Monday, August 31, 2020

The Necessity of Newspapers


You may find it odd—well, at least those who know my longstanding aggravation with editorial errors—to see me tout the necessity of newspapers for family history research. However, just for today, let's give newspapers a break. After all, who hasn't found an error in, say, a death certificate or, worse, a headstone?

Especially in the case of my husband's Kelly family roots in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and their connection to a spinster aunt in Toledo, Ohio, I had long wished I could access the newspaper archives for the Toledo Blade. Remember, I had first discovered Timothy Kelly's relationship to Margaret Kelly of Toledo years ago. What had prevented me from making more progress was, in part, the inaccessibility of those Toledo newspapers.

As it turns out, though the main newspaper archival services used by genealogists lack the very issues I was seeking, there was—eventually—a resource open to me. Better yet, it is available to all, free of charge.

That resource is the Google News service which has scanned archived editions of several newspaper publications from around the world. Of all the cities they could choose to include in their gratefully-received collection, Toledo was one that made all the difference in this particular family history search.

Yes, in the meantime, through subscription services like, and nonprofit operations like, I've found quite a few documents to extend my discoveries from that one aunt in Toledo—Margaret Kelly—to her Sullivan niece and nephew from County Kerry, Ireland, and even further to her grand-nephews, the Sullivan boys from London, England. But sometimes, those documents seemed to contradict each other, or leave questions as to the specific relationship between each member of those subsequent generations of Sullivans.

How I discovered that Toledo resource at Google News, I can't even remember now, but it was a recent find. While the collection is by no means complete—there are some missing issues, and some editions include unfortunate gaps of white space where the obituary I was seeking was surely obliterated—it does cover a wide span of publication, and also includes a second Toledo newspaper from a previous era.

Once I oriented myself to the complete range of options in using the Google News service—you can clip a specific "article," for instance, allowing a researcher to capture the exact URL for that particular obituary—I set about harvesting every obituary I could for this extended Sullivan family.

I found, for instance, a fuller description of just what happened to the youngest of the three Sullivan sisters who lived with their Aunt Margaret.

Miss Catherine Sullivan, 201 Sumner Street, operator of a grocery store at that address 3- years, died in Mercy Hospital yesterday after an illness of five months. Born in County Kerry, Ireland, Miss Sullivan had lived in South Toledo 60 years. She had operated the store in partnership with a sister, Mary Sullivan, who died in 1926. Miss Sullivan had been in the hospital since Aug. 31 when she received a fractured leg in a fall in the basement of her store.

In addition to confirming we have the right Catherine Sullivan—always a possibility to keep in mind with a surname as common as Sullivan—the newspaper entry corroborated what we already had discovered about this Sullivan family in an obituary which continued for two further paragraphs. The piece also added the useful details of married names for female relatives. The article even included the occupation and specific place of employment for one of her nephews, the John Sullivan whom we discussed last Friday.

These are the types of details so pertinent to any genealogical pursuit, but doubly so for those having names which easily could be duplicated by other residents of the same city.

Newspapers, however, can sometimes add more details than we would suspect, as we can see in searching for John Sullivan's own obituary, published years later. In addition to alleviating my concerns that I might have found the wrong John Sullivan in that marriage license the next state over—it included his wife's maiden name in the obituary—the article also provided an expanded explanation about John Sullivan's early personal history.

John Sullivan, 71, owner of the former Sullivan's Delicatessen, died Thursday in St. Luke's Hospital. Mr. Sullivan, of Carolina Avenue, Perrysburg, operated the delicatessen on Louisiana Avenue from 1946 until 1978. Born in London, Mr. Sullivan arrived in the U.S. in the early 1920s. After the death of his mother, he and his brothers lived with an aunt who ran a grocery in South Toledo.

In addition, the obituary added some possible clues about what became of the Sullivan brothers' parents, which will redirect my research approach. I had at first presumed that the brothers had left England shortly after the devastation of the first World War, leaving parents and possibly other siblings behind. This article, however, hints at the possibility that either their mother, or possibly both parents, immigrated to Toledo along with the boys. That the boys might have been orphaned at the passing of their mother is now a distinct possibility, leading to further searches for death certificates in Ohio, rather than only in England.

While the details offered up in newspaper articles must always be viewed with the skepticism that comes with prior experience of editorial errors, newspapers are an excellent source of corroboration and expanded information, especially when researching ancestors with those all-too-common names. They can confirm we are on the right track. Or they can put up the necessary road signs to warn us to turn back and take a different route.

Above: Excerpt from the February 6, 1942, Toledo Blade obituary for Catherine Sullivan, and the April 4, 1987, Toledo Blade obituary for John Sullivan provided courtesy of Google News.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

The New New Normal


Running errands in town yesterday, it occurred to me that, without giving it much thought, I was wearing my mask even when I didn't have to worry about any hovering hulk standing closer than the socially acceptable six feet away. But that wasn't because I'm a naturally compliant person—don't fool yourself on that one. It was for sheer self-interest that I donned my smoke-filter-equipped facial fashion statement. If COVID-19 ushered in the age of The New Normal, the California fires brought to us a new new normal.

Two weeks and counting, the twin infernos in northern California continue to make their impact on our atmosphere. The dog days of August could not possibly be the same as in past memory; everyone with any sense made sure that even their pets were inside, escaping the smoke. Who knows what life has been like on the outside; air conditioned artificial reality can make one forget it is still summer.

And where has that summer gone, anyhow? How did it escape us? The New Normal has a way of making us forget.

That actually is a misnomer. It isn't The New Normal. It's more like the new new new new normal, at least according to a New York Times publication, or its brief synopsis at Wikipedia. Which makes me feel less disappointed in myself that I didn't snap up the advice, at the beginning of this year's first New Normal, to journal the daily gyrations of life upon the onset of the pandemic. History in the making, and I missed my opportunity to tell of it. Maybe New Normal, The Sequel will be my chance to get with the documentary program.

And yet, I believe future generations will have ample opportunity to steep in the chattiness of our current age. If I don't save a pandemic diary for my descendants, they will hardly be at a loss to know what life was like in 2020. The generations I would have loved to know more about were those whose culture kept them tight-lipped and silent in the face of the tragedies they surmounted. In their new normal, they believed the best way forward was to say nothing of what was behind them.

We lack for that. Perhaps it's not in knowing what happened in any generation's experience that we mourn the loss of--we have, after all, the archived news reports of countless decades—but what we are missing is what the people who matter the most to us thought about what was happening to them. There is history—that recounting of the events with world-shaping impact—and then there is our story, the story of the people we call family. How history shaped the lives of those we love.

When I research my family lines and wonder about why an ancestor chose to do what he did, or why she was born in one country but died in another, what I'm looking for is not just a family's history. It's a yearning to have a relationship with people we never met, but who simultaneously infuse our every waking—and even sleeping—moment through the genetic strands they unwittingly bequeathed us.

Those choices we make, those actions we take, those moods which overpower us--where did they come from? I can find a specific segment on a chromosome, "paint" it on a digitized diagram approximating relative locations, and, if fortunate enough, be able to pinpoint which ancestor was the benefactor of that genetic pattern. Perhaps, as an echo of the stronger impulse impelling adoptees to find their birth parents, we who obsess with our genealogy may well be experiencing that same call from ancestors we never knew—and yet, know all too well through our own genetic signature.

It is that silent cry for relationship with those now-gone relatives that makes me wish for a token of their thoughts. I want to know what their new normal was, in crisis after crisis which swept through their life's timeline a hundred years ago or more. It isn't really just so I can glean the correct date or birthplace to enter on a pedigree chart; it's some token—some confirmation—of their reality that I can meld with my own. An impossible pursuit, perhaps, but worth the chase. After all, some of us do have ancestors who kept a written narrative on their way to a new normal.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

When Genealogy is Like Knitting


Sometimes, Life gets so messy that a brain cannot hold any more, a heart cannot bear any more. It might seem that that would be the least likely time to turn to family history, but strangely, when the complex gets even murkier, I sometimes find working on a family tree to be a way to sort life back into order. 

Perhaps it's the same mechanism some people find operative in knitting. A simple process, it takes a long mess of string, organizes it into a semblance of order, then uses simple tools to create something new through a routine process of repeated steps. Once a person gets the knack of it, knitting can become almost mindless—letting the hands be productive while the mind wanders elsewhere.

