Tuesday, May 31, 2016

What Next? SCGS Jamboree!

Several recent posts have featured the family of George S. Fawkner, who was born in Indiana, fought in the Civil War, married and took his family to Illinois and Minnesota, traveled the West as a government land inspector, and died alone in San Francisco in 1897.

George had three daughters.

  • Jennie escaped possible murder as a teenager (May 19 post), married Thomas Parker Pease in 1887, and died from childbirth complications in 1888. The baby also died.
  • Fariebelle married Herbert Braden in 1892 in St. Paul. He died in California in 1903, leaving Farie with a young child -- who, in turn, died unmarried at age 19 in Chicago.
  • Katharyn never married and, to the best of anyone's knowledge, had no children. She died in Los Angeles in 1954 at age 76 -- even though her death certificate said she was only 70.
That's right, George S. Fawkner has no descendants. But, he had nephews and nieces and cousins, which makes him a part of many people's family history.

This week's post, scheduled for June 2, will tell more of the story of Jennie, Fariebelle, and Katharyn. This weekend, one of my presentations at the Southern California Genealogical Societies Jamboree 2016 (http://genealogyjamboree.com/) will feature the story of how Katharyn, who had never lived east  of Indianapolis, came to be buried in New York City after her death in California.

See you in Burbank!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

"A Pernicious Habit"

St. Paul Globe, 14 May 1882, p. 10; Chronicling America image
If you read last week's post, you know the tragic ending of the teenage romance of Jennie Fawkner and Albert Drake. More than 130 years later, a reader of the article in the St. Paul Daily Globe can not know how faithfully the facts were reported, but the essential fact is clear -- a 16 year-old boy died on the streets of St. Paul as result of a romance gone sour.

The boy was far too young to die. Both families must have been devastated. This is real family history that can never be totally swept under the carpet.

The incident occurred on a downtown street, in broad public view. The front page coverage surely made the incident the talk of the town. A gun was involved. This was not the wild west; this was St. Paul, the capital of Minnesota, nearly 25 years after statehood. In the next issue of the Globe (14 May 1882, p. 10), a stirring letter to the editor spoke to an issue that is with us yet today.

 Apropos to the untimely end of young Drake by suicide... is it not about time for the proper authorities to initiate more stringent measures to prohibit the carrying of concealed weapon[?] It is true that the law forbidding it exists, but it is equally true that it is, with rare exception, a dead letter upon our statutes... or city laws.

The anonymous letter writer asserted that as many as two-thirds of all boys 14 and older carried weapons, and urged the police to make "sudden and unannounced" searches for the weapons.

St. Paul Globe, 14 May 1882, p. 10; Chronicling America image

He (or she) added:

There seems to be a morbid desire in our youth to be the owner of such an implement of death; he seems to attach a certain greatness to it; it makes him feel like a man! Ah, there's the rub! Men set the example and youth is bound to imitate. The question naturally arises, "Why do so many men carry concealed weapons?"

 The writer acknowledged that "the law-abiding and orderly class of citizens" feel the need to carry guns for self-defense, but went on to lambast lawyers for using the law to protect criminals.

The story and the letter are eerily similar to stories and commentaries we read today -- although today drugs or gang grievances might be involved. This is a nonpolitical blog -- or nearly so. Opinions varied then and opinions vary now. I draw two lessons from the newspaper story and the letter to the editor. First, newspapers are a wonderful source for getting a feel for the places and times our ancestors lived. Second, today is not as different from the past as we like to think.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Singular Suicide: Tragedy finds the Fawkners

Unexpected family history stories are buried in historical newspapers, and the explosion of searchable digitized images of them makes it easier than ever to find news about your family.

While searching for news about the George Fawkner family of St. Paul, Minnesota, I stumbled upon a story printed in the 11 May edition of The Albert Lea Standard, published in Albert Lea, Minnesota, about 100 miles south of St. Paul. This story popped up because the optical character recognition had caught the name "Fawkner" in a story titled, "A Shooting Sensation in St. Paul." I at first thought the search engine had given me a false positive hit -- that is, I though the OCR had mistaken another name for Fawkner. Then, four lines into the story, my eyes caught "the daughter of Mr. George Fawkner."

