Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Baby of the Family

After what seemed to be the traditional event, every two years or so, of a new infant gracing the Fort Wayne household of Patrick and Emma Carle Kelly, perhaps the couple thought their Marie was going to be the baby of the family. After Marie’s birth in 1911, there was no new arrival to take on that role.

It wasn’t until six years later—in 1917—that someone finally showed up to claim that enviable spot. New baby Mildred Agnes Kelly arrived on the same day as her older sister Helen’s birthday: March 29.

True to form for this family, something had to be recorded in error on her birth records. Leave it to the county to satisfy that requirement: listing the Kellys’ new daughter as Agnos Kelley.

The following April 15, the new baby was baptized at Saint Patrick Church, with sponsors listed as George Wagner and Maria Carroll.

Unlike some of her older siblings, who must have hit a sweet spot in the Society pages of their city’s newspapers, Mildred seemed to lead an unobtrusive childhood.

At the age of twenty two, she did the predicable: met and married a man, settled down to domestic life and had five children—three daughters and two sons. Unlike her siblings, though, she married a man from far away Upper Peninsula in Michigan—specifically, Iron River. Born and raised in that town we’ve stumbled upon when I tried my hand at researching what I hoped would be a related Flannigan line, this Willard M. Britten left home and moved to Fort Wayne specifically to find work at the Zollner Corporation, a foundry and supplier of pistons to such companies as Ford, General Motors and International Harvester.

While I have no way of knowing—I have yet to access any newspaper articles or other documents to indicate differently—I presume life settled down to the predictable after Willard and Mildred exchanged vows on October 14, 1939. Willard had a steady job—he worked at Zollner until his retirement in 1980—and, perhaps a sign of the times, Mildred eventually also sought employment outside their home.

As much as I like to assert that life became more endurable—actually, quite blessed and pleasant—for those children and grandchildren of parents fleeing the destitute conditions of post-famine Ireland, even in this new century, their descendants had moments that awoke them from any dreams of paradise on earth. The tragic episode in this couple’s life came when their then-thirty-three-year-old son, Dennis, died from injuries received during a house fire in 1983. While the rest of Dennis’ family survived, the sudden shock of this loss must have left an indelible mark in the memories of his entire family—including that of his now-elderly parents.

While I can’t say for sure, I wonder if this tragedy hastened the death of Dennis Britten’s own parents, for his mother, Mildred, died only three years later. Dennis’ father, Willard Britten, died on his seventy-fourth birthday, two years after the loss of his wife. As I’ve been told several times, there is just something different about suffering the loss of one’s own child—no matter the age. It is an experience that turns the nature of life upside down.

The six grandchildren left behind at Willard and Mildred Kelly Britten’s passing would be third cousins to my husband. Of course, we have never met them—nor any of the children of Mildred Kelly’s siblings. All I’ve been able to glean about these family members has been found through the same research methods you’ve no doubt utilized in learning about your own family history.

There is one experience which I found quite different in this particular paper chase, though, involving the obituaries of this couple. I need to mention, first, that the absence of any obituaries here in this Kelly series is due to the possibility that some of the grandchildren of Patrick and Emma Kelly may still be alive. In respect of these people’s privacy, I’ve opted to omit transcribing any record of those (though they are certainly available elsewhere online). Then, too, I’d like to extend an invitation to anyone reading this series who realizes that you are related to this line: please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

The one experience I gleaned from researching the story of Willard and Mildred helped encourage me to press on, even when results don’t seem to yield anything promising. There are apparently road blocks in the journey to document our families’ stories that are not insurmountable. Having the ability to access information so easily via online resources has, in one way, weakened our research muscles that would otherwise push us to get out there and find what we need.

I’d like to talk more about that tomorrow.


  1. If you send me links to the obituaries - I might "privately" be able to track down some of those 3d cousins for you. :) I have some practice doing this...

    1. Iggy, you are so good at it, too! Thank you for your kind offer!

  2. If anyone can find info it would be Iggy:)

    1. Far Side, I've seen how he has contributed toward your efforts on your blog to match orphan photos with family descendants. He certainly has a knack for research!


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