Thursday, September 15, 2016
Refocusing on Johanna
With the email last month that announced my husband's latest DNA match in New Zealand—of all places—the chase was on to figure out how his Falvey ancestors from Ireland connected with this potential distant cousin. On our side of the equation, there was only one Falvey we knew of in his family tree: a woman named Johanna Falvey, who married a John Kelly in County Kerry and soon after emigrated across the ocean.
While this New Zealand connection purportedly traces back to one of Johanna's siblings—we already knew there was one Falvey, at least, who headed to New Zealand while Johanna headed to the United States—there are so many gaps in the records as to introduce a serious amount of doubt. Our task, at this point, is to tighten up the narrative on both sides of the family to see if a better focus will yield more specifics about this Falvey family, back in Ireland.
I had had Johanna's dates, in my database, as a birth in 1826 and death in 1903. That span is fairly reasonable for any woman living an average life span, putting her at seventy seven when she died. However, using that date of birth as a comparison point for any of life's mile markers other than death caused me to question that date of birth.
For instance, John and Johanna's first child—at least, first as far as I can discern—was born in Ireland in 1860. That would mean Johanna was not married until she was about thirty three years of age—and one year older when her firstborn son arrived. Somehow, I find that rather unlikely.
Even more so, the last of her children—a son named John, who wasn't born until 1876, well after the family settled in Fort Wayne, Indiana—would have made Johanna a mother again at the rather doubtful age of fifty. That is a possibility I question even more.
Of course, the last time I focused on researching this family, there were no resources for confirming that firstborn's date of birth. As Irish Catholics during that era, his parents would likely have had no civil registration of the event. When I last researched the family, there were no available church records online. But that was then. This is now.
Now is, of course, an excellent time to delve back into the documentation for this Johanna Falvey, her husband John Kelly, and their children. With more and more records being digitized and placed online, I can see for myself, rather than hoping transcribers from decades ago hadn't made mistakes in their work.
First, though, the task needs to be to review the documentation I've already garnered for Johanna. The first quest needs to uncover where this birth date of 1826 came from, since no documentation of the actual event has ever been offered.
Let's take a look at where that 1826 date came from. According to the Indiana State Board of Health Certificate of Death, an unidentified informant stated that Johanna "Kelley" had died in 1903 and was born in 1826. Her husband's name had been given as John, and her residence address had been provided as being on Hoagland Avenue—which, as we'll see once we take a look at census records, was indeed where John and Johanna Kelly had lived in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
No name had been provided for the informant, although it presumably would have been a family member, perhaps her youngest son John, who was still living at home. Johanna's father's surname had been listed as Falvey—my only indication of Johanna's maiden name—but her mother's name had been listed as the frustrating "unknown."
Despite no source for the year of birth provided in that certificate, that became the official report. But something strange happened by the time of her burial—at least, concerning the report given by the volunteers at Find A Grave. Instantly, Johanna's date of birth had advanced by two years to 1828. And with that, Johanna had been transformed from a fifty year old mother of her youngest son, to one aged only forty eight. That, I can certainly buy; I have a friend whose mother was exactly that age when she was born. It is possible.
On the assumption that some day, I'll be able to access baptismal records in County Kerry, it would help to know which of those two dates to believe. Was Johanna born in 1826? Or 1828?
Of course, that dilemma also interjects the doubt that either of those two dates will be correct, so let's look around to see whether other records support what we've already found.
Taking a walk through the decades in the U.S. census records seems to support the general time frame for Johanna's birth—though it certainly doesn't clinch it for one date or the other. Just before her death in 1903, the 1900 census indicated that Johanna was born in November of 1829. This pushes her arrival a tad bit more into the direction of credibility. And still, I've seen census reports that were wildly different than the actual birth documentation, once I was able to locate it. Even so, it needs to be added to that list of possible dates.
The 1880 census, enumerated on the street where the Kellys lived on June 10, gave Johanna's age as fifty. Again, we see Johanna's date of birth slip a little further, now possibly as late as 1830. Things were basically the same, ten years prior, with Johanna's age exactly ten years younger. The only change with this earlier census was that, instead of being sixteen years her senior as he had been in the 1880 census, with the 1870 census, John and Johanna were now listed as being the same age: forty.
The 1870 census was the first one in which our immigrant Irish family appeared in the United States. Because this one was closest of all the enumerations to her date of birth—although still a solid forty years removed—it is possible this one might be the most believable. A 1830 date of birth would have made Johanna a newlywed at age twenty nine, and a new mother at thirty—a slightly more believable scenario.
If ever we are to find Johanna in baptismal records in County Kerry, though, we'll have to search the entire range of possible dates—from 1826 to 1830. It's likely that even these are not an accurate representation of Johanna's arrival in the Falvey household.
At this point, though, it looks like I'll have to browse the available scans of records on my own, if I hope to find her. And that, itself, will be a hopeless process unless I can narrow down that County Kerry location to a specific parish—a hunt-and-peck proposal, even if I isolate the possibilities by use of property records or other ways to confirm the presence of Falvey families in the area during that time frame.