Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Home Town Histories

When the Fort Wayne New reported on March 24, 1900, that John Kelly Stevens had just lost a nephew in Lafayette, Indiana, there was one shred of possibility that I knew was correct: Lafayette was John Kelly’s home town.

Lafayette has always been a rather small town—although, as transportation modalities shifted over the decades, I imagine the town’s population swelled and contracted parallel to the town’s economic fortunes.

It’s a town nestled on the bank of a river—the same river which most likely brought John Kelly’s father up the Mississippi from New Orleans in the first place.

Perhaps the elder John Stevens was seeking employment when he left New Orleans and continued up river on the final leg of his emigration from Ireland in 1850. For whatever reason, he saw fit to end his travels when he reached Tippecanoe County, Indiana.

While the details I’ve been able to find so far are murky, apparently John Kelly Stevens’ father met and married the former Catherine Kelly—now you know where the “Kelly” in John Kelly Stevens comes from—in Lafayette, where the couple became the proud parents of three boys: James, John Kelly, and William.

Thanks to notations in a family Bible passed down through the family—but unfortunately subsequently destroyed in a house fire—I have a few details on each of these three sons.

A few, I say. Finding any corroborating evidence has been difficult.

Here’s what I know, so far, about John Kelly’s two brothers.

The eldest, named James, was born in Lafayette sometime around 1854. Unlike his brother John Kelly who found work as an adult in Fort Wayne, James remained in Lafayette nearly his entire life. I say nearly because, during a trip to Saint Louis in 1904, James fell ill and died. He was buried in a plot at Calvary Cemetery reserved for the city’s purposes in burying transients—although for whatever reason, among the Stevens ephemera passed down to me from Agnes Tully Stevens personal effects was the receipt and paperwork for the bill sent back to family to cover James' burial expenses.

James’ Missouri death certificate reported that he had only been in Saint Louis for four days. He was listed as a laborer from Indiana, and as a widower. As best I can determine, his wife was alternately called Ellen and Ella, and was most likely a child of James and Margaret Nash (Margaret, incidentally, residing next door to James and Ella in the 1880 census).

James and his wife did have one child that I know of, although his birth in 1880 must have happened after that year’s census was taken. If it weren’t for that family Bible, I wouldn’t have known about him at all, though, for he died in 1890—far too soon for his name to show up in the next available census, and unfortunately also too soon for government records to capture significant details about his life or family.

Unless there were other children born to James and his wife, his son Johnny’s early death precluded any possibility that James would be the source of the mystery nephew that precipitated this search through the family tree.

John Kelly’s younger brother provided more possibilities for the source of that news report about the alleged nephew, Raphael Kruse. William, born in 1858, also spent his entire life in Lafayette, marrying the former Alice Munger in 1892 and raising four children.

Any shouts of victory for having found the source for the mystery nephew, though, are short lived. While William did have three daughters—the likely source of a nephew whose surname was not Stevens—only one of them had children. As far as I can tell at this point, William’s son Elbert had no children. Nor did daughters Ruth or Harriette. And Lulu, the eldest child, married a man by name of Wood, and bestowed upon their children the more pedestrian given names of John and Jeanne. No Raphael here.

So, while we can safely conclude that whoever that Raphael Kruse of the newspaper report may have been, he was not nephew to John Kelly Stevens by virtue of any relationship through his two brothers.

John Kelly did, however, have a second family—his half-sisters by virtue of his father’s second marriage, following the death of Catherine Kelly, to a woman by the name of Eliza Murdock. Perhaps through the descendants of those three half-sisters—Sarah, Mary, or Elizabeth—we can find the connection with the unfortunate Raphael Kruse.

We’ll take a closer look at that possibility tomorrow.

Map of Lafayette in artist A.Ruger's conception of a bird's eye view of the city in 1868. Published in Chicago by the Chicago Lithograph Company. Courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Fact, Fiction and Newspaper Headlines

Just in case you don’t already know it, I’m going to repeat one small aspect about myself that you need to remember: I highly distrust newspaper reporting.

Then why do I use newspapers in family history research? Because I can.

If you approach genealogy from the standpoint of realizing anyone can make mistakes—government officials tasked with completing death certificates, engravers hired to etch a name in a headstone, reporters facing an editorial deadline, and yes, even bloggers with unreliable eyesight—you realize that any research you do needs to have a multitude of documents backing up any factual assertion you make.

Newspapers, thus, become merely one small part of that verification process.

You’ll see today why, after developing that healthy distrust of news reporting as I have, it helps to have that fall-back of fact-checking via multiple resources.

If you’ve been with me through this family history blogging process, you’ve seen multiple errors reported in newspapers. I come by this doubting characteristic honestly—I’ve seen wrong stuff promoted as truth too many times.

When I ran across a doubtful report printed on page four of The Fort Wayne News, it did, at first, seem to be one of those instances. The March 24, 1900, entry asserted
Police Sergeant Stevens received a telegram last night from Lafayette, stating that his nephew, Raphael Kruse, had been run over by a wagon and killed while on his way to school.
While you may consider this an unfortunate piece of news, that was not my first reaction, years ago, upon finding that article among the newspaper collections at

My first thought?

John Kelly doesn’t have a nephew named Raphael Kruse.”

Or could he?

Naturally, the first step in exploring that possibility was to review what I already knew about John Kelly Stevens’ family constellation. And since John Kelly actually had two families—he was raised by a step-mother—that meant doing twice the work, just to make sure. After all, maybe I missed something.

Since exploring John Kelly Stevens’ family tree also suits our larger purposes of tracing our way back, ultimately, to the Stevens family roots in Ireland, this is an appropriate stepping-off point to pursue these dual purposes. We’ll begin tomorrow with a review of what we know about John Kelly’s siblings and parents, then follow that on Thursday with some details on his half-sisters and their mother, to test our hypothesis on whether Raphael Kruse was a relative of our John Kelly Stevens.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Finding One’s Own Trowel

While there are so many unexpected possibilities all in a day’s work for those employed in law enforcement, one hardly expects to serve as investigator on one’s own behalf. Don’t put that beyond Sergeant John Kelly Stevens, who found himself doing just that.

