Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Maps and Minor Details

When researching a family line in a new territory, it may seem like we are talking about the same place—say, when we mention a place name like "Sandusky" instead of the more "full" name of "Upper Sandusky." But in my quest to locate information on the origins of one Daniel Falvey of Fort Wayne, Indiana, when his 1915 obituary reported his immigrant family had first settled in Upper Sandusky, I figured that would be one and the same as Sandusky—or at least nearby.

We've all made that sort of assumption. Especially when researching a new area, it's easy to think that, say, West Des Moines would be, uh, west of the city of Des Moines.

So Upper Sandusky should be north of Sandusky, right? Not really—not, especially, when we are talking about a river (yes, the Sandusky is a river) which flows northward, quite the opposite of what we'd normally expect of rivers with a north-south orientation. When the folks at the Fort Wayne Sentinel heard that Daniel Falvy's parents settled first in Sandusky, perhaps they automatically assumed that meant the city of Upper Sandusky.

But when I couldn't find any Falvey or Falvy family listed in the 1860 census other than one lone family in Ohio, I was desperate enough to take a closer look at what I had found. The census enumeration for that Falvey family listed a post office by the name of Sandusky—not Upper Sandusky, mind you—but it also gave the location for that household as being in a place called Kelleys Island.

What is Kelleys Island? Turns out, as Miss Merry noted yesterday, it's a small island—a little over four square miles in size—located in Lake Erie. Interestingly enough, before the island was acquired by the United States, the British originally called it Sandusky Island. But that would not have been the case by the time when that Falvey family was found on the island—only in the 1700s.

By the 1830s, two brothers by the name of Kelley had begun purchasing land on the island, eventually developing docks to export lime from the island's kiln works as well as other products. The island drew laborers from various immigrant groups, including the Irish. The enterprising Kelley brothers eventually owned the entire island and changed its name to Kelleys Island in 1840.

As you likely suspected, there is a place called Sandusky nearby, but it is on the mainland of the Ohio coast. Since it would be unlikely that, by the date of Daniel Falvy's passing in 1915, any newspaper editor would still persist in calling the island Sandusky Island, perhaps it was the city of Sandusky—rather than Upper Sandusky—that was meant to be mentioned in the Falvy obituary.

From my vantage point as a family history researcher—especially one casting about for possible clues—it is near impossible to determine whether Michael and Mary Falvey on Kelleys Island would be the relatives with whom Daniel crossed the Atlantic as a boy. Of course, scouring passenger lists of ships arriving at all eastern seaboard ports may be another step in this research process, or possibly tracing Michael and Mary through future census records to see if there is any other nexus between them and Fort Wayne.

However, being introduced to the possibility of Kelleys Island opened my eyes to another idea. With the island situated in the midst of Lake Erie, not far from the international border, I began wondering whether Daniel and his relatives might have approached their midwestern destination from a different direction. Looking at a map, it was not lost on me how easy it might have been to cross from Ontario to Ohio, possibly even hopping islands on the way to the port of Sandusky.

Indeed, that very route has been suggested, in reverse, in a book from that same era, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, where those escaping enslavement with the goal of reaching Canada headed to Sandusky, where they would board boats crossing Lake Erie. If that was the route for the Underground Railroad, it is likely that the reverse was a possibility, as well—reminding me to check Canadian records to see whether I can find any trace of Daniel Falvey and his parents.

The frustrating thing about researching some seemingly unattached Irish immigrants is to remember that many did come over as individuals. While Daniel's obituary portrayed him as a very young immigrant and thus implies he traveled in the company of others, there was no sign from records in Fort Wayne that he had any siblings or other relatives with whom he maintained any continuing connection. Despite the chatty nature of the Fort Wayne newspapers' social columns, I could find no jolly mentions of out of town visitors for the Falvy family, nor even any editorial clues that Daniel had any connection with Johanna Falvey or her connection by marriage with the Fort Wayne Kelly family.

In staring at maps of the vicinity of Sandusky and Kelleys Island, though, I did notice one other thing: the proximity to another city. Not only was Toledo barely sixty miles to the west, it was the site of another shirttail relative's puzzle I've yet to figure out. Perhaps it's time to revisit the story of Daniel Falvy's next door neighbor, Timothy Kelly, and his relatives residing in nearby Toledo.

Above: Birdseye view of Sandusky, Ohio, circa 1898, produced by the Gugler Lithographic Company for the Alvord & Peters Company of Sandusky, Ohio; image courtesy the U.S. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division via Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. This is so fun to find you exploring in my neck of the woods. I have heard lots of fascinating stories about the docks of Sandusky during the Underground Railroad.

    Just an aside. We love Doris Day/Rock Hudson movies and there is one where she is an innocent girl in the Big City - hometown Upper Sandusky, Ohio.

    1. How fun to think that Upper Sandusky would be considered The Big City, Miss Merry! And I'm loving it that my research has taken me to your neck o' the woods!


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