Saturday, July 31, 2021

Off the Shelf:
The Irish


In a move of absolute research desperation earlier this month—trying to answer the question, "Why the Irish in Indiana?"—I found and bought a book published by the Indiana Historical Society Press. History professor William Giffin took on that same question in one of the volumes in the "Peopling Indiana" series, which he entitled The Irish.

In his introduction to the slim volume, William Giffin observed that earlier books on the history of the Irish in America tended to focus on arrivals in the northeast and to America's largest cities. While some later works did address specific other destinations, Giffin's study is a welcome addition.

Since my motivation in purchasing the book was in seeking to answer my question—specifically concerning my father-in-law's Kelly ancestors arriving in Lafayette on the western side of the state—I found it gratifying to see Giffin's inclusion of several passages specifically addressing that city and surrounding county of Tippecanoe.

Among the confirming passages were notes on the role of the Catholic Church for Irish immigrants, including specific quotes from reports on the first Catholic parish in Lafayette. You can be sure I've taken note of those passages, as well as gleaning the footnotes for further sources of information.

Yet the book was not specifically about my Irish arrivals in Lafayette in the mid-1800s. The book covers the entirety of the state, and is divided by time periods, as each span of time seemed to have its own specific qualifiers.

The first section on "Colonists and Settlers" spanned the time period between 1740 and 1832. While I'm fairly certain our Kelly ancestors did not arrive as early as that era, the chapter did set the stage for understanding the French influence in Indiana and the initial impetus for the Catholic church's arrival in the region.

The second section was where I believe our Kelly family was firmly pinpointed. Headlined "Newcomers in an Age of Mass Immigration," the chapter dealt with the time span between 1832 and 1860. The Kelly family certainly arrived within this timeframe. The chapter covered the many canal schemes and calls for laborers—as well as adequately painting the picture of living conditions for the Irish (and others) who heeded the call to work on such projects. While such descriptions add much on the "soft" side to a researcher's empathy for the human condition, such understanding is essential for those of us seeking to break out beyond the bounds of "genealogy-only" and into the more contextual details of family history.

Beyond this chapter—where I primarily camped—the book continues with a review of more recent time periods. One chapter moves beyond 1860 to the post-World War I era, classifying it as "Urban Community Building." A following chapter takes up the natural progression from Irish immigrants to descendants of immigrants, and the resurgence of an "Irish Identity," bringing the book's narrative up to the year 2000 at its close.

Complete with numerous photographs, several charts, and an extended bibliography in one slim volume, The Irish provides me with ample direction for a next step in my Kelly research—as well as painting a picture of the likely circumstances those Kelly family members may have experienced upon their arrival in their new home.


Friday, July 30, 2021

Dim Light at the End of
a Very Long Research Tunnel


One last hope for direction—given my research quandary concerning the roots of my father-in-law's Kelly ancestors in Lafayette, Indiana—was an article I found through a last-ditch Google search. Published in the BYU Family Historian back in September of 2007, the article, "Irish Emigration and Immigration to North America" provided a promise I couldn't resist. According to authors David Ouimette and David Rencher, "there were numerous ways to immigrate to North America and each course had the potential to create the records needed to identify a home county or parish."

What I missed, at first, in that introductory statement was the qualifier, "the potential."

Granted, the ten page article was full of advice on useful resources to trace those difficult Irish immigrant ancestors back to their homeland—well worth your while to read. I read it twice, just in case.

As for emerging at the end of this month of research, answer in hand as to which parish in Ireland James and Mary Kelly bid goodbye on their journey to a new land, that has not happened. Yet. 

Sticking to my research plan for this year—pursuing my "Twelve Most Wanted" for 2021—means that come Monday, I will be on to a new research challenge. While I will still attempt to solve this Kelly question, it will have to step to a secondary position until further documentation, or at least clues, come to hand.

In the meantime, my foray into the background information on Irish immigration to Indiana has been helpful in a more general way. Moving from searching through databases to absorbing information from articles and genealogical or historical journals, I've now stepped into the world of books, one of which I will share with you tomorrow as I close out this Kelly chapter.

It is difficult to give up on a research chase, but I've found that sometimes, we need to develop the knack of knowing when to close the books on one particular problem. There will always be more digitized records added to collections, more scholarly articles published, more books printed with helpful information. Once we exhaust all currently-available resources at hand, we need to accept the grace to take our leave and commit to returning at a more advantageous time.

