Check and recheck the facts

This week I was reminded of the importance to check facts. My big non-fiction project is an attempt to identify Mary Jane Kelly who was killed by Jack the Ripper in 1888. I have compiled a large database containing details of over 600 women and am slowly attempting to trace each one. This is often difficult, relying on reasonable assumptions.

For example one Mary Kelly  married Colin Campbell in 1876. She died in 1887 and then Colin remarried to Margaret Kelly whose father, like Mary’s, was a stonemason called John. Making a reasonable assumption that Mary and Margaret were sisters I found only one pair of siblings with those names and a father called John, in the right area and age range but John’s occupation was given as labourer. Stonemasonry was a skilled trade, not something picked up in later life. I searched again, finding two stonemasons called John Kellly. One had a daughter, Mary, and one had a daughter, Margaret. To confuse matters further the families lived in neighbouring properties ten years apart.

On the marriage certificate both Colin and Margaret gave the same address where the widow of the first stonemason was living a few months later. I’m now making the reasonable assumption that her daughter Mary was Colin’s first husband. When I’ve got through the remaining Marys I might come back and work out who Margaret really was.

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