Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Challenge of Seeking Kellys

If you are researching a family name such as Smith or Jones, you have my sympathies. While seeking the surname Kelly seems difficult—it is, after all, one of the top one hundred surnames in the United States—it is nowhere near as difficult as the challenges you face.

I do, regardless, wish to take this moment to snivel. After all, researching the Kelly family isn’t exactly a piece of cake.

Keep in mind, first of all, that my end goal in all of this is to ascertain where our family’s Irish roots originally grew, deep in the motherland. I do, remember, hope to someday go back there and explore those very locations. That shred of hopeless romantic still hidden deep inside me yearns to explore those same proverbial cobblestone roads our family’s ancestors once walked.

That, in fact, is one of the barriers to researching the Kelly family. While the surname is in the top seventy names for our current homeland, it rockets up to claim the number two spot, once you consider Ireland, itself. And within the country of Ireland, the name is widespread, perhaps having multiple origins.

No wonder I’m having problems making these family lines connect.

So when I begin at the spot where I last found our Kelly family—Fort Wayne in Allen County, Indiana, upon the marriage of Catherine Kelly to John Kelly Stevens—I ponder whether there were more Kellys, already in town, to draw Catherine’s family to that specific spot deep within the United States of the time.

Could there be relatives of this Kelly family who preceded them in coming to Fort Wayne? What drew them to this town, instead of to multiple other possibilities?

Or were the other Kelly families in Fort Wayne not related at all?

Since Catherine, herself, saw her name ridden with so many spelling variations—and since her given name was also so common—to test my questions, I prefer to employ her mystery brother Timothy, the one who disappeared from the family record by the time of the 1880 census.

But there were even too many Timothys in the Fort Wayne census for that same year of 1870 in which we last saw his record.

There was, for example, one other Timothy in Fort Wayne, apparently, but he appeared to be the wrong age for comparisons—born about 1836 rather than 1860.

Then, too, there was yet another Timothy. Admittedly, his surname was spelled Kelley in the 1870 census, but then, so was Catherine’s surname. Born in Ireland in 1830, this Timothy would also be much too old to match our Timothy’s record. Tantalizingly enough, though, his household contained daughters Catherine and Mary, just as did our Catherine Kelly’s family. Along with that, there was a son named Timothy in this household, too—showing, in one way, how often those same names seemed to repeat themselves in these Irish immigrant families.

Even though the dates were off, we’ll find this second family may be a keeper, however—but I’ll save that story to puzzle over later.

We’re still left with the question of how certain the possibility may be that there were other Timothy Kellys of the same age, also residing in Fort Wayne between the 1870 and 1880 censuses.

And, more importantly, where did our Timothy Kelly go?


  1. yes where?? To work on a farm? Fort Wayne..seems like farming would be a good choice..railroad? I know he went west! :)

    1. In a place as criss-crossed with railroad tracks as Fort Wayne, the railroad would be a more likely guess. But you are right: there was plenty of farming communities in the area, so that would make sense, too.

  2. I have done Smiths, what a pain. fortunately the first name was the fairly rare Eliphalet. I feel for ya with those Kellys

  3. There must be a name for the "poof, they vanished" syndrome - usually for me, the the young ladies getting married and I can't find out to whom.

    1. That scenario most likely approaches fifty percent of the story of our lives, when it comes to family history research. Yes, I'll buy the "poof, they vanished" syndrome ;)


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