On September 16, 1899, The Fort Wayne News must have gotten a chuckle out of entering the title, “Finds His Trowel: Sergeant Stevens Finds His Own Property in a Pawn Shop.”
Yesterday Sergeant Stevens, of the police force, was compelled to do a little detective work for himself. About two weeks ago a moulder called upon the sergeant at police headquarters to borrow his moulder's trowel. The police officer loaned the man the implement and he went to work at the Bass foundry. A few days ago the sergeant learned that the man had quit and gone out on a wild drunk. The officer began making inquiries for the tool and soon learned that the fellow had skipped out. Last night the officer recovered the borrowed article at a South Calhoun street pawn shop.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

All In a Day’s Work

By the time John Kelly Stevens had attained the rank of sergeant, his name began to appear in the Fort Wayne newspapers on a regular basis. His day could not be classified as anything unusual for a supervisor of any city’s beat cops—even taking sick time made the front page—but it is interesting to take a tour of reports in which he was involved.

Some reports seemed petty, some flared up and died down, all before law enforcement could arrive on the scene. The reports provide the flavor of the city as well as John Kelly’s personal history, showing the problems the city bore over the years.

There was, for instance, “an uproar” reported in The Fort Wayne Sentinel on April 16 of 1898, which Sergeant Stevens investigated, along with the help of Officer Spillner—however, all they could learn was “that there had been a fight, but they were unable to locate the offenders.”

About a month later, there was the breathless report that “a burglar was attempting to force an entrance into the residence” of a doctor on West Wayne Street. The call for help even came in by telephone! Once again, however,
Sergeant Stevens went to the place, but after making a search returned to the station without a prisoner. He was unable to find any trace of robbers.
Escaped again!

There were some, however, who were apprehended, such as these two, reported by The Fort Wayne Sentinel on May 28, 1898:
Two prisoners, Nicholas Williams, a vagrant, and Henry Frederickson, charged with provoke, were in police court this morning. Frederickson became abusive to a street car conductor at the ball park Friday and Sheriff Melching arrested him. Mayor Scherer sent the young man to jail. Williams was arrested by Sergeant Stevens and Officer Romy. He is the fellow who enticed a lad named Ford from Camp Mount to St. Louis, where the officers took charge of the boy and sent him back to Fort Wayne. Williams met young Ford yesterday and again tried to coax him away. The boy was too smart this time and notified the police. Williams was sent to jail.
There were heartwarming stories, such as the brief entry indicating that “This morning Sergeant Stevens gave a poor woman lodging at the Star hotel.”

Then there were stories requiring compassion-on-the-job, such as the tale of John Smith, the local dairyman. His “milk wagon, with a double team, sundry milk cans, and other accoutrements” had disappeared, along with his daughter—“a rosy cheeked lass of eighteen” who, as was later discovered, had eloped with a son of the nearest neighbor, “a handsome country youth” during the incident. The bereft father
stood before Sergeant Stevens at the police station last night and poured out such a tale of tribulation and woe that the sergeant thought the story of Job was being enacted over again.
The father, by the way, had come to town to see about getting his equipment back. His daughter “and her chosen one,” he figured, “would be able to take care of themselves” but he wanted his wagon back. Natch.

Of course, no job in law enforcement would be complete without action and, unfortunately, violence. There were several tales of near-misses with knives and other objects, as well as the ever-present fist fights. One suspect, classified by the Fort Wayne Journal as an “all round ‘bad man,’” was reported as “making a vicious lunge at the Sergeant” upon being booked in to the jail.

The Sergeant, unfortunately, also witnessed his fair share of violence upon others, not only as the result of murders or attacks, but also as the reporting officer for suicides, drownings and train casualties. Since some of these stories will figure prominently in the Stevens family history, I’ll save those links for later posts. That sobering part of a policeman’s duties, however, are seldom reflected upon by the general public, yet are some of the deep stresses that make law enforcement such a challenging occupation.

Of course, one could never go through a recital of the litany of daily duties of a city cop without including the usual suspects: the drunks, the vagrants, the…well, the…


Fort Wayne NewsPolice Report” for July 11, 1898:
A Bagnio Raided.

Last evening Sergeant Stevens and Officer Rohrer made a raid on the rooms presided over by Daisy Rushor and got her partner, Trixey Thomas, and three male companions, John Brown, Charles Rodgers and Nicholas Smith. All of them put up bail at once except Brown. Friends bailed him out this morning at police court. The fine assessed in each case was $5 and costs. Owing to the absence of Mayor Scherer, Justice Huser presided at police court this morning.
Perhaps it was editorial discretion that provided the synonyms for other such articles in this politically sensitive town. “Places of ill repute” rarely seemed to find any ink in the Fort Wayne newspapers. Places of “easy companionship” and other euphemisms may have been the terms of choice, for, as it appears, some of those apprehended just happened to be sons and daughters of “respectable parents.”

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.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Two Lessons I Learned
From the Fax Machine

Tonight, once again, those who love their genealogy and their social media will be gathering online for a “genchat.” Tonight’s topic will be “Putting Flesh on the Bones: Telling the Stories.”

Despite the fact that that topic is my very heartbeat, this is not why I bring up genchat for today’s post. I actually don’t want to take a look at the potential content of the upcoming event as much as I want to examine something inherent in the very process of “chatting” by social media.

Specifically, I want to examine what makes the process of using social media work.

Now, I know this will seem very rudimentary to you when I say this, but right now, I am overwhelmed with the thought that the utility of any given social medium is utterly dependent upon the number of people that goes into making that medium social.

In other words, if you don’t have multiples of individuals willing to participate in utilizing the utility, the utility becomes useless. It may take only two to tango, but in order to sashay with social, your circle needs a number of a larger magnitude.

The problem is some trends seem to keep themselves cloaked in invisibility, which perpetrates the illusion that “nobody is doing it.” And when it comes to anything employing social media, that is not the image you want to project.