There are some parts of constructing a family tree which can be almost as routine as knitting. The endless string of inputs would be the stream of digitized documents which need to be checked and compared with what we already know about our relative. The decision point is where to attach each document—or whether to reject it as not applying to our ancestor.

And so I go, through the lines of ascent, click, compare, accept—or click, reject—and on to the next relative. The rhythm of the progress can become relaxing, soothing, while reminding me that, bit by bit, I am adding to a record of my family's story that, up close, may be too much to comprehend, but when I step back and take in the bigger picture, will yield the flow of people through places and times that sometimes swirl into a story which yields a message.

Sometimes, that message is about the simple sum of the hard work of a lifetime. Sometimes, it brings a chuckle. Or a tear. Or bestows a poignant lesson best heeded by subsequent generations. But it always includes the reminder that, if we don't preserve it, we won't be able to pass it along to others. It's when we knit together those family details, connecting them generation after generation, that it takes the shape of a lasting, useful creation.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Checking the Fit


Some family history researchers might approve of the sentiment, "If the shoe fits, wear it." I, on the other hand, try a more multi-faceted approach. Perhaps it's because I want a specific place identified for each of the ten toes growing out of the messy research problem I'm currently tackling.

I once heard a genealogy speaker—Kathryn Miller Marshall, Ph.D.—compare the task of identifying a specific ancestor to fitting a hand in a glove: there needed to be a just-right fit to take into account each of the five fingers of a research problem. So let's just say this Sullivan problem of mine is going to be a two-gloved tackle.

Face it: researching common names is a task which brings its own set of complications. Researching a Smith in England is going to be far more challenging than finding, say, a Byczynski in Kansas. While Sullivan is not quite as common a surname as Smith, it does present its difficulties, both in searches in Toledo, Ohio, where I first found them, and back home in Ireland—not to mention in their midpoint residence in the vicinity of London, England.

So I tend to trace more details than just dates of birth and death, or names of parents. In our Sullivan case, I've often been deprived of even those parents' names, as either the Sullivan nieces of my Kelly connection—the Sullivans' spinster aunt, Margaret Kelly—or the nephews of the subsequent Sullivan generation seemed either to be orphaned or to have left home at an early age.

One helpful detail, in the case of this extended Sullivan family, was their home address: 201 Sumner Street in Toledo, Ohio. In sifting through all the possible Sullivan documents, I often felt as if I had no lead to follow—but then, I'd spot that telltale address, and realize I was looking at the right person.

That was one confirmation for young Edward Sullivan, nephew of sisters Mary and Catherine Sullivan who ran the grocery store at 201 Sumner Street. In his draft registration card for each of the two World Wars, I could be certain I had found the right Sullivan by the telltale address.

Then, too, because I had begun building out the extended family constellation, I could spot relatives' names included on the documentation as well, and know I was following the right trail. In Edward's case, I already knew his employer was his aunt, Mary Sullivan, who with her sister ran the family's grocery store. This draft registration card confirmed what I had already discovered.

In the meantime, it allowed me to glean pertinent additional details with confidence, knowing those other fingers of information fit into the research glove just fine. In Edward's case, this record also confirmed his birth in England, and added to that information with the specific date.

Building on the specifics of what I had already learned about this Sullivan family, I soon had enough of a tree sketched out to include several generations. In the meantime, however, I learned one alarming detail about this family: not all the information they provided was always perfectly true. Witness one Sullivan report, in his marriage license application, where he claimed he was born in Toledo, not England.

What was I to do with that? Could it have been the wrong Sullivan? After all, there must have been multiple John Sullivans in that area at the time of this 1936 application. Yet, I held on to that clue, just in case.

As it turned out, after checking other documents for the extended Sullivan family, it became clear that John and his beloved had stepped over the state line for their wedding, and perhaps wanted to appear older than they truly were. As it turned out, John's day and month of birth were exactly correct—it was just the year that had been augmented. Perhaps in that nervous moment, he also chose to misrepresent the fact that not only his parents but he, himself, had been born on foreign soil.

In comparing documents with each other, and among all the members of the extended Sullivan family, it was possible, in the end, to push the envelope further out on what could be known—and confirmed—about each individual within that circle. The name of a parent, for instance, couldn't just be taken at face value from the report of one document, but needed to be corroborated through finding a series of documents.

Piecing together the family story required moving from what was known—often, as slim a clue as the address of the home where they had been staying—to what was yet to be confirmed, but it always required each beckoning finger to be a proven best fit for the required glove of comparison.

Above: Top image represents a portion of the World War I registration card for Edward Timothy Sullivan of Toledo, Ohio, courtesy; second image shows John Sullivan's portion of a 1936 marriage license application submitted in Steuben County, Indiana, eighty miles to the west of his home in Toledo, Ohio, courtesy

Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Sullivans at Sumner Street


Bit by bit, we keep adding names to that Kelly family tree, in hopes that one clue will help us connect the Kellys we know in America with the Kellys we don't know, back in County Kerry. So far, in searching the collateral lines for our John Kelly in Fort Wayne, Indiana, we discovered that his relative Timothy Kelly—likely a younger brother—had an unmarried sister living in Toledo, Ohio, at the time of his death.

Sure enough, there was a Margaret Kelly living in Toledo—although with the prevalence of a surname like Kelly, one would be surprised to discover there wasn't anyone by that name living in a city of over one hundred thirty thousand people. However, none of the others could boast the particulars of our own Margaret: that she was born in Ireland and that she was not married.

Margaret made her first appearance in Toledo in the 1900 census, but it was not a solo appearance. In her home, she hosted two nieces, Margaret and Catherine. Because these nieces sported a Sullivan surname rather than a Kelly name, the conclusion—reached with a smidgeon of supporting documentation back home in County Kerry—was that it was Margaret's sister who was the connecting relative.

Margaret, herself, passed away before we could trace her family's history in Toledo any further, but apparently her nieces were resourceful, and by 1910, surviving niece Catherine had, in turn, played host to another immigrant from her family: sister Mary.

By the time of the 1920 census, the Sullivan count began causing my head to spin. The remaining member of Margaret Kelly's two original nieces now had, along with her sister Mary, moved their household to a new address: 201 Sumner Street. In addition, she had opened her doors to two additional Sullivans: her niece and nephew.

Not only had the Sullivans moved to a new location in Toledo, but they had a plan: Catherine and her relatives were now the proprietors of a neighborhood grocery, and having niece Margaret and nephew Edward helped distribute the workload among four family members instead of the two aging sisters.

Perhaps it should have been no surprise, moving along to the 1930 census, to discover that 201 Sumner Street would now include additional Sullivan inhabitants. While the transcription of the 1930 census for this household doesn't clearly delineate the household's changes, looking closely at the digitized document itself revealed the addition of yet another generation of Sullivans. This time, Catherine—the sole survivor of the original Sullivan generation—had an additional three Sullivans, listed as "grannephews" in the parlance of the particular enumerator serving at Sumner Street. Thus, enter John, George and William to the Toledo home that grew from the hosting tradition begun by Catherine Sullivan's aunt Margaret Kelly.


As I moved from decade to decade in the census records, one other detail morphed from those earliest years. At first, all the immigrants claimed their place of birth to be Ireland—this was the extended family from County Kerry of whom I'd love to ascertain the specific townland of origin. But by the time we view the Sumner Street household in the 1920 census, we notice a different location appearing for the nephew's birth: England, not Ireland.

While it was certainly not unusual for residents of Ireland to migrate to nearby England for work opportunities, I at first had thought to abandon the pursuit of this Sullivan line, simply because it was moving far afield of my original goal of seeking their Irish roots. However, keeping in mind those helpful theories of researching collateral lines and paying attention to family clusters when stumped by research brick walls, I kept poking around for some clue to let me wrestle the secret loose from its moorings.

Perhaps, following this trail back through the Sullivans in England might yield better documentation of births or marriages—or a death record including verification of parents' names. I decided to take yet another step farther afield of my original research question and follow these newest generation of the Sullivans. The first step, however, was to seek out all the information I could find on the extended family while still in the United States.

