Friday, August 7, 2020

Test-Driving a Theory


When family history research gets messy—or worse, uncooperative—it sometimes feels like all we can do is grasp at straws. I prefer to label those straws, "theories." Once I can articulate clearly what that theory might be, unless the going gets far rougher than all the alternatives, I'm quite willing to take that theory out for a spin. I like to see where the possibilities can take me. If the road leads to a dead end, then it's simply a matter of turning around and retracing those steps back to the starting point. Simple.

So now, further and further away I wander from my original research goal: to determine whether two Kelly men in Fort Wayne who jointly purchased a family burial plot were actually related. The reason for my quest is to gain any direction on not only where in County Kerry John Kelly originated, but who his parents might have been. My reasoning is that John Kelly and the co-purchaser, Timothy Kelly, must have been close relatives to have made a joint financial arrangement like that, so far from their native Ireland.

What led me yet another step away from my research goal was the discovery, in Timothy Kelly's own obituary, that he had a sister. John Kelly's obituary, dated ten years earlier, mentioned absolutely nothing about any siblings—indeed, nothing at all about any of his immediate family, so it gives me no road map for saying yea or nay about any sibling relationships. In the hopes that uncovering more detail about Timothy's sister might lead me to the answers I was seeking regarding John, let's follow the trail to see where it might lead us.

Based on other reports I had found, there was a woman by the name of Margaret Kelly living in Toledo at about the time of Timothy Kelly's death. As suspected, she was a single woman—although the possibility that she had married someone sharing that same surname couldn't be ruled out—but according to the 1900 census, she was considerably younger than Timothy, with a date of birth occurring in 1841.

I've found census records to be rather soft on accuracy of ages, however, so let's look for any other details we can find on this Margaret Kelly of Toledo. We need to consider whether we have located the right Margaret Kelly.

From that same census enumeration, we can see that this Margaret was born in Ireland—don't you wish they had said something more?—and that she reported arriving in the United States in 1859. By the time of this census, she had managed to own her little home at 324 Saint Mary's Street free and clear of any mortgage.

What was interesting about this Margaret Kelly was that, despite being single, she was not living alone. In her household, she reported having two younger women, both of whom had the same surname, and both of whom Margaret called her niece. The younger of the two, twenty four year old Katherine Sullivan, had arrived in the U.S. as a young teenager, making it seem possible that she might have traveled with her parents or another relative.

However, if Margaret Kelly's other niece, Margaret Sullivan, was Katherine's older sister, the fact that she had only emigrated two years prior to the census casts some doubt upon that theory.

At any rate, in this family circle of three  women, we now have a possible way to push back the cover from some of the hidden details of this extended Kelly family's past. We can follow the trail in Toledo from that snapshot in time in the 1900 census forward to the next date when any of them show in any records.

Furthermore, if the two Sullivan women were indeed Margaret Kelly's nieces—and not just young people extending the moniker of "aunt" to a family friend—that would mean it was their mother with whom they shared the Kelly connection, thus leading us to yet another sibling for Timothy Kelly.

If...if...if... There are a lot of caveats in this conjecture. However, with the ease of locating records now, we may as well take this theory for a spin and see where it leads us.


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