Here’s what I learned from the history of the fax machine, and what it taught me about getting people involved in the work of developing “the next thing”—whatever it may be.

Flying Under the Radar

If you are planning an event that you don’t want to have publicized, it may be all well and good to fly beneath the radar. But if you want others to join in on something that you find to be beneficial, you are faced with a dilemma. If others don’t participate with you, you may not, by yourself, be able to achieve the goals you had hoped to realize for the event.

Sometimes, that has worked to people’s advantage. Remember the Stealth Bomber? The American strategic bomber was designed to achieve undetected penetration of sophisticated anti-aircraft defenses. It flew under the radar.

Same thing with the fax machine. I first learned about that unexpected aspect of the fax machine when I read Chuck Colson’s book, The Body. Mr. Colson spent a good amount of time describing what went into the back story leading up to the disintegration of the “Iron Curtain.” Apparently, although the censorship strictures within the eastern European countries were well established, they were set up on the assumptions of communication methods already in place. When fax machines became widespread in those countries, they evidently provided people with a way to bypass the usual control points and communicate more freely, user to user. We’ve seen the same scenario repeat itself more recently in countries of the Middle East via Twitter, beginning with the phenomenon dubbed The Arab Spring.

To bypass any control point or headquarters and link, node to node, in a network of like-minded people, any technology that facilitates that sort of connection will grant participants the ability—at least for the moment—to fly under the radar.

There is, however, one crucial secondary requirement.

You Can’t Have Just One

This was the predicament that handy inventors—like those who developed the modern fax machine—realized about their situation. While the technology of the time allowed the developers of the fax machine to come up with an amazing capability, it would remain amazing only in theory until one vital thing happened: a second party installed a fax machine.

Think about it: suppose you were one of the early adopters who jumped right in and shelled out kazillions of dollars for a prototype of this new invention, so you could fax a document whenever you wished.

Who would you fax it to? Remember, you are one of the very few in the world already in possession of this technology. Most likely, anyone you’d want to fax to had not yet even heard of the thing.

The same predicament faced the early adopters of email. And cell phones. And any other gadget that enables two-way connections. Whether you want to fly under the radar, or shout your message from the electronic rooftops, however you do it, you can’t have just one. You need a sender. And a receiver.

How This Applies to Us

Ever think about how doing genealogy sometimes requires more than just one? Granted, genealogy is a solitary pursuit on many levels. We sequester ourselves in libraries and trudge through the grunt work…alone. We sit at our computers and scroll through lists of data…alone.

But, oh, how our eyes light up when we get an unexpected email from a cousin we never knew we had! Or when we receive a forum response giving us just the clue we needed to break through a brick wall. We’ve learned to go to conferences and join local genealogical societies because we realize that sometimes, it’s just better to do this genealogy stuff with others. We are, after all, social beings.

There are so many new tools added to the communications arsenal that are ready to exploit for our research purposes. Some of them we use regularly for everyday purposes, never thinking how they can be adapted to assist us in our genealogical quests. Other tools, however, could increase our effectiveness, once we learn to put them to good use.

But many of those tools, just like the fax machine, are only beneficial to us if more than one person is using them.

Why do you think I’ve posted articles urging people to consider using Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook, Pinterest, and other social media outlets? If we use them, but don’t have anyone to communicate with, it’s no better than hollering into a tin can when the string on the other end is connected to…nothing.

So, what did I learn from the fax machine? I learned that if I want to use one, I need to go out and become a fax machine evangelist. I need to convince others to start using a fax machine, too. If I want to become a fax machine sender, I need to find others—many others—who will be willing to become fax machine receivers.

The beauty of that dilemma, of course, is that once others become willing to be that receiver, they too can also become senders.

And, in the end, we can all start talking with each other. And connecting what we know with the ones who want to share it.

Like on genchat. Tonight.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Police Work of Genealogy
Meets the Genealogy of Police Work

When we research our family history, most of us rely on source documents which find their home either in brick-and-mortar repositories—whether local libraries with pertinent holdings or nationally-respected facilities such as the collections at Salt Lake City or Fort Wayne—or in digital versions found online. We spy all the haunts where we can round up the usual suspects: census records, wills and property records, newspaper collections.

If these resources fail us, though, we’re usually at a loss as to how to uncover the day-to-day details of our ancestors’ lives.

When you think of what a great percentage of a person’s life is given over to his or her career, it would make sense to pursue researching avenues related to our ancestors’ occupations.

Fortunately, while hot on the trail pursuing the details of Officer John Kelly Stevens’ workday, I already had a few clues about police history resources. Thanks to my own husband’s work in a local law enforcement agency, I knew about two trends: individual aficionados of local police history and their self-published resources, and law enforcement related fraternal organizations. Knowing these two avenues helped lead us to the right spot when we traveled to Fort Wayne to do some hands-on genealogical detective work.

Let’s take a look at examples of those two trends, and then see how those clues led to success at the end of the research trail.

People Passionate About Their History Niche

In the local law enforcement agency where my husband worked, there was a man who had applied his personal passion for history to his work world. That led him to create resources allowing him to share that fascination of law enforcement with others.

John Basalto, a long-time deputy with the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, spent hours researching the news stories of law enforcement from the earliest years of the department. He wanted to know who came before the men and women currently serving in his agency—a genealogy, of sorts, of the preceding generations serving in law enforcement in his city. Eventually, that research culminated in the publication of a book, Beyond the Call: Profiles of San Joaquin County, California, Peace Officers whoHave Died in the Line of Duty, 1850-1997.

While that book is no longer in print, it can be found in many libraries. A handy resource containing twenty nine biographical sketches of peace officers who were killed in the line of duty while serving in San Joaquin County, this volume clued me in to the fact that there might be such a person in other law enforcement agencies smitten with that same need-to-know. Just as we as genealogists feel the call to preserve our family histories, these individuals feel the call to preserve their organizational history.

And those organizations just happen to be made up of individuals. Naming them in books like John Basalto’s publications (he has since published another volume) suddenly became the beacon that lit up possibilities in my mind: I could look for Fort Wayne’s John Basalto. Maybe there was someone there who was doing the same research.

