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Blesh & Janis, in They All Played Ragtime, identify Ben Harney's
wife/stage partner/widow as Jessie Boyce. The marriage was supposed to
have taken place sometime in the 1890s, perhaps as early as 1891.
Blesh/Janis had not interviewed her, as she had already died (when?);
but they spoke to people who knew her & Ben. However, I don't think
I have come across Jessie Boyce Harney except in sources derived from
Blesh/Janis and am beginning to wonder if the name Boyce is another
Blesh/Janis error that has been perpetuated by successive writers.
Hi Ed (and all).
This is a puzzler indeed. The first item that came up when I looked
through Census records was the 1930 census, which was only marginally
helpful. Assuming the one given, born in KY in 1872, was in Detroit at
that time, the records do not specifically name his wife, unless she
born as Mrs., since only Mrs. Ben R. Harney is shown. However, if it is
helpful, she was born in New York around 1878, and her parents were
from New Hampshire.
There were sooooo many Jessie and/or Jessica Boyces born in the 1870s
from Missouri, Kansas, South Carolina, and new York. But if were were
assuming Boyce (and it seems we are not), there is a Jessie M. Boyce b.
1875 that shows up often and was from Pennsylvania. If Harney moved to
NYC around 1896, but if he was still in KY in 1890 (as noted below),
then 1891 would be a premature date for a wedding to someone in NYC.
Could not locate a Jessie Boyce that was from Kentucky, although one
from Ohio, but b. 1882, so not a likely choice.
Going to Haynes/Haines, the most obviously helpful census, 1890, is not
available, so this becomes difficult at best. I am guessing from
collective data I have seen in similar cases that there is a 50% chance
that a stage persona at that time would have tried to keep her maiden
name for stage purposes, but I also know that there is that other 50%.
On anything that looked right (b. late 1860s to mid 1870s and in NY
1900) I unfortunately came up empty for 1900 and 1910. There were even
fewer results on Jessie Harney. Don't know if this saves you any work
or merely duplicates it, as I don't want to presume what has or has not
been done, but am hoping to assist as best as possible.
Could Boyce be a middle name, however odd, or Haynes? Or even a
leftover name from a short first marriage? Jessie Haynes Boyce or
Jessie Boyce Haynes?
Other items I located, which may or may not be of interest and may
already be known are as follows:
New Grove Music Dictionary, American National Biography, and some other
sources list his birth as 1871, yet many others sources as 1872. Census
is unclear, as he was listed (if it is the correct person) as 9 in July
1880, yet as 58 in June of 1930. If his birth date is indeed March 6,
then the earlier listing was an error of course.
Ben is listed in 1890 in Louisville as an usher at the Masonic Theater,
which makes sense.
Efforts to locate any military registration for him failed. He was
likely too old at 44 to serve in the first world war.
Given more time and some of my alternate search methods, which have
sometimes yielded hidden treasures, something might come up in this
regard. I am making the assumption that either Mrs. Harney would have
been in NYC with Ben from 1900 to at least 1920 or so, and in Michigan
in later years.
Sorry I could not be of more assistance, but perhaps with the clues
from the 1930 census something more could be found or ascertained.