Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Funerals and Farewells

No matter how tragic an event the shooting death of young Timothy Kelly might have been, it ended no differently than the passing of any other church member in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Kelly family made arrangements to assemble at their church for the funeral, then burial provisions were secured.

In the case of the Kelly family, working near the downtown area in the rail yards as Timothy’s father did, the church they attended was the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. By the time of Timothy’s funeral in early 1876, Fort Wayne’s oldest parish, established in 1836, had now been in their Cathedral for just about as long as Timothy’s entire lifespan: sixteen years.

I can only presume, the Weekly Sentinel having reported it, that Timothy’s funeral expenses were covered, as promised, by the father of the young man whose unthinking action had brought about Timothy’s untimely death.

When our family traveled to Fort Wayne to research this line several years ago, we located many of these records, newspaper reports and other verifications. One of the places we made sure to visit was the Catholic Cemetery, in which were buried many of the Kelly and Stevens family of that time period. You can be sure that, with so many family members to follow up on, we were grateful that the office staff assisting us was so kind to provide all the answers we were seeking.

There are three key questions I’ve learned to ask, when visiting cemeteries still staffed with office personnel. The first question is whether the place of a relative’s burial is an individual plot or part of a family plot. Often, during that time period, the typical situation was that there was a family plot.

Of course, the follow up question to that is, “And who else is buried in that family plot?”

You can imagine the immense measure of grace this particular cemetery clerk possessed to be able to provide that answer in regard to several different family plots—all within the last hour before closing, too, if I remember correctly.

Though I’ve had the raw data on those family plot listings for quite some time, while revisiting the story of Timothy Kelly this time, it occurs to me now to rethink this. This time, I want to approach it, not from the perspective of who is buried together in the same family plot, but from the viewpoint of examining burials within the same plot on a timeline.

In other words, who was buried first in the Kelly family plot?

Think this out with me. We have a recent immigrant family—according to the 1900 census, Timothy’s mother stated the family arrived in the U.S. in 1869—fairly new to the Fort Wayne community. While the father, John, was working, we have no idea how long he had had this job, nor do we have a picture of how well-off the family was at the time. Though the offer had been made, in the case of Timothy’s untimely death, to cover funeral expenses, we aren’t even sure whether there was any follow-through on those good intentions.

All of these difficulties had come to mind when I had asked the cemetery clerk my third key question: “Who is the owner of the family plot?”

I would have presumed, since John Kelly’s family had not been in America for that long—less than ten years when his son Timothy was shot—that this would have been the first family death here for which John would need to secure a burial plot.

As it turned out, it was not a simple matter of John Kelly being listed as the owner of the family plot. Nor was it the father of young Fred Gorstline, the one whose tragic discovery that guns are not toys precipitated this whole process.

The family plot was purchased under different arrangements, apparently for the burial of someone else’s wife.

In pursuing that discovery further, tomorrow we’ll delve into the reasons why I am keen to find out who the other Timothy Kelly really was.


  1. 19,884 interments?!?!?!!! Good golly mz Molly! That place is huge!!!

    1. I suppose wandering around wouldn't be fruitful:)

    2. Funny, it didn't seem that large when we were there. But we did carry a map and obtained detailed directions. Wouldn't want to have to wait for a search party to find us ;)


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