Family Found: Gideon Fairman


Gideon Fairman. 1827. charcoal, pen and brown ink, touched with white gouache, on wove paper.

My Fairman family was always sort of a mystery to me. My mom’s mom was born a Fairman and although I knew of the existence of some members of the family through things my mother told me, I had only met only one Fairman while growing up, my mom’s Uncle Dewey. And it was only once or twice that I saw him. All the other Fairman family members were never in our home, never called, just pretty much not part of our lives. The past couple of years I tried to remedy that situation and I researched and reached out to the Fairman family. Most have been so very welcoming and have shared Fairman stories with me. I have met up with a few and we really enjoyed our meeting, I plan to meet with more in the near future. I blogged about some of the Fairman family here. But this blog entry is about one of the Fairman family that I found during my research that I thought was especially interesting.

It turns out that the Fairmans were some of the very first settlers of the colonies, starting with John Firmin arriving in about 1630 who settled first in Watertown, Connecticut. One of his descendants is Gideon Fairman (1774-1827) who is my 2nd cousin 6 times removed. While researching the Fairman family I came across Gideon’s portrait and I was intrigued. It turns out that he was an important artist in his day. His specialty was engraving which I had to look up as I wasn’t familiar with the term in art: Engraving, technique of making prints from metal plates into which a design has been incised with a cutting tool called a burin

I found this write up of Gideon from 1859 and it seems to sum up well what Gideon did through his life:

The Lives of Eminent Philadelphians, Now Deceased

By Henry Simpson

Member of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

1859

GIDEON FAIRMAN.

Gideon Fairman—a captain, and then a colonel, in the war of 1812, of militia, and volunteers—was born at Newtown, Fairfield County, Connecticut, June 26th, 1774.

At an early age he exhibited an extraordinary mechanical ingenuity and taste for the fine arts. He placed himself as an apprentice to Isaac Crane, a mechanic in New Mitford, a few miles distant from Newtown. Shortly after he came to the town, an English engraver by the name of Brunton, to whom some specimens of Fairman’s genius had been shown, pronounced his performances astonishing, and advised his father to encourage the youth in a pursuit in which he bade so fair to distinguish himself.

After residing a short time at New Mitford with his family, he determined to leave a place where he could obtain no instruction in the art of engraving. He therefore started on foot with eighteen cents in his pocket, and walked to Hudson, on the North River. From thence he found means to reach Albany, where he bound himself apprentice to Messrs. Isaac and George Hutton, jewellers and engravers.

At the age of twenty-one he commenced business for himself, winning the good opinion of all by a natural grace of manner, joined to great intelligence and a fine person.

In 1798, he married. In 1810, he came to this city, where a company of bank-note engravers was formed under the firm-title of Murray, Draper, Fairman & Co., who commenced business in Sansom Street above Eighth Street.

In the year 1819, he was induced to enter into another partnership with Mr. Jacob Perkins, and he accompanied the latter to England, where he resided three years. Not long after commencing business in England, they took into partnership the celebrated engraver, Charles Heath.

Mr. Fairman died on the 18th of April, 1827.   He was, to the last, a man of uncommon physical powers, beauty of person, and elegance of deportment. He and the late George Murray contributed more than any other persons to elevate the beautiful art of engraving in this country.

I was so surprised to learn he was a volunteer in the War of 1812 and rose to the rank of Colonel, which he was addressed by for the remainder of his life. He was a detailed artist, highly regarded, and was very much the entrepreneur, being in many business partnerships in his life. Following are a few of his engravings that exist today:

Gideon was also involved with some partners in bank note engraving. At that time banks printed their own paper money and for a time Gideon and partners printed quite a bit of money for bank customers. Unfortunately, this also led to criminals trying to take advantage. Here is an article I found in an Albany, New York newspaper from August 1825.

I found a follow up article on the robbery. It seems that 2 years after the robbery, after Gideon’s death, the police rounded up a gang of counterfeiters and in a trunk they found 50 of the bank note impressions that they believed came from Gideon’s robbery. I don’t know how many were stolen, but I am glad they were found. Counterfeiting was very rampant in those days and the police were always on the look out.

As far as Gidions personal life, I am having a little trouble nailing down if he was married once or twice. I know he had one son that died at 5 months old and one daughter that survived. But one article I read said he had a few children but I can’t quite find any records of more children yet. I won’t give up though.

Gideon died on the 17th of March, 1827. He was only 51 years old although by the standards of that time he was pretty old. I found a flowery obituary for him on Newspapers.com.

Lastly, here is a painting of Gideon done by Thomas Sulley in 1824, just 3 years before his death.

I love finding out more about my Fairman side of the family, they are an interesting bunch. Stay tuned for more!

