Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Not Another John Kelly!

It can sometimes be a delight to stumble unexpectedly upon another name that belongs in the family history. Sometimes. When it comes to uncovering yet another John Kelly, though, I'm not so sure.

There are plenty of Kellys to be had—not only in their native habitat in Ireland, but in far-flung destinations around the world. Even in Lafayette, Indiana, the name has its doubles, apparently.

So when I discovered that the family member standing in to vouch for Ann Kelly and her intended, Barnard Doyle, upon the eve of their wedding was named John Kelly, let's just say I wasn't exactly delighted. I had already encountered more than my fair share of John Kellys to deal with on the Fort Wayne side of the Kelly family.

I had already discovered that this Lafayette Kelly family had had plenty of doubles for each of the siblings' names. Catherine Kelly, though dying young, had had a double in Lafayette. Seeking for any court or immigration records for her brothers, I also discovered that one of them—Thomas—had a double who had evidently had his day in court with a paper trail to prove it. Even one of the sisters ended up having a double in her own family when her brother married a woman with the exact same name, resulting—at least temporarily—with two Bridget Kellys.

And now I had to isolate just one John Kelly in this mix of doubles?

It was clear from census records for 1870—the last enumeration before Ann and Barnard were married—that there were two John Kellys in town. One, presumably married to a woman named Elia with two teenagers in his household, was aged forty nine, putting his year of birth around 1821. If this man were part of the same Kelly household as our Catherine, Bridget, Thomas and Ann, a date of birth this early would make him just a year older than Mathew, the oldest son listed in our Kelly family.

If, however, the other John Kelly in Lafayette turned out to be a brother in our Kelly family, he would have had to take his place on the other end of the age spectrum; born about 1834, he would have been only five years older than Ann—and about the same age as her sister Bridget.

From that time period, it's clear some other hints would have to be garnered before we could determine which one of these two John Kellys might be ours. Even more than that, we would have to conclusively determine whether either of these two men were related to our Kellys. Though his willingness to vouch for Ann Kelly in her application for a marriage record seems to infer a relationship, he could have found himself in this position by virtue of his connection with Barnard, rather than Ann. Furthermore, a connection between John Kelly and Ann Kelly might be beckoning us to review our assumption that Ann even belongs in our Kelly family at all. Perhaps this Kelly-Doyle marriage is not the connection we assume it to be.

Seeing this whole pursuit began with a DNA test match in which the two parties—my husband and someone related at the estimated level of second to fourth cousin—both claimed Kelly as a surname in their respective family histories, we have to remember that names as common as Kelly may not mean much when it comes to placement in our respective trees.

Two tasks yet to tackle: delve into the Kelly siblings' history further, and verify the other guy's family tree. Fortunately, while we were in Lafayette, I did check into a few other records on the Kelly family. Now that we are back home from our research journey, it may afford us the breathing spell to regroup and review the rest of those recently acquired records.

Above: "Autumn Landscape, South Main Street, Road to Kramers," oil on cardboard circa 1877 by American artist Edward Edmondson, Jr.; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. One of my distant cousins married a man who had the same name as *her* father and who appears so far to be unrelated to her father's family. They were neighbors, so it is a great happiness to be able to differentiate the two with land records, tax assessments and wills.

    1. Oh, I'm sure it was a "great happiness" to find a way to tell them apart! These same-name parts of our family trees can be quite frustrating!

  2. Ugh, the name is so common it's like John Smith or Joseph Johnson!

    I cringe for you!

    1. Yes, it's quite frustrating. I guess that is one plus to having large families back then--to be able to say, "John, brother of Thomas and William" can go a long way toward pinpointing just the right person--especially in an era when people weren't so particular about getting dates of birth and death precisely correct.

  3. I wish you luck and I am glad you are home safely:)

    1. Thank you, Connie. We enjoyed our visit but are certainly glad to be back home!


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