It's a good thing I did. Apparently, Catherine Sullivan hosted far more immigrant Sullivan nieces and nephews than what could be spotted through the decennial record-keeping of those censuses. More than just tracking the surname, I discovered additional members of the extended Sullivan family by following that address of the old neighborhood grocery store at 201 Sumner Street—a home where, apparently, some of the Sullivans stayed only briefly.

Above: Image from the 1930 United States census for Toledo, Ohio, showing the Catherine Sullivan household on 201 Sumner Street; image courtesy

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Overlooking the Obvious


How many times, in researching our Irish ancestors, have we heard the litany of naming patterns followed in the Old Country? Depending on how long our ancestral Irish immigrants have been away from their homeland, that pattern may or may not hold true in their adopted home.

For some reason, in grappling with the origins of my husband's second great-grandparents John Kelly and Johanna Falvey, I had always focused on their daughters. Seeing the pattern not line up with what I could otherwise find concerning those daughters, I had given up hope that that immigrant couple had followed the tradition of their forebears. After all, their arrival in America predated birth of their second son, so I could never be sure they had adhered to the old Irish custom with their subsequent children in America.

After a long and winding research trail leading me to theorize that our immigrant from County Kerry, John Kelly, was actually older brother to Timothy Kelly of Fort Wayne, a further connection revealed Timothy's likely parents: Timothy Kelly and his wife, Catherine Flynn. Even so, somehow I missed that glaring detail from the younger Timothy's brother John's own family tree: John had named his oldest son Timothy, as well.

It took reviewing a recent blog post at the website Ireland Reaching Out for that detail to sink in. After reviewing the litany of that Irish naming pattern, the post went on to suggest: "check if the third son is named after his father." In the case of immigrant John Kelly's family, that was indeed what had happened. Eight years after arriving in Fort Wayne, Indiana, John did indeed name his third son after himself. With the first son apparently named after John's likely father, that left second son Patrick.

Seeing that John Kelly did seem to follow tradition, despite his removal to an entirely new world, perhaps that would inspire me to welcome the next assumption as correct: that the second son—supposedly named after the maternal grandfather—would lead us to a father for Johanna named Patrick Falvey.

Still, that doesn't instill enough confidence in me to accept that information wholesale. Something keeps prodding me to double check the information by cross-checking it with the other clues I've found about this Kelly family. Of the very few clues there are, most of them have to do with a connection with multiple nephews and nieces who descend from a Kelly woman who married a Sullivan man, back in County Kerry. Like a serial immigration pattern, those Sullivan family members kept coming to Toledo, Ohio, to live in the same house—the home of Margaret Kelly, sister of Timothy and thus, also sister of John Kelly, if what we've found so far really adds up.

While it may be hard to target just the right Sullivan from County Kerry, if we build the Sullivan family constellation out, perhaps we can then use the multiple clues from that extended family to better pinpoint the Kelly family back home in Ireland. While I am building hidden trees for all my husband's Falvey DNA matches in the background, let's take the next step of examining what can be found about all those Sullivans who called Margaret Kelly's house their home in an adopted homeland.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Why We Can't Just Browse Around


In my perfect world, all genetic genealogy services would come complete with a chromosome browser. That way, in a snapshot, we could all see which matches share specific locations on each chromosome. Alas, the largest DNA database in our current world still opts not to provide such a tool. And yet, that same company is my source for most of the possible matches which could lead me to an answer to my current research puzzle: locating the parents of my husband's second great-grandmother, Johanna Falvey of County Kerry, Ireland.

This has led to a hunt and peck compare and contrast exercise at the other companies which do allow that visual snapshot. The problem then becomes: which Falvey matches tested at which companies?

Our best Falvey match was a father-daughter duo from New Zealand, whom I first discovered through MyHeritage. This duo also had another family member test at a different company, and my husband's two sisters also tested at that other company. The fortunate discoveries from that showed me which one of the Stevens siblings best matched the New Zealand family, and I have used that observation to seek out further matches. And, of course, all six DNA tests were uploaded to GEDmatch, as well.

The plus to these details is that various members of each family set could be compared to other matches at four companies: Ancestry, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and 23andMe, three of which all provide chromosome browsers. And, of course, all six could be compared via the chromosome browser at GEDmatch.

The downside at GEDmatch was that there were only a few others who match at least one party from each group. One match was clearly another New Zealand resident. The other transferred a kit from Ancestry and, on closer inspection, was a very weak connection. While it is wonderful to access such tools as the ones made available at GEDmatch, those tools only help if people actually have transferred their data to GEDmatch.

As you might have suspected, there is also a downside to 23andMe. While that company includes a chromosome browser and other helpful tools, they only become useful when the owner of the data permits that kit to be included in such usage. Unfortunately, many customers have not stretched to that level of participation, rendering the limited information available on their kit a near-blank slate.

Of the two remaining companies, the more useful, in my opinion, has been MyHeritage. There, the company affords its clients some useful tools for analyzing matches—and yet, even there, one can experience a drawback. Many trees are restricted to all but those who have requested access from the tree manager, thus stranding those whose inquiries receive no answer to their request.

Even so, I've found ways around such hurdles. I've taken what limited information may be gleaned from one site and researched that person in the trees and documents from another site. Sometimes, I've run into others as consumed with this research as I am: they have also tested at more than one site. Searching that name at the other companies leads me to a match I might otherwise have overlooked.

Still, there is no escaping one detail: in order to chase these elusive matches from company to company, or find a way to place them within the bigger picture, I inevitably end up sketching out potential trees for these other families. I may as well face up to it: if I have any hope of pushing back the curtain obscuring Johanna Falvey's parentage even just one more generation, it is likely the only way I'll do it is by building out other matches' family trees. May as well pick a likely candidate and get to work.


Monday, August 24, 2020

Time to Regroup


When multiple inputs have the tendency to set one's mind spinning, it's time to step back and reassess the research situation. In this case, I'm running in circles, trying to push back the generation beyond the couple in County Kerry—Johanna Falvey and her husband with the typical Irish name of John Kelly—who are my husband's brick wall ancestors. That pair represent one set of his second great-grandparents, having children which bridged their 1869 immigration from Ireland to Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Try as I might, I have not been able to find documentation for the couple beyond a possible marriage record and baptismal documentation for two of their children. While the listing for godparents was helpful—adding the surnames Fleming and O'Brien to my search—it still didn't move me any closer to the goal of discovering the identities of the parents of either John or Johanna.

True, researching a possible collateral line—that of Timothy Kelly, co-purchaser of the family burial plot in Fort Wayne with our John Kelly—led me to possible Kelly parentage including a mother's maiden name of Flynn. It also plunged me into yet another family circle involving several Sullivan descendants. Checking with possible links in County Kerry, it seemed the Sullivans were everywhere! I could find them connected to Kellys. And then, there they were, connected to Falveys, as well!

Feeling the despair of wandering farther and farther from my original research intentions, I decided to double back and take a second look at all the amassed information. What started me off was a collection of DNA matches whose family trees included the surname Falvey. What were the possibilities that some of these matches also included the surname Sullivan in their tree?

I took an initial glance at possibilities by searching through the matches at AncestryDNA. I searched all of my husband's matches containing the name Sullivan—a risky proposition, considering the Sullivan surname is not only common in the United States (and widespread throughout the English-speaking world), but along with its more Irish variant O'Sullivan, the third most popular surname in Ireland, specifically in, you guessed it, County Kerry.

From there, I looked for all Sullivan matches whose tree also contained the surname Falvey. As it turned out, there were three—each having a husband-wife combination of those two surnames. Two of them, in fact, descended from the same Sullivan-Falvey couple. 

The difficulty with these matches, of course, is that their trees seem to end with the founding immigrant ancestor having arrived in the United States from, simply, "County Kerry." That, of course, is exactly the predicament I'm in. But where in County Kerry is my question.

However, taking a closer look at these matches, it appears two of the matches each share one, and only one, segment of DNA in common with my husband. The one has a segment of twenty nine centiMorgans, the other of twenty eight. As no other possible connection between their family lines and my husband's is obvious, it may be possible to designate that specific segment as a genetic signature of this Falvey line.