The opening passage of the article read: "A singular suicide occurred in St. Paul recently. A school boy affection on the part of Albert Drake, a sixteen year old, for Miss Jennie, the fifteen year old daughter of Mr. George Fawkner, developed into a wild and frantic passion." When Jennie's mother "delicately broke the news" of her objections due the the youth of the parties, Drake "was inspired by jealousy to take her life." After Jennie "by presence of mind" frustrated his efforts, he turned the pistol on himself. That's it -- just the facts.

I have used the article in lectures about historical newspapers to make a rather pedestrian point. Notable stories were often picked up by distant newspapers. The search engine I was using did not pick up this story in the St. Paul newspaper, but found it in the Albert Lea paper. Had I limited my search to St. Paul, I would not have found it. I thought it odd that the story had not appeared in St. Paul.

St. Paul Daily Globe, 2 May 1882
Well, it had. A week earlier. The newspaper search engine I was using just didn't find it because the St. Paul paper spelled the name "Fawker." The morning after the tragedy, the St. Paul Daily Globe (4 May 1882) carried the news in column 1 of page 1. And, the St. Paul paper went into much greater detail, albeit somewhat vaguely.

From the parties interested and those who saw the shooting the following particulars have been obtained. Some months ago Albert Drake, the boy shot shot himself, and who, had he lived, would not have been 16 years old till August next, commenced going with a little girl named Jennie Fawkner. The little Fawkner girl is about the age of the boy, probably not quite as old -- a little over 15 years.

The Daily Globe related that the Fawkners lived in "the brick dwelling on the southeast corner of Eighth and Minnesota Streets" (pull out the city directories and Sanborn fire insurance maps!). Jennie was of "slight build, dark hair and eyes, and interesting and bright in conversation." Albert, the son of William A. Drake, had been attending Curtiss' Business college. Albert had never formally called at the Fawkner home; he and Jennie had met as schoolmates.

Several days before the tragedy, Jennie had told Albert about her mother's concerns, but he did not seem overly agitated. They had conversed normally at church, but on Wednesday morning he was "pale, nervous, and ugly." When Jennie and her sister encountered Albert on the way home from school, he pulled a pistol from his pocket and "placed the muzzle of it close to her face." She ran. He fired and missed. As the two raced up Eighth Street, a young man took note of the situation and rescued Jennie by pulling her into a store. Witnesses thought Albert believed he had killed Jennie. Near the corner of Eighth and Pine, he shot himself (witnesses heard two shots in rapid succession).

The newspaper story gives more details that neither Fawkner nor Drake descendants would enjoy (George Fawkner has no living descendants). The young man who rescued Jennie was identified as Edward Erickson.  One wonders if his descendants have heard the story.

Finally, the newspaper noted that the revolver used was known as the "Bull Dog" pattern, with a barrel about three inches long. Today, gun rights are a hot political issue. What did St. Paul denizens think in 1882? Next week's blog tell what one reader of the Daily Globe thought.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Case Solved: Robert was Freddie's Father!

Two weeks ago, I concluded: "It seems safe to conclude that Freddie's parents were probably Robert G. Fawkner and Mary Combs." (Parents for Freddie Fawkner, 9 May 2016). With what I found today, it more than seems safe.

As you may recall, Freddie Fawkner (15 Feb 1894 - 1Nov 1895) was born 10 months after Mary E. Combs married Robert G. Fawkner. Baby Fred was buried in Arcola, Illinois, Township Cemetery. The only question was whether the Robert G. Fawkner who married Mary was the Robert G. Fawkner of Arcola who married Nellie (Marion) Brown in 1895.

Here's the clincher. The 16 February 1894 issue of the Indianapolis Sun reported the birth of a boy to Robert and Mary Fawkner. This Robert Fawkner of Indianapolis was without doubt the Robert Fawkner from Arcola. An 1889 Indianapolis city directory listed Robert G. Fawkner living in Indianapolis at the same address as his father, James C. Fawkner. Robert was a railroad conductor. As a railroad employee, he appears to have moved around a good bit.

I still don't know where the Fawkner-Combs marriage occurred, and am not certain there was a marriage -- except that Mary sued Robert G. Fawkner for divorce in 1908.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Whoa, Nellie -- Who in the World was Mary?

