Finding the 1860 and 1880 census records for the Kelley family near Lafayette, Indiana, opened up the possibility of tracing an entirely new line related to my husband’s great-great grandmother, Catherine Kelly Stevens.
The only challenge to pursuing that goal, however, was adhering to that tacit understanding that spelling was not the forte of nineteenth century census enumerators. What might show as Kelley in one year could just as easily be reported as Kelly in another decade.
Couple that inconsistency with the leniency with which the Irish-American families in those years reported their ages, and a whole world of uncertainty could open up for the tentative researcher.
As it turns out, though the surname for this family was spelled differently at times, they all seemed to end up in the same place—or at least nearby. That became the way provided to circumvent those reporting difficulties: the records left behind at each person’s passing, confirming the location of their graves in the same family plot.
Fortunately, the Catholic cemeteries in Tippecanoe County—most notably Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Lafayette—are well represented among the volunteer-driven transcriptions available online at sites such as Find A Grave. Cross checking for both variations on the surname’s spelling—Kelly and Kelley—I could reconstruct the vital statistics for most of the names represented in those two census records in which I had first located the family.
Drawing from the 1860 census, where the four siblings were living together with their widowed mother, Mary Kelley, I gleaned the tentative figures for their years of birth. Mathew was born around 1822, Rose following in 1827, Thomas a decade behind in 1837, and the youngest, Ann, arriving around 1839.
While the cemetery records on Find A Grave didn’t provide a year of birth, they did include age at death. A little math work showed that the dates were within a workable range, giving a vote of confidence that we are looking at the right Kelley family.
Mathew, the oldest of the 1860 listing, was listed at age seventy when he passed on August 17, 1895. That would put his year of birth as 1825, which wasn’t exactly the 1822 gleaned from the 1860 census, but the difference was still within reason. With the spelling of his name recorded only slightly different—as Matthew Kelley—he was buried in the Blessed Virgin Addition of Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Lafayette, in Bock 101, Lot A.
Buried in the same plot as his sister Rose, she had preceded him by several years, passing away on March 21, 1888. According to cemetery records, she was sixty years of age at the time of her death, putting her year of birth in Ireland at 1828, only one year off from that showing on the 1860 census.
What became of the other two siblings—Thomas and Ann—took a little more perseverance to uncover. Ann, apparently, had married some time after the 1860 census, adopting a surname that suffered some spelling variations of its own—something we’ll explore in a couple days.
Ann’s remaining brother, as it turned out, was buried—along with his wife and some of their children—in the same family plot where Matthew and Rose were located, but Thomas’ surname was spelled in the cemetery records and on the headstone as Kelly, not Kelley. His death on July 11, 1895—barely one month shy of his brother Matthew’s passing—coupled with the note “age sixty” to produce a year of birth of 1835, two years earlier than that 1860 census record had it. We’ll explore what can be found on Thomas and his children tomorrow.
How tentative it felt to include both Kelly and Kelley descendants in that one family—and all in the same burial plot. If it weren’t for the inclusion of the plot location in each entry on Find A Grave, I’d still be doubting whether I should include all those names in the same family. Spelling may be an artifact of our own modern times, but while it was certainly not as standardized a century ago as it is now, at least we can rely on the stabilizing force of that one constant, final address.