NPE = Non Paternity Event

It sounds so odd, Non Paternity Event, but in everyday language it means your dad is not who you thought he was. I wrote extensively about finding the truth in my earliest blog posts but I thought I would revisit the story again. I have been on a roller coaster of emotions since late 2014 when I first took my Ancestry-DNA test.

I grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s in an crazy but loving family. Both of my parents were alcoholics but we all put on a brave front for the most part.

Me in the middle, my sister to my right, my mom and dad to my left and my 3 nephews. Taken Easter 1964

I took a DNA test for fun in the fall of 2014, and my world turned upside down. It took me awhile to figure out the details but it boiled down to my biological father was not the happy go lucky daddy I grew up with. My mom had an affair in 1952 with a man on their bowling team.

Top row: Biological father, Bob, 2nd from right, next to father I grew up with, Dexter, 2nd from left
Bottom middle is my mom

If you aren’t familiar with how DNA works you might wonder how in the heck I figured this out. It wasn’t easy, especially since I didn’t know a thing when I first started. But reading, asking questions and just plain old perseverance led me to the truth. When I got my results I wasn’t Swedish, I should have been, my dad was 100%. I also had lots of DNA matches that had surnames I didn’t know – and many, many were from the Alabama area. I asked some of my dad’s family to do the DNA test and when the results came back – no relation at all. Then I started building family trees and trying to figure out how my matches were related to each other. I contacted some 3rd cousins and they were so helpful, but I needed a closer match. Finally a 2nd cousin popped up and that enabled me to tie the tree together and find who I thought my biological father was. He was deceased – I expected that. He had children! I found them on Facebook, but was afraid to contact them (I had had a bad experience with the son of a man I THOUGHT might be my biological father) but my adorable 3rd cousin contacted them for me and right away they were thrilled! The youngest one did the DNA test and while we awaited the results I went to Southern California to visit 2 of them. It was such a wonderful visit! On my way home the results came in and sealed it – we were half siblings!!!!

Brothers and sister!

Then my older brother from birth father’s first marriage came down to visit us from Oregon last year.

I also had a half sister, but she passed away in 2013. I so wish I could have met her, she loved genealogy too and I am sure we would have been good friends.

My brother’s have helped me fill in what I never knew about my bio father. I have read up on the ship, USS New Orleans, he served on during WWII and can only imagine the hell he went through. He had his issues, we all do, but I can’t help but wonder if he knew. If my mom knew?? She was married at the time, bio dad wasn’t. She was 37, he was 31. She had 2 grown children, he was divorced with one son.

That is what lingers in my mind. Who knew? did anyone? Some days are better than others for me but I struggle. It has been over 4 years now that I have known the truth. I read every article and book I find that deals with NPE stories and information. I belong to Facebook groups, public and secret, and reading others stories helps. So many people do not have as good an ending as I do. I found 3 loving brothers. I have lost the sister I grew up with, she is angry or hurt by my find, but I can’t help it. Everyone who wants to know the truth, should be able to know the truth. I didn’t start out knowing there was a huge secret, but I am glad to know the truth.

NPE – Non Paternity Event, it sounds so odd.

My Grandmother was a gay pioneer…..

Imagine you are gay in the early part of the 20th century. How difficult that must have been, but my maternal grandmother was and it doesn’t seem that she was afraid to show it. What knowledge I have is gleaned from what little my mother told me and also from pictures of my Grandmother and her partner in an album that is almost a century old and one of my most treasured possessions. At one point my mother told me that my grandma had a diary and that diary was destroyed by my mother’s uncles’s wife after grandma died in 1933. I would give a kings ransom to have that diary and know how my grandmother really felt at that time.

Elma Etta Fairman 1922

My grandmother was Elma Etta Fairman, born December 23, 1892 in Providence, Rhode Island and died October 8, 1933 in Los Angeles, California. She was raised in Rhode Island with 2 sisters (one an adopted 1st cousin) and 3 brothers until somewhere around 1910 the entire family picked up and moved to Los Angeles, California. Grandma would have been about 18 years old and done with school. I have found that she started working in the bookbinding business and stayed with that trade until her death. In 1913 she married Leonard Ledger (1892-1918) who she met through work and in 1916 they had my mother Louise, (1916-2004) (her actual first name was Etta but if you called her by that name you would get such a look!) When my mother was only 2, in 1918, my grandfather Leonard died of tuberculosis. From what I can piece together, at first I believe grandma Elma moved in with her mother Helen into the small family home on Morton street in Los Angeles. My great grandfather Charles Fairman (1869-1956) was in the Army at the time and from what I can tell he and great grandmother Helen Harris Fairman (1870-1921) were separated and he was trying to get a divorce. But great grandmother Helen died in 1921 and my grandmother Elma and my mother Louise had to make other arrangements to live and take care of my mother.