Little Freddie Fawkner was probably the son of Robert G. Fawkner and his 1893 wife, Mary E. Combs. I think. And, Robert was still married to Mary when he wed Nellie (Marion) Brown in 1895.

Whoa, Nellie! Something is rotten in the State of Illinois. Because, it sure looks like Robert was a bigamist.

Let's review the chronology.
  • Robert G. Fawkner married Mary E. Combs in April 1893.
  • Freddie W. Fawkner was born February 1894.
  • Robert abandoned Mary in March 1895 (according to her divorce complaint).
  • Robert G. Fawkner married Nellie B. (Marion) Brown in October 1895.
  • Freddie was buried November 1895 in a plot purchased by Mary E. Fawkner in the cemetery in Robert G. Fawkner's hometown.
  • Mary E. Fawkner filed for divorce from Robert G. Fawkner in 1908 and was granted a divorce in January 1909. He did not respond to a summons to appear in court -- because he was living with Nellie.
Nellie had been divorced from Richard Brown less than a week when she married Robert G. Fawkner in 1893 in Madison County, Illinois. She and Richard had married in June 1888 in Montgomery County, Illinois. Nellie was probably the daughter of the Thomas Marion whose family lived in Crawford County, Illinois, in 1880.

When she married Robert G. Fawkner in 1893, did Nellie have any idea that Robert was still married to Mary? (One point of caution: no record of the 1893 Fawkner-Combs marriage has been found). And, who in the world was Mary?

Mary presents about as much conflicting evidence as I've ever encountered concerning one individual. A few days of internet research produced the following points of evidence.
  • Mary stated in her divorce complaint that Robert G. Fawkner's last known residence was Harrison, Kansas. The court record states that a summons to Robert was printed in the Warrensburg Times.
  • There is not a Harrison anywhere near a Warrensburg in Kansas. In fact, the U.S. Newspaper Directory lists no such newspaper. There is, however, a small town named Harrison a few miles west of Decatur, Illinois. Three or four miles north of Harrison is Warrensburg, where a paper named the Warrensburg Times was published between 1885 and 1931, according the the U.S. Newspaper Directory (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/search/titles/).
  • It is likely Mary had a child, Freddie (1894-1895) (see the May 9 post), but the 1900 U.S. Census states she had no children living or dead.
  • The 1900 census listed Mary E. Fawkner as a daughter of N. L. Combs. She had a brother, Lester W., 14.
  • The 1910 census listed Lester, 22, as Mary's son; they were living in Decatur. In 1930 and 1940, Lester was living with his mother, Mary Fawkner, in Akron, Ohio.
  • Lester's 1918 marriage license identified his parents as Charles F. Combs and Mary E. Fawkner, and stated that he was born 20 July 1885 in Whitley County, Indiana. His World War II draft registration recorded that he was born in Indiana on the same date.
  • Mary Fawkner's 1941 obituary reported that she died at the home of her son, Lester W. Combs. Her death certificate has not yet been viewed.
  • His daughter, Patricia, was the informant for Lester's 1953 death certificate. She did not know the names of either of his parents. The certificate includes Lester's Social Security number, so his application might answer some questions.
  • Several family trees at Ancestry.com* identify Mary E. and Lester W. as siblings, but one (Ted F. Bubert II Family Tree) places Lester as the son of Mary E. Fawkner Combs. It states that Mary married "Charles F."
Lester was born about eight years before Mary Combs married Robert Grant Fawkner. If Lester was Mary's son, she apparently had had either a previous marriage or a dalliance that produced a child (Lester) in Indiana. A marriage record has not been found.

So, was Lester the son of Noah Coleman Combs  or the son of his apparent daughter, Mary? Noah died in 1906 Macon County, Illinois. His will might answer the question. As a matter of fact, his death was apparently the trigger for Mary to file for divorce. In her divorce suit, she stated that she wished to assure that her one-tenth inherited share in a piece of land not fall into the hands of Robert G. Fawkner.

