Monday, September 9, 2013

Turning the Century


The trouble with researching shadow family trees is that you never know how far the ancestor—or descendant—trail must be followed before the two intersecting lines provide the answer sought. The deeper you have to delve into the other family tree, the more details you find yourself piling onto a paper trail. And the difficulty with that paper trail is that—until you find your answer—you have no way to attach the mystery tree to your own, established tree.

That’s the case with this pursuit of the other Kelly family—the line of Timothy Kelly, who along with the father of our John Kelly Stevens’ wife, had purchased a family cemetery plot at the Catholic Cemetery in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the 1870s.

The pursuit of that other Kelly family started out simply enough. The census records for both 1870 and 1880 seemed straightforward enough—with, of course, the exception of the tragic loss of Timothy’s young wife, Ellen, in 1875.

Laying aside whatever feelings you and I might have about the perennially-bemoaned lost 1890 census, we are left with a twenty year information-barren wasteland between then and the turn of the century.

The arrival of 1900 didn’t help smooth the process of uncovering any further information regarding Timothy Kelly’s family. In fact, it complicated matters.

Some of the changes were easy to explain—sort of. For one thing, apparently Timothy chose to remarry shortly after the 1880 census was recorded. Lacking any observable online records, though, coupled with that age’s laissez faire attitude about spelling, we’re left guessing what Timothy’s second wife’s maiden name might be. One index offered the spelling, “Donahy.” I’ve seen other versions, too.

No problem, you might be thinking. Surely other records will show up to verify one version or the other.

And they do—well, in a twisted sort of way. As I said, making the transition into the new century didn’t do much to help this paper chase.

My first goal was to head straight for the 1900 census to see who was remaining in the Timothy Kelly family at that point—to see who had married, who had moved out of the household, and, sadly, who might have died.

There’s only one problem: just try searching for the 1900 census record for Timothy Kelly in Fort Wayne. Chances are, you’ll most likely end up with a suggested record under the name, “Timothy Kellog.”

Though the census taker for Timothy’s ward had impeccable handwriting, he evidently made mistakes, which he preferred to amend by blots of ink, rendering his mistaken “Kelley” into a blackened-out “Kelloy.” The flourishes of his handwriting from the preceding line completed the scene by obliterating the fact that the “y” was not a “g”—and, voilĂ !, you now have Timothy filed under Kellog.

Easy peasy.

With that little detour out of the way, proceeding into the twentieth century was not made much easier. For one thing, new wife Mary declared she was mother of four children with three still alive.

No, make that…um…well, that’s not really clear. The result is still “3” but with an “x” in front of the number. What does that mean?


And who were those three children (or however many they were supposed to be)? Can we trust that the list of names below that of her own would represent her children? Or were they his children? Or a blend of the two?

A caution appears in that either she or Timothy reported that the number of years each of them had been married was thirty two. Check the math there: thirty two from 1900 would be a marriage in 1868—a problem if Timothy’s first wife didn’t die until 1875. Also a problem based on an indexed record including the date of their marriage as September 22, 1880.

So who were the children listed? Their names were Andrew J., Margaret and Timothy jr. We’ve already seen from yesterday’s examination of the earlier census records that Andrew and Timothy were Timothy’s children by his first wife, Ellen.

And who was Margaret? Born, according to the 1900 census, only eight months prior to son Timothy’s arrival in 1869, she must have been a daughter of Mary and a previous husband. Admittedly, Timothy’s older two daughters were no longer listed in the household, but it would be doubtful that this could be a case of one of them being recorded by the wrong name. The closeness of Margaret’s age to that of son Timothy would not only be a problem there, but the wrong age for a case of mistaken identity with  either of the elder daughters—Catherine or Mary.

An additional detail surfaces in the 1900 census. There are others in the household. Although they are listed as boarders, they happen to carry a surname remotely resembling that of the maiden name listed for Timothy’s second wife. Cornelius and James, aged twenty nine and twenty one, respectively, may have been brothers or perhaps cousins. With a surname spelled, in this case, as Dahanay, that makes a strong possibility that this was an alternate—perhaps phonetic—rendition of Mary’s own maiden name.


Trying to discover who the Dahanay brothers might have been, or what Mary’s name actually was, or even who the extra “daughter” Margaret could have been is a process that ends up taking an inordinate amount of research time—and leads to yet more puzzles.

Before I just cave and throw in the towel here, I’ll remember my mantra to focus on the searchability of details online, and continue to post what I’ve already found—and puzzled over—so that someone, somewhere, someday may be able to benefit from following this same twisted path. 

6 comments:

  1. The 1900 City Directory lists Cornelius DEnahy, laborer for Penn Co. and a Frank Denahy as a moulder for K M Manufacturer (but no James).

    It also lists a Cornelius DAnahy, a tinner for Freiburger and McKeon (who had a brother James). Freiburger and McKeon operated a "Tin and Iron Roofing and Spouting" company.

    The same directory (Ancestry.com has most years for Fort Wayne) lists a lot of Kelly's, including Timothy Jr. a laborer for Bass F and M. It has a listing for Kelly, Margaret (widow of Thomas) in it.

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    1. Good point about checking those city directories, Iggy. I think the Cornelius DAnahy is a keeper, by the way, from other notes I've found.

      The nice thing about the city directories is that they not only cover the census gap for those twenty years, but they provide a convenient listing in alpha order for the entire city--instead of having to switch back and forth through an index report. That may be the way to resolve some of my other issues, too--research problems I'll be writing about in the next few days.

      Thanks for the reminder!

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  2. I suspect that by using these directories, one might piece together what was lost in the 1890 US Census - by noting names and addresses (as well as occupation and other hints) across the years in question.

    And yes, it would be slow going - and offer uncertain results.

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    1. Actually, the index approach might be faster. Consider my quandary when Timothy didn't show up until I switched back and forth between different websites to uncover the "Kellog" indexing error.

      Also, it would be easier, I think, to check both "Kelly" and "Kelley" spellings in the directories.

      At the least, it certainly couldn't hurt!

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  3. Lay the trail and maybe someone else will pick it up! Census Records are not the greatest, you didn't have to know how to spell, and you could talk to whoever came to the door even if it was a child:)

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I always have to remind myself that nothing we use in researching history is free from errors--whether interpretive or literal documentation. If the newspapers can't get it right all the time, why should I expect the government to do any better? ;)

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