Friday, May 6, 2011

Using the Washington Digital Archives to dig behind old news stories

My local paper the Spokesman Review has a nice column, "From our archives, 100 years ago." In it editor Jim Kershner highlights a story from the paper 100 years ago, sometimes with additional commentary. This piece last week (subscribers only) caught my eye:

A young Spokane woman was “slapped by Cupid,” as the Spokane Daily Chronicle put it – and it all worked out for the romantic best.

Miss Marjorie R. King, 23, a “hairdressing expert,” was visiting the niece of the wealthy John H. Starbird, 46, who had made a fortune in the Klondike gold fields. He was a widower who was “living the retired life of a capitalist.”

The young Miss King was invited to stay for dinner with Starbird and his niece. Afterward, he offered to drive her home in his automobile, with his housekeeper as chaperone.

At a railroad crossing, “Cupid got his chance,” said the Chronicle. Starbird failed to see the wooden crossing-guard arm descending. The arm fell across the open car and hit Miss King right in the head, knocking her out.

Starbird turned the car around, raced for home and called a physician and nurse. She recovered after a few days, but meanwhile, Starbird had fallen in love with her. She and Starbird went to the courthouse for a marriage license and on to the church where they were married.

Thus, said the Chronicle, Miss King ended up “with a husband, a happy home and a quarter of a million dollars.”

Kershner does a nice job selecting old stories, but never does the follow-up research to answer such natural questions as: Did the couple live happily ever after?

The Washington State Digital Archives (my employer) has the answers. A search for "Starbird" in the Spokane County marriage records produces the marriage certificate of the lucky couple:

The certificate confirms the particulars in the story but also gives us a new piece of information, that this was the third marriage for widower John H. Starbird. The surname is unusual enough to make it easy to look for other documents about Starbird in the digital archive. Here is the certificate for his first marriage, in 1891 to Tracie M Rush:

There is no record in the Washington Archives of Starbird's second marriage, perhaps it occurred when he was a miner on the Klondike? We also learn that in 1914 John Starbird sold some land to a mining company in Chelan County, and that he died in 1934 in Seattle, with his Minnesota bride Marjorie listed as his wife. There is no death record for Marjorie in our archives, she may have died out of state. I can find no record of any children born to the Starbirds. So to summarize: The couple that were "slapped by Cupid" in Spokane in 1911 enjoyed 23 years together until the husband's death. During at least a part of the marriage he remained an active speculator in mining and at some point they moved to Seattle. They never had any children. The end--except for this:

In 1925 John Starbird was married in Port Orchard for a fourth time to a Marie Starbird! I am stumped. Did Starbird divorce Marjorie, marry Marie, and sometime before his death divorce Marie and remarry Marjorie? Was he a bigamist, with a wife on either side of Puget Sound? Or are Marie and Marjorie the same woman, and at some point it became necessary to renew their vows? The latter seems the most simple explanation, except for the fact that a Marie Starbird was married two years earlier, in 1923, to Elton E. Morehouse. So they are different women. Any ideas?


Kathryn Devine said...

1920 and 1930 Census records show John and Marjorie did have a child, John R., aka Rex Starbird. The Washington Birth Index on Ancestry revealed: John Rax [Rex] Starbird, born to John H. Starbird and Marjorie Ruth King in Seattle on 1 February 1912.

Kathryn Devine said...

John Starbird was not married to Marie Starbird in 1925. He continued to be married to Marjorie King. A Marie Starbird was married to a John HARRIS in 1925. Look carefully at the image of the certificate. Marie Starbird also married Elton Morehouse in 1923. Starbird was her maiden name. She may be related to John Starbird, but she never married him. Mystery solved.

Anonymous said...

Check Digital Archives for J H Starbird married to E M Westlake 7-19-1895 Clark County.

Katrina said...

I agree with Kathryn's comment, John Starbird is not the man referred to in the last marriage certificate.
But the woman, Marie Starbird, could be his niece - she was mentioned in the original news story as the reason for Marjorie's visit to the Starbird house.