Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Puzzling Over Two Kellys
It all started—and ended—with an untimely death. Catherine Kelly, daughter of John and Johanna Falvey Kelly, had recently married a widower in Fort Wayne by the name of John Kelly Stevens. The recently bereaved man, left with a one year old daughter and a two week old infant—who also eventually succumbed—was likely keen on finding a new wife as quickly as possible. Life in the 1880s afforded no such niceties as Family and Medical Leave Acts.
Factoring in a respectable amount of time for mourning his loss, John Kelly Stevens returned to work at the Bass Foundry and Machine Works, where he was a molder. He found someone to temporarily care for his toddler daughter while he took care of the inescapable duties of providing the finances to meet their needs.
Life seemed to return to some normalcy once John found a suitable bride and new "mother" for his daughter. John K. "Stevans" and Kate Kelly were married on October 16, 1883.
The new "norm" didn't last long, however. What might otherwise have been joyful news that Catherine had delivered a son turned to yet another tragedy. Soon after giving birth, Catherine Kelly Stevens died on November 23, 1884—barely a year and a month after her marriage.
Left, this time, with two young children to care for, the man must have been doubly devastated. After his first loss, even though his first wife had died in Fort Wayne, he had had to turn to his father and step-mother, back in Lafayette, Indiana, to assist with caring for his surviving daughter as well as burying his wife and infant. Like many young couples, this was a young man who had no financial margin.
When John's second wife, Catherine, died in 1884, it was difficult to determine exactly where she was buried. There was no family plot in Fort Wayne for a couple as young as this, and John's family was not only all the way across the state, but likely in no condition to step up and bear the burden of this additional cost of burial.
It was thus understandably difficult, all these years later, to find the location of Catherine Kelly Stevens' grave. In retrospect, the emphasis of her maiden name over her married name on the headstone and records may have been part of my research dilemma. But the rest of the difficulty lies with the fact that it was not her husband who stepped up to pay her burial expenses, but her father, John Kelly—and another man.
That other man was named Kelly, as well—Timothy Kelly. This Timothy, however, was not Catherine's older brother Timothy, who had died years before in a tragic accident. Besides, this Timothy Kelly was too old to be John Kelly's son. And yet, he seemed to be too young to have been John's brother. With the inconsistent manner in which Irish-Americans handled reports of their date of birth, John had reported, at various times, that he been born anywhere from 1808 to 1830. Timothy's date of birth had been given as anywhere between 1827 and 1839.
No matter how they were related—I can only presume, at this point—they were enough of acquaintances of each other to decided to go into the financial arrangement of jointly purchasing a family plot at the Fort Wayne Catholic Cemetery.
The impetus for this financial partnership was likely not the death of John's daughter Catherine, as I eventually discovered. But it was in seeking the location of her resting place—and in examining all the burials in John and Timothy Kelly's family plot—that I found the record of Catherine Kelly Stevens' burial.
That discovery, years ago, was the start of the collaboration with the Kelly researcher I mentioned yesterday. It was in a partnership of our own, through multitudes of emails and snail mail packages, that we tried to piece together the relationship of those two Kelly men back in 1880s Fort Wayne.
We never could.
Again, as had happened with another research partnership I've discussed here before—that time, on the Gordon family—my fellow researcher eventually died, not knowing the answer to the questions we had about our mutual Kelly families. Since then, online research has evolved so much that I begin to entertain hopes that maybe, just maybe, this time, I can find something more to lead me further down the trail to an answer on this two-Kellys puzzle.
Above: "An Old Woman and Children in a Cottage Interior," 1887 painting by Irish artist William Gerard Barry; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.