Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Finding What’s Right

If you do genealogical research long enough, you will realize that even the most reliable of resources occasionally delivers error-ridden information. If you’ve been reading along here at A Family Tapestry for any time, you’ve witnessed (along with me) the discovery of headstones engraved with misinformation, death certificates supplying wrong names or dates—not to mention, the numerous journalistic errors in newspapers from across the fruited plain.

Take the report, in the continuing saga of our John Brown of Logansport, Indiana, from the July 21, 1897, Pharos Tribune. Even though the paper carried the news of the attempted suicide every day starting on Monday the nineteenth, the Wednesday edition was incorrectly dated with the year as 1896 rather than the correct 1897.

Perhaps it is no wonder, then, that we were confronted with the puzzling possibility of two different dates of death in Cass County’s own records. As mentioned in Saturday’s post, here were the entries I had found for John Brown:
  • age 26, died July 19, 1897, book 8, page 123
  • age 26, died July 21, 1897, book 8, page 132
  • age 26, died July 19, 1897, book CH-1, page 86.
Having read every newspaper entry on the saga that was available online, I think I’ve come up with a reason for the discrepancy. First, if you recall, what originally looked like a doomed scenario for young John occurred on Monday, July 19. Could the Cass County officials have just made the assumption that there was no way John could have survived his ordeal, writing him off on that very day? That would be entry number one in the death records.

Then, after duly noting the event in official governmental documents before close of the business day, John’s miraculous revival occurred and was reported in the newspapers. While the correct conclusion of the matter was eventually announced, it so happened that the town’s newspaper—the Pharos Tribune—also had a weekly edition, in which the updated report appeared on the following Wednesday, July 21. Could someone have carelessly glanced at the updated headline underneath the weekly’s rerun of the original report, and presumed death came on the date of the report (Wednesday) instead of the original (and correct) Monday in which it actually occurred?

Of course, there would have been the possibility that there were two different men by the name John Brown, both of the same age, who died two days apart. And yes, I did research that possibility. You may be interested to know there was another John Brown in Logansport at that time—and he did die…but not until one year later.

Oh, one more thing: this other John Brown had a different middle initial.

Whether my supposed scenario explains the recording discrepancy or not, one thing I can be sure of: by July 24, 1897, when the burial took place, John H. Brown was most certainly dead.

I don’t mean to belabor the point merely for the petty cause of ascertaining the correct of two close given dates of death. I have other reasons for pursuing this tale further. For one thing, the many reports of this event in downtown Logansport met the need to know of many curious townspeople.

Beyond that, though, those several newspaper entries also provide us with a glimpse into the interpersonal dynamics of Emma Carle Brown Kelly’s family life. To see the details of these lives, unfortunately, presents me with several more questions about that situation into which she had—only three months prior—agreed to join her own life and fortune.


  1. Three months married...I suppose the responsibility was too much for him. Or perhaps she didn't like his drinking:)

    1. Now, there's a thought--I wonder what Emma's response was to all this? Even more, did she not know beforehand that this was his reputation? I do wish there was a way to know her side of the story...and her parents' perspective, too.

  2. Your comments re:unreliability of reliable sources are much to the point. My mother's death certificate is correct to the best of family knowledge except that it says she was widowed, but she was divorced. I think that I was the source of such information as her mother's maiden name, but I would never had stated she was widowed. My husband's family has always, always, always given (and celebrated) his birthday as June 16 and so it is recorded in the family Bible. But when we obtained his birth certificate for S.S. benefits, it shows his birth as June 14. (We still celebrate it on the 16th.)

  3. For reasons I really don't want to get into here - I "enjoyed" the birthday cake / card thing at a company I worked at about 5 months before my actual birthday - and once it started it was impossible to set straight - and ended only when I left the company.

    Sometimes it is just the silliest of things - but you are right, how hard would it be to have the "right date" someone died on? Were they illiterate (and unable to read a calendar? Apparently some of my relatives were - the proverbial hicks from the sticks in Kentucky...)


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