Saturday, July 2, 2011

When Your Name’s Famous But You Aren’t

There comes a time in family research when you stumble across a name that rings a bell. What are the odds that a winning combination of given name and surname in your records could replicate that of someone famous? Add a few other variables and the temptation to declare it a match becomes almost insurmountable.

But wait. Though it may be a one-in-a-million chance, it still could be a coincidence.

Take Emmett Kelly. Not too many people I know have that name. But my husband’s family tree just happens to include a line of Kellys. And one of the children in that family line bears that same name: Emmett Kelly.

Even more tantalizing than that snippet of information is the fact that the famous Emmett Kelly is buried in the same town as some of our Kelly relatives: Lafayette, Indiana.

Why Lafayette, Indiana? After all, Weary Willie’s originator was not born in Indiana, but in Kansas. Even when his parents moved to better surroundings for the benefit of their growing family, they chose not Indiana, but Missouri.

Wondering what the link between Emmett Kelly and Lafayette might be, I read entire biographies of the beloved clown, trying to find the connection—and, possibly, if I were lucky, a link between his Kelly family and ours. I found out his father worked on a railroad crew, not unlike our Kelly family members. But his parents’ names—Thomas and Mollie—found no match in my Kelly database. Yet, our dutiful Catholic Kelly family, full of namesakes of saints like John, Kathryn, Stephen, and Marie, somehow was impressed to select the less-typical name of Emmett for their middle son.

The clown, Emmett Leo Kelly, was born in 1898. Our Emmett P. Kelly was born five years later. Weary Willie’s creator was laid to rest from his home in Sarasota, Florida, while our Emmett passed away up north in Illinois.

And yet, the “real” Emmett Kelly was brought from Florida to a resting place in Lafayette, Indiana. Why?

I’ve read through piles of information in books, articles and online notes, and I can’t find any other explanation of his chosen burial place than that there were some family members in Lafayette. Kelly family, perhaps? I don’t know. But that is one paper chase possibility that I’ll keep filed away in the back of my mind, just in case some day I find a reason to suspect more of a connection.

1 comment:


    He was buried between his mom and sister. My dad was at the funeral. I think I have pictures if you are interested.


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