People Passionate About Their Occupation

In addition to searching for Fort Wayne’s equivalent of our local law enforcement agency’s historian, I realized that there were interest groups that focused on the support and encouragement of those in their professional discipline. Many cities boast a Police Officers Association or a Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and I was sure Fort Wayne would be among them. If I couldn’t find one directly, I could even network my way to such a connection by contacting a national organization, such as the National Association of Police Organizations.

In addition, if all else failed, I predicted that a friendly letter to the local union seeking a likely referral might yield helpful results. Sometimes, that link might be close at hand, as it was in John Basalto’s case: his own union published his first volume. Occupational organizations have a vested interest in keeping their history alive and before the eyes of the public. It reminds that public of the details of the long-standing commitment and even sacrifices made by members of the organization on behalf of those they serve.

People Passionate About Their City

As I began seeking out the possibilities that there might be a local repository of police department history, I was referred from person to person to person. I did this long before our present Google-ized era, which in a few seconds effort with minimal keystrokes, one can conjure up fantastic results from seemingly unlimited resources.

In other words, I had to wait for “snail mail” to get back to me. Over and over again.

In the end, this was how I discovered the History Center at Fort Wayne—home of the Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society. Coming to the History Center during our first trip to Fort Wayne was like coming home: the History Center itself is housed in the same City Hall building in which John Kelly Stevens reported to work every day.

Touring the museum housed at the old City Hall during our visit was informative, but nothing like the anticipation we experienced while awaiting our appointment with one of the Center’s staff members to explore what—if anything—there might have been about John Kelly Stevens in their holdings. With twenty six thousand artifacts, photographs and documents within their holdings, the Center was sure to have something on hand regarding the police force during John Kelly’s tenure there!

And they did! That was how we stumbled upon a number of department photographs of personnel which included not only John Kelly Stevens, but a possible Kelly relative who also worked there during that same time period. We made arrangements to purchase copies of the pertinent photographs—two of which you’ve already seen—and took notes of documents providing further work information naming these two ancestors.

While a research trail like this may now be traversed in quick order, compared to the snail’s pace of the letter exchanges done months in advance as preparation for our trip over ten years ago, it still presents challenges. It requires patience as you network among the local players who know the ins and outs of their agency, or know the Who’s Who of local history buffs. It can include those disappointing “addressee unknown” error messages and other false leads. But in the end, if you don’t check out these new avenues, you’ll never know what could have been yours at the end of the chase.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Fast Forward a Hundred Years

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.

promotion to sergeant

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Man of Splendid Physique

Perhaps it was the ever-present political perspective behind each Fort Wayne newspaper’s editorial slant—even down to the last detail about the police department’s latest sergeant, John Kelly Stevens. Taking a look at three different city newspapers—the Sentinel, the Journal, and the News—each one seemed to focus on a different aspect regarding the same man.

The Fort Wayne Sentinel gave the broadest description of the city’s newest sergeant on February 2, 1898:
John Kelly Stevens, the new sergeant, has been a member of the police force a little less than two years, but during that time has demonstrated that he is a thorough policeman. He was a moulder by trade and for years was employed at the Bass Foundry and Machine Works. Mr. Stevens is a member of the A. O. H. and the C. B. L. He will also assume his new duties this evening.
Even this routine rundown of John Kelly Stevens’ work history provides us with the flavor of who the man was—and with whom he associated. The “A. O. H.” being, of course, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, his membership there demonstrated John Kelly’s affinity with the native land of his father.

Despite those ever-present journalistic errors, the Fort Wayne Morning Journal’s take on John Kelly Stevens’ promotion to sergeant added some other observations about his character—albeit most likely written with the nod of political friends, even if it wasn’t Henry Scherer who was mayor when John Kelly was added to the police force.
Sergeant Stevens was appointed as a patrolman two years ago, by Mayor Scherer. Previous to that time he was a molder at the Bass works. He is a steady, reliable, cool headed man, a faithful and efficient officer, and a better selection could not have been made. He is one of the most popular men on the police force, and his promotion gives universal satisfaction.
One publication, however, made me wonder if their editorial perspective was decidedly patrician, looking down from their exclusive lofty position upon the plebeian masses, from whom would be selected those most suited for merely the physical labor of the office. Somehow, this excerpt from an article concerning the "kaleidoscopic changes in the police force" gives that sense of observing qualifications as if reviewing candidates for the meat market…

From the Fort Wayne News:
J. Kelley Stevens, who has been promoted from the ranks to the position of sergeant, was made patrolman in May, 1896. He was formerly a moulder in the Bass foundry, and is a man of splendid physique. He was born in Indiana and is of the same age as the new captain. Sergeant Stevens is five feet eleven inches tall and weighs 165 pounds.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Changes Can Come Quickly

In the passage of less than two years, a lot can happen—considering a new party had swept into office with the most recent election.

With the 1897 disposal of the “Reform Candidate,” Chauncey Oakley, the new (yet vaguely familiar) Fort Wayne mayor, Henry P. Scherer was now free to see that fellow Democrats were appropriately advanced in service.

Perhaps that was the incentive convincing police captain William Borgman to make a surprise announcement that he was resigning his post to, um, launch a new business venture.

The newspapers, however, made big to-do over the suddenness of his resignation. According to the Fort Wayne Sentinel,
The first intimation the members of the police force or the public had of the proposed action of Mr. Borgman was at 1:45 this morning when the patrolmen came to the station to go off duty. The captain told them that he had served his last day as their superior officer and admonished them to be as faithful in the performance of their duties in the future as they had been during his captaincy....
The Fort Wayne Morning Journal bluntly captioned the event, “Borgman Retires,” and noted the move “created a feeling of surprise” and surmised that the Captain “arrived at this decision hastily.”

Whatever the reason for Captain Borgman to relinquish his position—he was, after all, well respected by the line staff “who have warm feelings for Mr. Borgman, whose conduct towards them has always been of the kindest,” as the Journal put it—it was not a move made in isolation.

