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

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