The holiday shopping season is not yet upon us, but I think it’s safe to say we’ve already been bestowed with an early Christmas gift.
A very early Christmas gift.
Like a hundred-sixty-seven-year-early Christmas gift.
This gift came in the form of a baby girl who became the sister of Mary Danehy Kelly, the very woman and wife of Timothy Kelly of Fort Wayne over whose identity I’ve been struggling. She was born on Christmas day, and her parents named her Johanna.
Of course, I didn’t open that gift until a few nights ago, when it finally occurred to me to wander through the files of the Find A Grave website in search of answers to my Sweeney quandary. Remember, it was Mary Danehy Kelly who was buried in the Sweeney family plot, while her daughter Margaret Sweeney was buried in a Danehy family plot.
While going down the list of those buried in this Sweeney plot didn’t seem helpful—at least with the first name on the list, Cornelius—by the time I found the entry for Johanna Sweeney at Find A Grave, I changed my tune.
Let’s just say the discovery of Johanna Sweeney’s obituary, kindly inserted into her Find A Grave entry by a thoughtful volunteer, was worthy of a few rounds of Christmas carols, at the least.
You see, this Christmas baby apparently arrived in 1846 in the County Cork household of one particular Danehy family. And her surviving sister, all those years later, was named in her obituary as Mrs. Timothy Kelly.
Just to make sure no cruel editorial trick is being played on these eyes—after all, the photo of her headstone shows discrepancies already—I checked a couple other documents to see what I could find.
Sure enough, the 1900 census shows Johanna in husband Cornelius Sweeney’s household as mother of three surviving children. The document agrees with the obituary’s date of immigration as 1880, though it reports her date of birth as 1841. And the Sweeney family—Cornelius, Johanna and son John—is just across the street from the home of her sister, Mary Kelly.
Perhaps as evidence of how hard it is to discern Johanna’s and Mary’s maiden name as Danehy, a subsequent marriage license for son John has Johanna’s maiden name transcribed as Danchy. Of course, looking at the document itself, we can make out the name Danehy, but that is only because we’ve become sensitized to the issue of the multiple misspellings the family has had to endure.
At any rate, mistaken transcriptions, engraved headstones and all, I’m just glad to finally understand the connection between the Sweeneys and the Danehys—at least upon their arrival in Fort Wayne. Obituaries can sometimes tell quite a bit of the missing story. And volunteers can become wonderful aids in finding the missing pieces.
From an obituary published in The Fort Wayne Weekly Sentinel, January 3, 1912:
Mrs. Johanna Sweeney, aged 85 years, died Tuesday a.m. at 8 o’clock at the home of her son, J. J. Sweeney, 237 East Butler street, from dropsical complications.The deceased was born on Christmas day in the year 1846, in County Cork, Ireland, and came to the United States in 1880, coming direct to Fort Wayne, which has been her home since that time. She was a devout Catholic and a charter member of St. Patrick’s Catholic church, a member at the Rosary society, League of the Sacred Heart and of the Order of St. Francis. She is survived by two sons, J. J. Sweeney and P. J. Sweeney, of Fort Wayne; one daughter, Mrs. James Doyle, of Cleveland, Ohio; a sister, Mrs. Timothy Kelly, and a brother, Cornelius Danehy, both of this city.Funeral services Friday morning at 8:30 o’clock from the resident of the son, 237 East Butler street, thence in St. Patrick’s Catholic church at 9 o’clock.