The only problem: the matches are at AncestryDNA, a company which has steadfastly refused to offer its supporters a chromosome browser. If I am to determine the location of that segment—if it is even on the same chromosome, let alone the same position—I will need to see whether these two matches have their genetic information posted anywhere else which offers a chromosome browser.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Progress Despite Disaster


What a week it has been around here! I hardly expected to see any progress made in my biweekly research report, owing mostly to the nearby fires this past week, but also to other personal issues. There are times—at least for a genealogy fanatic—when, despite the turmoil, it is just relaxing to sit down and mindlessly clean up one's family tree. Think of it like some people use knitting to get through a storm. However, I can't say whether that was the charm that worked these past two weeks.

Still, I was surprised to see I had added 119 names to my mother's tree, bringing its overall size to 23,088 individual names with supporting documentation. I must have done a bit more mindless poking around than I thought I did.

Another surprise in this biweekly tally was to discover one of my other trees actually went backwards. I know I haven't been working as hard as I could on my mother-in-law's family tree, but to see it shrink was the last thing I expected. Yet, that's what happened: the tree now has 19,103 individuals, owing to the disappearance of one person. Don't be so quick to blame the website host for that tree——as the disappearance was most likely due to combining two individual entries into one. My mother-in-law's family is good for that. I don't label her tree "endogamy-lite" for nothing. There's always a bit more housekeeping to do on those duplicate entries.

Shrinking family trees aside, perhaps that missing entry ended up in another tree I haven't touched for ages: my father's tree. There, I inadvertently added one additional person, which means my dad's tree now has 716 people in it. If I remember correctly, I was following up on a DNA match question about that line, when I realized I hadn't entered a cousin. Making that correction set everything right again in our paternal world.

All that progress aside, my father-in-law's tree didn't budge from the count it's held at for months: 1,812 individuals. And yet, that is the tree on which I worked the hardest in the past two weeks. As I suspected the last time I discussed this stalemate, some research problems require us to put in a lot of work, and yet, the end result may still be one great big, round zero. Searching does not always equate with finding, especially when it comes to old records.

Assuming life gets back to normal in the next month—who am I kidding here?—I'll still be plugging along with those research goals, following through with DNA matches, adding cousins to my mother's line, and seeking the roots for my husband's second great grandparents, the Kellys and Falveys in County Kerry, Ireland. But even if things don't settle back down entirely, it is apparently so that a little work can still be accomplished, even in the face of turmoil and angst.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

A Genealogy Go Bag


My husband, ever the comedian, likes to corral the family—something akin to herding cats—and at the point when we should have left for a trip, quip, "Let's make like a baby and head out."

While it isn't quite as funny now, residents in our area received a message recently, advising much the same thing: park your vehicle in the driveway with the nose facing outward. And pack your go-bag.

Granted, the northern boundary of the wildfire raging nearby is still forty miles removed from us—as the wind blows, I might add—but the prudent heed warnings like that. Yesterday was our moment to make arrangements for what, hopefully, will be an unlikely scenario.

I did a lot of thinking about what might go in a go-bag. After all, my baggage has always included a lot of history. Perhaps that is a luxury of first-world life. Maybe not the kind to make the cut in more dire turns of events. But fire being fire, once it meets history, no matter how old or how irreplaceable, history doesn't win.

One of my husband's Facebook acquaintances happens to be a veterinarian, and, vets being vets, she dearly cares for our fuzzy four-footed companions. She happened to post a recommendation for items to include in this fire season's go-bag. Among her suggestions for preparation were the expected tasks: fill up your gas tank, keep enough of your prescription medications on hand for up to a week's supply, bring bottled water. Food, paper supplies, blankets, clothing. Logical supply choices got rounded out with the ultimate Boy Scout preparedness list of first aid materials, flashlights with extra batteries, and more. And stuff for those beloved pets.

That's when I got to thinking about those other aspects of daily life. Some people care for pets, some engage in what is supposedly America's number one hobby: gardening. But what about those of us who have that other popular hobby? We've amassed a collection of documents, photographs and heirlooms in remembrance of our ancestors. Sure, much of that is now digitized and stored online, but what of the tangible treasures passed down through generations for our safekeeping?

If you had to bolt out your front door at a moment's notice—well, other than that incessant early-warning smoke we've experienced since Wednesday—what else would you bring besides supplies to get you through the next seven days? Would any of it represent your heritage? If you had the time to think things out more clearly before that moment to head out, would something come to mind which absolutely needed to be preserved from past generations?

A hard question to consider, especially realizing the possibility that, upon your return, the legacy bequeathed to you might no longer be available to pass along to the next generation.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Something About Those Sullivans


If you feel cursed to have been consigned to searching for the most common surnames of Ireland as part of your family's history, consider yourself invited to join the club. Why does it turn out that, having found that immigrant ancestor from the Emerald Isle, he or she always turns up to be sporting the most popular name in Ireland?

Here I was, hoping that I could change up the game by switching from pursuing my husband's second great-grandfather John Kelly, to a less common name like John's wife, Johanna Falvey. Wrong. Oh, so wrong. Take a look at John Grenham's helpful map and listing of all Catholic baptisms of children surnamed Falvey in County Kerry. That's a graphic representation of what I'm up against, just looking for the innocuous name, Falvey. The Falveys were all over in County Kerry, during the time in which I was seeking Johanna's family.

And then, following the lead of advice from Ireland Reaching Out, I'm assured that the names of baptismal sponsors are an important clue in my quest to push back yet another generation on this Falvey-Kelly brick wall. I find the two children from this couple were baptised with sponsors' surnames listed as Fleming. Wondering who that might be, I then went searching for Fleming baptisms, hoping to find reciprocal sponsors listed as either Falvey or Kelly, to break the code and show me which side of the family to seek for that Fleming connection.

What do I find? Sullivans! Not just Sullivans like the ones we saw yesterday, surrounding John Kelly in the Griffith's Valuation records, but Sullivans who also appear to be related to the other side of that family, the Falveys. How does one go about sorting that out?

Flemings, Sullivans, Falveys, and Kellys all seem to be connected in multiple ways. Perhaps that is the story of families who lived together in the same rural areas for generations. When I saw that same situation unfolding in Perry County, Ohio, on my mother-in-law's lines, I dubbed that case endogamy-lite: not so much as to qualify for the official label as endogamy, but on account of an example with enough inter-connection to create pedigree collapse of one sort or another.

Perhaps that is why some of these DNA matches sharing Falvey connections with my husband's family lead to different founding Falvey ancestors: I am looking at root people who are not siblings claiming a most recent common ancestor, but cousins for whom I'll have to muddle through yet another generation.

This tangle seems to get more messy with every attempt to straighten the records out. 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Ashes and Wednesdays


When I woke up yesterday morning, it was snowing. No, I do not live in the southern hemisphere. It is summer here. In fact, where I live in California, we have been experiencing nearly a week of an inexhaustible heat wave, punctuated only by the scantest respite of rain on Sunday, which, unfortunately, brought accompanying lightning strikes. Hence, the fires. Which caused the snow—a literal snowing of ashes, wafting down from the sky like snowflakes as I headed outside in the morning to run my errands in town.

It wasn't my choice to get such an early start to the day, but apprehension has a way of waking a weary soul up earlier than the accustomed hour. Yesterday was the day when my sister was scheduled for her cancer surgery—another cancer surgery. I wanted to connect with family ahead of time to check progress and ask all the questions nervous family members want to ask.

Before I got the chance to make that call, though, something else popped up—a sad message from another family with much greater worries on their mind. A friend of our family had contracted the corona virus in mid-July and, despite all appearances of vitally and strength, eventually needed the assistance of hospital staff to overcome the disease's trajectory. All eyes of her many friends were on her Facebook page, as her husband and children posted daily updates and prayer requests. After nearly two weeks on a ventilator, this same morning was the moment in which they posted the news of her passing with their mournful goodbyes to that loved one.

Numbed with all the emotions swirling inside, I headed out to wrap up those errands, oblivious to the smoke, the reddened sun, the eerie feel to the ambience surrounding me. And then I noticed it: the white flecks wafting down, swirling in the breeze, falling at my feet like drifts of snow. It was like everything left was reduced to ashes. I needed to finish those tasks and get back inside. Let that mind wander and unwind. Overload.