I'm positive, in that up-beat attitude that helps researchers move forward in a productive way, that there will be more to be found...someday.


Thursday, July 29, 2021

An Offer They Couldn't Refuse


When I'm stuck with a research question—those pesky brick wall ancestors!—I have to pull back from that laser-locked focus on that particular problem to take in the bigger picture. That's when I reach for an overview of the situation which that ancestor might have been dealing with.

In the case of my father-in-law's great-grandmother's Kelly family, that meant being an Irish immigrant who, arriving in America, opted for the unusual choice of settling in the midwest.

Of course, I have questions. I still don't know exactly when the Kelly family arrived in Lafayette, Indiana, though it was at least by 1853, when Catherine Kelly's father was buried in that city. Nor do I yet have an idea of how the family arrived in Indiana—it could have been over land or, just as easily, via rivers.

In such a research pickle, I search for broad categories in genealogy-friendly resources. Prime among them is the wiki, which provides clues for possible next steps. This time, I looked for topics on immigration, Irish in America, and particularly Irish immigrants to Indiana or, more broadly, the midwest.

Between the FamilySearch wiki and some exploration on Google, I stumbled upon some scholarly articles in journals, and suggestions for books—some of which I'll mention later this week. But the first point that caught my eye was information which made it quite clear that the midwestern states, in seeing the flood of immigrants arriving on New York and Boston shores, did not sit idly by, hoping, "Oh please, oh please, pick me."

They went hunting for customers.

While the lore in many Indiana counties was that the Irish came there to build the canals, there were many Irish who arrived in Indiana long before the canal era. According to an article in The Hoosier Genealogist, "Irish Immigrants in the Hoosier Hills, "Those pre-canal Irish joined an already-established Catholic settlement that had its inception here in the early nineteenth century."

Indeed, contrary to the prevalent understanding that the Irish came to America in the 1850s on account of the famine there, the Potato Blight itself occurred in 1845—and even before that time, a large number of Irish had left their homeland as early as 1820.

While that 1820s immigration pattern was likely too soon to include our Kelly arrivals, such information helps to paint a picture of a pattern of settlement. Keep in mind that the river areas in what is now Indiana were once roamed by French trappers and traders with the Native American population there. The subsequent influx of French settlers brought with them their religious traditions, and thus the Catholic church followed.

With that initial step, Catholic immigrants from the British Isles, having previously settled in Maryland, traveled overland, first to Kentucky, then onward to Indiana. Among them, of course, were a number of Irish settlers. Eventually, communities of Irish Catholics formed around those initial French Catholic settlements in Indiana.

Closer to 1850, another factor influenced Irish immigration into the area: agents sent by midwestern state governments to entice Irish immigrants to settle in their state. In "Understanding Midwest Migration Patterns to Further Family History Research," an article by Rhonda McClure published in the BYU Family Historian, by 1850,

The states were just gearing up with their representatives and other efforts to entice immigrants to come and settle in their states. Eventually, thirty three states and territorial governments created immigration bureaus.

While Indiana wasn't the first to do so—that honor went to Michigan, followed by Wisconsin—several of the midwestern states sent agents to large ports like New York City with the sole purpose of recruiting arriving immigrants to settle in the state they represented. This was followed by publications designed to entice immigrants to settle in specific midwest locations and, eventually, advertisements in newspapers in European cities. Even further, one state governor suggested that "emigrant agencies" be set up in "chief towns in Europe" to attract specific immigrants to his state.

Of course, given the literacy rate of many of Ireland's poorest emigrants, written documents designed to target these arrivals may not have been the prime instrument to influence their choice of final destination. But it gives an idea of why many who followed the typical immigrant path at first—to New York or Boston—might have instead ended up, inexplicably, in Indiana. 


Wednesday, July 28, 2021

At the Far Reaches of the FAN Club


Could it be that the Irish stuck together in such an unlikely immigrant destination as Indiana? Searching through the census reports for each of the Kelly brothers—my father-in-law's great-grandmother's siblings—revealed nothing more than "farmer" or "laborer" for occupation. There had to be some way to deduce their origin in Ireland, and why they chose to migrate to Indiana.

Pressing my way through every branch of the extended Kelly family, looking at every census record and every other document I could find, I found myself far removed from the immediate family when I finally stumbled upon a clue. But was it a clue about the Kelly family? Or just a detail about the family of an in-law?