The big question remains: Why did Mary wait more than 13 years after Robert left to file for divorce?
* Family trees, all viewed 9 May 2016, include: Muna, Rushing, Tuttle (http://person.ancestry.com/tree/7220358/person/24081125324/facts); Combs Family Tree (http://person.ancestry.com/tree/36552173/person/18952932990/facts); Davis-Buehler Family Tree (http://person.ancestry.com/tree/43084088/person/12687889273/facts); Ted F Bubert II Family Tree (http://person.ancestry.com/tree/67441186/person/42236059133/facts); Brown Family Tree (http://person.ancestry.com/tree/36492971/person/18947146084/facts).

Monday, May 9, 2016

Parents for Freddie Fawkner

The blogger missed last week's self-imposed deadline because, although he traversed the Grand Prairie of Illinois at the maximum legal speed, he didn't get home from the Ohio Genealogical Society conference in time to figure out what to write. Then, there was the other problem -- his mind was so full of family history discoveries that he didn't know where to start.

Let's start with Freddie Fawkner. Only one thing about Freddie is known with certainty. A small gravestone in the Arcola (Illlinois) Township Cemetery states that Freddie was born 15 February 1894 and died 1 November 1895.*

The James C. Fawkner family lived in the Arcola area from the late 1870s to the mid-1890s, but no known records identity Freddie's place in the family. James C. Fawkner died in 1889. His wife, Julia, died 14 May 1894, but her age (about 52) and the fact she had another son named Fred (1880-1946) eliminate her as a candidate for Freddie's mother. Possibly, one of her sons -- Robert Grant (b. 1863), James Henry (b. 1869),  or Cyrus Gatewood (b. 1877) -- was the father.

The Arcola Township Cemetery office has no information about Freddie or the burial, except that the plot was purchased by a Mary Fawkner. There was no Mary in the Arcola Fawkner family. Who was Mary?

The first clue comes from a newspaper story that reported that Mary E. Fawkner filed for divorce from Robert G. Fawkner in the fall of 1908 in Macon County (Decatur), Illinois. In her petition for divorce, she stated that she married Robert G. Fawkner 13 April 1893 and that he abandoned her in March 1895. She asked the court to restore her maiden name: Mary Ethel Combs. So far, so good -- the timing of the marriage is right for a February 1894 birth. There is one problem: no marriage record has yet been found in Macon or nearby counties (still looking).

Other sources complicate matters. The 1900 census enumerated Mary E. Fawkner living with her parents in South Macon Township. It recorded that Mary, a divorcee, had no children, dead or living. This evidence is not immediately alarming because, given her situation, Mary might not have wished to publicly acknowledge her loss of a young child.

Another newspaper story introduces a more serious problem. The 26 October 1895 edition of the Alton Evening Telegraph reported that Nellie Marion Brown received a divorce from Richard Brown and, yet the same week, married Robert G. Fawkner of Arcola.  His Arcola residence strongly implies that he is the same man who married -- in fact, was still married to -- Mary Combs. Was he a bigamist? Did Mary know that Robert was married to Nellie?

According to documents in the Macon County divorce case file, Mary told the court that Robert G. Fawkner's last known residence was Harrison, Kansas. Actually, city directories and censuses reveal that he was living with Nellie in East St. Louis between 1905 and 1910. (He has not been found in the 1900 census). When the Macon County Court issued a summons for him to appear in Decatur, he did not respond. Perhaps, he was just far enough away to be out of sight of Mary and Macon County authorities. When Robert did not respond to the summons, the judge accepted Mary's version of events and granted the divorce.

Neither marriage worked out well for Robert. In 1920, Nellie was living in Leyden, Cook County, Illinois. Robert ("Grant") Fawkner was living with his sister's family in Carlton County, Minnesota; he said he was single. They were still apart in 1930; Nellie said she was married and Robert Grant said he was single. In 1940, Robert said he was a widower (Nellie had died in Cook County, Illinois, in 1935).

It seems safe to conclude that Freddie's parents were probably Robert G. Fawkner and Mary Combs. But, who in the world was Mary? Next week's post will make her identity as clear as mud.
* For earlier thinking about Freddie, see J. H. Fonkert, "Tales from Three Cemeteries: Ole Peterson, Freddie Fawkner, and Katharyn Fawkner," Minnesota Genealogist, 46:3 (2015), pp. 20-6. For more on Robert G. Fawkner, see this blog's 13 August 2015 post.