Like one great cascade of dominoes pieces, William Borgman’s move set in motion that cumbersome political machine which processes men’s futures. At the same time that Captain Borgman moved from his seven year tenure at the police department, his brother August gained a toe-hold in the department, by virtue of the vacancy created by the officer who was appointed to fill the slot of the sergeant who was promoted to replace the outgoing captain.

And, since the mayor presiding over the grand schemes of Fort Wayne at the moment was a Democrat, it may come as no surprise that this time, John Kelly Stevens had found his sweet spot in the lineup.

Fort Wayne policemen lined up in front of City Hall in early 1920s

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Not the First Attempt

Apparently, John Kelly Stevens had attempted an appointment to the Fort Wayne Police force prior to being named to the position in the midst of the political turmoil of 1896.

What he may not have realized, at the time of this previous attempt, was the importance of knowing who his friends were.

The date at which John Kelly’s name was first brought up was Friday, September 19, 1890. At that point, Daniel L. Harding, a Republican, was mayor.

Knowing what we now know about the political landscape in Fort Wayne during those years, the result of John Kelly’s candidacy was predictable.

Listed under the headline, “A Deadlock,” a subtitle in The Fort Wayne Sentinel explained, “After Twenty-Five Ballots the Police Commission Cannot Agree.” Though the article never stated who the successful candidate ended up being, now that we know how business was conducted in Fort Wayne at that time, we can assume it wasn’t the Democrat one.
            The police commissioners met last night to investigate the charges of intoxication against Fred Bandeau, the policeman. The officer was promptly dismissed. The election of a successor was next in order. The name of Wm. Borgman, of the Ninth ward, and John K. Stevens, a moulder at Bass' foundry, were submitted as candidates. The commission voted tie, the mayor and Hilbrecht for Borgman, and Smith and Gordon for Stevens.
            Twenty-five ballots were taken and the vote was yet a tie. The commission then adjourned without having accomplished the new appointment. Councilman Michaels, who is down with typhoid fever, is a member of the commission and his vote would have settled the question on the first ballot.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

To The Victors Belong the Spoils

If you have been following the turmoil raging in the background of Fort Wayne resident John Kelly Stevens’ appointment to the city’s police force in 1896, perhaps you were left as puzzled as I was at the conclusion of yesterday’s post.

What we know for sure is that an unnamed reporter at the Fort Wayne Gazette had enough editorial liberties to publicly chastise the members of the city’s Board of Public Safety for summarily dismissing qualified employees simply on account of allegiance to the wrong political party.

Not that that was a rare occurrence. Apparently, a long history of what has been called “the patronage system” or the “political spoils” system was a characteristic which Fort Wayne shared with many an American city. While the Tammany Hall ring of New York City is an example more widely recognized from American history, Fort Wayne apparently had its own issues.

Take, for instance, this one splinter from Fort Wayne political history: Postmaster W. W. Rockhill of the Fort Wayne Post Office. Appointed to his position in 1893, only a few years prior to the time John Kelly was appointed to his lowly position, Postmaster Rockhill found his office to be functioning “under the civil service rules.” With the passage of time, however, he apparently had made such changes as to cause “repeated complaints of partisan manipulation” to reach the ears of the Indiana Civil Service Reform Association.

Investigating the source of the furor, a committee from the Association found that Mr. Rockhill was
One of those officers, plenty enough now but becoming less numerous, who think that the ordinary rules of fair dealing do not apply in politics. His mind was corrupted with the view that he must make places for partisans, and to accomplish this he resorted to slyness, trickery and deceit.
What is interesting about this particular W. W. Rockhill, besides his example of partisanship managerial style, is that he was also a part owner of the Fort Wayne Journal, another newspaper of John Kelly Stevens' time. Would you suppose that philosophy with which Postmaster Rockhill operated the city’s post office might have also found place in any of the Journal's editorial expressions?

Now, granted, the Fort Wayne Journal was not the newspaper in which the histrionic version of John Kelly Stevens’ appointment was reported. But an interesting twist of events followed that date not long afterwards.

Both the Journal and the Gazette have a long history in the city of Fort Wayne. In fact, much of the history of each newspaper is intertwined with that of the other. The Gazette—that outspoken mouthpiece raging against the unjust dismissal of the four policemen precipitating John Kelly’s hiring—was founded in 1863. Perhaps it was once as pro-Republican a publication as I had struggled to assume yesterday.

The key to my confusion, however, must lie with whatever story was behind an event occurring just three years after that diatribe. In 1899, for whatever reason, the Fort Wayne Gazette merged with the Journal to form the city’s morning newspaper—still in existence today—known as The Journal Gazette.

Whatever outspoken affinity for the Republican party the original Gazette might have harbored, with this merger, every shred of such advocacy disappeared. It was as if the newspaper of Rockhill had swallowed up the very essence of the Gazette’s editorial slant.

In its new iteration, for instance, the Journal Gazette later boasted as one of its longtime partners none other than Indiana Governor Paul V. McNutt—incidentally, a Democrat. In fact, the Journal Gazette was known for its alignment with the Democrat party from its merger until 1973.

So let’s go back and revisit that scenario, on the eve of the newspaper merger, when the Gazette had issued its outcry against the firing of those voting for “Oakley.” Who was Oakley, anyhow?

In a timeline listing all the mayors who had ever served the City of Fort Wayne, entry number twenty one named Chauncey B. Oakley as a Republican who served from 1894 through 1897. Interestingly, his term in office was sandwiched between two sequences served by Democrat Henry P. Scherer, the first of those lasting only one year.

