Chicago in 1930 (photo from, click for more details).

Chicago in 1930 (photo from, click image for more details).

You don’t have to do genealogy very long before you run into one of the genealogist’s greatest bugaboos–an inconsistency.

Records from the distant past are notorious for being wrong.  People made mistakes as they recorded a name or a date or a location, and in that split-second lapse they create a huge problem for future historians.  Their momentary mistake hides forever the true fact and propagates a false one.

I’m not sure which is worse:  to find only one record substantiating a fact (in which case we have to trust the fact-recorder) or to find multiple records that don’t line up (in which case we have to figure out which fact-recorder to trust).

My most recent struggle with inconsistent records of the past involves my great-grandfather’s cousins, Marie and Percy Shaw, who lived in Chicago in the early 1900s.

Marie and Percy were brother and sister.  They lived together with their parents all the way up until their mother’s death (their father had died earlier).  Then, just a few months after their mother’s death in 1929, they both died.

Marie, who was 47, died of a brain tumor at Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago on October 22, 1930 according to her death certificate.  Percy, who was 45, died of a carcinoma of the sinuses at the Cook County Institution’s Infirmary in Bremen Township (just south of Chicago) on October 21, 1930 according to his death certificate.

Their joint funeral was held in Chicago on the afternoon of October 24, 1930 according to the Chicago Daily Tribune.

The oddity of their dying a day apart of apparently unrelated diseases seemed striking to me.  I did a little more digging and found the cemetery records for their burial in a family plot in Cincinnati, Ohio on October 27, 1930 at 10:30am.  What I found there confused me further.

percyThe cemetery records indicate that both Percy and Marie died of an auto accident on October 22, 1930.  Their death by auto accident would explain why they died one day apart.  However, it still leaves many questions:

  • Why do their death certificates list other causes of death and not mention the car accident?
  • Why does Percy’s death certificate and the newspaper say he died on October 21?
  • Why did Percy die at an institution for the poor and mentally ill while Marie died miles away (and closer to their home) in a private hospital?
  • Who arranged for their funeral and the final disposition of their earthly goods (their parents had died as had their mother’s parents, in whose family plot they were buried)?

marieAuto accidents were a common occurrence in Chicago in 1930.  It was also the period of speakeasies, mobsters and a very dark nightlife in Chicago.

I would love to know more about these cousins and what their lives were like in 1920s Chicago.  And, of course, I’d love to know how exactly they died a day apart in 1930.

If anyone has any suggestions on where I might look or who I might ask to find out more information about this piece of my family history, I’m open to ideas.  You can email me at kevhar72 @ or leave a comment on this post.


— — —

To read my previous post about Percy and Marie Shaw, with a few more details about their lives, see A startling coincidence or something else.

To read about the Cook County Institution where Percy died see Oak Forest Hospital of Cook County and Cook County almshouses.

To read about Swedish Covenant Hospital where Marie died see Swedish Covenant Hospital.

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3 Responses to Inconsistencies

  1. pokedpotato says:

    I never thought of the inconsistencies of records until recently. Meg’s birth certificate came to us last week with Zach’s name spelled wrong. Zach was like, “oh that’s no big deal”. and I told him it’s a huge deal & we’re going to fix it. Good luck figuring out more about your great grandfather’s cousins!

  2. daisy says:

    Hi Kevin, you are much more skilled in this area than I — so I don’t have any suggestions. But I do have some comments! The picture you chose for this post is perfect. Sets the scene just right. And it is so surprising to me that, either way you look at their deaths, there are so many unanswered questions. Especially as you mentioned — what happened to their belongings? Also, both possible causes of death are so ghastly. Either the joint yet unrelated serious health issues, or the tragedy of being mangled in a lethal car accident. Yikes. Hope you find your answers!

  3. Gina says:

    Well, this is interesting, and sparks thought of that time period in Chicago. But first can you clear up something for me? At the beginning of your post you state they were brother/sister…then at the end, you state they were cousins. I agree, inconsistencies are very confusing. lol

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