Friday, May 23, 2014

Oh, Wow...
Oh, Wow...

Perhaps it is the protracted struggle to find that specific detail which just refuses to be found. Perhaps it is the effort. Perhaps it is merely the passing of time—lots of time—yielding nonetheless no results. Whatever the cause of the tension, once the obstacle breaks loose, it sometimes brings with it a flood of emotion.

After putting the Wednesday post to bed for the night, I couldn’t shake loose of the title I had given it: Where’s William? My mind kept wondering, so I supposed one more peek wouldn’t hurt. After all, there wouldn’t be anything to show for yet another attempt. I already knew that.

I pulled up and set my parameters, stubbornly deciding to include the year of birth matching that of his mother’s death: 1858. I knew there were several documents asserting that the date of William’s birth was really 1860, so I compromised and entered a date range that would capture both. After all, you know how it is with those Irish: the older they get, the younger they look on paper, until they get so young, they die—then when they can't deny it any longer, they get pinned with an age that’s really old.

I played around with the search parameters a bit. I also wanted to insert the surname Kelly—or Kelley, as some cemetery records had listed William’s mother and her plot-mates. It was my hunch that, if not some kind souls in their church, it was relatives who took in those three motherless boys after Catherine Kelly Stevens’ death.

But who? I didn’t know of any siblings Catherine might have had. All I knew was that she was buried with a Kelley named James, and another named Mary. I presumed they were her parents, but try as I might to find passenger records with a grouping of those three names, I failed. Nor could I find them in the 1850 census, the last census for which Catherine would have been included.

Looking for a Stevens sibling proved fruitless, too. While I did find a Declaration of Intent filed almost exactly one year after John Stevens filed his—attributed to a Hugh Stevens who followed the exact same route through New Orleans that John had taken—I could not find that name in any records in the Tippecanoe County area any time after the 1850s date in which he signed it.

So, late that night, I promised myself just one more “quick” look to see if I could find anything.

You know what happened.

Even narrowing the search terms, I was faced with the prospect of going, page by page through the results, in hopes of finding just the right William Stevens.

Pine Village in Adams Township directly to west of the city of Lafayette IN
Narrowing the document results to 1860, I did locate one possibility. A two year old boy named William Stevens showed up—not in Tippecanoe County, as I had expected, but in the John Quincy Adams Township of a neighboring county, Warren County. Just over the Wabash River from Lafayette, where John and Catherine Stevens had lived in the mid 1850s, Pine Village in “J. Q. Adams” Township was a straight shot down the road a piece. Like, oh, twenty two miles.

But close enough.

What caught my breath was not the fact that William Stevens was in the household of Mathew Kelley, but that he wasn’t the only Stevens in the household. There, along with him in that 1860 document, was a five year old James Stevens and a four year old John Stevens. Perfectly spaced to match, exactly, the ages of our missing three Stevens children.

And, oh: besides the listing for Mathew, Rose, Thomas and Ann Kelley, there was an older woman, seventy years of age, in the household. Her name was Mary Kelley.

Despite the late hour, I know it wasn’t the exhaustion of the day that lit upon me at that moment. There are just some times—sublime moments—which breathe upon you an inexplicable desire to tremble…or cry…or just stare unblinking at the simple report facing you.

It wasn’t my imagination. Seemingly on the same wavelength, Iggy found the entry, too. He emailed me with the link the next morning—his found courtesy of It was so gratifying to look at the digitized version of the actual document, to see it with my own eyes.

Still, that long-sought find brought with it more questions. What if this was just a coincidental matching of some fairly common names? Would it be likely to be the right family, given the different county location? And, more important, where were they all in the 1870 census?

I decided the best thing to do, to insure that I had the right family, was to trace this family forward in time. The next step would be to find Mathew, Rose, Thomas and Ann Kelley in census records for 1870 and perhaps even for 1880. That would be helpful, since the 1860 census did not include any indication of relationships between members of a household. And if I’d be so fortunate as to find records of one of these Kelley family members passing in a year recent enough to include report of his or her parents’ names and origins, I might even break through the barrier hindering me from accessing the next generation.

But all that would have to wait for another day. After all, I had promised myself "just one more look."

Map, above, showing the townships of Warren County, Indiana; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. Why do you torture yourself -- just accept that you found them. Rejoice! Roll in the mud! Not every "find" must be considered "just coincidence."

    1. Sorry that it sounds like torture, Wendy :(

      I did find some other details that make me doubt what I've found, though. More about that in a later post...

  2. Oh I know all to well that "just one more look" taken late at night. A few times I have tried denying myself of that only to toss and turn and eventually give in hours later in the middle of the night. But I am with Wendy---rejoice in your find! I do look forward to seeing what you find as you bring it forward!

    1. There are several positives to rejoice in, that's true. Oh, if only these people would have kept pristine records. But how were they to know I'd be checking up on them, a hundred fifty years later?!?!

      Good call on just getting up and checking on it, even in the middle of the night, Michelle! Sometimes these things just need to be found.

  3. Eureka! Hope you hit the Mother Lode:)

    1. Well, Far Side, if it's a find at all, it's a big one!

  4. shows this William H still living with his uncle in 1880.

    :) Now to track down who Mathew was and where he came from!

    1. Yes! Thanks for that link, Iggy!

      What's interesting about it is that I first saw it at FamilySearch, where it was indexed with his name listed as William Kelley. Bringing up the image on Ancestry sure helped out--even though Ancestry also had him indexed as William Kelley. Somebody wasn't paying attention when they shared records on that one! The census record itself clearly shows him listed as William Stevens. Sure makes me glad I could pull that one up and settle the question.

      Wish the niece's name wasn't given with initials. That introduces yet another entirely new branch of the family to me. What a bonanza!

  5. My great grandfather's life was a total spider web very similar to yours. Late one night I, too, decided just one more try. So I started looking for him with cousins. Jackpot. There he AND his sister were going by his Aunt's married name. And then the rest of the story unfolded. Their mother had married her uncle, when he died she remarried, gave her two children to her mother and went her merry way with husband #2. The children were raised by their Aunt/Grandmother. Every important discovery I have made is after 10:10 at night.

    1. Isn't it just something to discover all these interwoven relationships? Sometimes when we look strictly at the family tree, we miss those connections embedded in the life stories.

      I wonder how prevalent that sort of situation might have been--woman remarrying, then leaving older children with another relative. On the surface, it makes it seem like the new husband came with an ultimatum: "I'll take you, but not your kids."

      Sounds like 10:10 is a good time of night for you...


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