Sunday, September 15, 2013

Where a Widow Was Buried

Admittedly, Mary Kelly is not an easy name to research. As we’ve already seen, there are scads of Kellys out there. And Kelleys, to add to our quandary. As for first names, Mary is probably right up there in the top ten for Irish given names for girls.

So I braced myself when I got ready to figure out where widow Mary Kelly was buried, since she wasn’t buried with her husband, Timothy.

Thankfully, I could limit my search to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where the family had lived for the past three decades. At least for starters. But even then, we’ve already seen that there were plenty of Kellys listed in the city directory there. There was a good chance more than one of them had a wife or daughter named Mary.

Since Mary was Timothy’s second wife, and since they had no children in common, it is not surprising to find that the Kelly family plot didn’t include Mary. There are usually about eight grave sites in a family plot (at least the ones I’ve researched). By the time Mary died in 1913, seven members of the extended family had already been buried there—including Timothy’s first wife, Ellen.

Mary, herself, had been married before—well, at least we can presume, unless there is something that needs to be discerned about the discreet obfuscation of that previous surname. If the Kelly family children hadn’t seen fit to include their step-mother in the same plot in which their own mother was buried, it might be logical to seek Mary in the grave site of her first husband.

But who was that first husband? We can’t tell from Mary’s daughter Margaret. Margaret had been represented as both “Mrs. Margaret Sweeney” and “Miss Margaret Sweeney” in various newspaper accounts. Was Sweeney Margaret’s maiden name? Or married name?

Mary apparently had no other surviving children to provide us clues, either. While I had written off the confusing entry in the 1900 census about how many of Mary’s children survived, the subsequent 1910 census carried essentially the same message. This time, though, widow Mary was living with stepson Richard, so the issue may still have been clouded, depending on who provided the answers and how hasty the census-taker might have been. Whoever the report intended to represent as the lone surviving child of Mary Kelly—whether stepson Richard in whose house she resided, or her own daughter Margaret—the point still remains that Mary had already lost her other three children. Could Mary have been buried with one of them?

Though I can find no record of Mary in the 1880 census just before she married Timothy, it is unlikely that Mary would have been buried with those other deceased children. The 1910 census, maddeningly, provided us with a box left blank for year of immigration, but the 1900 census indicated her year of arrival in the United States to be 1875. If those three deceased children had died between the arrival date in 1875 and the 1900 census, perhaps they would be buried in Fort Wayne—and their mother, Mary, buried with them.

Assuming that Sweeney would be the children’s surname, though, is a long shot. Even so, surveying the listing of Sweeney deaths between 1875 and 1900, the only two listings there are unlikely possibilities for Mary’s children—one having been born in Germany, the other at age thirty two possibly having been married into a Sweeney family, herself.

Thankfully, the Catholic Cemetery of Fort Wayne has now provided their burial records to be included in the online databases accessible through the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center’s website. Looking up the name Mary Kelly in this database turned out to be not as overwhelming as I had feared: there were only three Mary Kellys listed. And even though the date of birth didn’t match what we have from the 1900 census, one of those burial records, thankfully, came within one day of our Mary’s date of death. Given what we’ve already learned about inadvertent mistakes found everywhere from newspaper reports to engraved headstones, let’s presume for now that that is our Mary’s record.

According to that record, Mary was buried in section B, lot number 516.

Why there? Who else was buried in that family plot?

This is where the surmising above came in handy for this guessing game. Of course, I could have just called the Catholic Cemetery myself, and asked. Perhaps someone would have told me. However, when I usually get to the point in my daily schedule set aside for genealogy research, the time zone difference between my location and Indiana mean the cemetery staff has already gone home for the day. So I write myself a note and promise myself I’ll give it a try on the next weekend. Which never happens.

That means, in the meantime, I’m left to my devices online. Unfortunately, though I could revert to the Genealogy Center’s previous search page for the cemetery to try and get the information myself, there still isn’t a way to track records by plot number; it is only searchable by surname. So I start slogging through the surnames: Kelly and Kelley, Sweeney, and even Mary’s maiden name in all its spelling variations.

It’s apparent Mary wasn’t buried with the families of any of the other Kelly stepchildren. Thankfully, I haven’t gone long down the path of the alternate surnames when I encounter some other listings for section B, lot number 516.

There is a Cornelius Sweeney, who died March 11, 1901, followed by a Johanna Sweeney, the day after New Year in 1912. Two other Sweeney entries most likely indicate a later generation: June in 1925 and Philip in 1929. And, in an insanely exhaustive search using the “fuzzy” option and running through the alphabet late into the night, I uncovered one more—thoroughly unhelpful—name: John D. Abbett, who died in 1877. (In case you’re wondering, there was nothing in the newspapers to help me find out if the “D” in his name might have represented Mary’s maiden name.)

Finding that listing—incomplete as it most likely is—still didn’t help entirely. For one thing, it didn’t reveal any candidates for first husband of Mary. In that case, it would have to be a Sweeney who died before Mary’s marriage to Timothy (in 1880) and certainly no sooner than the year before their daughter Margaret was born (in January 1869)—and most likely not until the family’s arrival in 1875, if he were to be buried in Fort Wayne and not Ireland. There are no burials fitting those parameters in the Catholic Cemetery, nor in the Allen County Death Index.

Unless something turns up whenever I get around to calling the Catholic Cemetery—don’t hold your breath—I have no clue why Mary would be buried with this particular family of Sweeneys.

More to the point, though, is this: if Mary was buried with a Sweeney family, why wasn’t Margaret Sweeney buried with her in this same Sweeney lot?

Where was Margaret buried?


  1. It would be nice to be able to download the entire database - so that one could search on "512" instead. Perhaps the website folks would do that (or let you download the source doc?)

  2. I can see you looking for that needle in a haystack...but you found something! :)

    1. Yes, thankfully, there was something find-able! But you are right: it does feel like looking for that needle!


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