Friday, July 12, 2013

Introducing the Players

The first step in revisiting a research project may as well be taking an inventory of what is already known. After all, how else would you know what the next step should be?

In taking stock of my Stevens line, in preparation for further research—hopefully—in Ireland, that means beginning the inventory with William Stevens.

We’ve already met Will through a few posts beginning with his marriage to Agnes Tully of Chicago in 1912. Will, however, was not a native Chicagoan, nor was he an Irish immigrant, himself. Will came to Chicago by way of his hometown in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

What I Already Know About Will

I’ve got quite a bit of supporting documentation on the basics regarding Will Stevens:
  • Birth: October 23, 1884, in Fort Wayne, Allen County, Indiana
  • Parents: John Kelly and Catherine Kelly Stevens (if that seems confusing, hold on for a few days, and I’ll explain further)
  • Siblings: An older half-sister, Kathryn Louise Stevens, born in 1880, who eventually married Fort Wayne native Frederick Stahl, brother to “Chick” Stahl of the 1903 World Series Boston Red Sox team; a second older half-sister, Anna Mary, died in infancy along with her mother, Mary Clara Miller Stevens
  • Marriage: In Solemn High Mass at Saint Anne’s Church in Chicago on June 12, 1912, to Agnes Antoinette Tully, youngest daughter of Irish immigrants John and Catherine Malloy Tully
  • Children: Five sons (John Kelly, William, Edward, Francis, and Gerald) and one daughter (Mary Agnes Patricia)
  • Death: In Chicago on May 10, 1946
  • Burial: Near Chicago at Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Evergreen Park
While I’d like to know more about the details of Will’s younger life—the ongoing difficulty of his relationship with his half-sister, for instance, and what brought Will to Chicago—those stories are not germane to my end goal of reaching the genealogical shores of Ireland. I’ll need to remember to focus on that goal and not stray into the side stories unless I keep on track with my timeline first.

What I Need to Learn About Will’s Father

While Will’s father, John Kelly Stevens, was an Indiana native, he was not born in Fort Wayne. Actually, John Kelly Stevens moved to Fort Wayne as an adult, after growing up in his native Lafayette in Tippecanoe County on the western side of Indiana.

Admittedly, while what led John Kelly Stevens to choose to move so far away is also not part of my declared task’s focus, I keep wondering if any links with missing relatives might have come into play.

In addition, I need to find more documentation, if possible, on John Kelly’s two brothers: older brother James, who died suddenly on a trip to Saint Louis during the World’s Fair there; and younger brother William, who seemed to disappear entirely at times from some census records. In that perpetual search for distant cousins, it appears three of William’s four children had no descendants, but I’m not certain I’ve completed the exhaustive search on that account—yet.

I’ve mentioned that John Kelly Stevens, himself, was raised by a step-mother. Included in that phase of his life were some half-sisters from his father’s second marriage. I’ve connected briefly in the past with a descendant of one of those half-sisters, and would like to reconnect there, also.

Life with a step-mother re-introduces the question: what became of John Kelly Stevens’ mother, Catherine Kelly Stevens? Because the date of John Kelly Stevens’ parents’ marriage in Indiana was so early in the 1850s, county records from that time were nearly non-existent. Those I’ve found could possibly be the correct ones—misspelled—or totally misleading. I need to double check by visiting their local parish and see what church records may be available to corroborate with what records I already have obtained. Ditto any records for John Kelly’s mother’s death and burial, as well as his father’s second marriage.

What I Need to Learn About Will’s Mother

While the similarities of names in this family are enough to drive a researcher to distraction—witness the two Catherine Kelly women who are, to my knowledge at this point, not related to each other in any way at all—I do, thankfully, know a bit about Will’s mother, Catherine Kelly.

On the Stevens side of our family, this Catherine was the most recent of the Irish immigrants, being born, herself, somewhere in Ireland, probably in 1862. This Kelly family emigrated from Ireland sometime after Catherine’s younger sister, Mary Ann, was born in 1867, but before the arrival of their brother, Patrick, in 1869.

While I already know her parents’ names were John T. and Johanna Falvey Kelly, working with a surname as common as Kelly and coupling it with the ever-popular given name, John, I already realize it will be rough going, retracing this Kelly family’s steps back to the beloved homeland.

Tantalizingly enough, this Kelly family shared a family plot with someone named Timothy Kelly, but try as I might, I have not been able to connect the two Fort Wayne Kelly families.

While Kelly as a surname presents a research challenge, I had initially thought Falvey to be a less common—and therefore easier—target.

Think again.

Being overjoyed to find Johanna Falvey Kelly’s obituary—and, even better, finding it contained mention of “several sisters and brothers who live in Ireland”—I soon was led to discover that, in certain parts of Ireland, Falvey is also a (relatively) common surname. And “Johanna” isn’t that unusual, either.

That little detail aside, the former Johanna Falvey may well be the one ancestor who leads me to pay dirt upon arrival in the Emerald Isle, for her obituary also claimed County Kerry as her native home.

Now What?

With that path clear as mud—sprinkled with a little gold dust to represent the Luck o’ the Irish, and strewn with imaginary four-leafed clovers for encouragement—we’ll take our first exploratory steps after a slight detour this weekend.

We’ll begin our exploration with someone you may find as delightful as our family has (not that we’re impartial or anything). We’ll start with the saga of Fort Wayne police officer and all-round man about town, John Kelly Stevens.


  1. The old obits make me crazy. I have a sister of my great grandfather, Patrick O'Rourke, listed as Mrs. William Collins of Limerick. I also have an obit with the "several brother and sisters" listed.

    Perhaps it was too expensive to name them all.

    1. Probably was too expensive, Claudia. Good point. Funny the things people back then had to think of that we don't give a second thought. But yeah, the "several brothers and sisters" drives me crazy--just to think we may have distant cousins back there, but don't know how to find them yet!

  2. Let the adventure begin..on Monday:)

    1. Yes! Monday! Can't wait 'til everyone meets John Kelly Stevens. If you appreciated Frank, you'll love John Kelly :)

  3. As you begin to search your Stevens line, I feel as if I'm just opening a book for an interesting story. The mention of step-parents and half-siblings suggests there will be conflict and complication in this journey to Ireland. Those repeated common names -- given names and surname -- are all over my family lines too. I think it's an Irish custom for sure, and probably Scots as well. Drives me crazy. I'm looking forward to your narrative.

    1. Oh, Mariann, I'm hoping it will be interesting! At least, I can assure you there will be some conflict and complication. As to the rest of that conflict, I will have to unearth in the near future. There is always more to tell...

  4. That's a really tidy summary as I've ever seen!

    There are so many departed folks that about the only thing known about them is their name, date of birth and date of death - and some sad souls with not even that much remembered of them.

    1. Oh, I've got some of those souls, too. They're not only sad, they're frustrating. Sometimes, it's a real challenge to get those names connected with those dates!


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