Sunday, October 6, 2013

Wife of an Invisible Man

What do you do when you are conducting genealogical research on a man in possession of a common name? The sheer numbers found in response to a query on, say, John Kelly, can be so overwhelming as to render the man invisible.

This is where the undaunted researcher realizes the value in finding information on that man’s wife—especially if her name isn’t quite so common as her husband’s.

In the case of this one John Kelly I’ve been pursuing, his wife did have an unusual surname—at least that’s the way it seemed to me from my American perspective. By virtue of her less-prevalent maiden name, Johanna Falvey became my key to discovering the family’s Irish roots.

I’ve already mentioned my flight of fancy which led me to make that premature jump ahead in my research process and seek answers in Ireland. Just in basic study of that surname—Falvey—I learned that it was a name prevalent in some areas in County Kerry and County Cork.

Since Johanna and John were married in Ireland—and became the proud parents of at least three children in their homeland—discovering where Johanna hailed from would provide some broad hints as to John’s whereabouts in his younger years.

Unfortunately for those of us researching this line, Johanna died just a few years before most state governments began collecting additional information for inclusion in their death records. On the other hand—and fortunately enough for us—she died much later than her husband John had in 1892, when even newspapers failed to share much information on the common person’s passing.

You can imagine my joy at locating Johanna’s obituary in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette—undated owing to its discovery during my more novice research years, but most likely published within a few days of her passing on May 1, 1903—which managed to include some tidbits of information that the local government had yet to include in its own documentation.

That discovery about Falvey prevalence in County Kerry? This one woman’s record bore that out for me—and made her husband John just a little less invisible than he had been before.
            Mrs. Johanna Kelly died Friday morning at her home, 1919 Hoagland avenue, of bronchitis, which she contracted on Easter Sunday. She was seventy-seven years of age and a native of County Kerry, Ireland, but had been in the United States since 1870.
            Her husband was John Kelly, who died here about eleven years ago. She was a devout Catholic and a member of St. Patrick's parish and enjoyed the highest esteem of all the people who knew her. The surviving family consists of Mrs. P. H. Phillips and P. T. and J. J. Kelly, three children, residing in Fort Wayne, and several sisters and brothers who live in Ireland.
            Funeral services will be held Monday morning at 8:30 o'clock from the residence and at 9 o'clock from St. Patrick's church.


  1. You found a gold mine when you located that obituary.

    1. Oh, Grant, it took my breath away to find it! It certainly helped narrow the search. Don't you just love it when stuff like that happens?

  2. 1870? None of the Johns that were possibilities had that date. But you have an Ireland starting spot:)

    1. I know...that 1870 date bugged me. But I have 1869 as a date in the 1900 census, so I'm just hoping either the family rounded up the date for the obituary, or in their grief couldn't attend to such specifics at the time.

  3. Doesn't it figure -- the newspaper can report she contracted bronchitis on EASTER SUNDAY but can provide only initials of the family -- not that that's not helpful.

    1. Well, you know it's important to be fashionable...

  4. P. H. Phillips????

    Patrick H Philips
    Residence Year: 1907
    Street Address: 1919 Hbagland av
    Residence Place: Fort Wayne, Indiana
    Occupation: Conductor

    1. Yes! That's our man! And man, does he have a sad story...


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