Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Finding Family in the City of Fort Wayne

Sometimes, the only solution to a family history dilemma is to go back to the source—in this case, the City of Fort Wayne.

Of course, I don’t mean right now (despite the fact I’d love to be there on this opening day of the Federation of Genealogical Societies 2013 Conference).

But I do mean at some point. No matter how huge a wealth of material you may find online to help round out your genealogical research, you simply must include a trip to the geographic location the family had, at one time, called home.

Our family did this several years ago. Of course, we had the added benefit of doing our legwork in a city that boasts the second largest genealogical reference collection on the continent. Even so, we spent our fair share of hours out in the summer sunshine, scoping out cemetery plots and mapping where each branch of the family had moved in the city as their economic wellbeing improved.

Now, as I struggle over why there were two puzzling newspaper entries involving a John Kelly Stevens on the city’s police force which clearly didn’t apply to our family’s ancestor, I recall the “loot” I brought home from that research trip to Fort Wayne, years ago.

Last night, I pulled out some of those files. I was thinking of a specific photocopy that might come in handy in my name quandary. The page itself is a number-coded list of names corresponding to a montage of portraits of city officials, up to and including each of the city’s patrolmen.

The portraits, as well as the composite display, were done by The Miner Studio. Unfortunately, the material is not dated, but the addition of the photographer’s credit helps somewhat to affix a more limited date range to the collection. According to “Directory of Fort Wayne Photographers 1843-1930” by John D. Beatty, readily available as a PDF file at the Genealogy Center, Charles Winslow Miner was the proprietor of the studio. The article, arranged in alphabetical order by each photographer’s surname, provides a brief history of this particular photographer on page eleven. Though he arrived in Fort Wayne in the 1890s and opened his first studio with a partner in 1894, he didn’t remove his partner’s name from the business signage until 1909.

His tenure as sole proprietor was short-lived, as Charles Miner died on May 22, 1912. According to the Bulletin of Photography, volume ten, number 253, on June 12 of that same year, it was mentioned in the “News and Notes” section that his wife had “assumed control” of the studio “owing to the death of her husband.” Along with the help of “Miss Estella Miner,” presumably his daughter, the enterprise continued in operation under the direction of Charles’ long-time assistant, John D. Albrecht.

The Beatty report asserted the business remained in operation through 1916, though under the hand of someone else—“Japanese-born Henry Y. Ozaki”—who nevertheless didn’t change the business name until 1916.

All that leaves us with a possible date range of 1909 to 1916 for the list in my possession. Not quite the precise pinpoint I was hoping for, but ’twill do in a pinch.

Another hint for the date of the listing, however, is provided by the text added under the photographs. Above the entry, “Photo By The Miner Studio,” are three names of significance:
  • Dayton F. Abbott, Chief of Police
  • Martin A. Rundell, Captain of Police
  • George F. Eisenhut, Lieutenant of Police
My first inclination was to Google™ the name of the police chief. I did that, but could only assume that politics had done to his career in the major what it had done in the minor for John Kelly Stevens’ own position as sergeant. Dayton Franklin Abbott apparently was called to serve in 1911, then was out for one mayor’s term from 1914 through 1918, then in again with a change of mayors beginning in 1918. All that—and a transcription of a biographical sketch from volume five of Indiana: One Hundred and Fifty Years of American Development by Charles Roll in 1931—if you care to scroll down to the fifth listing on a web page here. Oh, and a little picture here.

Jiving Chief Abbott’s tenure with that of The Miner Studio—why do I feel like I’m doing Venn diagrams instead of genealogy here?—leaves us with a possible date range of 1911 through 1914—not much better than what we had before.

Of course, there is one other option: check the city directories. Those of you who are subscribers to genealogy services such as are already familiar with the fact that they provide scanned copies of such directories. For those of you wishing to search on the cheap, though, never forget the wonders a good tour of duty via Google™ can provide you. That is how I uncovered copies of the Fort Wayne directories at for the years 1912 and 1918. Admittedly, those were not precisely the years I had scientifically isolated through Venn diagram wizardry above. But give me a break: they were close.

If you take a look at the 1918 directory here, you can see right away that we can dismiss this year as a possibility. While Dayton Abbott was again listed as Chief—as we had seen from his biographical sketch—the 1918 directory had elevated George Eisenhut to the position of Captain. As can be surmised from the thick political atmosphere we’ve observed elsewhere in this study of Fort Wayne history, Captain Eisenhut most likely attained that status upon the change in political flavors at the last election. In other words, since the preceding mayor’s term was from 1914 to 1918, we can safely say these appointments were timed with that change in office.

The 1912 directory, however—as you can see for yourself here—handily provides the exact same listing as that gleaned from the photocopy that got me started on this subject in the first place. And, as a bonus, that particular volume of the directory listed not only the department brass, but also the entire roster of patrolmen for that year as well—including “John K. Stevens.”

And yes, I did compare all the names. If you are wondering: no, they aren’t exactly the same. For one thing, Patrolman Louis Crawley advanced from Patrolman to Sergeant—or, perhaps, in the reverse, as we’ve seen that change in rank was easily a two way street back then, providing no mechanism to help us fix the photo list’s date any more precisely. We’ll have to be happy with 1912—give or take a year or two—as our working date.

What that list gives me, though, is confirmation that both for the 1912 directory and for this contemporary roster of the police department, there was only one John Kelly Stevens.

So whichever reporter got the story wrong—whether for that birth announcement in 1904 or that death report in 1919—couldn’t have claimed a case of mistaken identity. There was only one John Kelly Stevens working for the Fort Wayne police force back then.

There. Rest my case.


  1. Replies
    1. Well, at least it impressed upon me the advice to never believe anything...until you check it out for yourself!

  2. I wonder if there is a "retraction" or "correction" notice for these two stories (the birth of the daughter and the death of the mother) hidden away in a subsequent issue.

    I hope to find time to see if the "other John Kelly Stevens of Columbus" might have been the root-cause of these errors.

    1. You had an interesting theory on that, Iggy. That was part of what got me checking lists. I did take a look at directories for Fort Wayne, and it appears there is another John Stephens--which, as we've already seen, can easily morph into Stevens.

      The retraction idea is plausible, too, although I wonder how much care some smaller newspapers took to publicly correct their mistakes. More likely, John Kelly got a good ribbing for the day, and it was promptly forgotten after that.


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