Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Yes, I may have been this genealogical way before, but it is apparently time to retrace my research steps. With the opportunity to confirm a connection to a distant Falvey relative from my husband's Irish side of the family, thanks to a DNA test, comes the task of pulling out all those old documents. And, since the tale of the Falvey family from County Kerry was not completely told, the last time I passed by their way, I have a lot of hints and what-ifs and maybe-thats to add to the pile of research baubles. There is a lot to re-inspect, shiny and not-so-shiny, in that family history treasure chest.
Any Irish immigrant to the U.S.—or to any other foreign destination, for that matter—likely comes with several conflicting reports of his origin. Looking for Johanna Falvey Kelly is turning out to be yet another example of such a case.
As I repeatedly tell my students, you must start from now and work your way back in time, step by step. I often couple that statement with a photograph of stepping stones, wending their way through a pond. Hard to skip over one to reach the next—and under the implied threat of slipping off into the water if the protocol isn't followed meticulously—the stepping stones have become a reminder to take this research journey carefully.
Having found a potential distant Falvey cousin in New Zealand, I want to race to the finish line—to get straight to the answer and be done with the research. That's not how it works. So even though I've done my due diligence before, I need to do so again, as I retrace my steps.
There is another reason for this. Time heals all wounds—including those gaping holes left in the genealogical record in places once torn apart by such historical ravages as famines, wars and other turmoil. What records might once have been unavailable are now showing their faces online. Revisiting a failed search from two, three, or five years prior may turn up happy results, this time.
All those stones that I thought were not left unturned in this research field? We're going to spend some time revisiting those fields and turning every clue on its head, once again. Maybe this time, we'll uncover something I missed before.
We'll start with Johanna's records from the point of her death in Fort Wayne in 1903, and move backwards in time. We'll look at every detail we can find in the closest census record—in 1900, when she lived on Hoagland Avenue with her youngest son and only surviving daughter, a newlywed living with her own husband in her mother's household. And we'll work our way back through the decades with each available census record up until the point at which the Kelly family arrived in America.
From what we glean in that process, we'll once again make the leap across the Atlantic to the family home in County Kerry, and see what can be discovered this time. We'll check everything from church records to property records. So many records have since been added to various Irish websites that this time, our search may be more fruitful than any time before—even the time at which our family drove the very country lanes where the Kellys and Falveys had once likely lived.
All this effort is spurred on by one question. Besides the possibility of finding a cousin connection via this DNA test match, there is one other detail urging me to pursue this chase: Johanna Falvey's own date of birth. While reports of dates of birth seem to be so fluid among these Irish forebears, it is important to get a clearer idea, for nothing other than being able to isolate our Johanna Falvey from the multiple others who have been born in that county in about the same time frame.
More than that, though, is the matter of simple mathematics. We are looking at a married woman who gave birth to a son in 1860, and to another one in 1876. And yet, according to her death record, she was alleged to have been born in 1826. Was she really a mother at the age of fifty? Yes, I know that is possible, but is it likely? Or do we need to recalibrate the reports of some dates on those vital statistics?
Above: "Corner of Overgrown Garden," 1884 painting by Russian landscape artist Ivan Shishkin; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.