Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Instructions Said, “Hold”

Every now and then, in reviewing documentation for the various ancestors I’ve researched, I run across curious handwritten notes, meant for clerical eyes only. Such was the case last year when I stumbled upon the underlined instructions added to my husband’s maternal grandparents’ marriage license: “Don’t Publish Ages.”

As I progress through his Kelly family lines, with the next son of Patrick and Emma Carle Kelly, I’m confronted with another such enigmatic note.

Stephen C. Kelly, arriving on June 7, 1907, was no stranger to clerical issues. After all, his very date of birth didn’t escape documentation problems. The Allen County Index of Births assured me that Stephen arrived on June 7. Now, looking back on this after having discovered the discrepancies in his brother Emmet’s records (as we saw yesterday), I should have looked more closely. But how was I to know when I was hand-cranking my way through the microfilm of Saint Patrick’s Church baptismal records? I was just overjoyed that I found anything, period.

You’d think that seeing his name on the baptismal record spelled as Stephan Carroll Kelley might have given me a clue. But no. I chalked it up to the usual Kelly-versus-Kelley recordkeeping, and moved on from there.

Then I got to his marriage record and found other discrepancies. Like a totally different middle name: Carle.

Okay, I can understand maybe a hard of hearing priest not getting it that the boy’s middle name was intended to be his mother’s maiden name. After all, naming a boy Carroll back then wasn’t as unusual as it might seem today.

Sometimes I don’t know when to be patient and understanding of those entrusted with passing on clerical records, and when to realize I should keep looking for the real name.

I did have a few outside clues about Stephen and his early life, though. Unlike his older brother Emmet, Stephen showed up in a few warm fuzzy news reports, like when the May 6, 1916, Fort Wayne News published his name among those—including his cousin Celeste Phillips—receiving First Communion at Saint Patrick Church. And there was even his photo in The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, to the far left in the front row of graduates from the church’s grammar school, on June 12, 1921.

But then, there was that marriage license application.

In our age of at-your-fingertips, scanned and digitally-reproduced, duly indexed documents, there was not one entry for Stephen Kelly’s marriage license at, but three.

I don’t know whether it was just coincidentally the time for the Allen County bureaucrats to change their format for marriage license applications, but Stephen’s decision to finally give up bachelorhood—he was, after all, still living as a single man in his widowed mother’s home, according to the 1940 census—came at a time when the county seemed to tap dance around the changes.

First, for his license application, there was a blank page—all except for the section on the very bottom of the empty form, where Stephen C. Kelly and Maxine Morton Griner were duly noted as joined in marriage by Judge H. Wayne on April 6, 1946.

That was the customary form that started off with the heading, “Application is hereby made for a License for the Marriage of,” and the entire body of the form left blank. I had seen that form completed and on file for so many of Stephen’s older Kelly cousins—the left side completed by the groom, the right reserved for the bride. Why was his left blank—all except for the bottom, where both the clerk and the Judge signed and completed their piece?

There was more, thankfully. A second scanned entry appeared to be an attachment stapled to the usual application. It had blank lines to be completed only by the bride. From this form, I gleaned her date of birth—December 28, 1919, being twelve and a half years younger than her intended—and that she was daughter of city policeman Rex Morton and his estranged wife (and tavern owner) Alice Carey Morton. Sounded like an interesting couple in their own right.

I also learned that this was Maxine’s second marriage; later, I learned that she had already had a son from her first marriage.

Unlike the old, side-by-side applications, that newer second page only yielded information on the bride. It took a third application page—once again, stapled onto an old form—to glean the information on our groom. This document—when I finally got to it—became the first glimpse I had of Stephen’s father’s middle name (his middle initial “T” standing for Timothy).

It also provided me that date of birth that didn’t quite line up to what I had previously found.

Perhaps I should just heave a sigh and tell myself, “Join the club.” There are so many discrepancies out there when it comes to researching this family history stuff. Surely I am not the first to uncover these research woes. All you can do is collect the documents, record your sources, and fervently hope you haven’t just uncovered some strange sort of coincidence—like two people with the same name and same parentage born one day apart in the same city.

So there it was: Stephen’s application no doubt stapled above that of his wife, all attached to the blank sheet with the judge’s signature at the bottom. Finding each page separately was alarming, but once it was all put together, it made sense. Maybe that was the week for changing application forms in Allen County. Who knows.

At this point, the question I have is: why did someone write and underline the word, “Hold” at the top of Stephen’s license application?

Now that’s what I’d really like to know.


  1. Goodness knows that that "hold" is about - perhaps he didn't have the money for the filing fee or something?

    1. It is a little thing to wonder about...but not having the money, or missing a piece of information, would be telling, wouldn't it?

  2. He was probably missing some information..or the money, perhaps they changed the fee:)

    1. Good thinking, Far Side. Sounds like just the occasion for an increase in those governmental fees :o


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