Once inside, with no motivation to work, not even that quest to discover the family connections between our Kelly, Falvey, and Sullivan roots in County Kerry could divert my attention. I poked listlessly through my email, but spotted an alert, telling me of a new comment made on a very old blog post. 

It was a post written during our family's adventure in Ireland, almost six years ago. We had driven out to the area around Killarney, trying to figure out just where John Kelly and Johanna Falvey had once lived. I had already poked around, before our trip, in every record set I could find online with no definitive direction, but I had noticed a Kelly baptismal record linked to the Civil Parish called Molahiffe, and an entry in Griffith's Valuation showing a man named John Kelly in a townland called Lisheennacannina. That six year old post was my explanation of how we had tried to obtain directions to that townland from our host, who happened to notice that our John Kelly was neighbors with a Michael Sullivan—same name as her grandfather! We followed her map, but despite the help, got lost and stumbled upon an old cemetery nearby, instead.

"Did you find where he may be buried," my reader yesterday inquired in the comments, adding that Michael O'Sullivan was her ancestor from that very same townland.

In my daze, given the day's downward spiral, I poked mindlessly through some old records, backtracking through years of research, when it finally dawned on me: wait! I now have Sullivans connected to my Kelly line. Maybe that is a slim connection, but it could be telling me there is something more than just a neighborly connection between the Kelly and Sullivan households in Lisheennacannina and the Kelly and Sullivan household in Toledo, Ohio.

In the end, that was all the research effort I was able to muster during a day like that. Although I know my friend will never be coming back, it turns out that my sister may have gotten the best possible bad news she could have received, once over the hurdle of yet another surgery. While the "snow" outside on the ground will not be "melted" by tomorrow, hopefully a little clearing of the mind will enable me to catch that little clue and run with it another day.


Above: A man named John Kelly in the midst of several Sullivans in Lisheennacannina townland of County Kerry, Ireland, according to the Griffith's Valuation; excerpt of document from Ask About Ireland.


Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Clustering for the Bigger Picture


I learned a little tip on family history research, back when I took the Southern Research course at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. The challenge in southern research has to do with the many ways family lines seem to intertwine over the generations. Those in the South have a term for it, apparently. They will often say someone is "kin" when they don't know how to explain the exact relationship. In some families, relationships crisscrossed repeatedly through the generations, blending lines in more ways than the one we'd otherwise assume. Sometimes, a pedigree chart is not capable of fully outlining all the connections. That's why some researchers, such as Anne Gillespie Mitchell, advocate for a process she calls cluster genealogy.

Not that I suspect the Irish were quite the same way, but in looking over the possible connections between my husband's various Kelly and Falvey lines, it appears we may need to consider the same clustering approach. Since I otherwise have not been able to fully determine the connections, this clustering tactic may yield us an answer where we haven't been able to find one before.

This means, of course, amassing a huge pile of surnames we've already stumbled upon to determine what the connections might be. Some of this may seem easy—for instance, the clue that Irish baptismal sponsors should always (supposedly) be the sibling or in-law of one of the baby's parents. Some clues may seem less worthy, though, such as the fact that one witness to Johanna Falvey's marriage to John Kelly—a man by the name of John Fleming—happened to also serve as witness for the next two March 1859 weddings in the church's register, as well. Congregational leader? Community elder? Or true relative? It's hard to say.

If you thought researching Margaret Kelly's Sullivan nieces was drawing us far from our original research goal, amassing this cluster of connected family back in their homeland in County Kerry, Ireland, will seem like one gigantic research mess. And yet, up to this point, I have not had any breakthroughs to help untangle this Kelly and Falvey connection.

May as well hold my breath and jump in. It's overwhelming when stuff gets over our heads, but we won't always stay submerged under that swirling mass of names. At some point, we will hopefully emerge with some answers.

Ready for a recap? Here we go...

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Clues: Some Add Up and Some Do Not


What can we say about the hard-earned clues we've uncovered in our quest to tie together the relationship between various Irish-American immigrants who all claimed that most Irish of surnames, Kelly? If Abbie Kelly Sullivan's daughters could be said to be nieces of Margaret Kelly of Toledo, and Margaret, in turn, could be identified as sister to Timothy Kelly of Fort Wayne, then wouldn't that make Abbie sister to Timothy? And if the witness to Abbie's marriage to John Sullivan was a man named John Kelly, wouldn't that tie together the family I suspected would emerge from this long, convoluted research trail?

There were encouraging clues which seemed to add up in the right direction along this winding path. John Kelly, for instance, had named his firstborn son Timothy. We now know that Margaret Kelly's father was named Timothy Kelly. If John was Margaret's brother, that would have meant, by extension, that John's father would have been that same Timothy. That old Irish naming pattern would ring true for John's choice of name for his firstborn son, which would be designated as namesake of the father's father.

On the other hand, if Timothy, Abbie and John had a mother named Catherine, why was it that Timothy's second daughter was named Mary, not Catherine as the pattern would have dictated, and Abbie's youngest daughter became the one to bear her maternal grandmother's name? We might be able to excuse Timothy for not strictly following that Irish naming formula—he was, essentially, raised in the United States despite his Irish birth—but what about Abbie? I can find no record that Abbie ever left Ireland. What happened to her affinity with the dictates of her homeland's culture?

Then, too, it is disturbing to see the age disparity between Timothy and John. True, the Irish in America seemed to have a very fluid sense of age—or aging, as it seemed some aged more in a decade than those ten years ticked off between each American census report. There are reports of Timothy's year of birth that range from 1827 to 1830, which is modest compared to the range of dates I've found for his supposed brother John. In John's case, the dates given were as early as 1808 and as late as 1830. With Timothy's sister Margaret having been born in 1833, seeing an older brother's birth date as 1808 would give a range for their mother's childbearing years as at least twenty five years. Perhaps possible, but somewhat pressing belief.

While it was also encouraging to find the Kelly-Sullivan marriage listed in the Catholic parish records in Killeentierna, County Kerry—where we've found other possible documents for this extended family—it is most certainly true that that John Sullivan wasn't the only man by that name in that region. Nor would it be likely that John Kelly, witness to the ceremony, would be the only man sporting that name in town.

Another detail to keep in mind: these are parish records which have survived the ravages of time—and of a difficult season for clerical record keeping in the Catholic church of that time and place. It is possible that there were other nearby Catholic parishes which also included members with such Irish names as John Sullivan and John Kelly—some records, especially, which may not have survived the ravages of time to be passed down for our research inspection. That these are the only people with those names that I could find in County Kerry doesn't mean there weren't others who have yet to be found.

At this point, my main question is: how religiously did the Irish in County Kerry adhere to that "traditional naming pattern" touted by so many Irish researchers? If that was the rule—and the only way to go—in the circles of families in County Kerry in the mid-1800s, then that clearly rules out the records I've found. Added together, they don't support the naming pattern—unless there were known exceptions, and variations from the norm were permissible. 

My secondary question is founded on a serious doubt that I have found all the Catholic parish records that can be found—or that will ever enter the online digitized collection of possibilities. Until I can accomplish more detailed searches or know I've accessed the entire available record set, I can't say these discoveries confirm the relationship between John Kelly and Timothy Kelly.

What I can follow up on, though, is the fact that these discoveries serve as indicators that it is possible that there was a cluster of names which agree with the family circles I've seen echoed across the Atlantic in the adopted homes those immigrant Kelly descendants chose to settle. The larger the collection of related names which can be found clustered around the same Irish homeland, the more confident we can be that we might have the right details to point us to a location of the family's origin.

In that cluster, we need to also remember the nexus between that set of Kelly kin and another family whose abandoned trail we need to return to: that of John's wife Johanna Falvey. Can what we've learned about a possible Kelly family help point us to the right Falvey connections?

Monday, August 17, 2020

Missing Researchers Long Gone


It was late on New Year's Day in 2003 when I took a look at my email notifications from GenForum, an old messaging system used by family history enthusiasts. It was there that researchers could post their requests for help and connection, specific to either surnames or local geographic areas. 

Earlier in the previous year, I had gone wandering, much like I have this month, in an attempt to figure out the connection between my husband's second great-grandfather, John Kelly, and a man by the name of Timothy Kelly. The two Kelly men surely were related in some way, as they had gone in together on the purchase of a family burial plot at the Catholic Cemetery in Fort Wayne, Indiana. But how, I couldn't figure out.

