An Unfortunate Valentine’s Day Blog

While researching recently, we came across what looked like a wonderful Valentine’s Day blog about love. It was only while doing further research we found it was more a case of love gone wrong.

On February 6, 1920 The Davenport Daily Times ran a lovely article about a local wounded soldier from the Great War who married his nurse.

Mckay Wedding

The Davenport Daily Times, February 6, 1920. Pg. 2

Young William McKay had left Davenport after enlisting in the United States Army on April 5, 1918. In July of that year, he was sent overseas to the battlefront as a member of the Transportation Corp 308. He was injured a short time later when the truck he was driving overturned and trapped him beneath it.

Mr. McKay was badly wounded and transported to the military hospital in Brest, France for recovery. His most serious injury being a crushed right leg that would never regain mobility. He also developed a leaking heart problem after the accident.

It was at this hospital he met a nurse named Mary Ward who had been caring for soldiers in Brest since July of 1918. Coincidentally, her parents had relocated to Davenport from Wisconsin while she was overseas caring for wounded patients.    

According to the article, as Mr. McKay was transferred to different hospitals during his recovery, Miss Ward managed to be transferred with him.

Mr. McKay was officially discharged from the U. S. Army on April 30, 1919 while recovering at Mercy Hospital in Davenport.

On January 31, 1920 the couple took out a marriage license in Scott County, Iowa. William McKay, 28 years old, and Mary Ward, 35 years old, were married February 2, 1920 at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Davenport. Their marriage license indicated it was the first marriage for both.

McKay Wedding License 1

SC Microfilm 977.769 Marriage. #1479413

McKay Wedding License 2

SC Microfilm 977.769 Marriage. #1479413

They were expected to reside after the wedding with her parents in Davenport.

We all thought it was a wonderful story and the next step was to look into records to track the couple over the years. We quickly realized something was wrong. In the 1920 census, taken in late spring of that year, William McKay is listed as single and living with his mother in Davenport. There was no trace of the Ward family.

Our first thought was his new bride had died in the influenza epidemic that had occurred in late winter/early spring in Davenport. But no death was found in the records.

What we did locate was a petition for divorce filed by William McKay on March 6, 1920 in the local newspaper. The reason for the divorce being Mr. McKay had found out on March 4th that his wife was still married and that husband was living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

We turned to for further information and found that Mary Ward had married a George McNitt in 1897 in the state of Wisconsin. We were able to locate the couple living together in Beloit, Wisconsin with her parents in the 1900 United States Census.

We then found Mr. McNitt in the 1910 United States census in Beloit with a new wife named Emma. They married in 1906.

Could this all have been a misunderstanding we wondered?

Then we located a marriage record from Kane County, Illinois. Mary Ward had married a William J. Borsdorf on June 16, 1910.

We are unable to find Mary or William J. Borsdorf in the 1910 census, but we did find William’s WWI Draft Registration card from 1917, which lists his wife’s name as Mary. Mr. Borsdorf was living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at the time.

We then find Mr. Borsdorf in the 1920 United States census listed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as a boarder in a house. He is listed as married, but no wife is listed with him.

We believe William J. Borsdorf is the husband that William McKay learned of on March 4, 1920.

We did not find a final divorce record for William and Mary McKay. We did find a case number and District Court docket number. We believe, based on other cases we have read about, that the marriage was considered void (or “set aside” using a term we find in newspaper accounts of the period) as the divorce petition was filed just over 30 days after the marriage vows were taken and that she was married to someone else.

After figuring out how to find police records online – we did search of local police records to find no charges were filed against Mary for bigamy.

To make things even more unusual, we find in the 1930 United States census that Mary had returned to William Borsdorf and they were living together as husband and wife in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

They remained together in Milwaukee until Mr. Borsdorf died on March 30, 1948. Mary died on September 9, 1956. They were buried next to each other in Holy Cross Cemetery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

As for William McKay, he never remarried. In another twist, after Mr. McKay’s mother passed away he moved to a Veterans Hospital probably due to his injury and heart problem. We find him living there in the 1930 and 1940 United States census records.

Where was the hospital located? Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Mr. McKay passed away on August 31, 1948. His body was returned to Davenport where he was buried in Holy Family Cemetery.

His obituary in The Davenport Democrat and Leader stated he was never married.


  • The Davenport Daily Times, February 6, 1920. Pg. 2
  • SC Microfilm 977.769 Marriage – #1479413
  • The Davenport Daily Times, March 9, 1920. Pg. 8
  • The Davenport Democrat and Leader, September 1, 1948. Pg. 13

(posted by Amy D.)


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