Thursday, April 28, 2016

Gravestones in Grandpa Steve's Briar Tract

The blogger is in Mason, Ohio, awaiting Thursday morning's kick-off to the 2016 Ohio Genealogical Society Conference. This is my fourth appearance at the conference in five years.  My first visit in 2012 was a memorable one -- not just because of the great conference in Cincinnati.

Some 15 years ago, Grandpa Steve posted a story -- part creative writing and part non-fiction -- on an internet website for writers ( He described a walk on a frosty morning from his home on Greens Bottom Road, just north of English, Kentucky, passing under Interstate Highway 71, to the Briar Tract to visit the old Demint Cemetery where his ancestors were buried.  Grandpa Steve's story captured my interest because of the following passage:

The trees may be 100 or 150 years old or even back to 1796 when Jarret Demint cleared this land and built a group of cabins, aided by his brothers-in-law Jacob Lamb, John Faulkner, and Dan Rollins who later had his garden by the pear trees.

It's a long story that needs to be told elsewhere, but John Faulkner was my wife's 3rd-great-grandfather. He is not buried in the Demint Cemetery -- he died in 1839 in Hendricks County, Indiana. But, his first wife (of four) was Elizabeth Nuttal, the daughter of Elijah Nuttal, might have been buried there. Elijah Nuttle owned several hundred acres of land along Mill Creek, where it empties into the Kentucky River. Jacob Lamb, Jarret Demint, and Dan Rollins (Rawlings) were other sons-in-law of Elijah Nuttal. They all received land from Elijah's estate in the late 1790s.

A small piece of the longer story is part of a lecture I am giving Saturday at OGS. For now, let me tell you that during the 2012 conference, I drove to English, Kentucky, in hopes of finding and visiting with Grandpa Steve. I had managed to identify him and locate him from clus in the story he posted on the internet. About half way to English, I tried  calling. I got a "this number has been disconnected" message. I wondered. When I got to Greens Bottom Road, I stopped to ask directions of a couple of older men sitting out front of their house. They told me that Grandpa Steve had died four months earlier. I never got to meet him (I had talked to him on the phone several times). I searched, but could not find the cemetery.

Fast forward to today, 27 April 2016.  We returned to English. Knocked on a few doors. Met Grandpa Steve's cousin, who told us where to look for the cemetery. We found it. Completely overgrown. Muddy and wet from an overnight rain. Fill of thorny brambles. But, I found three stones, including those of James and Elizabeth English -- namesakes of the town. There are supposed to be several more stones there, but I would have needed a machete to find them. Still, it was an amazing experience.

I must stop here. I have much to do before tomorrow's lecture, and the conference center internet is acting up, making it difficult to save this post on Blogspot. I have a great photo of the English stone, but the wireless refuses to upload the image to Blogspot.  I will add it later if I can. (I think I just  managed!) Meanwhile,  I am keeping my fingers crossed that it survives the wireless and publishes as scheduled tomorrow morning. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Case of George -- Wanderlust or Health Tourism?

Even though San Francisco officials had trouble confirming it, George S. Fawkner did die in the city in 1897 (see 14 April 2016 post). His body was shipped to Ontario, California, where he was buried in Bellevue Memorial Park cemetery. You can see photos of two gravemarkers at (memorial no. 20,877,969). A second marker, possibly placed by the Grand Army of the Republic, identifies him as a veteran of Co. H of the 7th Indiana Infantry.

In a future post (next week?), I will explain why George is buried in Ontario, east of Los Angeles. This post takes up the question of why he was on the West Coast at all. As mentioned last week, George was in the grocery business in Portland, Oregon, for a year or two, before traveling south to California. His wife, Mary, was back in Minneapolis during this time.

George had traveled widely in the West as U.S. Inspector of Surveys. Mary must have been used to his travels. It is not known how she took George's death, but she certainly wanted her due from his Civil War pension. Her statements to the Pension Board give at least one version of George's travels.

In an affidavit given 3 October 1898, Herbert and Faribelle Braden (George's daughter) stated that George and Mary "were never divorced and except for soldier absence on business they lived together as husband and wife up to the date of George S Fawkner's death."

In a letter to her attorney in March 1899, Mary explained George's West Coast sojourn.

Previous to my husband's death we lived in Minneapolis for two years. previous to his death he was not able to stand the cold winters in that state and he was compelled to change climate and he had been in Oregon [lightly crossed-out] away from home for over eight months he found Oregon was not a benefit to him, so on April 20th 1897 or near that time he left that State for Cal. going to San Francisco by water, took a sever [sic] cold which settled through his whole body...

Mary Fawkner Inability Affidavit, 16 May 1899; G. S. Fawkner Civil War pension file

She added that George had found changing climates was better than medication, but admitted that he did take "Patent Medicines" [her quotation marks]. In May, Mary filed an inability affidavit in which she stated that, while in Portland, he made several trips to Vancouver, British Columbia. Why, she did not say.

A more detailed reading of the pension file leaves no doubt that George S. Fawkner was seriously injured in a battle at Strasbourg, Virginia, and that he probably did have trouble with physical labor. Yet, he worked in several jobs, made political connections, and traveled extensively while Inspector of Surveys. He no doubt did hope that Oregon would be good for his health, but he may have suffered from a bit of wanderlust, as well.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

George Fawkner dies alone in California

George Fawkner, born two months after his father's death in Hendricks County, Indiana, served in Kentucky and Indiana regiments in the Civil War, opened a harness-making business after the war, had a couple of deputy sheriff gigs in Douglas County, Illinois, and back in Indianapolis, before landing in St. Paul and Minneapolis, where he tried out a variety of jobs, including an appointment as U.S. Inspector of Surveys.

