Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Raised in the U.S.A. —
but Born in Ireland

One useful fact about researching the history of immigrant families is that those individuals likely have not one but two sets of paper trails to consult about their past. While everything from their arrival in the new land to their final breath will be catalogued in records kept by their adopted country, the documents verifying their early years are somewhere out there in the repositories of their native land.

So it is with the oldest children of John Kelly and his wife, Johanna Falvey of County Kerry, Ireland. Even their date of arrival in the United States can be pinpointed by the birth dates of their children: some time between the arrival of their daughter Mary Ann in 1867 and the birth of their son Patrick in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in mid-July, 1869.

That leaves us with the potential of three birth records for the family back in County Kerry. Their oldest son, Timothy, was born some time in 1860, although we don't have a more specific date. Their daughter Catherine arrived in 1862—and documents at her untimely death pinned her birthday as May 25. Our third clue is the 1867 birth of daughter Mary Ann—her death certificate filling out that detail as March 20, 1867.

Besides those three clues, the gap between Catherine's birth and that of her younger sister infers that there may have been another child born—and possibly also died—in the midst of those five years.

We also have a possible date range—although quite wide—for seeking the marriage record for John Kelly and Johanna Falvey: anything from the beginning of 1860 to earlier years. Given Johanna's stated year of birth—1826, according to her death certificate—she could have been married much sooner than 1860, when she would have been about thirty four years of age.

And so we set to work, seeking birth or wedding records in the whole of County Kerry mixing the surname Kelly with the somewhat less common name Falvey. Fortunately, computer-assisted searches make the process a bit less cumbersome than it was when I actually conducted such a search through the microfilmed church records in Ireland a few years ago.

Even computerized searches can miss documents, though. Depending on how thoroughly the filming and the indexing processes are done, there can be gaps. Or names and numbers can be misread. Or ancestors could have moved from one location to another. Or church records could have been misplaced or even destroyed. This family was, after all, Catholic in an era when Catholicism still was not the most favored sect.

And yet, though there doesn't seem to be any reasonable candidate for the report of Timothy Kelly's birth—at least, not with the right parents listed—we find a baptismal record for his younger sister Mary Kelly. In fact, there are two records for a child of John Kelly and Johanna Falvey with that name—one in 1864 and another in 1867—tending to support my conjecture of a lost child between daughter Catherine and the 1867 arrival of Mary Ann.

What is fortunate about the church records is that each baptismal entry includes not only the maiden name for the mother—fortunate for us while we are looking at Kelly births in Ireland—but also the names of the "sponsors" who have agreed to serve as godparents. As we'll see tomorrow, selecting those sponsors was not simply a matter of asking a very important question of any good friend, but delineated to select specific individuals to fulfill that potential function.

For those of us trying to infer who our brick wall ancestors might have been related to, that comes as very good news. And for those of us fortunate to have an as-yet unexplained DNA match to someone still up the line from that paper trail's known ancestral lines, it may lead to further clues.

Above: From Catholic Parish Records in Killeentierna, County Kerry, Ireland, showing the March 24, 1867, baptismal entry for Mary Kelly, daughter of John Kelly and "Johana" Falvey; image courtesy

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