Thursday, April 28, 2016


His last name was Name — no, seriously. I don’t know if it was some kind of mix-up with one of his ancestors, some mistake made in their immigration papers, but that’s the name on his tombstone.

His full name was Jacob Robert Name — born to a farm family in 1855 in Indiana. His father was from Germany. The Names had 11 children. Jacob came fourth.

He was 24 when he married for the first time. Her name was Alice Marie Loy and she was 24, too. They settled down and did farm work, too, and they raised a son to adulthood.

Alice died in May 1904, two weeks before her 49th birthday, and just months short of the couple’s 25th wedding anniversary. Jacob buried his wife in their hometown of Kokomo, where by now he ran a grocery store.

And then Jacob’s life took a series of sharp, strange turns.

Five months after he buried his wife, 49-year-old Jacob Name married Nettie Kelley. She had just turned 17 the week before. Her family also lived in Kokomo.

What the 11,000 people in that Indiana city might have said about the Names is unknown. Maybe not much — Kokomo back then was a booming industrial city, filled with plenty of technological firsts. Jacob Name was a grocer. His behavior probably went unnoticed by most people.

What we do know is that Jacob and Nettie had a son, Robert Jesse. He arrived a year after their marriage, on Halloween Eve 1905.

Less than two months later Nettie would be gone — a second Mrs. Name, dead in as many years. She died on Dec. 21 and was buried the next day at age 18. How she died is a mystery. There is no autopsy report, no police records. Sudden illness? Suicide? Something worse? We don’t know.

We do know another five months passed, and Jacob Name was suddenly married again.

This one was Grace Edith Monroe. She was also 17. Her mother was a Kelley and she and Nettie were cousins. Grace signed the marriage certificate; the notary noted it was “by order of her father and mother."

Jacob and Grace married on May 6, 1906.

That was a Sunday. One week and a day later, on the 14th, Jacob’s son with his second wife died. Robert Jesse Name was seven months old. Another tragedy. Another mystery. Again, no newspaper accounts of the tragedy. No autopsy, no police reports. Only speculation, especially when it comes to what Grace must have thought — newly wed, still a teen, with a husband who had just turned 51 and a dead baby in the house. That she did not turn and run, screaming, says something about her.

Grace would be Jacob’s last wife. They had four children by the time Grace was 22. Jacob was 55 by then and almost used up. Census records from 1910 reveal one more curiosity: Jacob Name could not read or write. How did he run a grocery store?

He died when he was 58. His children with Grace never really got to know him. All that is left are digital copies of marriage certificates, census records, and photos rescued from time’s ravages. In one of them — the photo at the top of this post — Jacob and Grace look into the camera. In his eyes I see traces of his daughter, a strong-willed redhead named Ruth Ellen Name. My grandmother.

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