Long ago and far away—at least for me, that is—a widower in Fort Wayne, Indiana, known as John Kelly Stevens took as his wife a young Irish immigrant by the name of Catherine Kelly. The date was October 16, 1883, and the place was Fort Wayne’s downtown Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
In that era in which the appearance of a woman’s name in the newspaper was considered proper in only such few instances as wedding announcements, the Fort Wayne Daily Sentinel made it brief and bland—well, except for the inescapable political tinge with mention of the ward location—on that very day of their wedding:
This morning John K. Stevens, a moulder in Bass' Foundry, was married at the Cathedral to Miss Kittie Kelley, daughter of John Kelly, of the Sixth ward. A reception will be held this evening at the residence of Mr. Stevens. A number of presents were received by the happy couple.
Note the spelling variation in this excerpt. Consider it all courtesy, not of this transcriber, but of the newspaper editor. Think nothing of it. This is only the beginning.
In typical manner of the time, the marriage record of John Kelly Stevens and his second wife was abused by all conceivable misspellings. John Kelly, himself, had his name represented on the Allen County marriage license as John K. Stevans. So it would come as no surprise that his young Irish immigrant bride would have her name spelled there as Kittie Kally and perhaps not even notice it—nor the detail in the attached marriage certificate in which she inexplicably morphed into Kate Kelly by a mere stroke of the pen of her church’s assistant pastor.
Besides the advanced notice that we have our work cut out for us—not only with the application of several spelling variations on both sides of the Cathedral aisle, but with the usage of several different nicknames, too—the unfortunate Catherine Kelly had a number of other abnormalities in her life’s vital documents to confuse the chase. We’ll take a look at these over the next few days, as we launch into the questions of who, exactly, this Kelly family in Fort Wayne was.