Monday, October 7, 2013

Believing Newspapers

With momentous discoveries found in newspaper accounts, I’m faced with a dilemma: do I believe every word—or recall the many past times in which the newspaper got it wrong?

Consider this case. I’m researching a man with a name so common, it renders him near invisible. How do I differentiate my John Kelly from all the other Irish immigrants sporting the very same name? I have a vested interest in paying attention to every last detail I can find on his wife, who thankfully was bestowed with a less-common name than her husband.

As you can see from yesterday’s post, in finding Johanna Kelly’s obituary, I found a treasure chest filled with little tidbits. The obituary included her Fort Wayne address, confirming I had the right Johanna Kelly—just in case there was any doubt. Even though he passed away eleven years prior to her death, John Kelly’s name was included, along with his identification as her husband. There is no question I’ve gotten the right person.

But what about some of the other details? While I can confirm that her grown children’s names are correct, the statement that Johanna had been in the United States since 1870 is not entirely so. Well, yes, she was in America in 1870 onward, but she had to have arrived in Fort Wayne before the birth of her son Patrick in July, 1869. Did Johanna actually forget where she gave birth to her son? Or did the family just round the date up from his birthday to the next nearest year (only six months away)? Toying around with little details like this doesn’t improve upon that confidence level.

So when I came to that momentous discovery in her obituary—that she was a native of County Kerry and had “several sisters and brothers” surviving her who still lived in Ireland—I wasn’t sure what to do. Do the genealogy happy dance for finding the exact county of her origin? Include a few shrieks of “Eureka” for discovering that there were additional siblings still there? Or wonder whether any of it was even believable?

You know how I am about mistakes in newspapers.

I’m not sure it helped, now that I subscribe to various other historic newspaper archives, to discover there was a second version of Johanna Falvey Kelly’s obituary. It seemed to be a re-hash of the same basic information I had already found, years ago, in the microfilmed version of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette obituary.

Knowing how easy it seems to be for newspapers to get the story wrong, I turned a sharp eye to the copy printed on page ten of The Fort Wayne Weekly Sentinel that May 6 in 1903. Take a look at it for yourself. You’ll see the Sentinel said basically the same thing about Johanna as their competitor had printed.

Or did it?

Take another look. You’ll see I now have a couple other discrepancies to add to the list:
·        Brothers and sisters? Or sisters only?
·        Survivors in Ireland only? Or—what?—a sister in New Zealand?

Whichever result turns out to be true, I’m even more eager to press onward to the preceding generation. Wouldn’t it be just stellar to discover not only distant cousins in Ireland, but some in New Zealand as well?

I’m already beginning to wonder how two parts of the same family could head in such radically different directions when leaving their homeland.
            Mrs. Johanna Kelly, for thirty-three years a resident of this city, died shortly after 6 o’clock this morning at her home, 1919 Hoagland avenue, at the advanced age of 77 years.
            Deceased was taken ill on Easter Sunday with bronchitis, which culminated in her death today. She was born in County Kerry, Ireland, but came to America with her husband, John Kelly, in 1870, locating in Fort Wayne the same year, and has resided in this city continuously since that time.
            The husband died about eleven years ago. Three children survive—Mrs. P. H. Phillips and P. T. and J. J. Kelly, of this city. There are also several sisters living in Ireland and one in New Zealand. Mrs. Kelly was very widely known and had many friends.
            The funeral services will be held Monday morning at 8:30 from the residence and at 9 o'clock from St. Patrick's church, of which the deceased was a devout member.


  1. These little discrepancies wouldn't bother me. Rounding up and estimating are common enough, especially when the events took place many years before, and probably even more common when the person reporting wasn't even a part of the event. Certainly the New Zealand piece must have been true because it's such an odd tidbit that the writer couldn't possibly have confused other reported information.

    1. Wendy, thanks for the encouragement. Good point about the New Zealand detail...and wouldn't it be fun to search for descendants in New Zealand? ;)

  2. Even if it is written in stone it might be wrong.

    1. Oh...I see you've run across some of those headstones, too, Grant!


    1. Now that would be worth reading! :)

    2. What a great link! As always, you are amazing, Iggy! Thanks for finding that!

  4. New that is a trip to look forward to! :)


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