Here’s the story behind that one year, from a report written within the next two decades after the fact:
Upon the death of Col. C. A. Zollinger, while an incumbent of the mayor’s chair, the city council in 1894 appointed Henry P. Scherer to serve until the voters at the subsequent election could select a successor. Then came the memorable contest in which all factions fought warmly for preference, resulting in the choice of Chauncey B. Oakley, independent, for mayor, over William H. Shambaugh, democrat. Mayor Oakley was known as the “Reform” candidate and his administration is remembered because of the rigid enforcement of the laws.  
Whatever “reforms” Mayor Oakley sought to institute, he evidently was not able to reach deep within the city’s Board of Public Safety. Whether a Republican, as he was reported to be in that recent online listing, or an Independent, as his contemporary, the author quoted above, held him to be, Oakley was actually still in office when the Board began its retaliatory firings. Apparently, whatever strategy was used, despite Oakley’s administrative goals, the “contest in which all factions fought warmly for preference” continued raging until the opposition succeeded in ousting him from office in the next election cycle.

This, of course, calls for me to re-examine the family tradition that John Kelly Stevens later was handed a demotion for that very same reason: political patronage. Why, then, would a Democrat man be appointed to office during the tenure of a Republican, then removed from his position during the reign of his own political party?

But larger than this personal question looms that of what was behind the merger between a decidedly pro-Democrat newspaper and one championing the cause of the Republicans. Whatever the reason for the two newspapers combining their forces, the result was that one of those two voices was, from that point onward, silenced.

The political cartoon, above left, first appeared in Harper's Weekly on April 28, 1877, entitled, "In Memoriam--our Civil Service As It Was." The cartoon, created by Thomas Nast, showed a statue of Andrew Jackson riding upon a pig, with the caption, "To the Victors Belong the Spoils." Image courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friends in High Places

Remember those reading comprehension exams from your school days? The ones where you had to read through a short piece—usually no longer than a couple paragraphs—and then answer four or five questions based on what you read?

I don’t know about you, but I used to ace those.

If yesterday’s newspaper excerpt had been included in one of those exams, though, I’m not sure I’d do so well. On the face of it, while that 1896 article in the Fort Wayne Gazette seemed shrieky, it was most likely intended as a sarcastic cut at the opposition. However, after delving into the behind-the-scenes details, one gets the impression that there is an explanation missing.

I’m having trouble connecting those dots.

I say “sarcastic” because that’s the splat of it, when words like “decapitated” in the headlines slap my face. Obviously, there couldn’t have actually been an ax swinging in that scene involving Fort Wayne’s Board of Public Safety.

To see terms included in quotes, like “resignation,” clues me in to some behind-the-scenes pressure for certain men on the city’s police force to give up their position.

There are no particular charges that can be brought against these men, save that they voted for Oakley.
Of course, it would help to know who Oakley was—one would presume a candidate for local office—and we’ll save that foray into political history for tomorrow’s post.

But for now, here’s the spot that perplexes me: as far as I can tell from the tone of this article, the writer’s perspective could be considered as pro-Republican—or at least anti-Democrat. After all, that’s a reasonable conclusion to make after reading a line like, “They will be given positions as rapidly as the Republican members on the force can be decapitated upon trumped-up charges,” wouldn’t you think?

A Vendetta of Political Genocide

Whoever was behind that article for the Fort Wayne Gazette, you’d think he had it out for Democrats. He—whoever the writer was—decried firing a man for “no particular charges.” And, apparently, the only ones being fired under these circumstances were Republicans.

That treatment, however, wasn’t unusual, give the time period of the late 1890s. While the political spoil system had been business-as-usual in government ranks for so long, though, things had begun to change. At least on the Federal level, citizens had been clamoring for civil service reform as early as the 1860s. With the formation of an actual Civil Service Commission in the 1880s, progress was finally being made, at least on the national scene.

As far as city governments went, though, traditions were a powerful force to be reckoned with—in some cities well into the 1900s. Apparently, as far as those city traditions went, Fort Wayne had plenty of company.

Depends on Who Your Friends Are

The reason for the great purge of the rank and file was to insure that each employee “have in him the making of a good ward heeler.” In other words, the powers that be were insisting on someone who “can be of some assistance in campaigns.”

So…John Kelly Stevens received his appointment not for any law enforcement qualifications he might have possessed, but solely thanks to having voted the right ticket in the preceding election.

Oral tradition in this family held that, later on, John Kelly Stevens lost a position for that very same reason—a story we’ll visit in a future post. Seeing that he gained one here prompts me to think of that trite saying, “Easy come, easy go.”

What confuses me, though, is not the continued existence of a political spoils system, even though headway was being achieved at the federal level.

What I’m confused about is the source of this very newspaper article. Would you not agree with me that a report like this one would lead an impartial observer to conclude that the Fort Wayne Gazette was a pro-Republican publication?

And yet, taking a look at the very history of the newspaper, since its very earliest days, the Fort Wayne Gazette was decidedly known as a pro-Democrat organization.

Perhaps now you see why I begin to doubt my prowess in reading comprehension: what gives, here?

While this quandary will cause us a detour from our intended focus of John Kelly Stevens’ family history, I’d like to look more closely at this seeming contradiction tomorrow, to see if we can finger the strands that contribute to the turmoil of the political environment in which average folks like John Kelly scrambled to keep their jobs.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Gotta Know Who Your Friends Are

Twenty two men vying for four positions on the Fort Wayne Police force in 1896 may not seem extreme to those of us recalling dire headlines of the economic stress of only a few years ago. I’m sure the Stevens household—with a sweet sixteen daughter and a son just entering adolescence—rejoiced at John Kelly Stevens’ good fortune at being one of the three selected in the final decision.

The copy of the announcement in the Fort Wayne News on May 22, 1896, may have seemed rather perfunctory—well, other than the odd mention that “they are all democrats”—but that is only because yesterday, we were looking at the situation through the lens of just one newspaper.

Let’s take a stroll on over to the other side, and get a look at how the Fort Wayne Gazette saw the proceedings. Mind you, it will be an entirely different picture. And since it is rather long-winded, I’ll save any further commentary on the subject for tomorrow’s post.

For now, just savor the contrasts and ponder how different life might have been, back in the 1800s, for our ancestors.

From the front page of this other newspaper on that very same day:
Ax is Swinging

Officers Being Decapitated to Give Place to Hungry Followers.

