Fake News Article about Jacob Kissinger

Fake news is not new

The Family Bible Preservation Project does great work in getting non-standard genealogical sources indexed and connected to the records of the people recorded. They also issue interesting and fun genealogical challenges – usually finding someone in an obscure reference, such as people mentioned in an embroidered sampler.

I took on a challenge, from the attached newspaper clipping, to find a Jacob Kissinger, who’s last will and testament was found after it was buried with him in a Family Bible for 30 years. The challenge was to find the person or his ancestors

My response to the challenge

I have identified the family as direct ancestors of Leslie Knope. [8]

This article ran in many newspapers between 16 April 1897 and 22 Aug 1902 (more than 5 years). While these were obvious, almost identical copies, several versions had slight variances including the last name spelling of “Kissingen.” [1]

All the articles seemed to have been an expansion of a story that ran in The Indianapolis News 15 Apr 1897 which was shorter and had some specifics that differed. The dateline city was “English, Ind.” which has recently become the county seat of Crawford County, Indiana – home to the four American children. [2]

Just the whole idea that a probate issue could have festered for more than 30 years seems improbable. Someone has possession of his estate during all that time.

Thirty years?

An estate worth fighting over for 30 years would seem likely show up in tax rolls, etc.

It’s not just Jacob or his property that can’t be found – his descendants seem missing, too. If all four of his American children were still “Crawford county citizens” after “more then 30 years” then at least one of them would most likely have been buried there. None have been recorded as having grave in Crawford County. [3] Also missing is Jacob’s grave, which would have needed a marker to have been exhumed after 30 years, and you would expect they would have re-interred him with a marker. While they might have all been daughters who married, taking their husband’s names, the later articles indicate sons in that “not one of them guessed that he had a brother in Europe.” It seems that the family should show up the the 1900 census, yet there’s only one close match, a widowed barber named “L. N. Kessinger,” b. Aug 1848 in Kentucky [4] (And it’s not a geography/county splitting problem – Crawford County was formed in 1818 [5] and other than a slight expansion in 1828, it’s borders are still the same. [6] )

The family stayed put in Crawford county, for more than 30 years. They would have roots there and would have shown up somewhere in the records.

So, the story is getting weaker.

Perhaps the most telling, dubious claim is the Bible and its condition. First, I can find little evidence that Family bibles are commonly buried with the deceased – and they put it in the coffin without checking it or noticing a will inside. My second thought is that the condition of the Bible would be bad, however the original article states it as “fair” while the later articles list it as “good.” Finally, the subsequent articles say that “A few days ago a dispute arose which could be cleared up by the Family Bible.” How, after more than thirty years, would a dispute that could be “cleared up” suddenly arise? What would that question be? And an exhumation was allowed?

Near the same time that this article was running, there was a long-running, sensational case of Jacob Z Davis where a (supposed) will was found sealed in a box with his wife’s cremains, although the date this came to light is still a bit unclear. [11] There was also a Bible genealogy brought into the Davis case a few days before the Jacob Kissinger story “broke.” [10]

The name “Jacob Kissinger” may have been pulled out of thin air or from another unbelievably extraordinary story a few years earlier about a man of the same name who was targeted with a bomb hidden in firewood. [7] Or perhaps it was an homage to the (probably) real story of a Jacob Kissinger’s son, J. C., who fathered 34 children, nine of who died in a single fire. [12]

“Special to…”

It is also curious that in the column next to the original article, there was, in the same town of English, also on April 15, an article with the same “Special to…” byline that told of a total of 87 snakes found in under a log that had been slowly burning for two days. [9] It gets even more curious that the Jacob Kissinger bomb story also ran in the Indianapolis News with that same “Special to..” byline except in a different town! [13] Could it be that “Special to…” actually means “we made it up”?

To sum up my doubts, the family suddenly decided that after 30 years that was some relative they weren’t sure about, but could get certainty by checking a Family Bible that had been buried for 30 years. The case had curious similarities with a famous case that had gained wide attention. There were some very specific details and lots of missing details – such as any of the names of the children, or what the dispute was that delayed probate for 30 years.

My conclusion – fake news?

So, my conclusion, which can never be definitive, is this story is fictional, as is the previously-mentioned Leslie Knope, who lived in a town near Jacob Kissinger, at least one of the Jacobs! [8]

While it is common to hit dead ends in genealogical research, this dead end has too many dubious “facts” to give it credence, and enough oddities to raise some doubts. It’s a bit of a different twist on the idea of “fake news” with probably a different motive – I think it was something to get people talking (and buying more papers!).

I, however, remain open to more evidence or other viewpoints!

References:

Some of these references will require a subscription / login at the target website.

1 – https://www.newspapers.com/search/#query=%22After+Lying+in+a+Man%27s+coffin%22

2 – https://www.newspapers.com/clip/66292338/jacob-kissinger-will-in-grave-30-years/

3 – All of Indiana: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/search?firstname=&middlename=&lastname=Kissinger&birthyear=1870&birthyearfilter=before&deathyear=1897&deathyearfilter=after&location=Indiana%2C+United+States+of+America&locationId=state_17&memorialid=&mcid=&linkedToName=&datefilter=&orderby=r&includeMaidenName=true&page=1#sr-46188245

– Crawford County including similar names – https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/search?firstname=&middlename=&lastname=Kissinger&birthyear=1870&birthyearfilter=before&deathyear=1897&deathyearfilter=after&location=Crawford+County%2C+Indiana%2C+United+States+of+America&locationId=county_804&memorialid=&mcid=&linkedToName=&datefilter=&orderby=n&includeMaidenName=true&fuzzyNames=true

4 – https://www.familysearch.org/search/record/results?q.surname=Kissinger&q.residencePlace=Crawford%2C%20Indiana&f.collectionId=1325221&m.defaultFacets=on&m.queryRequireDefault=on&m.facetNestCollectionInCategory=on&count=20&offset=0

5 – https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Crawford_County,_Indiana_Genealogy

6 – https://www.mapofus.org/indiana/

7 – https://www.newspapers.com/clip/66294505/jacob-kissinger-target-of-attempted-bomb/

8 – Please read all the rest of the article before checking out this reference! – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leslie_Knope

9 – https://www.newspapers.com/clip/66300947/a-lively-den-of-snakes/

10 – https://www.newspapers.com/clip/66297823/jacob-z-davis-bible-involved-in/

11 – https://www.newspapers.com/image/27610539/?terms=Jacob%20Z%20Davis&match=1

12 – https://www.ancestry.com/mediaui-viewer/tree/14962340/person/226667777/media/da3fe61f-b74c-4a01-a90c-34eb49ded43e

13 – https://newspapers.library.in.gov/?a=d&d=INN18940227-01&dliv=userclipping&cliparea=1.2%2C374%2C3925%2C885%2C675&factor=2&e=——189-en-20–21–txt-txIN-Jacob+Kissinger——

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