Lower Burrell man solves mystery surrounding great uncle’s 1925 death
Jason Devlin’s family never really got over the death of his great uncle nearly a century ago.
And, making matters worse, no one in the family seemed to know any details about how Hugh Devlin died at the age of 18.
“A hunting accident” is all his family seemed to know about the death.
“Nobody knew the whole story about what happened,” said Jason Devlin, 45, of Lower Burrell.
James Devlin, Jason’s father, still remembers when his father would tell the story of Hugh’s death and how it changed the family forever.
“It was a sad story for us when we were kids and my dad told us about it,” James Devlin said. “(My grandma) never got over it.”
So, Jason Devlin set about solving the mystery and, in the process, gave his great uncle the proper tribute that had been missing all those years.
A big break came when Jason Devlin found a death certificate from the state that listed the date of great uncle’s death: Dec. 1, 1925.
From there, Jason Devlin went to the Community Library of Allegheny Valley in Tarentum to look through old microfilm of newspaper pages.
An article he found described in great detail what happened to Hugh Devlin.
“When I came across that article, I was just floored. It’s been right here this whole time and no one knew about it,” Jason Devlin said. “When I found the article, I was just yelling in the library, ‘I found it, I found it!’”
Hugh Devlin reportedly was in a canoe on the Allegheny River near Oakmont when his gun accidentally discharged and nearly severed his right arm. He was able to make it to the river bank, where he was discovered hours later and taken to the hospital before he eventually died from his injuries.
“It’s a sad story what happened,” said James Devlin. “They think that, if he would have been found earlier, he would have survived.”
Officials at the time said they believed the loss of blood and shock of the accident killed Hugh Devlin.
Jason Devlin said the family believes Hugh Devlin had been out on the river hunting geese or ducks.
After discovering the newspaper article, Jason Devlin tracked down the cemetery where his great uncle is buried. The family, who had lived in Harmar at the time of the accident, couldn’t afford a burial plot so someone else in the community donated one at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Shaler.
When Jason Devlin arrived at that plot, he found only an unmarked headstone.
The family pitched in to pay the nearly $900 to get a proper headstone that lists his name and dates of birth and death.
“It did add closure on exactly what happened to him,” Jason Devlin said. “It meant a lot to the family to get the truth out about what happened.”
James Devlin said he is happy his son took the initiative to get to the bottom of the family mystery.
“Ninety-five percent of this work was done by Jason,” he said. “I was proud of what he did.”
Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Emily at 724-226-4680, [email protected] or via Twitter .