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.

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