He disappeared from St. Paul and Minneapolis censuses and directories after 1895. Where did he go? And why? First, a brief notice in the San Francisco Call noted the death of George S. Fawkner in the city. The news traveled back to Indiana where a short obituary described him as "a native of this county, well known in this community." George was on his way to visit his daughter, but had taken ill in San Francisco and died after surgery for appendicitis. The obituary added: "His wife was in the east preparing to start to join him." (Danville Republican, 2 September 1897, p. 8).

Where was the daughter? Which daughter? That part of the story must wait for next week's blog. The immediate question was: Why was George in the west without his wife? He was indeed in the west. George had taken up a new trade in Portland, Oregon, where city directories for 1896 and 1897 listed his as a grocer at 21 Park St. N.

Why Portland? Why by himself? The rest of the story comes from his Civil War pension file, which includes his wife's application for a widow's pension. The file includes the 19 June 1897 Western Union telegram, received at Minneapolis announcing George's death: "Your husband died at StLukes hospital last night. Remains by his request shipped to H C Baden Ontario California."

Set aside for now the question of why (and how) George directed his remains to H C Baden in Ontario (east of Los Angelese) -- that is part of next week's story. Note that it took some six weeks for the news to reach the Danville Republican. It's not clear how soon she arrived in San Francisco, but when there, Mary Fawkner telephoned St. Luke's hospital for more details. She was told no such person as George Fawkner had died there.

This, of course, was a problem for a widow claiming a widow's pension. The attorney assisting with her application pressed for legal proof of death. On June 1898 -- a year after the death -- Mary, now living in Los Angeles, received a letter from the San Francisco Board of Health stating that "Geo S. Fawkner died of strangulation of the intestines, and a certified copy of death will cost you $1.80." In a note to Mary, her attorney said, "This shows Ed Godchaux, the Board of Health Secretary, was derelict of his official duty."

Oddly enough, a 23 July 1898 letter from the County Recorder declared that his office was unable to find a death record for George Fawkner, and the the hospital still claimed no one of that name had died there. It remains unclear why the Board of Health could document the death in June, but the County Recorder could not in July.  Both the Board of Health and County Recorders letters were stamped received by the Pension Office 4 August 1898.

In any event, Mary received her pension. Other documents tell more about why George S. Fawkner was on the West Coast -- next week.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

All the Fawkner News that's Fit to Print

Beginning genealogists often focus on begetting, matching, and dispatching ancestors -- that is births, marriages, and deaths. Understandably so, because those events are the foundation of any family tree. But, family history is so much more. Ancestors had lives. Lives full of twists and turns. Lives not so terribly different from lives today.

One of the best sources for the events in those lives are newspapers. Research into George Spencer Fawkner is a case in point.

George Fawkner lived in St. Paul, Minnesota, from about 1878 to about 1895. As reported in the previous two posts of this blog, he had a somewhat erratic, if not generally upwardly mobile career path in Illinois, Indiana, and now, Minnesota. By the mid-1880s, he was living in the stylish Cathedral Hill neighborhood of St. Paul, not terribly far from the mansion of the railroad tycoon, James J. Hill.

Don't misunderstand, the Fawkners were several ranks lower on the socio-economic ladder, but George was making some progress. Newspaper clippings hint at the lifestyle.

  • In spring 1884, the young people's literary society of the Christian church met at the home of G. S. Fawkner, 286 Pleasant Ave. (St. Paul Daily Globe, 11 April 1884, p. 8.)
  • Among those present when the Minnetonka summer season was formerly opened at the Lafayette Hotel, was Miss Fairrie Fawkner, wearing "plumb-colored satin with lace draperies." The party lasted til midnight, with "a special train in waiting to convey the tired pleasure-seekers to their homes in the Twin Cities." (St. Paul Daily Globe, 26 June 1887, p. 5).  Lake Minnetonka was, and remains, an upscale lake resort just west of Minneapolis.
  • In the fall of 1891, "Miss Faery Fawkner gave a charming little tea party yesterday afternoon in honor of her guest..." "In the evening the young men were invited in and danced and talked and enjoyed themselves in the simplest and most delightful fashion imaginable." Among them were Capt. Braden and Tom Pease. (St. Paul Daily Globe, 16 October 1891, p. 4). Keep the Braden and Pease names in mind for next week's blog.
  • Fairy Fawkner performed in "Fantasma of Flowers" in a January 1892 benefit for the Christian chapel on Nelson and Farrington Streets. (St. Paul Daily Globe, 10 January 1892).
Then, there is the somewhat bizarre story of August 1885 that George Fawkner had just returned from a two-week tour of North Dakota, during which "he visited all of the cities and towns and drove across the country. He reported fine crop conditions and said both business men and farmers "were feeling buoyant at the outlook." (St. Paul Daily Globe, 23 August 1885). What possible business took him to Dakota? He wasn't appointed to his government surveyor job until 1889.

George Fawkner had "retired" from the real estate firm of Brown, Fawkner and Hanley in March 1887, but was apparently still wheeling and dealing two years later when he advertised his intent to purchase with cash "$50,000 to $100,000 worth of centrally located property, paying a good rental; don't apply unless willing to sell at a bargain" (St. Paul Daily Globe, 15 March 1889, p. 7).

St. Paul Daily Globe, 1 July 1889
 In any event, by summer he was Inspector of Surveys. His comings and goings as Inspector of Surveys are were reported in newspapers all across the west. He was back in St. Paul at  least briefly in April 1893, visiting his daughters, "one of whom is Mrs. Capt. Braden. Another daughter is still a pupil at St. Joseph's Academy, where she is taking a course of lessons in painting, and has made a very enviable reputation as an artist in the school." (St. Paul Daily Globe, 9 April 1893, p. 12).

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 All newspaper articles cited above can be viewed at the Library of Congress' free Chronicling America website --