Lining Up the Suspects

Let’s play a game of Where’s Waldo?  How many red-stripey-hatted discrepancies can you find in the following newspaper articles? (Or, just skip ahead to where I tell you how many I see.)

First, here’s a nice birth announcement, published in February 1932. Ralph James is my grandfather. Gladys Hooker is the Mrs. mentioned, and the daughter is Geraldine, my half-aunt, who went by Jerry most of her life:

A Daughter - Jerry James

Next, the line-up of other suspects:

In November 1931, three months before Jerry’s birth announcement, the following article appeared in the local paper:

Mrs. Gladys James, 28, 216 Twelfth avenue, was awarded a divorce from Ralph E. James, 30, whom she charged with cruelty. They were married June 20, 1931 at Rock Port, Mo. Mrs. James was given full custody of her daughter, Geraldine, 2, and $25 alimony a month by stipulation.

In August 1941, a petition for divorce appeared:

SEVEN SEEK DIVORCE…Gladys from Ralph James, married here (Council Bluffs, Iowa) March 10, 1931.

And finally, this article appeared in January 1943:


How many discrepancies did you come up with?

I count 8. There are the three different marriage dates and two locations. That’s 5. There are two different announcements of divorce spanning 12 years. In that last article, Jerry is described as an 11-year-old son. And the biggest one…

Drum roll, please…

is the fact that my grandfather was paying $25 in alimony a month BEFORE HIS DAUGHTER WAS ACTUALLY BORN.

What is going on?

This sort of thing is where the genealogical proof standard comes in handy. Looking at all the information I’ve uncovered, not just the documents I’ve shown here, I’ve come up with some theories. I am currently casting my research nets based on these theories. Please tell me if they seem feasible or not.

Discrepancy #1: the big one. Jerry’s existence before she was born is actually pretty easily explained. If you’ve been following this series about my grandfather, you’ll remember there’s another daughter in the family, Barbara Schmidt. She would have been 2 years old in November 1931. Also, Gladys would have been 6 months pregnant with Jerry at the time this article was written. The journalist probably got confused by the daughters’ names…

Which leads me to Discrepancies 2-5: the first two wedding dates and locations.  We have June 20, 1931 in Rock Port, Missouri; and March 10, 1931 in Council Bluffs. I have not found any marriage records yet, but I think I know what this is about. The article with the June date was published BEFORE Jerry was born. 8 months before, in fact. Rock Port, Missouri, is the first town just on the other side of the Iowa border, probably the best place for a couple to marry quickly and anonymously. The second date is 11 months before little Jerry came along, and it was printed AFTER Jerry was born. If people knew how old she was, they could do the same math that I just did. Probably Gladys lied to make that math add up. So, all fingers point to the first date and place being correct.

Discrepancies 6-7: the third wedding date and the two different divorce announcements. So, if Gladys and Ralph divorced in November 1931, that would be five months after their shotgun wedding. It’s probably safe to assume their relationship was rocky. Gladys must have left for a time after this announcement, but then came back. The 1936 wedding date was probably their second marriage.

Discrepancy #8: their 11-year-old son. Her name is Jerry. The journalist probably just assumed the wrong gender when Gladys mentioned her.

Whew! I know. That was a lot. But I love the logic puzzle genealogy so often presents to me, and I love what the differing information tells me about my ancestors’ lives. I’d love to hear where you’d go next if this were your problem to solve.

Confused? Start at the beginning of this series.

All sources for the documents mentioned can be found here.

Looking for a more formal biography of my ancestors? Whoo hoo! I thought of that, too.


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I am a writer for an e-Learning course vendor near Chicago.

5 thoughts on “Lining Up the Suspects”

  1. This story continues to fascinate me. I feel like I’m just barely holding on to the details – that happens when my brain encounters numbers – but I’m still with you and as curious as ever! Love genealogy mysteries!

  2. Lies plus multiple errors, phew! I used to work as a newspaper reporter for a small town, and when I didn’t want to write a story that I deemed unimportant, my editor would remind me that we were the “paper of record.” It’s cool to think about someone all these years later using those stories for research. (Or, more likely, those planning and zoning committee meetings weren’t so important after all.)

  3. Goodness, it’s like a mystery novel about your own family! Very cool! I remember being a teenager, visiting Scotland with my parents. My mom is really into geneology so we traveled around and found where ancestors used to live and basically dug up grave stones where they’d been ignored for a long time. It was one of my favorite trips over there!

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