Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Not Clowning Around

As I go through the descendants of the corollary lines in my husband’s Kelly families, it all seems so routine to list each member of the family and let them have their moment of online fame in the retelling of their life story.

When I get to the next son of Patrick and Emma Carle Kelly, though, I have to stop and smile. Unbeknownst to this 1903 arrival, his name would soon become a well-known and beloved name not only in the United States, but in many other countries as well.

But not because of him. It would be because of someone else who, though coincidentally sharing the same name, was neither related to nor known by him.

That name was Emmett Kelly.

Believe me, the chance encounter with that name in my family history research was enough to cause me to pause and dig in, searching for any possible connections. Add to that the secondary coincidence that the “real” Emmett Kelly was buried in Lafayette—the very Indiana town where our other Kelly line had settled since the 1850s. I was barely two months into writing this blog when I first posted on my attempts. I assure you, I was hoping for some confirmations.

As it turned out, there was no connection—at least, as far as I can determine up to this point. Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t stop trying. There is that second Kelly line I’ve yet to ponder, once I can find my way around a certain brick wall.

Back in Fort Wayne, where this Kelly family had been since the late 1860s, Patrick’s son was baptized at the family’s church—Saint Patrick—on October 25, 1903. His name was recorded on the baptismal certificate as “Patrick Emmit” and his godparents were listed as “William Steavens” and Lillian Dalton.

Someone obviously was very spelling-challenged.

I have to pause at this juncture and admit, once again, my sense that choice of godparents was, typically, reserved for relatives is only partially vindicated with this couple’s selection. William “Steavens” is, of course, my husband’s grandfather, Will, whom we’ve already met through both the series on his father, John Kelly Stevens in Fort Wayne, and that of his wife, Agnes Tully’s family in Chicago. Will, by this time nineteen himself, was cousin to this little child he was promising to sponsor in 1903.

As far as Lillian Dalton goes…well, I have no idea who she was. Maybe that is someone I’ll need to follow up on. Or not. She may just be a family friend.

Apparently, Patrick’s newly arrived son, baptized on this date in 1903, was victim of more than one clerical error. The date of birth was listed there as October 21, 1903. However, in an index of Allen County births drawn up by the Indiana Works Progress Administration, the birth was reported as occurring on October 20.

In addition, it seems that, despite the entry in the baptismal record, his middle name was intended to be Patrick, not his first name. Which is a shame, for not only was he deprived of bearing his father’s name as his own first name, but that choice subjected him to multiple spelling variations of his subsequently-designated first name.

Starting with the priest’s recording of the spelling as Emmit, a subsequent Cathedral priest—whose name just happened to be Robert Emmet Kelly—may have influenced how those in the Fort Wayne Catholic community naturally assumed this child’s name should be spelled as well: one “t,” not two. A sign of further confusion, a census taker recorded his name as Emet, removing not only that final “t,” but an additional “m” as well.

As if this weren’t enough, once the “real” Emmett Kelly became better known, people assumed our Emmet would follow suit and spell his name the same way.

In his growing up years in Fort Wayne, our Emmet evidently attended the same parochial school associated with his family’s parish as had his older siblings. Sometime after the 1920 census and before his marriage in 1926, Emmet finished his schooling and headed for the big city—Chicago, in this case—for better employment prospects. For almost his entire working career, he served as pressman for the Chicago Tribune.

After establishing his career, Emmet returned to Fort Wayne to marry Mildred L. Hanes, daughter of Anthony and Cora Lily Kimes Hanes, on August 24, 1926. They immediately set up housekeeping in the Chicago area, where they became proud parents of four sons and one daughter (who died in infancy).

After a full life of sixty eight years, Emmet returned to Fort Wayne one final time. Upon his passing on July 12, 1972, he was laid to rest in the same cemetery in his hometown where his infant daughter and one son were already buried. Ironically, church records now were more generous in bestowing superfluous consonants, and his cemetery record had him listed as Emmett—perhaps following suit of the Chicago and Fort Wayne newspapers in which his obituaries had been published.

Set in stone at last, though, was the spelling with which he had been known throughout his growing up years: Emmet P. Kelly.

We can only presume that, this time, they got it right.


  1. I recall seeing the "Sad Willie" clown sketches on TV. It would have been an interesting thing; a family link to him, but "your" Emmet probably had just an interesting career and life. That "spelling thing" must be driving you insane. I think I would be completely bald from pulling my hair by now.

  2. Spelling errors are terrible..some people just couldn't spell or
    their penmanship was horrid:(


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...