Chicago Child Sold to Highest Bidder?

I saw this story from 1922 while doom scrolling Twitter and thought I would try something different.

Some of you know that I’m obsessed with genealogy and have solved all sorts of family mysteries through my research. It’s not just for funzies either…if you would like me to help with your family tree, that is a service I provide for a reasonable price and I’ll include a bit of info at the bottom of this post. So I thought it would be interesting to see how things turned out for young Marie Baker.

While this story made national news, most outlets failed to publish the full story. I assume the truth of the matter sells fewer papers. Mrs. Kenney was the sister of Marie’s mother so the child was not sold. She was released to her aunt and uncle once her father’s negotiated debt was settled. This additional paragraph was found in under five minutes.

The Cincinnati Enquirer, July 28, 1922

The caption below this photograph is outrageously irresponsible, inaccurate, and culturally insensitive. Everyone responsible for it appearing in print deserved to be fired.

Buffalo Courier (Buffalo, NY), July 31, 1922

What do we know? Marie’s aunt married John Kenney from Rentville, Minnesota and Marie’s last name was Baker. Compared to some people I’ve researched, that’s a lot. I read all of the other newspaper reports on the story and found Marie’s father’s name was also John.

Unfortunately, there is no “Rentville” in Minnesota. The correct name is Renville. Here’s the aunt and uncle with their biological children on the 1920 Federal Census.

John T Kenney and Pearl (Duncan) Kenney moved around quite a bit but I was able to track them to Illinois and later to California. Pearl’s obituary said daughter Mrs. Mary Hood lived in Lake City, Arkansas.

The San Bernardino Daily Sun, December 24, 1963

The discrepancy between Mary and Marie is something I’ve seen many times and it’s maddening. To make sure I had the correct family, I looked into Pearl’s family. The 1900 Federal Census lists Pearl with her parents and siblings in Illinois.

Jeannie (Myrtle Jeannette) Duncan was Mary/Marie’s biological mother. I had a little trouble finding information about the father, who was listed in the newspaper as John Baker. His birth name was Tjarko Janssen Bakker and it was anglicized when he immigrated to the US. This was probably a good idea since he served in the German military prior to World War I. He worked as a waiter in a hotel restaurant when he arrived in the US.

St. Louis Star, July 14, 1913

Jeannie died of pneumonia in December of 1918. John Baker is listed as the husband and that matches the initial newspaper article.

This was obviously during the horrible flu epidemic and Mary/Marie’s older sister, Hilka, died just a few days before their mother.

Mary/Marie did not live with her father right after her sister and mother died. Instead, she stayed with her grandmother, Joanna Duncan at least until 1920. On the 1920 Federal Census, her name was listed as Mary Bakker. Her last name was changed to Kenney after being “sold” to her aunt and uncle. She later moved to Arkansas, where she married Ernest E Hood in 1947.

Their son, Ernest E Hood, Jr. was born in October of 1949. Ernest Jr. moved to Georgia and unfortunately, died very young at the age of 41.

The Atlanta Constitution, October 18, 1991

The eldest Ernest died in 1996 and Mary/Marie died in November of 2001. I didn’t bother digging deeper on John Baker. This is just what I was able to compile in an afternoon. The point of this exercise was to show that newspapers have been tricking readers with sensational headlines since the invention of the printing press. If a story provokes an intense emotional reaction, it’s probably misleading you.

Mary Bakker Kenney Hood had a complicated life with a great deal of tragedy but she had a very large family that appeared to love her very much. As always, there was more to the story of the girl who was “sold to the highest bidder.”

As mentioned above, I do genealogical and other research for hire so if you would like my help working on a project, please send me a message letting me know what you need. I can do an entire family tree or I can look for a specific document. Depending on the project, I will quote an hourly or per item/person rate.

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