The youngest Kelly sibling was Ann, the one whose birth year kept changing with each decade's enumeration. She was the one who married Barnard Doyle, the son of neighboring Irish immigrants. While Ann was still living with her widowed mother and siblings in nearby Warren County in 1860, Barnard was at home on his parents' property in Tippecanoe County.

The head of that household was an Irish immigrant farmer by the name of Joseph Doyle. Unlike the few other Irish settlers in the area at that time, Joseph owned the property he was farming. He also had arrived in America earlier than the Kelly family, best I can tell, for his son Barnard had been born in Ohio about 1840.

What was handy about finding Barnard in his parents' household in the 1860 census was the confirmation of his father's identity, for at the end of their lives, both men ended up far from Indiana, buried in Kansas. Although Barnard's 1882 headstone was not helpful in that it mangled the name of the place in Ohio where he had been born, locating his father's memorial in the same cemetery proved more useful—if, that is, he turns out to be a part of the Kellys' "FAN Club" that led them to settle in Indiana, the Friends, Associates, and Neighbors in their personal circles.

Why? Because, like so many other Irish who died in America, Joseph Doyle had one detail included on his headstone: his origin in Ireland. Dying in 1885, only a few years after his son, Joseph made sure that anyone considering his final resting place knew that he was "born in Ferban, Kings Co. Ireland."

Of course we'll have to unpack that statement somewhat, before we can determine the place he once called home. The name Kings County is not what that area is called in the country of Ireland today. Now, it is known as County Offaly.

The designation of "Ferban" needs some revision, as well. A slight spelling rearrangement yields the currently correct town name of Ferbane.

That, however, is only the origin of my father-in-law's great-grandmother's youngest sister's father-in-law—admittedly a stretch. The question then becomes: did the Irish coming to Indiana immigrate as a cluster? Or independently of their fellow townspeople? Could Joseph Doyle have been a front runner for several of his neighbors back in County Offaly, leading them to a better life in the improbable destination of Lafayette, Indiana? This may be a challenge to determine, but there are more resources to consider.

Such is the process of research. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Enticing Immigrants


What brought our immigrant ancestors to America? Many people who consider that question assume their families made the journey merely in hopes of finding a fresh start in a better place. While that may have been true, it wasn't a notion which simply occurred to people without any added prompting. There were others out there, making the reverse journey in hopes of attracting settlers to their specific prospects. Whether for employment, purchase of land, or other reasons, you can be sure there were people out there, promoting their project to anyone willing to take the risk to settle in America.

In trying to determine just what brought my father-in-law's Kelly family to Indiana, it hasn't been lost on me that there were at least two possible beacons blaring the way to Indiana for Irish immigrants. One was the availability of fertile agricultural land near newly-opened shipping routes. The other was the opportunity for gainful employment through either the canal projects in the earlier years of the nineteenth century, or the railroad projects of the latter part of that century.

We've already noticed the agricultural opportunities in western Indiana advocated by Connecticut businessman Henry Leavitt Ellsworth, but what I hadn't yet mentioned is Ellsworth's efforts to advertise 200-acre parcels of the land he was selling. How far and wide that promotional effort stretched, I can't say, but it provides only one of several such advertising efforts bringing people to the midwest.

While the call of agricultural opportunity might have seemed the most reasonable for mid-century Irish immigrants, who in their homeland were primarily experienced with farming rather than trades, this might not have been the most-heeded call for the Irish to settle in western Indiana. More likely—depending on the time frame—would have been the help wanted ads for laborers to build the canals or railroads crisscrossing the area.

The Wabash and Erie Canal, for instance, was the impetus for growth in many cities along its towpath, Lafayette being one of them. The canal reached Lafayette by 1843, but many Irish laborers were already working on the state's canal system much earlier. By 1837, there were already a thousand laborers working on Indiana's canals, most of them of Irish origin.

Later calls for large numbers of laborers were due to the demands of railroads, not only in Indiana, but across the nation. In Lafayette, one railroad, the Monon, operated mostly within the state of Indiana—but work on such projects began later in the 1850s.

Although I don't yet have the date of the Kelly family's immigration, it is likely that the call of the railroads would not be what drew the family to Indiana, based on some inferences that they had arrived earlier in that decade. Still, it would be useful to catalog any occupational references we can glean for each member of the Kelly family during their years in Indiana. Tomorrow, we'll see if that provides any insight or connect them with others from specific regions in Ireland.

