Leave it to the newspapers…
Well, this time, I can’t say it was the fault of the journalists. You know my rant about how newspapers can’t seem to get things right. I have to admit: it isn’t that way this time. I’m almost sure of it.
But putting a story in the paper that might not be entirely true is not helping—not helping me, at least.
Remember how I mentioned the Bean family had passed down two conflicting stories as to how Sam Bean lost his eyesight and hearing? I have no idea why there were two versions circulating in the first place.
I’ve already pinpointed a news article in print about the time of the injury. It seemed to finger the less-honorable version: Sam being caught in the crossfire of a rock fight. Well, let me amend that; Sam may have been an innocent bystander, caught by the “sharp missile,” or he may actually have been a participant—worse, an instigator.
I hadn’t found any corroboration for the second story—that of being injured in a baseball game—up until recently. Thanks to a rather lengthy article on Sam and his progress at the Berkeley School for the Deaf, I found the possible source for perpetuating the second version of the story.
Thanks to the search capabilities at Ancestry.com, I came across the article, originally published in the Sunday morning edition of the Oakland Tribune on May 5, 1918. (For those with Ancestry.com membership, you may access the full article, on page 60, here.)
According to this version of the story, it all started with a case of mistaken identity.
Kept after school by mistake because of the pranks of a twin brother, young Sammy vented his wrath at the world by refusing to go home and by attending a ball game instead.
I’m not sure the “sharp missile” of the previously-published story out of Palo Alto matches up with the “errant baseball” of the Oakland Tribune’s report, but according to this later report,
Young Bean’s sight and hearing were lost when an errant baseball at an Alameda high school game struck him in the head, paralyzing his faculties.
Of course, it is fairly easy to deconstruct this element of conflicting family history reports. For one thing, Sam’s injuries pre-dated his residence in Alameda. While both Alameda and Palo Alto are considered Bay Area cities, in the early 1900s, before the advent of our interstate highway system, the distance between the two cities would have been considered much more of a travel hindrance. It is unlikely that young Sam—as precocious as he may have seemed with his hunting hobby at age ten—would have found a way from his Palo Alto grade school to the Alameda High School ball field all in one afternoon.
Of course, inserting “Alameda” for the name of the high school may have been an assumption on the part of the reporter, not knowing the family had moved since the injury. Maybe the “missile” that struck young Sam actually was a baseball. Maybe the two incident versions are describing the same scene.
If not, I certainly wonder how the second version came to be. I can hardly nurse my grudge toward careless newspaper reporters in this instance. It would be a doubtful scenario for a reporter to totally fabricate an entire episode in an interviewee’s life. Someone had to be the source for that story.
Though I will probably never uncover the explanation for this case of the two versions, the experience does bring up a point: never assume anything you find in print—or even set in stone—about your ancestors is exactly the way it really was. Genealogy research is not only science—with all the requirements for proper search techniques, citation requirements, and documentation—but it is also interpretive art. Somehow, in the midst of all the versions of the history of “what happened,” we can hope that we may draw close enough to it to finally say, “There lies the truth.”