Etta Louise Ledger 1921


In about 1921, at the age of 5, my mother was put into an orphanage in Pasadena where my grandmother paid for her keep.

At around this time I think my grandmother decided to go ahead and live the life she wanted with her girlfriend Amy Irene Hoag. Amy was born in 1893 and lived until 1979. I believe Amy and Elma met through work in the bookbinding business. Amy and Elma were together from at least 1921 until Elma’s death in 1933. When I asked my mother once what happened to Amy after Elma died she said that she only saw her once and she wasn’t kind. My mother had had my brother in 1934 when she was only 18, took him to see Amy and it seems Amy didn’t approve. Times sure have changed, and for the better if you ask me!

Elma and Amy in the early 1920’s – I can just feel the love they had.
Elma, Amy and my mother Louise in about 1921

My mother lived in the orphanage from about the age of 5 to 12. She would come home some weekends and take trips with her mom Elma and Amy, they went to Catalina, the beach, Exposition park and to visit Amy’s family.
There are many pictures in my beloved photo album of my grandmother Elma with Amy and Louise but none with Elma’s family so I don’t believe they approved.

On her deathbed, in 2004, my mother said to me “Judy, you know my mother was……..” and I said “yes, mom, I know she was gay and that is ok, she was a brave woman.” and mom smiled and nodded her head.

My mother Louise, my grandmother Elma and her partner Amy taken 1932.
This would be their last picture taken together before Elma died in 1933.

The door knob turned…..

I can’t remember how old I was when my mother told me this story , I am pretty sure I was an adult,  but I will never forget it.  Every so often she would tell me little bits and pieces about her life growing up in Los Angeles.  My mom’s dad died when she was 2. (more about that in this blog post Picture from a funeral) Mom told me that her mother raised her as best she could and my mother idolized her, but when I heard these stories…sometimes I wondered.  In this particular story, mom said that in about 1928, when she was about 12,  she and her mother lived in an apartment in downtown Los Angeles . In looking at census records, I believe that apartment was at 811 S. Union Ave.  I found some pictures in my grandmother’s photo album that show it, and believe it or not,  it is still there although it doesn’t look the same.

811 S. Union, in 1929, my mother Louise in the middle, my grandmother Elma on the right. Must have been a Halloween dress up?
My mother Louise Ledger in 1930 at 811 S. Union Ave.
811 So. Union today from Google Maps

My mother told me that she had come home from school and was doing her homework at the table when she saw the door knob to the apartment front door begin to turn. Her mother Elma and her girlfriend Amy were in the bathroom at the time. My mom ran to the bathroom and banged on the door and told her mother “Help, someone is trying to get into the apartment” and my grandmother just told her to ” stop imagining things!” Mom said that it was a man out in the hallway and he kept saying “open the door.” My mother was terrified. She told me that her mother did not come out of the bathroom and and she had to sit in the chair and listen to the doorknob go back and forth, until finally, whoever it was went away.

How terrifying for a 12 year old girl!

My mom had many mental problems that I am sure stemmed from the things that happened to her as a child. And I remember this story well because as she told me, I saw her as the terrified girl sitting in the chair in that apartment.

Resemblance

I was reading a blog post today that was about family members resembling each other, on a lovely blog I just discovered  https://talesofafamily.blog/    I belong to many Facebook genealogy groups and people are always posting pictures asking us to confirm what they think are uncanny resemblances – which for the most part I have trouble seeing.  I believe we see what we want to see most of the time and those pictures prove it to me.  Not to be a Debbie downer, but it just ain’t there people!

But it reminded me of my sister, Barb.  My sister and I don’t look much alike, my sister and brother did.  But that makes sense since they both had the same mother and father.  I learned that I have the same mother, but different father and that totally explained why I didn’t resemble either one!  In our zillions of pictures inherited from our parents are many of our Grandma May.  Grandma was dad’s (who will always be my dad because he loved and raised me) mother.  A feisty woman, Swedish immigrant, matron of a boarding house for many years, who had a hard life but lived to a nice old age of 88.  When I knew her she was married to her second husband, Grandpa Charlie, who treated her as a queen for 13+ years until she passed away in 1963.  I didn’t know her well, she died when I was 10 and had suffered from debilitating strokes in the few years prior to her death.  There was one great picture of grandma in her 70’s that my sister put up on her wall many years ago. The whole family used to laugh and tell my sister that we didn’t need to wonder what she would look like when she was older, she was that picture!  My middle son once was standing near the photo and I asked him if he knew who the lady in the picture was – without much hesitation he said “Auntie Barbie!”  and he was pretty surprised when I told him it was our grandmother, not his aunt/my sister.

Tell me what you think!

May Halldin 1950's 1Barbie and Richard Sept 2011