Saturday, December 5, 2015
Patrilineals and Company
When it comes to tracking the surnames of my husband's family, it doesn't take long to arrive at the point when that research needs to be continued in Ireland. Of my father-in-law's ancestors, for instance, three of his four grandparents were born in Ireland, as were all eight of his great grandparents. When we traveled to Ireland a year ago, I had plenty of family history to work on.
Continuing to weave through the strands making up my husband's heritage, his paternal side features, among other names, two sets of Kellys. One, for sure, originated in County Kerry—John T. Kelly and his wife, Johanna Falvey. The other—James and Mary Kelly and their adult children (including our direct line Catherine)—arriving much earlier in Indiana by way of the Mississippi River from New Orleans, left no trace of their origin other than census reports of being born in Ireland. Could they be related to the County Kerry Kellys? There's no way to tell, as yet. But I am starting to get a few nibbles from DNA matches who may help to tell the rest of the story.
As for "the rest" of my father-in-law's paternal side, what wasn't related to a Kelly was a Stevens. At least, that's what we think that patrilineal surname is. We certainly claim it enthusiastically now. But back in 1850, when John Stevens sailed up the Mississippi River and tributaries to land at Lafayette, Indiana, the only indication he left of his origin was on his Declaration of Intention. There, he renounced his allegiance to Queen Victoria and stated he came from County Mayo in Ireland.
Yet, to find any trace of him—or a mystery relative, Hugh Stevens, who repeated that exact travel itinerary a year later—has proven next to impossible.
If you think "Y-DNA to the rescue!" you are being overly optimistic. We have received no exact matches for that test. Of those who come the closest to matching our Stevens line, they are at the genetic distance of five on the 67-marker test. If you know anything about the Y-DNA test, you know that's a long way from providing much helpful information. At worst, the fact that absolutely none of those matches sports the same surname is disconcerting. While we have been the focus of much ribbing over "Non-Paternal Events," our suspicion is that, if anything, there might have been a voluntary surname change for other reasons. Perhaps the ancestor we know as John Stevens arrived in this country a new man in more ways than one.
In going from World War II veteran Frank Stevens, to his father Will Stevens, to his father John Kelly Stevens to his father John Stevens, we trace that patrilineal line with a paper trail of certainty. But when we step back to County Mayo, Ireland, we step into a void with no hint whatsoever of whose name might have come before that. We can hope feverishly that someone in Ireland—or wherever his other descendants might have emigrated—will volunteer to participate in Y-DNA testing, so that we have another way to piece together the story of the Stevens heritage. We can peer through countless New Orleans passenger lists in hopes of uncovering this mystery John Stevens. But unless some small detail slips through and catches daylight, it's unlikely that this patrilineal line will become anything other than an impenetrable brick wall.