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?


  1. Hi Jacqi Since we know all the baptism records survived Abbie may have had an earlier Catherine who did not survive. Sometimes the name was held in reserve for a healthy baby My Scanlon family reversed the rule and named the first girl after his mother and the second girl after hers. The boys were named after his father, the father, then her father. Usually all the names are there but the order seems pretty flexible

    1. Thanks for sharing that, Kat. It's reassuring to know you have noticed that same "irregularity" in your own family research.

      I had seen that same instance in our John Kelly family, where one child named Mary had died, and that same name was given to a subsequent child. I suppose we can assume the naming patterns will hold true--until we discover otherwise. But when there are no other ways to verify, it always interjects doubt that we are looking at the right family.


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