Sunday, May 30, 2010


The picture above may be of Roll Humphrey Stevens. It is in the Stevens family album but does not have a name on it. A process of elimination, although very “iffy,” suggests it is he. Like everything else about Roll, however, it remains a loose end.

Genealogists hate loose ends. Roll is one of mine.

He was my grandma Jessie’s first cousin. Both were born in Sterling, Kansas, one in 1885 and the other in 1886. He died in 1903 while still a teenager, and I never heard any family stories about him. In fact, I didn’t even know he existed until 1984 when I received in the mail a copy of a short handwritten family history written by Frank Dana Stevens, forwarded to me from a very distant relative in Wichita. The first page said, “Roll Humphrey Stevens, born August 29, 1886, died October 29, 1903.” Nothing more was said. The fellow was only 17.

In 25 years of researching I had never turned anything else up on poor Roll. I admit that I hadn’t looked very hard, but I did know that he was buried in Maple Hill cemetery in Wichita but without a tombstone. I knew that Humphrey was his mother’s maiden name, and that there was a family friend or relative also named Roll Humphrey, which I’m sure is where Frank Stevens got the name. And in a printed bio of father Frank in a Kansas book it noted that Roll was killed in a train accident. I also learned that his first name was Rolland.

Recently I have been cleaning out out my genealogy files, tossing away extraneous stuff that I’ve kept for years. While one is never “finished” researching, there does come a time when one says, “OK. I’d better get this wrapped up.” So this was the reason I was sorting out old files and tossing things right and left.

Until I came to the Stevens file and confronted Roll again.

I needed to wrap Roll up too. I didn’t feel I needed to buy a tombstone for his unmarked grave, but I did feel I needed to give him a little attention and leave a better record of this young man’s life.

In the interest of time, I hired a researcher in Wichita to find me a death certificate and do a newspaper search not only for an obituary but also for a newspaper article about the train wreck. With the results in, I can share the following, excerpted from the October 31, 1903 issue of the Wichita Eagle:

“Roll Sevens was a young man well and favorably known in Wichita, and has always borne an excellent reputation. He was born in Sterling, Kansas, August 27, 1885. His parents moved to Wichita a number of years ago and the young man has always lived with his parents until a few weeks ago, when he left for St. Louis to accept a position with a train news company. The boy had not been heard from since he left home, and consequently Mr. Stevens was horrified to learn of the sad accident. The boy attended the public schools of the city in his boyhood, was a student at the high school at Carbondale and graduated from the Wichita Business College.”

The newspaper article is very vague on the cause of the accident, calling it simply a “smash-up” and it isn’t clear about the injuries and deaths of passengers. It was probably too soon to have the details in print. What is left hanging is an understanding of the following paragraph: “THE ENGINEER AND FIREMAN JUMPED AND SAVED THEMSELVES, BUT THREE TRAMPS WHO WERE RIDING ON THE BLIND BAGGAGE GOT THE FULL FORCE OF THE COLLISION. ONE MAN NAMED STEVENS, WHO LIVED AT WICHITA, WAS KILLED AND ANOTHER WAS SERIOUSLY INJURED.”

So I’m left with some questions:
1) What was a “train news company” that supposedly he was employed by?
2) Was Roll Stevens a tramp?
3) Since his father was already well-to-do in Wichita, why didn’t he put a stone on the grave of his first son?

Now I ask you, how can I say I am finished with the Stevens family genealogy?

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