Saturday, July 27, 2013

Say What?!

Have you ever run across historic newspapers filed online under the wrong date? I have. Despite the handiness of near-instant digital access to news articles from across the nation and through the last couple centuries, some of the websites featuring these collections sometimes include errors.

I’ve found headings which file articles under one date, when upon close inspection, the newspaper itself shows a different publication date.

Then again, I’ve found scans of newspaper issues which display one date on the front page, and another date on an inside page.

All goes to show you: just like that proverbial “buyer,” let the researcher beware. Mistakes abound. Keep your eyes open at all times!

One newspaper article that had me puzzled, though, did not fall within this category. Try as I might to uncover a mistaken publication date, I could not pin that blame on this discovery. The resultant déjà vu feeling is one I can’t, just yet, shake, but I’m hoping I’ll soon find an explanation.

Remember back in February of 1898 when John Kelly Stevens was promoted to the rank of sergeant in the Fort Wayne Police department? Remember how it was all the result of the personnel shuffle that occurred upon the sudden resignation of the force’s captain, William Borgman?

If you remember that, as I did, you will find this entry on page six of the May 7, 1898, issue of The Fort Wayne News to be quite puzzling. Under a column listing various arrests and complaints, take a look at this report for “Other Police Notes.” Under the simple—yet puzzling—heading, “Stevens is All Right,” the text continues:
Those who are not on the inside think that Sergeant Stevens will be reduced to the ranks when William Borgman becomes captain of the police force. The News knows that the changes in contemplation will in no way affect Sergeant Stevens. If you want the particulars, read the News.
Wait! When “William Borgman becomes captain”? But I thought he just resigned as captain. What’s going on?!

You can be sure, after an article like that, I went back and double-checked the date of that newspaper.


  1. Perhaps when he resigned as Captain, he stayed on - as a sergeant? Seems like the position was political - so as the wind vane politics turned the captain spot came and went?

    1. I'm sure you are correct about one thing, Iggy: it was politics that was behind it all. What I need to keep my eye out for is whether Captain Borgman moved in and out of office when the mayor was voted in or out. It will be interesting to see as we move through the years.

  2. Wow! Maybe William un-resigned. That's curious. I've just read two blogs about errors in records: by Linda McCauley and by Jenna Mills (I think). And this makes three. You are so right: caveat emptor, let the buyer beware! (or the researcher)

    1. Mariann, I thought when I saw a family member's gravestone engraved with a typo, that was going to be the one that took the cake. But I see so many other errors. Any time I see something questionable, it makes me sit up and take notice.

      It's probably just as well. We researchers can never be too careful...


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