Above: 1847 poster selling parcels of farmland along the Wabash River valley in western Indiana; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


Monday, July 26, 2021

Gleaning Inferences


Have you ever noticed, in researching your Irish ancestors, that the older they got, the faster they seemed to age? Judging by the records, in tracing my father-in-law's ancestors through each decade's enumerations, his Irish relatives so preferred being young that they lingered at those beneficial ages far longer than their non-Irish neighbors might have done—but once they approached a respectable old age, they really accelerated their aging process. How amazing to have aged only seven years in the time span between two enumerations—their working years kept them so young!—only to catch up with those ponderous senior ages all in a rush before finishing their race at a ripe old age.

Those were the ancestors whose biographical reports kept me on my toes. Those were the ones I couldn't trust to provide one simple report of their age for the hapless census taker. I had to trace ancestors like those through every decade's report, just to make sure I had a clear picture of their year of birth.

Such details became important when I couldn't find any passenger records to help me trace the family line back to Ireland. After all, what else can I use to confirm I have the right Mary Kelly? There has to be some other constant identifier I can use.

It has turned out to be quite the challenge to trace the moves of my father-in-law's great grandmother's Kelly family in Indiana, just by the few records they left in their wake upon arrival in their new homeland. Unlike other Irish immigrants in my father-in-law's line who proudly provided lasting details of the home they left behind—such as William Flanagan's impressive grave marker claiming his origin in "Parish Ballygran" in County Limerick—the Kelly family had no such tradition.

I'm not left with nothing, however, on this trail of the Kelly family. This is when I resort to inferences—those hints gleaned by reading between the lines on the few documents I can find. Because I can't simply use records for Catherine Kelly—remember, she was the sister who, married to John Stevens, died after the birth of her son William—I turn instead to whatever reports I can find on her siblings. But because of the unreliability of the self-reported ages these ancestors provided over the decades, even those documents need to be considered in the aggregate.

To start with, Catherine Kelly Stevens had at least five siblings: Matthew, Rose, Bridget, Thomas, and Ann. Each one of them, as Catherine had been, were born in Ireland. From that simple detail, we can glean a possible earliest point at which the Kelly family could have left Ireland—if, that is, we can determine just when the last Kelly child was born. And that is where the problem over self-reported ages is introduced into our research quandary.

The youngest, Ann, eventually married a son of another Irish immigrant couple, Joseph and Mary Doyle, who in 1860 were living in Shelby Township in Tippecanoe County. In the 1860 census, living the next county over in Pine Village, Ann reported her age as twenty one. So did Barnard Doyle, in his parents' household.

After their marriage in Tippecanoe County in 1872, the next census showed Ann's age as thirty nine, instead of the expected forty one. Of course, after that point, we are handicapped in our survey by the missing 1890 census, but by 1900, Ann was reporting her age as fifty four, when we might have expected to see a more sedate sixty one. By the time of the 1910 census, Ann was living with her widowed daughter in law, who likely had no idea what age to report, and thus left the entry blank.

With just those few ages we are able to glean from census records—assuming any of them are correct reports—Ann could have been born in Ireland as early as 1839 or as late as 1846. Thus, even if Ann's family decided to leave home with a newborn infant, they couldn't have arrived in America before 1839.

Taking the harvesting of available records even further, it might theoretically be possible to look to the 1900 census to glean reported dates of immigration for the Kelly siblings. Ann herself reported arrival on American shores in 1860, but we already have doubts about that. Her appearance in the 1860 census in Indiana when the enumeration was taken in June doesn't rule out that report, but makes me doubt it for other reasons, prime of which is her sister's death in Indiana after her third son in 1858.

Her siblings, however, don't cooperate with this effort, at least on the immigration count. Matthew, the oldest, died in 1895. Next oldest sibling Rose died even earlier than that, in 1888—though her obituary mentioned that she had been in Lafayette for "over thirty years." Next younger sister, Bridget, died even earlier than the other two, like her sister Catherine succumbing to complications of childbirth in 1869. And next-to-youngest Thomas Kelly, like his brother Matthew, died in 1895.

While that doesn't pinpoint a date of arrival for the Kelly family, inferences from four decades' census enumerations at least provide a limited span of years for their immigration. This opens up possibilities while restricting us from a more impossibly broad search. There are, however, a few other considerations concerning details we can glean on the Kelly family's reports. We'll keep exploring those, tomorrow. 

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Letting DNA Direct the Connections


For the most part, my family history pursuits have been directed by documentation—a paper chase back through the generations, confirming familial connections via the evidence of birth records, marriage records, death certificates and wills.

