While John Kelly Stevens likely never gave such possibilities a thought, almost one hundred years after his first failed attempt to join himself to his local police department, his great-grandson had discovered a way to successfully do so, himself.
At that time, John Kelly’s great-grandson—who, incidentally, happens to be my husband, Chris—had only a general idea of the significance law enforcement held in his heritage. By the time he reached the point at which he, too, would be promoted to sergeant, he and I had had the opportunity to delve much further into John Kelly Stevens’ story. In fact, not only had we discovered the online resources that led to the historic newspaper archives spelling out his day-to-day work life, but we had been able to trace out a path back to archives in which John Kelly’s photographs had become a part.
The route we took to trace back to this stash of wonderful discoveries has an explanation—a long one, by the way—which I’ll save for a post of its own, tomorrow. Once taken, though, it allowed our family’s past to become re-incorporated into our lives in the present. I’ll never forget the moment during the ceremony promoting Chris to the position of sergeant when, as is traditional in his office, the individual receiving the promotion was allowed a few minutes to address the audience assembled for the occasion.
After the customary expressions of thanks to all who had helped advance his career, my husband took a moment to honor his great-grandfather, John Kelly Stevens, and to recall that it was one hundred six years, almost to the day, after his great-grandfather had received his promotion that Chris was following in those same footsteps.
You could hear the surprised reaction from the audience as that thought made its impression.
I’m not entirely sure why people had that reaction—after all, each of us has not one, but eight great-grandparents somewhere in our background. Part of what those great-grandparents were has become a bit of what we are, today—even if we have never met those ancestors or knew anything about them.
In our case, at one point, all we knew was what older relatives told us. Uncle Ed, the keeper of the family history for his generation, would say, “Chris, you know you have two great-grandparents in law enforcement.” One was Ed’s maternal grandfather, John Tully, whom we’ve discussed quite a while back. The other, of course, was John Kelly Stevens of the Fort Wayne Police.
Being able to put our ancestors back into our story line in the present is just one small way to allow others to know about our family history—and, hopefully, that in turn will encourage others to start reacquainting themselves with their own family’s stories. And, as Chris intended it to be that day in 2004, it was a way to honor one of those who claimed an important point in his own heritage.