The quest we are now launching sounds like it has the makings of a bad joke: “What started in Ireland, ended up in Fort Wayne, and happened between March, 1867, and July, 1869?”
When it comes to researching a name as common as John Kelly—even John T. Kelly—it is likely there are several possible answers to that question. Add the typical alternate spelling, Kelley, and the multiplied possibilities could be daunting.
Thankfully, step one—looking for filings of the requisite Declaration of Intent for those wishing to make their new American residence official—is expedited, at least in searching for Allen County residents. The online databases at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center offer a streamlined way to glean the information needed to select the right John Kelly.
If the "Applications for Naturalization 1844-1906" database at the Genealogy Center is all inclusive, it appears there were five different men answering to the name John Kelly who filed their first papers in Allen County, Indiana.
Keeping in mind that John’s surname was often spelled by the alternate “Kelley,” I took a look under that spelling for records, as well. You’ll be glad to know the tally was upped by a very welcomed goose egg. There were no Declarations filed by anyone named John Kelley—at least as far as the Genealogy Center database was concerned.
Of those five candidates to be claimed as our John Kelly, which ones fit the parameters: arriving in America from Ireland after March, 1867, but before July, 1869?
Here’s our original working list:
· John Kelly, arrived in Boston in April, 1871
· John Kelly, arrived in New York City in August, 1850
· John Kelly, arrived in Detroit in May 188? (yes, the date included a question mark for the final digit)
· John Kelly, arrived in New York in August, 1867
· John Kelly, arrived in Detroit in May 1858
Right away, the perfect candidate seems to emerge: the fourth entry, arriving within our parameters in 1867. Though that date would mean travel with a five month old infant, it still allowed plenty of time for the family to make the rest of the journey between New York harbor and Fort Wayne, completed most likely by rail, before John and Johanna’s next child arrived in July, 1869.
But wait—not so fast. The entries in the online database also include ages of these men. Let’s make sure the age matches that of our own John Kelly.
I’m not sure what the database hoped to signify with the additional entry of the ages—did the age entered mean upon date of arrival, or at the point at which the man filed his Declaration of Intent?
Regardless, it is quite evident that, whatever that age signified, it would have to represent a man who was relatively older than the typical Irish immigrant, a single laborer in his twenties.
On the other hand, determining our John Kelly’s age presents its own challenge. If we base his age on the record provided by the 1880 census—sixty six when the census was taken—we can presume he was born in 1814. However, if we believe the ripe old age indicated on his 1892 obituary—eighty four—we are required to push his year of birth back to 1808.
Let's go back to those men, all named John Kelly, who filed their Declarations of Intent with Allen County, Indiana, and take another look. Each entry in the database gives the date in which the papers were filed. Let’s assume the age given linked to time of filing.
A quick glance reveals that, while some of these John Kellys filed their papers as early as 1856, some as late as 1876, and two filed a day apart from each other on October fifth and sixth of 1868 (whereupon I sense, if not a bad joke, at least the makings of a bureaucratic comedy of errors), the only one filing papers who was not in his twenties or thirties was the lone fifty two year old man who filed on October 5, 1868. Though the math would put his date of birth as 1816—somewhat later than our 1814 estimate extrapolated from the 1880 census—the fact that the dates given for his birth vary so widely elsewhere leaves some latitude for such a possibility.
If this one entry is indeed our John Kelly, his record—hopefully with the type of information we seek—lies tucked within Book Four on page 453 of some dusty old volume at that county seat in Indiana.
If this is our John Kelly, his document provides a clue for our next step: his arrival from Queenstown in Ireland was in New York City on August 16, 1867.
Now, on to the punch line: to find the ship’s passenger list—and hope we don’t discover this was only a bad joke, after all.
Illustration: Artist's conception of aerial view of the southern tip of Manhattan, New York, featuring Castle Garden in Battery Park; unidentified artist circa 1880; courtesy Library of Congress via Wikipedia; in the public domain.