Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Christmas Gift of a Sister

The holiday shopping season is not yet upon us, but I think it’s safe to say we’ve already been bestowed with an early Christmas gift.

A very early Christmas gift.

Like a hundred-sixty-seven-year-early Christmas gift.

This gift came in the form of a baby girl who became the sister of Mary Danehy Kelly, the very woman and wife of Timothy Kelly of Fort Wayne over whose identity I’ve been struggling. She was born on Christmas day, and her parents named her Johanna.

Of course, I didn’t open that gift until a few nights ago, when it finally occurred to me to wander through the files of the Find A Grave website in search of answers to my Sweeney quandary. Remember, it was Mary Danehy Kelly who was buried in the Sweeney family plot, while her daughter Margaret Sweeney was buried in a Danehy family plot.

While going down the list of those buried in this Sweeney plot didn’t seem helpful—at least with the first name on the list, Cornelius—by the time I found the entry for Johanna Sweeney at Find A Grave, I changed my tune.

Let’s just say the discovery of Johanna Sweeney’s obituary, kindly inserted into her Find A Grave entry by a thoughtful volunteer, was worthy of a few rounds of Christmas carols, at the least.

You see, this Christmas baby apparently arrived in 1846 in the County Cork household of one particular Danehy family. And her surviving sister, all those years later, was named in her obituary as Mrs. Timothy Kelly.

Just to make sure no cruel editorial trick is being played on these eyes—after all, the photo of her headstone shows discrepancies already—I checked a couple other documents to see what I could find.

Sure enough, the 1900 census shows Johanna in husband Cornelius Sweeney’s household as mother of three surviving children. The document agrees with the obituary’s date of immigration as 1880, though it reports her date of birth as 1841. And the Sweeney family—Cornelius, Johanna and son John—is just across the street from the home of her sister, Mary Kelly.

Perhaps as evidence of how hard it is to discern Johanna’s and Mary’s maiden name as Danehy, a subsequent marriage license for son John has Johanna’s maiden name transcribed as Danchy. Of course, looking at the document itself, we can make out the name Danehy, but that is only because we’ve become sensitized to the issue of the multiple misspellings the family has had to endure.

At any rate, mistaken transcriptions, engraved headstones and all, I’m just glad to finally understand the connection between the Sweeneys and the Danehys—at least upon their arrival in Fort Wayne. Obituaries can sometimes tell quite a bit of the missing story. And volunteers can become wonderful aids in finding the missing pieces.

From an obituary published in The Fort Wayne Weekly Sentinel, January 3, 1912:
            Mrs. Johanna Sweeney, aged 85 years, died Tuesday a.m. at 8 o’clock at the home of her son, J. J. Sweeney, 237 East Butler street, from dropsical complications.
            The deceased was born on Christmas day in the year 1846, in County Cork, Ireland, and came to the United States in 1880, coming direct to Fort Wayne, which has been her home since that time. She was a devout Catholic and a charter member of St. Patrick’s Catholic church, a member at the Rosary society, League of the Sacred Heart and of the Order of St. Francis. She is survived by two sons, J. J. Sweeney and P. J. Sweeney, of Fort Wayne; one daughter, Mrs. James Doyle, of Cleveland, Ohio; a sister, Mrs. Timothy Kelly, and a brother, Cornelius Danehy, both of this city.
            Funeral services Friday morning at 8:30 o’clock from the resident of the son, 237 East Butler street, thence in St. Patrick’s Catholic church at 9 o’clock.


  1. Find A Grave is really a gift that keeps on giving. Merry Christmas!

    Even though your quandary isn't mine, I felt that moment of excitement mixed with relief when one more brick fell from that wall.

    1. Thank you, Wendy! It was a moment of excitement. I just love connecting the dots...though truth be told, Johanna is an in-law of a second marriage to a man who may or may not be related to our Kellys. I keep searching through this bunch, hoping to find some conclusive element. The answer I see as my incentive may turn out to be the proverbial carrot on the stick...of the rider on my donkey....will I ever catch it?

  2. I read this and then took a noon hour stroll... and I got to thinking about how complicated things get when one or more of the marriage partners remarry one, two or even more times. Compound to that "complexity," the extended family commonly "remained living together" "back in the day."

    You could get a situation where siblings have no blood relationship yet (possibly) share last names. A "family tree with a "knotty" tree branch" to say the least.

    In this case (i.e., Johanna's), I find the relationship situation difficult to visualize - even though I understand the three families, Kelly, Danehy and Sweeney's (pick your own spelling) are related via Johanna - I loose track of where to "pin" John Kelly Stevens, whose nephew started this whole line of research. :)

    It would be nice if there was (if there isn't) a way to visualize all this in our heads!

    1. I totally relate to what you are saying, Iggy. It can become tangled and confusing. One way I've tried to help readers visualize family connections was to hyperlink back to my old Rootsweb tree, where you'd be welcome to wander through the data, if desired.

      The problem with this Kelly family, though, is that I'm still not sure how it connects with John Kelly Stevens' in-laws. While I'm still in doubt, I haven't plugged Timothy's family into my database. I don't even want to guess about it--that would only become a call for "cleanup on aisle three" sometime in the future.

      Your suggestion does get me to thinking, though. Perhaps I can experiment with adding a few of my own sketches of relationships. Sometimes, diagrams and other visualization aids can make a difference.

      Thanks for the idea!

  3. Glad you were able to solve this puzzle well before Christmas! Find a Grave and the volunteers are a great resource.

    1. Kathy, I'm definitely indebted to this one volunteer at Find A Grave. There are so many at Find A Grave that have put so much work into making it the great resource it is!

  4. What a wonderful early Christmas gift!! I love it when the research pays off :)

    1. It's those occasional "hits" that keep people like us going, isn't it?


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