Monday, August 19, 2013

More Newspaper Mythology

Just when you think you can proceed—with caution, of course—on your predetermined course of research action, what should come up and slap you in the face but another error?!

Consider this: by the year 1904, John Kelly Stevens is forty eight years of age. He is on his third wife: the former Theresa Blaising of New Haven, Indiana. The other two wives have already died, each shortly after childbirth. Theresa, perhaps wisely, had chosen a different course for herself. She, by the way, would be thirty eight, herself, by 1904.

And then, just after the beginning of that new year of 1904, John Kelly slips into his seat at the office—or wherever he chose to scan the day’s headlines—and his eyes light on the following statement in the newsprint:
The Birth Record...born, to Police Officer J. Kelly Stevens and wife—a daughter.
Say what?!

Believe me: I’ve searched high, I’ve searched low. Just because something is in print doesn't mean it is true, right?

I still can’t conjure up the convoluted path the Fort Wayne Daily News took on January 27, 1904, to come up with a statement like that. I find no such birth record in the Allen County documents. I find no corresponding death record for any “Baby Girl Stevens” to explain away the baby-that-wasn’t. I’ve asked older relatives in the Stevens family—those who would have remembered any story like that, or who at least remembered Theresa Blaising Stevens—and no results. Other than a total blank.

You know that wasn’t the first time I’ve run across a newspaper entry that had me puzzled. Of course, the last one I mentioned—that of “nephew Raphael Kruse”—turned out to be true. And it took me a lot of research time, too.

This time, though, I haven’t been able to find any plausible explanation, despite all the research time it took to check it out.

And that’s not all. Try this other one on for size. Of course, it occurred much later than the previous entry. Here’s what the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette had to say on page six of the July 26, 1919, edition:
Officer John K. Stevens was notified of the death of his mother at Lafayette. The funeral will be held on Monday.
Granted, John Kelly was from Lafayette, Indiana—correct on that one point. But his own mother died shortly after giving birth to John Kelly’s younger brother, William, in 1858. That’s a far cry from 1919. And the entry wasn’t referring to his step-mother, either. Eliza Murdock Stevens died in 1901—again, way sooner than this news report.

Thinking perhaps it was a mother-in-law, rather than a mother, I girded myself for a search in triplicate. After all, John Kelly was married three times, so that would mean three mothers-in-law. But no, that theory would hardly seem likely. His first wife, Mary Clara Miller, was born in 1856. While I don’t yet know her parents’ names, it would be quite a stretch to think a woman born by at least 1836 would still be alive in 1919, at eighty three years of age or more. Though she never lived to know it, John Kelly’s second wife, Catherine Kelly, had a mother who died in 1903. And Theresa Blaising Stevens’ mother passed in 1907.

So who would it be in John Kelly Stevens’ family who died in 1919?

Not either of his brothers. Nor his half-sisters. Nor his step-sister. Nor any other distant family member that I can find.

It just seems like it was yet another one of those mysterious editorial mistakes that news publications are prone to suffer.

If nothing else, it certainly puts me through my paces in double-checking all those vital statistics listed in my database.

And it makes me wonder about the crazy possibility that there might be two men by the name John Kelly Stevens on the Fort Wayne police force.

Nah. Couldn’t be!

Or could it?


  1. Reporter error? Misinformation? I hope you find the bet is on you:)

  2. I think I would believe another John Kelly Stevens (a "Jr." would be easiest for me to "buy into") but another Officer John Kelly Stevens?

    What other officers might there be? Some other government official? Dog Catcher? War veteran (not that they would be called "Officer")... did the word mean something slightly different "back then"?

    I think I would believe "mistake" before anything else - did the reporter mean a different person but write down the wrong name to attach to the event?

  3. Interesting to me is this, in one case the reporter uses "J Kelly" and the other it is "John K"...

    Maybe it's like Batman and Bruce Wayne...

  4. Hmm...

    Maybe "Officer Kelly" worked in Cow-lumbus?

    1. Interesting find, Iggy. But I guess I'll have to go with your first theory: someone probably was trying to multi-task at work and got distracted one time too many. You know how it is with deadlines...


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