Friday, September 27, 2013

Lonely Grandchild

It was toward the end of Richard Kelly’s life when he relinquished his position as head of household and took his place, next door, in the home of his son-in-law. He had lost his wife, Louise, the year before the 1940 census revealed this change.

Though he was aging, the move wasn’t due to declining abilities. After all, he still was employed by the Fort Wayne Police Department, despite his reported age of sixty eight. It most likely was a mute testimony to the loneliness following the loss of a lifelong spouse.

The move, though, helps us see some of the life details of the next generation in this Kelly family. The census showed a household composed of three additional people. George Horton, the forty two year old head of household, being a Hoosier State native, had apparently taken as his bride Richard Kelly’s only daughter, Helen, who by now was thirty four, herself. Completing the family was thirteen year old daughter Joan.

The singular feature about this household unit was that the youngest member of that family happened to be the only descendant of the entire Kelly line proceeding from Richard’s father Timothy to take her place in that generation. As was her mother, she was an only child—and as her mother was Timothy’s only grandchild, Joan became his only great-grandchild.

There was more than initially meets the eye in this 1940 document, however.

Supplied instantly with the married name of Richard’s daughter, thanks to the shared household documented in the 1940 census, I turned next to to seek the Hortons’ marriage record. With much more detail than I’d ever found in earlier marriage license applications for Kelly family members, this scanned image provided a wealth of information, including such non-essential but nice-to-have details as George’s middle name (Robert).

It also pointed out one other key detail: the couple exchanged their wedding vows on April 21, 1937. With a thirteen year old daughter in their 1940 household having a birth year pre-dating that event, it brought up a question: whose daughter was Joan?

Apparently, George and Helen were each previously married. Though the 1940 census indicated that Joan’s surname was Horton, it could have meant either that she was George’s daughter and Helen’s step-daughter or that Joan was Helen’s daughter and George subsequently chose to adopt her. (Of course, it could also have signaled us that this was a careless census worker.)

Perhaps Richard Kelly did not have a granddaughter, after all.

It turns out the Horton wedding was not the only marriage record tucked away in the files. Thanks to cross-referencing with her parents’ names, it was easy to access Helen’s first marriage record, too.

Eleven years prior to the Hortons’ wedding, Helen had been the bride of one Herbert E. York. On May 29, 1926, the twenty four year old roofer set up housekeeping with his bride, and by the 1930 census, the couple were the proud parents of a daughter: Joan.

What occurred between that event and the couple’s divorce soon after—it occurred in 1931—is impossible to tell. There is no one to ask; if it weren’t for public documents, I wouldn’t even have known of these people’s existence, much less their domestic difficulties. Though Joan’s father didn’t die until 1952, I haven’t been able to find any burial information for him in Fort Wayne. With the gaps in historic newspaper collections hitting the very dates I’m seeking, it will be a long wait until I can obtain his obituary.

Joan’s mother, however, apparently remained with George Horton until his passing on September 17, 1972, in Wolcottville, Indiana. She, dying in 1987, took her place alongside him at the Catholic Cemetery back in Fort Wayne.

Try as I might to find any further sign of their only daughter, Joan, I did not succeed. Whether assuming her surname as Horton was correct, or just a figment of a census-taker’s imagination, no matter how I manipulated the variables, I couldn’t flush out any sign of what became her future.

Hopefully, that is a good sign—a sign that she married and eventually gifted her grandparents and great-grandparents with at least one, if not more, descendants.


  1. There must be an obit from 1972 that lists relatives.
    We are just in the baby steps of starting an obit recovery program from the two Funeral Homes in town. We save all the newspaper obits from two newspapers and file them by year but only started that in 1990. Someday it will usable info:)

    1. That sounds like a much-needed project!

      Over the years, our local genealogical society has dedicated itself to recovering significant records of interest to researchers, compiling them into publications. Bit by bit, over those years, those are the types of projects that help make a difference.

      It takes lots of perseverance, but the end result is so worth it. Best wishes on your obit recovery program!


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