Thursday, March 24, 2016

Remember the Iceberg

It was encouraging to find a possible passenger list entry for John Stevens, Irish immigrant to the United States in the early 1850s. Yes, the joy is partly owing to the fact he was my husband's second great grandfather, but there are more reasons than that—among them a response to my hope of determining whether the man arrived on our shores married or single. You see, I'm still puzzling over the other half of that family's story: just how his wife, Catherine Kelly, happened to arrive in the same small town in Indiana.

You think looking for someone with as plain a name as John Stevens is a challenge? Just try your hand at the Kellys. A far more popular surname in Ireland than Stevens, Kelly had numerous adherents in the New World, as well. And Catherine? A name mothers were crazy about.

I do, thankfully, know Catherine's parents' names—James and Mary. Yeah, I know: Mary Kelly. It doesn't help much. But put them all together—possibly adding siblings Matthew, Rose, Bridget, Thomas and baby Ann—and it might just yield a recipe for search success.

Well, at least that was what I was hoping.

You see, I had already found an early marriage record in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, that was likely for our John and Catherine. I say "likely" because there was one glitch to the record: it named a John Stephenson. Now, the "ph" spelling variation I can live with—it happens all the time. Even mistaking the name as Stephenson is not unusual; my husband gets that all the time, himself. And we did know from other resources that John Stevens did marry a woman named Catherine Kelly.

If I could be certain that John and Catherine were married in Lafayette, Indiana, then of course he would have been traveling as a single man. One more positive point for the possibility that I've found his passenger record. And a signal for me to look for a complete Kelly family unit in transit.

Because of John's route to Indiana—from Liverpool to New Orleans, then up the Mississippi—and because a relative of his used the very same route the following year, it seemed reasonable to assume the Kelly family may have gone this very route, as well.

The only problem is: I can't find any sign of them in currently-available New Orleans passenger records for that time period. Nor can I find any combination of partial family groups in transit, either.

That's when I take a deep breath and remind myself of the iceberg.

You may recall that proverbial iceberg. You know, nine tenths submerged from view. It's that underwater proportion—the hidden part—that is deceivably larger than we assume.

I need to keep reminding myself that, in genealogical research, that submerged proportion of available records has yet to be digitized. If I can't find it online, no problem. There are massive amounts of records yet to be digitized. That James Kelly family is still out there. Somewhere.

With time, I'll find it. In the meantime, I won't beat myself up with the frustration of not finding what I'm seeking. Sometimes, due diligence in an exhaustive search may mean biding our time. Waiting can sometimes work wonders.

Above: British landscape artist John Atkinson Grimshaw's 1876 painting, "Whitby Docks." Courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. Sometimes all you can do is think to yourself, "Patience, Grasshopper."

    1. I know. At least it helps to know that, with every passing day, more material becomes available for research. Whether I find it online or in a repository somewhere, someday we'll make that connection.

  2. Replies
    1. That, I'm not in much supply of, unfortunately. But coupled with the hope that "it's out there somewhere," I can keep plodding on. There's still the thrill of the chase, and the reward of finally finding that elusive document!


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