While it may seem like alphabet soup—this listing of the grown children surviving Johanna Falvey Kelly—those initials in place of names must have been all the fashion in the early part of the twentieth century. I can even remember my grandmother, properly addressing letters to relatives as “Mr. and Mrs.” followed by two pertly placed initials before the surname.
Rest assured, though, I already know the names of those Kelly descendants. I am not afraid of facing down a set of initials!
The challenge that is more compelling, when it comes to Johanna’s children, is to compose a complete list of the eight that she claimed to have given birth to in the 1900 census. At that time, though only three of her children were still living, she reported a total of eight births to her credit.
I can only name five for sure. One is a guess. And two are a mystery to me—at least at this point.
You may be able to recall some of those children, as I’ve already written about them. For the oldest—well, as far as I know—we have to go back to the 1870 census to find him, for Timothy was the ill-fated son to die unexpectedly in a freak accident. He was only sixteen when the tragedy befell the family, removing his name from the family’s roster, come time for the 1880 census.
The next oldest was a daughter whom you’ve also met. Catherine—the woman who married John Kelly Stevens and took her place as my husband’s great-grandmother when she gave birth to William Stevens—was also fated to see a premature death not long after Will was born.
The three remaining children were the ones who outlived both their parents. Mary, the second daughter, married Patrick H. Phillips, with whom she raised their four daughters until the point at which her husband was taken away from them in an unexpected and tragic way. Mary’s brother, also named Patrick, was the first of the family to be born in the United States—handily marking the perimeter for their latest possible arrival date—and also the proud parent of many children, passing along the Kelly surname to another generation. The youngest—trailing by several years—was John Kelly, junior, who remained single and childless.
Remember the mystery baby Willie Kelly? Buried in the family's cemetery plot in 1874, could he be the sixth child Johanna referred to? But who would the other two be? Children the family said goodbye to when leaving Ireland? They could hardly be grown children, already adult and living on their own. Were they then children the couple had lost during those difficult years in Ireland?
Each of these descendants of John and Johanna Kelly saw more than their share of tragedy and life’s struggles. But I suppose that is how it might appear to us. Those struggles seemed to be so much more a strand of the fabric of life in earlier years. While we cringe to imagine the difficulties they endured, they did not endure such tragedies alone. The industrial catastrophes that were part of their work days, the illnesses with which their young children were stricken, the early loss of parents—these were stories of so many of the people of that era. To walk through those lives lived, alongside these ancestors, as we unfold the documents bearing their record, is sometimes a melancholy journey. Yet, it is also an informative one, as we learn to see life through their eyes, and come to understand in a more tangible way how very blessed we now are, despite their struggles—or, perhaps, because of them.