Monday, June 2, 2014

Danger: Surname Morphing Ahead

Though it may seem we’ve been as thorough as possible with follow-up on this serendipitous family discovery, there is actually one more thread dangling from the Kelly family tapestry that needs to be woven in more securely. To do so requires us to step back one generation from where we’ve lately been exploring—that of the children of Thomas and Bridget Dolan Kelly—to one of Thomas’ own sisters.

You may have remembered that additional tidbit we stumbled upon when we finally located the whereabouts of the youngest of Catherine Kelly Stevens’ sons, William. It was an entry in the 1880 census revealing that, even though William’s father had remarried and established his own household, William had chosen to stay with the uncle and aunt who had raised him: the unmarried Kelly siblings, Matthew and Rose.

By 1880, there was someone else appearing in that Kelly household, too—a teenaged girl listed only by her initials, A. M. Crahan, but noted as “neace” of the head of household, Matthew.

Of course, seeing a label pinning a relationship like that to a new name got my mind whirring with family possibilities. Which Kelly sibling would bestow such a relationship to someone with a different surname? It would be a Kelly sister, obviously—this is not rocket science.

The one sister missing after the listing in the 1860 census—the last census which could be located for this family grouping—was Ann. Presumably, if Ann were still alive after 1860, she had left the Kelly family household on account of her own marriage. Was Ann the mother of A. M. Crahan? And if so, why was her daughter now living with an aunt and uncle? What had become of Ann? Had Ann, like her sister Catherine, died early—possibly in childbirth—and repeated that scenario by leaving her orphaned daughter to be raised by her uncle and aunt? Who was Ann’s husband, and what had become of him?

There did happen to be an 1880 census result for an Annie, wife of a Mike Crahan with a sixteen year old son John Crahan, but Mike’s age was given as 30, an improbable scenario for both the sixteen year old son and a thirteen year old daughter. Ann’s age, on the other hand, fits her previously-supplied date of birth rather handily. Did this imply that Ann might have been married twice, with the second man adopting Ann’s children?

If this was our Ann, living with Mike Crahan in 1880, why, then, was the Crahan daughter not living in their household if the son was? Was it only because the son was working as delivery boy to his father’s teamster employment?

Another difficulty emerged when trying to locate grave records in Lafayette, Indiana, via Find A Grave. I couldn't find any entry for Crahan. But there was one for Creahan. Was Michael Creahan the same man as Mike Crahan?

The first hurdle to answering that question came with determining the specific surname itself. What would that surname actually be? Crahan seemed clear enough on the 1880 census entry, but that spelling wasn’t turning up in subsequent search results. I was finding all sorts of wild permutations for that surname offered up, including one entry spelled as Csehan. And no, that is not my typo.

Then, too, how, exactly, would one pronounce a surname like Crahan? Could it have been pronounced, handling the “h” somewhat like we do with Graham? If so, could it have been shortened into Cran? But there are no feasible results in Lafayette for that spelling. Could it have morphed to become Creahan? What about pronouncing it with a long “a” sound? Could Creahan then have been shortened? Should I really be searching for Crane?

On Michael Creahan’s page at Find A Grave, it showed a relationship to a wife named Bridget, not Ann. Looking there, however, we can see Bridget died in 1869—creating a scenario in which a substitute mom would have been needed pronto. Enter Ann Kelly? Possibly.

Finding Ann’s headstone in Find A Grave—listed as Anna—revealed she was in the same family plot as Michael and Bridget. A Lafayette Journal and Courier index entry reveals she was, indeed, Mrs. Michael Creahan—not a child, as the Find A Grave photo of the smaller headstone seemed to make it appear.

If the original 1880 census entry for the mysterious A. M. Crahan that got me started on this wild chase had included a name and not merely initials—and perhaps had included a credible surname as well—I would have felt a bit more confident in this cemetery finding. But you know me: I can’t help myself. I have some severe doubts about what I’ve found so far. Morphing surnames are too squishy for me. I have to delve into this puzzle more deeply. And that means traveling down yet another generation.


  1. The whole "initials only" thing just makes me mad.
    I have a couple cases similar to this one where there seems to be a solid family unit but one kid is off somewhere else. In one instance, I am pretty sure the recently widowed mother couldn't care for all the kids so she sent them to relatives. In another, a 14-year old child is enumerated twice: in her parents' household and in the household where she worked as a servant. My 2G grandparents had an "adopted" son whose parents lived next door. WHAT?? I know through his descendants that the parents just couldn't take care of ALL their gazillion children so the Jolletts took him in. But I do wonder how "official" that term "adopted son" was. Why not just call him a Boarder?

    1. Makes you wonder what people were thinking, doesn't it? I've had some of those double entry ancestors, too. Perhaps the enumerators kept track, and for every double entry, made sure to make someone else disappear off the record entirely...I've got plenty of those, too.

  2. I suspect the "newly arrived" Irish spoke either accented English or a form of "pig-gaelic" that lead to their names being mangled. For example, Mckenna... and that town the letter was sent that you posted a while back.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...