Landerum. The first 14 men to leave in 1865 and 1867 were married, with children. After the initial departures, the migrants were a mix of families and single men. The 1868 departures included 11 families and seven single men. The emigrants almost certainly all knew each other. Many were closely related -- often brothers, sisters, or in-laws. Many of them eventually ended up in Sioux County in far northwest Iowa, where my Dutch roots are sunk.