The board of public safety is getting the ax in good working order and members of the police force are being decapitated in right royal style. There are no particular charges that can be brought against these men, save that they voted for Oakely and attended to their official duties in good style. That coupled with the fact that the "hungry and thirsty" are relentless in their demands for places, is sufficient offense in the opinion of the board to "fire" them. Last night the board accepted the "resignations" of Officers Bower and Lamb. Buechnor and Tanner did not respond to the board's request to "resign" and they were incontinently fired, and their places will be filled with some one who "can be of some assistance in campaigns."

John Pageler, Patrick Murphy and John K. Stevens were appointed to the force. The former is a resident of the Eighth ward, the second is an ex-member of the force, and Stevens was a railroad man.

A score or more of the 200 applicants for position on the force were before the board. They were investigated as to whether they would fill the requirements, because under the present administration it is necessary that the applicant have in him the making of a good ward heeler, and they will be given positions as rapidly as the Republican members on the force can be decapitated upon trumped-up charges. Another batch of applications, in addition to the 200, were received and filed for future reference.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

One Man Short—Just As It Has Ever Been

John K Stevens patrolman in Fort Wayne 1896 to 1922
To delve into the story of John Kelly Stevens, I may as well do what I often find myself doing while researching: jump right into the middle of it all.

In John Kelly’s case, the middle might as well be the point at which he was appointed to his position as a patrolman for the city of Fort Wayne, Indiana. While that event happened relatively late in his life—he became a policeman at the age of forty, hardly a career change choice most men nowadays would have made at that stage in life—it became what defined him to the family that followed him.

As I’ve mentioned before, there is precious little that has been passed down through the family to give descendants an idea of what the man was really like. Other than the oral tradition, most of what I share with you about this man is material I’ve found in the last twenty years, either through online research or through “snail mail” correspondence and visits to Fort Wayne.

One week after John Kelly’s fortieth birthday, the Fort Wayne newspapers inserted his name in the front page narrative, thereby telling the city he was among the chosen: he had been appointed a patrolman.

I say “newspapers” because there was more than one side to this revelation on May 22, 1896. We’ll start with the more demure Fort Wayne News, and move on from there tomorrow to dissect the more histrionic version put forward by the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette.

You will perhaps be left with questions after reading the excerpt from this first article, but be patient. Let the thing unfold in its own time. What a mess we have just jumped into the middle of will soon be obvious to you—all providing us with that glorious turmoil more benignly christened “context.”

A little debriefing is in order before I send you, innocent, in among the lions:

First, John Kelly was never (at least to my knowledge at this point) a “railroad man,” let alone an “ex-railroad man.” He did have in-laws who worked in the Pennsylvania shop, but every mention I’ve read about his own former position indicated he was a moulder with a place called the Bass Foundry.

Perhaps it was the association between the manufacturer and the railroads that caused newspaper reporters to short-circuit and call John Kelly a railroad man. After all, the foundry not only became one of Fort Wayne’s largest employers, but also a leading manufacturer of railroad wheels.

To confuse the issue, the very history of the Bass Foundry wound itself around the Pennsylvania shop—first being founded by Sion Bass and William Jones and located on the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago line, then actually being sold to the railroad, an 1857 exchange which eventually grew into what was called the Pennsylvania shop. Following that, another Bass (John) formed a partnership, leased the plant, then sold it, then later bought out the interests of one of the new partners, and eventually ended up being sole owner of what, by John Kelly Stevens’ time years later, was known as the Bass Foundry and Machine Works.

Now, if you are as confused as you have a right to be, perhaps we shan’t be too rough on those newspaper reporters and their inaccuracies back in 1896. Here’s the Fort Wayne News’ version of the event:
Twenty-Two Men Up

Only Three Selected--The Doings in Police Circles

There was twenty-two applicants before the board of safety last night. These men have all filed applicants for appointment on the police force. It was expected that the board would appoint four of this number to succeed Buechner, Bowers, Tanner and Lamb, discharged. The hungry were disappointed however, as only three men were selected. The successful applicants were Patrick Murphy, an ex-policeman; John K. Stevens, an ex-railroad man and John Pageler, a medical student and chemist. Pageler is a single man, the others are married. They are all democrats. The force is at present one man short, just as it has been ever since Officer Hardendorf resigned. The vacancy will be filled soon.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Drawing Inferences

There is an iconic painting by Belgian surrealist René Magritte which shows a pipe, under which words are written to explain, "This is not a pipe."

His point, of course, is that the item is, rather, a drawing of a pipe.

Nevertheless, from representations like artwork, or literature, or even newspaper reports, we can infer meaning. We can take a two dimensional representation and from it breathe life into the three dimensional object it seeks to represent.

However, while concrete facts are the staples from which researchers extract their genealogical stories, those facts do not always make themselves obvious. Nor are they always readily available.

As we discussed yesterday, obtaining information that will allow us to piece together a composite sketch of John Kelly Stevens’ life will be a challenge—not because I have no documentation of his birth, his marriages, or his death, but because I have precious little passed down to me. What I do know of him (other than family anecdotes) I had to extract from other public records.

Those public records are otherwise known as newspapers.

Admittedly, in the city of Fort Wayne, where John Kelly Stevens lived since at least 1880, there was no dearth of newspaper reports containing a mention of the man. That serendipity didn’t necessarily come along with the territory of beat cop for the downtown area. There were certainly other policemen on the beat whose names didn’t appear in the paper as often.

This phenomenon only came along with the territory of a cop with an attitude. The man always had something to say, and the newspapers were often quite glad to quote him.

That brings up the sticky question of how to recognize a fact for a fact. Hearsay, whether presented in high court or passed from ear to ear at a gossip fest, is merely that: hearsay. On the other hand, there are so many little statements of reality that slip past our eyes, unrecognized for the facts they are, simply because we miss their significance.

If, for instance, the local newspaper reported that your southern relatives, along with weekend house guests, had had fried chicken for dinner the past Sunday, you would doubtless dismiss that as not newsworthy. And yet, those brief mentions litter the “Social” pages of many hometown newspapers. It’s not the fried chicken that we need to pay attention to, but the other details in the entry.