I had gone from John Kelly's family tree, to constructing a private unsearchable tree for Timothy Kelly's family, to tracing the line of Timothy's second wife, a woman by the name of Mary Danehy. As she had brought a daughter into the Kelly marriage, I was in the midst of even attempting to discover the origin of that step-daughter—of whom all I knew was her name, Margaret Sweeney—when I got a reply to my query.

The answer said simply,

Timothy Kelly married my GG Aunt in 1880. Her name was Mary Danehy. Timothy and his first wife Ellen...had six children.


This, of course, I already knew, but perhaps it wasn't evident to my respondent. After all, having gone so far afield of my original research goal, I had posted my request in the forum for Sweeney family researchers, not in the Kelly department. However, this respondent followed up with one irresistible question: "Where do you fit into the picture?"

There began a long volley of emails, as two researchers traced the various paths leading to their nexus, a man in Fort Wayne who himself somehow got there from some place in County Kerry, Ireland. We exchanged notes. Shared most recent discoveries. Even traded photocopies of newspaper clippings and documents by snail mail from one end of the country to the other at a time when not everything was at our fingertips online. Yet, despite all our earnest efforts, we still couldn't make the connection or trace the Kelly family back to their place of origin.

Eventually, my corresponding researcher sent me a note. It was following the time of the second Gulf War, and he had decided to use his experience in the construction industry to serve as a contractor in Afghanistan to rebuild schools in that country. Promising to pick up on our joint research venture upon his return home, he was off to a land where genealogical pursuits were not highest among their priorities.

Several years passed, and I began to wonder how he had fared on his adventure. I tried updated emails without any answer. Finally, because this researcher had such an unusual name, I tried googling it. Sadly, I found my answer through a lovingly crafted obituary posted on Find A Grave.

Even though it's been nearly two decades since that first email opened up the opportunity to share a research project with a fellow family member, I still think about endeavors like that. Of course, on the easy side, now knowing what I've been able to discover about Timothy Kelly, I wish there was a way to utilize DNA testing to see whether that venue would provide corroboration. But more important than that, experiences like the many research connections made in those past genealogy forums remind me of the value of connecting with other researchers—and continuing to work together to find answers to our family history questions.

Some research questions simply cannot be answered without sustained effort, persevering through many steps until we find the answer we need. Sometimes, such efforts are better achieved in partnership with others pursuing the same answers. Yet, it seems it has been a long time since I've met up with others willing to collaborate to that extent. I've seen some people complain that they are lucky to even receive just one reply to an emailed inquiry. Were such diligent researchers just a product of a bygone generation? Where have they all gone?

Of course, I'll still plod onward with my Kelly questions. There are, after all, encouraging signs linking Timothy Kelly to Abbie—or Debora, or Gobnait, or whoever she turns out to be—and they, in turn, seem to be linked to someone named John Kelly. And yet, on the other hand, there are confusing signs that just don't seem to add up right.

Whatever the conclusion of the matter, though, it will likely be through some solitary effort that I'll arrive at an answer—no matter how much I yearn to find those research partners of decades now gone. But I can still hope there are others out there who realize it is certainly more fun to share the research adventure together.


Sunday, August 16, 2020

About Getting Together


Be assured: as much as I miss seeing my fellow local genealogical society members, I am not about to do the unthinkable and get together in public. Where I live, people are still wearing face masks, social distancing, and accessing their meals the old fashioned way (at home). We may yearn for the chance to see each other face to face, but we rarely do that any more, except for perhaps the occasional outdoor coffee meetup.

That is not to say, however, that we don't miss meeting with our fellow family history researchers.

Last month, I wondered how many others in local genealogical societies shared that yearning, and put together an invitation for board members of neighboring societies to join me in an online discussion of what each group is doing to keep connected with our membership. After all, when I put together my mailing list for that invitation, I noticed such a wide range of current activity levels—everything from high-tech-savvy webinar hosts to groups which hadn't met since COVID-19 quarantines shut their doors.

The idea was to come together to share ideas, learn from each other's questions and observations, and be an encouragement to each other. Thirteen other local board members from across northern California joined me and two of our own society's board members in a productive conversation. 

The energy from positive encounters tells the tale of hitting the right spot, finding a needed salve for the crisis. Of course, energy can just be a feeling—and feelings can be fleeting—but it can also provide the clue that others are on the same wavelength, are noticing the same need, and want to delve into the issue further.

The same is true for assembling our own organizations. I don't know how other local societies are faring in this continuing quarantine season, but from the feedback I receive from our own members, the isolation and inability to engage in mentally-uplifting communication and interpersonal contact has been draining to our members. Over the past few months, our society has had its monthly program offerings stepped up notably, yet people still keep coming back for more. One member told me, "I'll be there, no matter what" we offered for extra meetings. As she put it, her life has been "like a flat tire" ever since the quarantine started. That makes for a long five months, so far.

Just as some local society members have found the online access to virtual meetings confounding—whether on account of inexperience with new computer programs or just inaccessibility to updated hardware for the newer forms of online communication—some societies are suffering from inability to connect, as well. Some I've found have posted an "out to lunch" equivalent on their website—wherever it has been co-hosted on their behalf—or simply have not updated their online presence at all.

With the proliferation of free webinar opportunities in the face of this pandemic—a goodwill gesture from major genealogy companies—perhaps some members of local societies have felt their need for the home-based organization to have become antiquated. After all, if all the society does is offer educational opportunities in the form of live speakers at monthly meetings, webinars featuring nationally-known genealogists will certainly one-up that modest offering. Mix in "free" and you have competition you can't beat.

But what does the local genealogical society actually stand for? Hopefully, much more than the chance to sit for yet another hour, learning something else about family history research. For the organization which infuses their programs not only with continuing education opportunities, but with interactive exchanges which not only benefit their members but give back to their local community, it may be a rough go of surviving as we head into this pandemic's future. Yet, even that can be overcome through virtual means. As we learn to use the tools now at hand to innovate getting our members together virtually, we will find we can replicate many of the experiences we used to think were only possible in a face to face venue. 

Being adaptable determines an organization's ability to thrive in subsequent generations. While this current pandemic may be devastating, it does force us to rethink how we continue operations within this new social reality. Never have so many people learned so quickly how to adapt to so many technological tools—at least as far as online communication goes.

For those who can capitalize on this shift, our first order of business as leaders of genealogical societies must be to determine the details about getting together. If we can gather together virtually, how? Once we're assembled, for what purpose? Will it still be for the same meeting format and program? Or will we discover the need to rethink the content alongside the changing process of assembling?

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Cleaning Break


Sometimes, it's more important to stop working towards goals and take some time to clean up the mess left in the wake of research progress. Even though the looming "purge" deadline for customers of Ancestry DNA to decide whether they want to save their puny six and seven centiMorgan DNA matches has been postponed until early September, I spent a serious chunk of time reviewing what the damages might be if I relinquished my chance to preserve any of those "poison candy" matches.

I have a hard time sticking with the party line on those small matches. I've made some of my DNA match discoveries in reverse—finding a known distant cousin among my DNA matches who already has had an assured spot in my family tree. Because of the distant relationship—I have documentation showing these people are fourth cousins or beyond—I wouldn't normally expect to see them sharing any DNA with me, but there they are in my readout at Ancestry.

Then, too, I see how important such distant matches can be—if used with extreme caution and with much supporting documentation as well—in fleshing out the empty distant branches on my pedigree chart. Perhaps I already spent too much time heeding all the swirling controversy and hesitating over taking any action.

Yesterday, however, I needed to get busy. Yes, I went through the matches of those for whom I manage DNA accounts. I used a few tactics to preserve specific matches, if only by adding notes or tagging with colored dots for specific surnames. Once I had a system down, I finished up the lists and then moved on to do some "house cleaning" on the rest of the matches. I worked next on matches from eight to twenty centiMorgans which also had "common ancestor" hints.

The goal was to work as quickly as possible to do the rudimentary cleaning that can put the rest of all those thousands of matches in some logical order. Normally, when confirming DNA matches' place in my trees, I trudge along at an alarmingly slow speed. I want to insure that I have all the right documentation to connect the right DNA match to the right spot in my tree. Tasks like this, though, are a quick way to sift through the possibilities and order things into buckets for future consideration.

