Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Doubting Thomas

No matter how hard the struggle to break loose, sometimes it just seems impossible to get free of some research dilemmas. When we were in Lafayette, Indiana, trying to find documentation on our Kellys, there was no place more likely to reveal local knowledge on this family than their county's genealogy center. And yet, I came away from that whirlwind tour of Tippecanoe County records with the distinct impression the town claimed more than one Thomas Kelly.

After all, not only were there two Declarations of Intention filed in the Tippecanoe County Circuit Court, but there were other legal papers, including a will. Looking at the details that could be extracted from these documents, it seemed as if there were an older, more successful man by that very name: Thomas Kelly.

Now, I'm not so sure—and am wishing I had gotten copies of records showing that "other" Thomas Kelly, as well.

To rule out the "wrong" Thomas Kelly, there were some alternate techniques I could attempt:
  • I could check the Lafayette census records after Thomas' arrival for two records on Thomas Kelly;
  • I could check burial records to search for any sign confirming there were two Thomases; and
  • I could double-check other known dates for the Kelly family to use these as a yardstick to rule out the "wrong" Thomas.
Using the census records to check into just who this other Thomas Kelly might be yielded less than stellar results. Of course, in 1860, our Thomas Kelly—by then aged twenty three, according to the record—wasn't even living in Tippecanoe County. He was in neighboring Warren County, living with his widowed mother Mary, all his surviving siblings, plus the three young Stevens sons of his by-then-deceased sister Catherine.

To my surprise, though, neither on Ancestry.com nor FamilySearch.org could I pull up a listing for a second Thomas Kelly. Not for 1860, at least. Yet, moving on to 1870—and then 1880—I encountered the same difficulty. No second Thomas Kelly. It wasn't until the 1880 census that I located a second Thomas Kelly: our own Thomas' son, who was born about 1873.

Well, what about burial records? I realize using Find A Grave may not give the entire picture—volunteer-driven as the site is, with the main Catholic Cemetery in town claiming to be less than fifty percent photographed at this point. Still, there was an entry for a second Thomas Kelly—one who died in 1861 and was buried at Saint Mary's Cemetery in Lafayette. A quick click through revealed, though, that this second Thomas Kelly was an infant who died at nine months of age, hardly the twenty five year old Irish immigrant who filed his first papers at the courthouse there in 1852.

This is what sent me scurrying back to my original records to double-check what I knew about this Kelly family. For one thing, I knew this family had to have arrived in Indiana by 1853, because that is when their father, James, died and was buried at Greenbush Cemetery in Lafayette.

Another confirmation of our Kelly family's arrival came with the marriage, in Tippecanoe County, of daughter Catherine to John Stevens, another Irish immigrant, also in 1853. Granted, the marriage record stated her husband's name to be "Stephenson"—and then, two lines later, changed to John "Stevenson"—but the fact that her firstborn son, James, along with his younger brothers, subsequently took up residence with their mother's family provides a reliable census indicator of their proper surname. Of course, son James' birth in 1854 in Indiana validates the family's arrival in America before that year, as well.

It is an unfortunate difficulty, for research purposes at least, that no one in the immediate generation of that Kelly family survived long enough to have their records show up after 1900. With the exception of youngest child Ann—the very one whose descendant's DNA match has me scurrying after all I can discover on her—Thomas and all his siblings died in the 1890s or earlier. Not quite close enough to be in reach, when it comes to the details of modern documentation.

Not to worry, the volunteers at the county's genealogy center told me—I could always pull up the church records, courtesy of FamilySearch.org. Unfortunately, as I've found since my return back home, that is not the case—at least for Tippecanoe County. And writing to the diocese hasn't turn up anything useful, either.

The whole thing leaves me wishing that either the center's operating schedule included more contiguous hours for those traveling in from out of state—after closing that Thursday evening, the center didn't open again until 1:00 the next afternoon—or that I had grabbed copies of even the documents which I was sure referred to the wrong Thomas.

Maybe he was the right one, after all.


  1. You need a Lafayette Connection to do some leg work for you!

    1. Actually, the genealogy society there is quite effective for doing lookups--and for a modest fee, too. I'm thinking about it, now that I'm kicking myself for not copying some of those documents on the "other" Thomas. And I know how to get in touch with the specific Society volunteer who helped me, so this should be a snap.

  2. It's like a "ghost in the machine" - the second Thomas...

    1. Who knows what gummed that up, but it's now launched me on a quest to find that second Thomas. Wish I could just drive back and pull up those documents again. That's what being in a rush while researching can do.


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