Saturday, September 21, 2013

Sole Surviving Sister

The baby of the family always seems to find a special spot of recognition. From cradle to grave, it seems, those oft-repeated words will always echo in that child’s mind: “No matter how old you are, you’ll always be my baby.”

I don’t know much about the baby of Timothy Kelly’s family. She made her entry sometime prior to the 1880 census, sporting the phonetically-spelled version of her name duly noted by that year's assigned census taker for subsequent generations of genealogists to see: “Dabora.” I can just hear it now, with that Irish lilt, spoken with the accent on the second syllable. Perhaps that explains such a creative spelling for what surely was a common name.

Deborah Kelly had another mark to her early years: she was the last baby to be held by her mother, Ellen. Before Deborah even had the chance to reach her second birthday, her mother had already passed away. For Deborah’s growing-up years, there would be no mother left to rehearse those worn lines, “you’ll always be my baby.”

What would it be like to grow up, never knowing what your own mother was like? Perhaps as her stepmother stepped in to fill that role by the time of her twelfth birthday, she might have been resigned to accepting the only mother she would ever know. But somehow, that woman would never be the one for which Deborah was “her baby.”

Sometime between the time of the 1880 census and the next census record, Deborah’s two older sisters also met an early death. How did she feel to be the only female left remaining in the family? Did that somehow make her feel vulnerable?

With all the hardships apparently suffered as a matter of course in lives of that era, I can’t believe that people merely became hardened to the premature loss of life. I can’t help but wonder what the impact of these experiences would have been for that “baby” of the Kelly family.

At some point in her twenties, Deborah met a man from Ohio whose family had moved to the Fort Wayne area. Eventually, as stories of this sort went in that era, Frank C. Pence and Deborah Kelly decided to get married, and solemnized that decision on the first of June, 1898.

It is hard, from nothing but census records, to tell what kind of life the Pences lived. While family obituaries made it appear that the couple had moved out of the area—her stepmother’s obituary mentioned Toledo in 1913—that must have been a short-lived arrangement. The 1900 census showed the newlyweds living in the same household in Fort Wayne as Frank’s mother Sarah and sister Allie. The chicken scratch at the end of the line on their census reading seems to indicate Frank was a salesman for a photographer. The 1910 census showed them in Fort Wayne, too—with Frank at work at some sort of shop, if I read the census record right.

Perhaps that would be a retail shop, rather than a manufacturing shop, for by the time of the 1920 census, Deborah's husband was a merchant, selling cigars. Only the finest, I presume.

Perhaps the Pences were not much different than the rest of the nation, come time for the 1930 census. Was it hard times that was reflected in the fact that he was now working as a custodian at a local public school?

Ten years later, there he was, living in the same house with Deborah, working at the same custodial job despite now reaching the age of sixty eight.

While these documents don’t reveal much about daily life in the family of Frank and Deborah Pence, there was one final record that made me wonder. While the Kelly family plot was already full, as we’ve seen, and while it makes sense that those Kelly children who married and made homes of their own would not be included in those burial plans, I had thought that Frank and Deborah would still be buried in the same cemetery.

That was not so. I was surprised to see them buried, not in the Catholic Cemetery—the final resting place for the faithful of Deborah's childhood Church—but in a different location. There at the Lindenwood Cemetery, you can find both Frank and Deborah—he on March 4, 1944, and she following him a year and a half later. Deborah Kelly Pence left this world after seventy two years on November 6,1945, with no one left to mourn her loss—once again, part of the legacy of being the “baby of the family.”


  1. Does he have family buried in that cemetery? Around here, we have relatives in three main cemeteries..all picked for different reasons. High on a hill, a prairie, and near the lake among the trees :)

    1. I really don't know much about Frank or his family at all, so that would be hard to say--but a good clue to consider. For Catholics, though, as I understand it, there is pretty much one choice: be in the Catholic cemetery, or not. My question is: why didn't Deborah opt to be in the Catholic cemetery with all her family? I'm wondering if she married outside her faith.

      Another trail to some point, I suppose...

  2. An interesting question of why this cemetery. Perhaps we will uncover a clue somewhere...

    1. The choice of cemetery, to me, is the telltale sign that therewas a story there. I'm hoping there will be a clue, but not sure I'll ever find it. This may be a more private sort of story...

    2. Frank(lin)'s mother Sarah E. is buried in Lindenwald - she died in 1904.

      Find A Grave Memorial# 62221049, she is in the same plot as Frank and Deborah, so it appears the plot was purchased for the mother. The father, Robert H. appears to be buried in a "veteran's cemetery" in Dayton, Ohio (Find A Grave Memorial# 1069592) if I have the right man. I would assume Mrs. Pence wasn't Catholic. Strange the father is buried so far away.

    3. Thanks for finding those, Iggy, although I don't think it's strange that the father was buried in Ohio. If I remember correctly, Frank was born in Ohio and one of his parents was from there, also. I had presumed that was why the couple lived in Toledo for a while (though I've since discovered I might have been mistaken about that).

      I had assumed from what you just posted that Frank's father had died before the family moved from Ohio to Fort Wayne--but since he died in 1901, that could hardly be the case. This will probably take some further research. As you said, this might not be the right Robert Pence, either...

    4. From what I recall of my very informal search, Frank's father was a "patient" at an Old Soldier's Home. The one in Dayton may have been the closest one (or one with his old mates).


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