Friday, November 22, 2013

The Shrinking Household

As we go down the list of Patrick and Emma Carle Kelly’s children and follow their life stories, we eventually get to the younger siblings whose arrival in the household was ten years or more after that of the firstborn. The last three children in the Kelly household happen to all be daughters.

Of those three youngest daughters, the one we’ll focus on today happened to be the one who married next to last of the daughters, so she was still showing in her mother’s household for the 1940 census, along with her brother Stephen, whom we met yesterday, and her oldest sister Kathryn.

It was a challenge to find any information on this particular daughter. With a name like Helen Kelly—sounding so close to that of the by-then well known Helen Keller—perhaps our Helen was doomed to be one of those having a name claimed by many others. At least, that’s the way it seemed in the Fort Wayne newspapers.

Apparently, there was a Helen Kelly marching through Allen County divorce court reports for quite a while, claiming she needed release from her husband and his unbearable drinking ways. She, thankfully, predated our Helen’s adult years by half a decade.

Not to be outdone, there was a Miss Helen Kelly, from Las Vegas, New Mexico, whose name was splashed about the Society pages with the announcement that she was a guest of this or that resident of Fort Wayne. She seemed quite the popular visitor—but again, she was not our Helen Kelly.

My most favorite not-our-Helen story was that of the Helen Kelly who had married a man by name of Gould, then decided to divorce him in favor of a marriage to a “prince of Albania.”

As for our own Helen Kelly, well, I didn’t find much in those Fort Wayne newspapers. Perhaps like most younger children in large families, she was on the receiving end of the hand-me-downs of life.

I do know that she was born March 29, 1909, in Fort Wayne, and that she lived her entire life in that city.

I also know that, on June 22, 1940, she married a man by the name of John Gradel—a German-born immigrant whose widowed mother still lived in Germany.

I’ve often wondered what worries, fears or even risks Helen got swept into with that decision to marry. On the eve of her marriage, her future mother-in-law was most likely living in harm’s way as war began ravaging the European continent. Then, too, with the soon-approaching involvement of the United States in World War II, recent German immigrants to America were seen with increasing hostility—even threat of internment.

Whether that became part of the narrative for Helen and John’s life story, I had no way of knowing, until recently.

At first, all I could tell of their family story was that, five years after their marriage, they had a son—their only child—Michael, who died at the age of sixty two in 2008. From his obituary, I learned that Michael was a Vietnam vet and, other than his service abroad, he lived and worked in Fort Wayne until the point of his retirement.

Perhaps Michael’s service in the military, it turns out, was inspired by his father’s own example. Though a German immigrant himself, John Gradel was a United States Army veteran of World War II. His likely absence from the home during that time may be the very explanation for the family’s one and only child not being born until five years after John and Helen were married.

If it weren’t for those brief mentions of service in the obituaries of both Helen’s husband and that of her son, there would be very little detail to glean about the woman or her family life. Her own obituary, printed shortly after her death on July 10, 1985, included only the customary list of family survivors. Perhaps she carried on the tradition of her mother and remained a stay-at-home mom in an age in which women were no longer doing so, for there was no mention of occupation, affiliations or associations.

As a final nod to family tradition, the brief obituary mentioned one more custom: Helen Kelly Gradel was buried in the Catholic Cemetery in the hometown she never left: Fort Wayne.



    I find that whole internment camp of the Japanese to be truly offensive - and Un-American. It was blatantly racist (since they did not do the same of the Germans) and ended up being "legalized thievery" as they (the US Government) stole many of those Japanese families homes and livelihoods.

    Mike's obituary shows that most (if not nearly all of them) were loyal Americans - and they were treated horribly.

    1. Thanks for sharing that link, Iggy. That is indeed my husband's distant Kelly cousin.

      While the episode of American history including the internment of Japanese was indeed an atrocious act, I hesitate to speak out on a segment of history through which I never lived (although I did write on how, moved by the fear and patriotism of that time, some of my mother-in-law's German-American relatives actually changed the spelling of their names so as to not appear overtly German).

      As far as the counterpart involving Germans and others of European heritage, I was not even aware of such an internment until reading an entry in the blog by Linda Gartz, the Family Archaeologist.

      Researching this further, I see that apparently there were more than eleven thousand people impacted by this internment during World War II. While some were German aliens currently in the United States, some were actually natural-born or naturalized citizens of the United States.

      One thing to keep in mind here is the much larger proportion of Americans with German (or Germanic) heritage in America, as opposed to those of Japanese heritage at that time. I once heard that, save for one vote, our national language may have been German instead of English--especially in places like Pennsylvania. Whether that is true or not, it gives an indication of how widespread our German roots were, especially along the eastern portions of our country. To have shipped all such people to internment camps would have been prohibitive--but there was still animosity and discrimination, even if the "suspected" German-heritage American residents were not locked away in camps. Indeed, especially those living along the eastern coast were interned.

      While it is easy to label the Japanese internment--after the fact, in our day--as racist (by virtue of Asian and Caucasian considered different races), there was still an ethnic bias in operation, even with the descendants of German (or German-related) and Italian heritage, as I am now beginning to see as I discover reports of this other internment.

      Perhaps the greater question to ask is, why do we all know about the Japanese internment, but relatively few Americans are aware of the German or Italian ones?

      At any rate, this was indeed a sad and deplorable chapter in our nation's history--and yet, I cannot even speak to that issue, having never lived during that time, nor understood the fears, rumors and possibilities inherent in the unfolding of that devastating war.


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