Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Goodbye to Emma

With the sudden passing of Patrick Kelly at the age of sixty one, the next question might have been whether his wife had followed him in death shortly thereafter. Often, that happens with couples in a lifelong marriage.

Now twice-widowed, Patrick Kelly’s wife, Emma, outlived her second husband’s abrupt departure by twenty years. The daughter of a W├╝rttemberg immigrant (Frederick Carle) and an Ohio-born child of German extraction (Margaret Riesberger), Emma was perhaps a resilient survivor in her own right. She missed her seventy seventh birthday by barely one month, passing away on August 21, 1951. Among those in her family surviving her were sixteen grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Finding more information than that on Emma was a challenge—mostly owing to the invisible role women played in past eras. Even details normally considered appropriate to share publicly were often muddied by reporting errors. Remember the puzzle over who served as maid of honor at her wedding? Looking back on it now, it is easy to see how one option was given by the newspaper as “May Reseberger.” It was simply a combination of misspelling of given name of Emma’s next-younger sister Mae and substitution of her mother’s maiden name (also misspelled) for her own.

Even discovering Emma’s own middle name presented a challenge. Depending on which document was viewed, her middle name—thanks to indecipherable handwriting—appeared to be either Waterling or an improbable Walerling. In her eldest son’s World War I draft registration, though, it was given as Walberga—an alternative I prefer as most believable. Why? Because her mother, Margaret Riesberger, turned out to be daughter of a woman by that name, herself.

While Emma was most certainly occupied with the raising of a large family—she was mother to eight children, all of whom survived to adulthood—she also appeared to be a devout member of her parish. Her obituary mentioned the usual associations Catholic women were often a part of in that century. In addition to those familiar designations—belonging to the Rosary Society of her church, or the Sacred Heart League—there was one I wasn’t familiar with: the Daughters of Isabella.

Not being Catholic myself, I needed to look that one up. You may already be familiar with that auxiliary group to the Knights of Columbus. In a history of the formation of both the Knights of Columbus and the Daughters of Isabella, I discovered that the founding meeting of Fort Wayne’s council of the Daughters of Isabella occurred on April 23, 1923, which “drew 1,400 women inducted into the order at an imposing ceremony at the cathedral.” At the time of that first meeting in Fort Wayne, Emma’s youngest daughter was barely old enough to begin grade school. Perhaps participation in this church-based endeavor became part of what Emma focused her energies on as her children grew up and became more independent. By the time of her death, her children were certainly scattered about the Midwestern states—Detroit, Chicago, and Utica, Illinois—as well as those who still remained in the city of their birth, Fort Wayne.

Emma’s passing, marked by her obituary in The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette on August 22, 1951, denoted the end of an era for the Kelly family—that of transition from destitute Irish immigrants to born-in-America citizens of a promising future and the legacy of an “American Dream” that could still be passed along to their own children.
            Funeral services will be held Friday for Mrs. Emma W. Kelly, 76, who died at 5 a.m. Tuesday at the South Whitley Rest Home, where she had been a patient for three months. She had been ill for a year. She had formerly resided with her daughter, Mrs. O. E. Glass, 2903 Shawnee Drive.
            A native of Logansport, she had lived here the past 55 years. Her husband, the late Patrick T. Kelly, was a former employe of the City Utilities. She belonged to St. Patrick's Catholic Church, its Rosary Society, the Daughters of Isabella, the Sacred Heart League and the LCBA.
            Survivors, in addition to Mrs. Glass, include three other daughters, Mrs. John Gradel and Mrs. Paul Boyd, both of Fort Wayne, and Mrs. Willard Britten of Utica, Ill.; three sons, Fred W. Kelly of Detroit, Mich.; Emmett P. Kelly of Chicago, Ill., and Stephen C. Kelly of Fort Wayne; one sister, Sister M. Carmelita of the Third Order of St. Francis, stationed in Burlington, Ia.; 16 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
            Friends may call at the Getz & Cahill Funeral Home after 7 p.m. today. Services will be held there Friday at 8:30 a.m. and at St. Patrick's Catholic Church at 9 a.m., the Rt. Rev. Msgr. D. L. Monahan officiating. Burial in the Catholic Cemetery. The Rosary Society will meet at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the funeral home and the Daughters of Isabella at 8 p.m. Thursday.


  1. As they say, motherhood is a full time job - and she had a large family. I hope her various descendents remember her fondly and with respect.

    1. I hope they remember her, too, Iggy. As I mentioned before, this branch of the Kelly family is too distant for our family to know personally, but I am glad to report that I've met (online) one descendant of Patrick and Emma's line through who is working to preserve those memories. That is always encouraging to see.

  2. It makes me crazy about those older obits. It is the MRS. Male name and last name business, I have a sister of my great grandfather listed as Mrs. William Collins of Limerick. All I know is she is still alive and living in Limerick Ireland in 1924....

    1. That is so frustrating, Claudia! Thankfully, this Kelly family in the United States left many records and documents forming an easily-traced paper trail. I've worked on some ancestors for which that wasn't entirely true--sometimes it took a wait of several years before I'd be able to connect the dots.

      With research in Ireland, even as late as the 1920s, that might not have been as easily done! I commiserate with you! Hope you find some answers soon, though :)


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