I'm beginning to wish it was customary to list cousins among the survivors in a family member's obituary. Not only would that, for instance, help me identify the wider family circle for my husband's second great-grandmother, Johanna Falvey Kelly, but it could help every struggling family history researcher to untangle the knot of common surnames and namesake repetitions, especially within that Irish heritage.
It wasn't much of a surprise to discover that my husband had DNA matches with other researchers pursuing their Falvey roots. Learning that there was a Johanna among the ancestors of the one particular Falvey family I'm tracing right now—that of siblings Mark and Bridget Falvey who settled in Chicopee, Massachusetts—was not a complicating factor. In fact, it was quite a welcome sign, considering the Irish tradition of adhering to naming patterns. Besides, our Johanna Falvey immigrated to Fort Wayne, Indiana, far from Chicopee. And our Johanna came to America over a decade after the Massachusetts siblings. It was quite evident that these were two separate identities.
Since Mark Falvey and his sister Bridget both had descendants who turned out to share DNA segments with my husband, I decided to see what I could learn about their sister Johanna, in hopes that she, too, might have a descendant who provided a DNA match. Remember, my goal is to see if any of these other matches might have any family traditions concerning just where in County Kerry, Ireland, the Falveys originated. So far, no one has been available to divulge that secret.
Looking at this Johanna's story, just as we had seen with her siblings, the Chicopee records provided a great start to her immigrant story. We first find her in the 1870 census, living in the O'Brien household of her by-then married sister Bridget. At the time, she stated she was twenty eight years of age, and that she was employed by the local cotton mill. That birth information, as we'll discover, was a fluid estimate and changed over the years—as did a few other details we normally rely on to track our ancestors.
Within five years, Johanna was married. According to the local register for 1875, her April 18 ceremony was to a man for whom this was his second marriage. Her husband-to-be was Patrick O'Reiley, the thirty five year old son of Timothy O'Reiley and Catherine Higgins. Johanna, by this time, had managed to age a mere two years since the 1870 census, but hopefully her full disclosure of her parents' names—including, for the first sighting, her mother's actual maiden name—was a bit more reliable.
Numbers were not the only recorded details which seemed to morph in this family's timeline; spelling was just as fluid as well, inviting us to think creatively to be able to track the newlyweds through their future. As for "future," there apparently was not much to that for the newlyweds' life together, for by the time of the next decennial record, Johanna was recorded living with a four year old son, but with no husband to be found.
The widowed Johanna O'Reilly—for that was how she reported herself in the 1880 census—was by then living in a boarding house with her son, Frank. Unable to read or write, Johanna still held a job at the cotton mill to support her small family.
As it turns out, having Frank as a second family member helped trace this particular Johanna through subsequent decades, by then claiming the more common O'Reilly surname. But seeing Frank join the family unit also triggered the hope that perhaps there might be a descendant who could show up as a DNA match—another person who might also be keen on discovering his or her roots, back in County Kerry. As many other genetic genealogy enthusiasts might have done, I decided to trace Johanna's household through as many decades as I could, just to see where the generations might lead.