Thursday, May 29, 2014

Small Towns and Surnames: A Detour

The funny thing about small towns is: the longer you stick around, the more you know about everyone else. Especially about how they connect.

I suppose it is the same thing with the researchers who shadow those ancestors who lived in small towns.

Somehow, in one of those late night research sessions—the kind where it seemed I was going nowhere—the name Kelley flew past my eyes as I scrolled impatiently through yet another list of seemingly mismatched search results on Sometimes that program can seem so intuitive. Other times? Well, I’ll just move on…

There used to be a time on FamilySearch in which I could resist the command to fill a name in the search bar, and instead leave it blank. I used to scroll past that first set of parameters, leaving them all blank except maybe the parents’ names at the bottom of the page—to see if I could force the issue and flush out a daughter for whom I had no clue about married name. Then it seemed FamilySearch changed their programming, and my little ruse was no longer permissible.

But here, on this late night research marathon, I started getting the same results I’d have gotten if I tried my little trick again. Names I had no way of recognizing were popping up in the search results—with parents’ names of Thomas and Bridget Dolan Kelley. With the town of Lafayette, Indiana, included in the parameters, these were the kind of results that could capture my attention.

Yet, there was something that seemed wrong about what I was finding. The marriage information on one document—an index, unfortunately, so I couldn’t check the handwriting on the original for myself—mentioned a Mary A. Kelley, daughter of Thomas. Her year of birth was 1871, which didn’t quite match the 1869 year of birth showing in the family’s 1880 census record. But that wasn’t what was holding me back.

What bothered me in this marriage document index was the name of this Mary’s spouse: Edgar S. Mugger. Mugger didn’t seem quite right—and, scrolling down the entry, I saw the discrepancy picked up where Edgar’s father’s name was entered. He was listed as “Wm. Munger.”

By that time, I also realized that Mary’s mother was listed as Bridget “Dolen or Donlen.”

Someone was indulging in a fit of uncertainty. Where was the arbitrator in this decision?

I took that as license to nurture my own doubt. I had a second reason for that: I had already run across that surname, Munger. Yes, in Lafayette. I’m telling you: knowing your small town can help in research minutiae.

I went to my database index to pull up that surname, just to make sure, though I already knew I was right. There was another Munger in my files. And this is where the detour comes in. I need to take you back to the 1860 and 1880 census of Thomas Kelley’s brother, Mathew—the unmarried brother who lived with his sister Rose, and at one time had shared the household with not only all three Kelley siblings, but with three little Stevens boys who had recently lost their mother.

Remember William?

It was that William who had, after the 1880 census, married a woman by the name of—remember, from a while back?—Alice Munger. She was daughter of a man who also bore that same given name: William H. And Alice’s mother, by the way, was not Susan Denny, as the transcription put it, but Susan Downing.

What a coincidence, don’t you think? Let’s check this one out. The 1880 census shows both Alice and Edgar in the same household, with Susan as mother. Unfortunately at that time, William, the father, was missing.

No problem. Just push back one decade and pull up that 1870 census. Same town, same two children—Alice and Edgar—and voilĂ ! Dad’s name: William.

Now, fast forward another twenty three years. Just a little over a year after William Stevens married Alice Munger, his cousin Mary Ann Kelly married Alice’s brother Edgar.

The small town effect must have held them spellbound, for Mary Ann and Edgar were easily traced in the decennial census records from the first one following their 1893 marriage through the last one before Edgar’s 1946 and Mary’s 1949 passing.


  1. Wouldn't it be neat to be able to go back in time for a day or two, and visit this small town and "get everyone's stories"? Might take a week, but you could do the whole town.. :)

    1. Well, Iggy, I don't suppose I'd ever get a chance to take a ride in a time machine like that, but at least I'm hoping for a different type of Wayback Machine churning out digital versions of historic newspapers for the northwest part of Indiana in time for their bicentennial celebration.

  2. Replies
    1. Oh, Far Side, I am just loving it, having stumbled upon this entire new branch of the family. Crazy how people connect, and then connect again. If you stick around long enough, you can see history repeating itself!


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