Many of those details can only be ferreted out by inference, rather than by literal, concrete statements. Asking questions is one way to start drawing aside the curtain masking the helpful details:
  • Who were the weekend house guests?
  • Where did the guests come from?
  • How did the guests get there?
  • Was there any special occasion that brought the guests to that town?
If you are an astute researcher, such as regular reader Intense Guy might be, you’d likely even work to determine whether there were a railroad line connecting the two cities. Filing away the guest names for future reference might later help reveal further connections between the two families, the reason they were together, or the type of lifestyle to which they were accustomed.

Sometimes, newspapers themselves can provide indirect instruction on what was going on in the life of our ancestors. I love how, for instance, blogger Sheryl in A Hundred Years Ago often provides the context of her grandmother’s journal entries of daily life through clippings from local newspapers, magazines and even old textbooks and government statistical reports!

In John Kelly Stevens’ case, I’ve been able to piece together a story of a gregarious and energetic man who worked hard at a demanding job for far longer than many in that occupation would consider customary today. Courtesy of newspapers, I have those Society section niceties about his family visits—and, yes, the crime stories in which his name surfaces after the fact—to help me reconstruct his life and his relationships to others in his sphere of influence.

Through newspaper reports, I also gained a sense of how very sociable his half-sister Kathryn was, and was able to discover and document the growth of the families of other relatives in the city—including some I hadn’t even known existed.

Of course, I also uncovered challenging reports—like that of the arrival of a newborn daughter to the Stevens household, when John Kelly and his third wife never had any children in common. Reporting errors like that force me to hone my research skills—for this story, it was a case of two women with the same maiden name—and to look deeper for explanations.

All these tidbits, however, came not from straightforward statements of fact, but were gleaned from years and years of occasional mentions within the pages of three hometown newspapers. Often the discoveries I made were not the statements themselves, but the context that was uncovered through examinations of those statements. Like pieces composing a mosaic, each inference provided a peek at the character and tendencies of the players to give me a better glimpse of who these ancestors really were.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Goldilocks Parameters

The advent of “Story” in the world of genealogy has been particularly touted on the conference scene this year as every event from RootsTech last March through—undoubtedly—the upcoming Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in August has included speakers urging the inclusion of more than just the dry recital of “BMD.”

While birth, marriage and death dates are certainly pertinent facts to employ when we are reporting on our ancestors, “Story” is hardly a radical departure from what’s been going on around here at A Family Tapestry for well over that same time period.

I promised to introduce the next character in our cast of players in the Stevens story, today. We’ll begin discussing Will Stevens’ father, John Kelly Stevens.

However, unlike the series on Will’s son, Frank—where we had a thick stack of letters to rely upon to gain a better picture of what the man was really like—we are now venturing into territory from which precious few artifacts emerged.

Without letters home, without journals, without even photographs, how can we gain a sense of who such an ancestor was?

For those ancestors who were fortunate to live in a town small enough to include a newspaper which was not above reporting, say, what was served at the Smiths’ Sunday dinner, we are still able to glean a few details about our ancestors’ lives.

If we were about to examine my own paternal grandparents’ lines, however, we would be out of luck, as they swam invisibly in a sea of people in the major metropolitan area of New York City. The names of people such as those would not be showing up in The New York Times (thought they might make the Daily News).

If, on the other hand, we wanted to pursue the details of, say, my husband’s distant Ryan cousins as they set up housekeeping in the Dakota Territory in the early 1880s, we would still be disappointed, as the region at that time had no communities large enough to even support the formation of a newspaper.

I’m sure you are beginning to spot a trend here: finding any details on the lives of our ancestors may require gleaning reports from newspapers. In order to successfully do that, though, it requires residence in a place that is not too big and not too small.

It has to be a place that is just right.

Thankfully, Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the late 1880s through the early 1920s was that kind of place: it was just right.

While John Kelly Stevens was born elsewhere—the small town of Lafayette in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, to be precise—he spent his adult life in Fort Wayne, a town of not one, not two, but three competing newspapers. And though John Kelly was not famous by any stretch of the imagination, nor even “important” by virtue of any role of prominent businessman or politician, he certainly had more than his fair share of mentions within the pages of these three publications.

Serving for many of those years as a patrolman for the city’s police force, John Kelly saw his name appearing often in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette. If his name wasn’t in print there, the Fort Wayne Sentinel or the Daily News was sure to pick up the report.

Considering that John Kelly Stevens was born on May 15 of 1856, the journalistic narrative didn’t catch up with him until he was at least forty years of age. He made the switch from private person to public figure upon his appointment to the police force. From that time on, every interesting caper from the center of town to the edge of city limits seemed to include his name in print.

With the resources now available to discover these stories online, I’ve been able to piece together a timeline of John Kelly’s work day from the week of his appointment to the eve of his retirement, twenty six years later.

Of course, you know how I feel about newspaper reports: there’s an edgy, tentative truce between us. I crave the information but deplore the reporting errors. This new journey in discovering John Kelly Stevens will be no different. You’ll see those occasional mistakes as we make our way through his timeline. Thankfully, collateral documentation will help us tiptoe our way through these factual landmines.

Yet, I have to keep in mind, that, if it weren’t for the goldmines of these historical journals, there would be precious little I’d otherwise find on this ancestor. I’d be reduced to relying on that stripped-down model BMD: the un-compelling saga of John Kelly Stevens’ birth, marriage and death.

Instead, I can chuckle over the escapades he endured, all in a day’s work, and savor the outrageous sense of humor that oozed from him, almost as if it were imprinted in his very genes—for in a way, there is a vaguely reminiscent aura about this man.

All told, despite the occasional journalistic errors, I have to remind myself to maintain a sense of gratitude for such a resource—and for the fact that John Kelly Stevens chose to live in a town that was not too big, not too small, but just right.

Just right for getting the story told—and saved long enough for others to discover it.

John Kelly Stevens serving on Fort Wayne Indiana police force circa 1921
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...