While the result is that everyone down to the very smallest match now is organized by divisions of great-grandparents' surnames (or even further, in the case of some colonial families on both my mother's line and my husband's maternal line), I know I will need to go back and continue the more cumbersome tasks I've been doing all along. But having this cursory sketch of which matches belong to which surname, I can now tell at a glance such important details as whether there are any other Falvey or Kelly matches I can lean on while struggling over my research project with those families sharing the same County Kerry origin.

Cleaning may seem like the regretfully necessary chore which interrupts all forward motion, but in the case of research as in most other endeavors, it is nice to be able to reach for the tools we need and know they are still exactly where we last put them.

Friday, August 14, 2020

What's in a Name?


What's in a name? For the Irish, much that is hidden, apparently.

Take the parents' names for the three spinster Sullivan sisters we've been researching in Toledo, Ohio. Two out of the three women had John Sullivan listed as their father—the third sister, Catherine Sullivan, was buried long after all relatives from her generation were gone, thus leaving us with no clue as to her parents' identity. But we can infer the answer from what we've gleaned from her sisters' records.

John Sullivan is a rather straightforward name, thus making for easy reporting on obligatory death records in the United States. But what about the Sullivan sisters' mother? Two out of the three death certificates identified the woman as Abbie Kelly. When we went looking, back in Ireland, for any records including those parents' names for Margaret, Mary, or Catherine Sullivan, the best we could find were records for a John Sullivan and a wife named Debora. Not quite the same ring to that name.

As it turns out, we've been down that road before, with our original pursuit of the Falvey family of John Kelly's wife Johanna. One of the DNA matches for this Falvey line happened to have an ancestor by the name of Gobnait. While Gobnait or its variant Gobinet may not be a name familiar to American ears, we learned that is indeed a name of Irish origin.

Furthermore, we learned of the translation challenges facing Irish families. Following British control of the island of Ireland centuries ago, legislation led to the "anglicization" of many Irish names. Then, too, when a Catholic family had their children baptised, that written record was rendered not in Irish or even English, but in Latin. Thus, a name could have three variants—the original Gaelic version, a subsequent English form, and a Latinized substitute. Add to that the Irish tendency to use nicknames, and tracing an Irish ancestor's records could become challenging—and that's before even considering the difficulty of destroyed or lost records.

For Gobnait, one variant turns out to be Abbie. Another one listed is Deborah. Working that information in reverse, could it be that the various record keepers in the Sullivans' parish back in County Kerry chose one common variant of that very Irish name to record in some records, while the family took to using a different nickname? Perhaps that could explain the baptismal records we found yesterday which listed John Sullivan's wife as Debora Kelly.

Almost as a footnote to this research, when I went looking to find a marriage record for this Sullivan couple, I did discover one for John and a Kelly wife. In that 1847 example—still in the same parish's records, by the way—we find that John Sullivan took for his wife a woman listed by the priest as "Abigeal" Kelly. I'll take that as close enough to our Abbie as we're going to get, as far as documentation goes.

For the bonus, in looking to see who was listed as the witnesses to the ceremony, not only do we discover the name of another Sullivan relative, but we see a Kelly family member named as well. His name? John Kelly. Though that is such a common name in that region, I'll take that as a hopeful sign.


Above: Section from the marriage record of Killeentierna Catholic parish in County Kerry, Ireland, for the February 8, 1847, wedding of John Sullivan and Abigail Kelly of Currow; image courtesy


Thursday, August 13, 2020

Too Quick to Make the Leap?


It is tempting, once we think we have the right supporting documentation, to make the jump across an ocean to search for our ancestors' origin in their homeland. With a rather narrowly delimited location plus the name of each parent—complete with maiden name for the mother, mind you—it seems we have enough to successfully attain our research goal. What could possibly go wrong?

But this is Ireland, the land of many Catherines and Margarets and Johns. I knew that, of course—why do you think I didn't, at first, pursue the family line of my husband's second great grandfather John Kelly?—but having the specific names of both parents tricked me into giving the search a try.

I had three Sullivan daughters I wanted to locate in what few baptismal records can still be found from County Kerry, Ireland. The eldest, Margaret, was reported to have been born in 1861. Her younger sister, Mary, was supposedly also a child of the sixties—the eighteen sixties, that is. And the third Sullivan daughter, Catherine, had been born much later, in 1876.

I already knew from their death records in their adopted city of Toledo, Ohio, that their parents were named John Sullivan and Abbie Kelly. Finding their baptismal records would likely also lead me to that Kelly family constellation I had originally been seeking—and then to our John Kelly's bride's Falvey family, thus completing this convoluted research circuit.

Of the three Sullivan nieces, I supposed the easiest birth record to find would have been from the baby of the family, owing to the much later date of birth, and yet, the only record I could find didn't quite match the parameters I was seeking. For this Catherine, the closest match was a baptismal record for a child born ten years earlier. Additional problem: while her mother's maiden name was indeed Kelly, that mother's given name was rendered as Debora, not Abbie. Not that I needed any further complicating factors, but the father's surname was recorded by the priest not as "Sullivan" but as "O'Sullivan."

What about the other sisters? While I could never find a close match for eldest sister Margaret, an option popped up for the middle sister Mary. This record was dated September 3, 1860—not quite an exact match with Mary's record in Toledo assuring us she was born in September of 1865, but at least they got the month right. The parents' names for this baptism? Again, John Sullivan and Debora Kelly. At least this time didn't include the "O."

The good news was: these two baptismal records came from the same parish—Killeentierna in County Kerry. The bad news was: despite the encouraging sign of the right maiden name for the mother, it was Abbie we were looking for, not Debora.

And yet, even in that little discrepancy, a little further research could provide an explanation. Possibly.


Above: Baptismal record for Mary Sullivan, daughter of John Sullivan and Debora Kelly, recorded on September 16, 1860, at the parish of Killeentierna in County Kerry, Ireland; image courtesy

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Double-checking Dates


If you are as cautious as I am about family history research, you may find yourself constantly double-checking the dates associated with the names you are assembling in your family tree. Especially when it comes to the report provided on the heels of a close family member's death, mistakes can happen. From what I've seen in my own research, mistakes happen often.

That, of course, is understandable. There are few moments more stressful than the point at which we discover a loved one has died. Even the most even-handed and steady among us can find ourselves tongue-tied at answering the most basic of questions. We find ourselves blurting out the wrong maiden name for a grandmother, for instance, or offering an incorrect place of birth.

"Just in case," I remind myself, I need to verify that the report offered in one document has some corroboration in another record. So when it came to the deaths of the two Margarets I've been tracing in Toledo, Ohio, I couldn't just stop there. Sure, the younger Margaret had two Sullivan sisters who eventually moved into the same household, but upon their death, did the records match up? Confirming these records of the two Margarets with the elder Margaret's other nieces will prevent me from chasing after the wrong Kelly or Sullivan ancestors back in County Kerry. And that was the whole reason for my paper chase in the first place: this might allow me to determine the right cluster of family members, back in Ireland.

The first question to pursue is whether Margaret Sullivan, niece of Margaret Kelly, had her parents' names reported correctly on her 1907 death certificate. I was elated to see her mother's name showed up as Abbie Kelly, firmly supporting my conjecture about the Kelly connection. But what if that was a mistake?

My next possible resources followed the death of Margaret Sullivan's younger sister Mary. While not showing in aunt Margaret Kelly's household in 1900, Mary Sullivan was in Toledo in time for the 1910 census, taking the younger Margaret's place in the home at 324 Saint Mary's Street. Then, moving by the time of the 1920 census to the location on Sumner Street, we can see where the sisters operated a grocery store along with their recently immigrated Sullivan niece and nephew.

At the point of Mary's passing on November 2, 1926, hers was a death notice as unhelpful as those of her aunt and older sister—further complicated by the partly illegible digitized copy of the November 3 edition of The Toledo News-Bee where it was published. Thankfully, a funeral notice was inserted on the ninth page of of the subsequent day's paper, at least confirming the right address.

Services for Mary Sullivan, who died at her home, 201 Sumner st, Tuesday morning, will be conducted at the residence at 8 a.m. Friday, and at Immaculate Conception church at 8:30 a.m. Burial will be in Calvary cemetery.

