As we’ve already seen, newspaper reports are not always the most reliable source for information when gathering clues about family history. So, what do we do when we’re not sure about a particular detail we’ve uncovered? Look for more resources that can help confirm or deny that record. And where do we end up looking for these additional proofs? More newspapers.
There is something that smacks of circular reasoning in that process. But what else can be done? We are researching people who, if still in their European homeland, would have been considered no more than mere commoners. Even in the so-called class-free home of the brave, the average joe has little to recount his life’s conquests other than the hometown newspaper and a few government documents—if you can get your hands on them.
Just to be certain we’ve allocated the right family members to the right parents in the case of his, hers and theirs in the Timothy Kelly family, let’s take a look at one more obituary.
You may have noticed that, between the time of Timothy’s passing and that of his widow, another member of the family was lost. The namesake of his father, the junior Timothy’s death came seven years afterward, and preceded his stepmother’s death by four years.
If the editorial prowess of The Fort Wayne Sentinel may be trusted just this once—on Monday, January 4, 1909—then it can help confirm which child belongs to which parent.
Assuming its accuracy, here’s what the obituary shows us:
- Timothy junior was son of Timothy Kelly and his first wife, Ellen
- Mary Kelly, the second wife, was indeed Timothy’s stepmother
- The remaining children of Timothy senior and his first wife, Ellen, were now Richard, Andrew and Deborah (Mrs. Frank Pence)
- Margaret was their step-sister, thus daughter of Mary and another husband
- Margaret was listed as “Miss” rather than as “Mrs.” as had been the title in 1901 and 1913
- The family’s address is now showing as 320 Brandriff Street
While the first four points serve to assure me that I might just have the accurate picture now, the last two points are not necessarily of much concern.
First, though this obituary moves us from the late 1800s into the twentieth century, it may still be influenced by the tradition of addressing older women as “Mrs.” regardless of their marital status. Thus, Margaret might have been married to a Sweeney—or born to a Sweeney. At this point, as I’ve not been able to find any marriage record, I can’t really say.
Then, despite the household’s address having a number—though not a name—change, I know that many cities underwent address changes in the early 1900s, as local governments sought to systematize their numbering systems for various efficiency reasons. While I’ve yet to locate any resource for indicating whether the old 20 Brandriff Street became the new 320 Brandriff Street, it is certainly possible that that could have been so.
With the preponderance of other details finally aligning in a believable pattern, I can now say it seems fairly safe to assume that, despite the address change, we are talking about the right Kelly family here, and that Margaret was the step-child of the elder Timothy Kelly and daughter of Mary and another, unidentified father.
Whether that man was named Sweeney—or whether the mystery Sweeney was actually a husband—is a struggle I’ve yet to resolve.
However, after all those years, at least I can say I’ve finally found a few hints.
Timothy J. Kelly died Sunday evening at 9:30 o'clock at the home of his stepmother, Mrs. Mary Kelly, at 320 Brandriff street. He was forty years old and death ensued from a complication of diseases. The deceased was a brother of Police Captain Richard Kelly.Mr. Kelly had always been a resident of Fort Wayne, and when old enough to work engaged in the boilermakers' trade, which he has ever since followed. He was admired and respected by a large circle of friends. Besides Capt. Kelly, another brother survives, Andrew Kelly. Mrs. Pence was a sister of the deceased and Miss Margaret Sweeney a step-sister. All the family live in this city.