Since the main point here was to check Mary's death certificate against the information provided in her sister's death record back in 1907, let's take a look at what can be found for Mary Sullivan. Once again, the informant was her sister, listed this time as Catherine Sullivan. The now much older Katie turned out to be a reliable reporting party, for the record remains the same. Again, Catherine reported that their parents' names were John Sullivan and Abbie Kelly—although the handwritten document rendered her mother's given name more like "Albie."

Ironically, by the time Catherine herself passed away, her own 1942 death record contained exactly the words any genealogist hates to see. For each of her parents' names, the reporting party—Catherine's niece, yet another Margaret—stated, "Unknown."

Thankfully, if nothing else was provided on her February 5, 1942, death certificate, the family was firm in insisting that her place of birth be reported not simply as Ireland, but as County Kerry, Ireland. Since we already had had a suspicion that all this documentation would bear that out, perhaps it's time to take the leap across the "pond" to see what can be found on these Sullivans and Kellys, back in their homeland.

Above: Section of Catherine Sullivan's February 5, 1942, death certificate from Lucas County, Ohio, showing her niece Margaret Brennan's inability to name her own Sullivan grandparents for her aunt's record; image courtesy

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

In the House Where Two Margarets Lived


It might have been reasonable, in family history pursuits, to assume that concerning our ancestors, the elder preceded the younger, but in the case of the Toledo household at 324 Saint Mary's Street, it was the younger Margaret who died first. That younger Margaret, one of the Sullivan sisters who were nieces to spinster aunt Margaret Kelly, was born in 1861—at least according to the 1900 census—and by the time of her death in 1907, was only forty six years of age.

Margaret Sullivan had only been in the United States for less than a decade—if we can believe the census report that she had arrived from her native County Kerry, Ireland, in 1898. Like her aunt Margaret Kelly, she was a single woman who had likely moved to Toledo to be with her younger sister Katherine, who had been in this country since 1887.

Perhaps it is no surprise, then, to learn that there wasn't much to glean from her perfunctory death notice, published on the last page of The Toledo News-Bee on September 14, 1907.

Sullivan, Margaret, at her residence [?], 324 St Marys street, Friday, Sept. 13, 1907, at 11:40 p.m. Funeral from the home, Tuesday, Sept. 17, at 8 a.m., and the Immaculate Conception church at 8:30 a.m. Interment Calvary cemetery. Friends invited.

No mention of relatives coming from out of town, or surviving family members. No mention of much of anything at all which could confirm this was the right Margaret, except maybe her near illegible house number. The main point, however, was to cross-check this date with the death certificate records available online, just to insure we had the right Margaret.

Indeed we did, as it turned out from the confirming record online. Pulling up the document, I hoped that it would not be one of those records for which the key answers were "unknown." My main goal in following Margaret Kelly's nieces was to discover who their mother was. A Sullivan being the niece of a Kelly meant that the connecting relative would be someone with a maiden name of Kelly.

And it was. Margaret Sullivan's father was listed—predictably—as John Sullivan. And her mother? Abbie Kelly. If this series of nested theories adds up right, that Abbie Kelly should be Margaret Kelly's sister...and Timothy Kelly's sister, as well. Clustering those family members can help me sort out the multitude of Kelly and Sullivan births and marriages, back in County Kerry, where everyone, it seems, gave their children the exact same names.

But what about the other Margaret? She it would be who could, with the names on her own death certificate, lead us to the next generation for the Kelly branch of the family. If we can escape the dreaded "unknown" entries for Margaret Kelly's father and mother, we will have achieved our goal in taking this long research detour.

As it turned out, Margaret Kelly's death notice was not much more helpful than her niece's memorial. On the next to last page of the July 25, 1909, edition of The Toledo News-Bee, buried in the legal notices, it basically provided the same bleak wording: same address for her "late residence," same church, same cemetery. The only difference was the date and the fact that her procession began a half hour earlier than her niece's final journey. No family names mentioned.

When we went to pull up this Margaret's death certificate, we became once again fortunate to avoid that dreaded "unknown" response for her parents' names. I can't begin to express how such experiences in the past cause me to just slightly cringe as each digital image is brought up on the screen. But there it was, fully provided, as I brought up Margaret Kelly's own death certificate. 

As so often happens with this surname, Margaret Kelly's entry in both the newspaper insertion and the death record was spelled Kelley. But it was indeed the right Margaret, for the address was the same, and in this case, the surviving niece—Katherine Sullivan—served as the informing party.

The information "Katie" supplied provides us with the key to finding the next generation, back in County Kerry. The elder Margaret's parents' names? Let us now begin the search for—no surprise here—Margaret's father, another Timothy Kelly. And for Margaret's mother, we can now keep our eyes open for a woman by the name of Catherine Flynn.

The next question, of course, is: can we use this information to determine the relationship between Margaret Kelly's brother Timothy and the man in Fort Wayne with whom he purchased a joint family burial plot? Will this help us learn anything more about that John Kelly? And will that lead us to determine just where John met his bride, Johanna Falvey, back in County Kerry?

Another work in progress...

Monday, August 10, 2020

Tracing a Timeline in Toledo


In researching a family's history, I like to pinpoint the family's whereabouts in every census record I can find. That way, I can spot when new members are added to the family—whether through births or through other means like a widowed in-law moving into the household. Watching the family's listing in each decade's record also shows me whether they still lived in the same house and what other details might be provided, given the ever-changing list of questions plied with each enumeration.

Thus, when I discovered that my target ancestor—Timothy Kelly of Fort Wayne, Indiana, who might or might not be related to Johanna Falvey's husband John Kelly—had a sister in Toledo, Ohio, that called for tracing yet another connection.

Timothy Kelly's sister Margaret was, at least according to the 1900 census, an aging single woman living with two Sullivan nieces. All three were from Ireland, although Margaret's niece, also named Margaret, had arrived in this country much later than her younger sister Katherine.

Together, they lived at Aunt Margaret's home on Saint Mary's Street in the thirteenth ward of the city of Toledo. That was in the 1900 census.

Since niece Margaret had only arrived in the United States in 1898, there was no sense trying to locate the household in the 1880 census, so I decided to start my decennial search headed in the other direction. I looked for fifty nine year old Margaret Kelly ten years later, and found...nothing.

Perhaps she had already died. After all, the 1910 census would have captured a snapshot of a sixty nine year old woman by that point. I tried looking for the other Margaret, who in the 1900 census was twenty years younger than her aunt. Nothing.

There was nothing left to do but see if the youngest of the nieces had outlived the rest of her household. Thankfully, Katherine was indeed in the 1910 census—along with the surprise addition of yet another Sullivan sibling: Mary.

Pushing forward another decade, I discovered that Mary and Katherine Sullivan were still together, but that they had moved to a new location in the city: 201 Sumner Street. There was another surprise: the addition of yet two more Sullivans to the household—a niece and a nephew. Now, the two oldest Sullivans were proprietors of a grocery store—likely, the reason they moved—and the younger members of the household had immigrated in 1910 to help run the family enterprise.

With all these details gleaned from this brief journey through the Kelly and Sullivan timeline in Toledo, I realized I had a few dates and documents to round up. I had long ago tried to trace what became of this aunt, Margaret Kelly, but had failed on two accounts.

For one thing, having no firm date of passing, I had no way to insure I'd find the right Margaret Kelly to request her death certificate. But the complicating factor was that, unlike so many other newspapers now included in archival collections, the Toledo newspaper was inaccessible, and pleas on online genealogy forums of prior decades for obituary lookups yielded nothing.

Looking for Kelly ancestors can be challenging.

With time, though, more records get added to collections, more documents get digitized and shared, and it always behooves a researcher to revisit past research pathways to double check on updates.

Sure enough, this time I was able to locate the death certificate for the aunt, Margaret Kelly—Timothy Kelly's sister. Not only that, but thanks to Google, the Toledo newspapers have now been almost completely scanned and posted online. My quest to discover more about Margaret Kelly's family is soon to be completed.

Well, sort of. We all know we never "finish" our family trees. Whatever we find about Margaret Kelly will answer my one question, sure—but it will also bring up a multitude of other questions along with the finding of that one answer.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...