Then came DNA and the ability to deduce relationships through the keys of genetic genealogy. That pedigree chart began expanding sideways, gaining collateral lines in each generation—all the better to confirm relationships with that burgeoning DNA match count at the five DNA companies where my husband and I tested.

It's no surprise, given the nearly seven years since we took our first DNA tests, that those trees have grown exponentially. Since today marks one of my biweekly counts, I can say that my husband's family tree has, in the past two weeks, gained 605 individuals, and now stands at 22,619 individuals. That mainly is owing to the fact that this month, I've been focusing on a research goal regarding my father-in-law's family.

As a corollary to that documentation process, every week I look through the new DNA matches in each of our accounts. On the Ancestry DNA account, in particular, I try to link new matches to the right tree, and flag that DNA match's profile page in my tree. In addition, now that Ancestry has added a section to allow subscribers to indicate whether a match is on the paternal or maternal side of the tree—and indicate how close the confirmed relationship is—I try to keep as many of those new matches correctly designated as possible.

This means finding the right place in all those collateral lines to add the DNA match. I might, for instance, have the grandparent of that DNA match already included in my tree, but not the specific matching individual, which means some updating is in order on the tree.

Once that is taken care of, the next step is to select the "shared matches" tab at the top of each match's screen. With that step, I can easily locate any other distant cousins who belong on the same branch, and link their DNA match to their profile page in my tree.

Step by step, letting the DNA matches guide my work of filling in the branches in the tree, I get a more complete picture of the family's many lines. The more individuals I'm able to connect in this spaghetti bowl of thousands of DNA matches, the easier it becomes to see how others relate, as well. Each separate task—researching the paper trail, and connecting the genetic genealogy results—blends with the others to accelerate the process. Not to mention, there is a certain sense of gratification to see how many matches now bear the insignia of a linked relationship in my tree.


Saturday, July 24, 2021

Three Young Siblings


Not all the photographs we rescue from antique shops are hundred year old gems. Some abandoned family collections include more recent treasures.

Such was the case when a thoughtful fellow researcher alerted me to the cache of family photos at a local antique shop belonging to my former mother-in-law. When I went to the store to rescue what I could find of Marilyn Sowle Bean's collection, there were many pictures of family members whom I remembered including in the tree I built for her family.

There were, however, many others I didn't recognize. Some of them emerged from the "who is this?" pile and staked their claim in the "known family" pile as I sorted through each picture in tandem with building out the collateral lines in Marilyn's family tree. Considering Marilyn was born in 1928, most all of her relatives are now long gone. Matching names and faces would have been a challenge, had it not been for Marilyn's persistent habit of labeling everything.

Remembering that Marilyn, an only child of a woman who was oldest of nine children of Oliver and Ragna Brague, grew up in southern California without meeting many of her mother's siblings back in Wisconsin—let alone her cousins—I was surprised to see how many photos she had of her mother's nieces and nephews. While the miles may have prevented the families from getting together in person, I suspect a lot of letter writing took place over the years, accompanied with family photographs.

One such photo, likely sent first to Marilyn's mother and eventually passed to Marilyn, was of three young children born to her mother's youngest sibling. That baby brother, Daryll Brague, was born only a few months after Marilyn, herself, putting Marilyn in the unusual position of being older than her own uncle.

Just as Marilyn would have done, her mother was likely the person who affixed the careful label naming the three children, followed by the explanation of whose children they were—Daryll and his wife Harriet—and, most importantly, the date the picture was taken.

I wonder whether Marilyn ever got to meet her young Wisconsin cousins—or even her aunts and uncles who were nearly the same age as she was. The two branches of the family seemed so separated, by the point at which I knew them. I wonder, too, whether any of them still have a copy of this 1962 photograph, and pull it out of its spot in their family albums to compare facial details with the most recent arrivals among their great-grandchildren.


Friday, July 23, 2021

Deep and Wide


As we take a deeper dive into the history of the James Kelly family's chosen American home in western Indiana, we need to ferret out any clues about the arrival of these brick wall ancestors. Turns out that whether the Kelly family came to the Lafayette area intact as a family, or through a serial process of immigration, not only will gleaning inferences about the family constellation help us, but so will the history of the founding of this Indiana city.

One thing is certain: when the city of Lafayette was founded in 1825, the city fathers had in mind the usefulness of the nearby Wabash River, with good reason. Up through the mid 1700s, French traders' routes from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico took advantage of travel on the Wabash. While it is now no longer considered navigable to the extent of previous centuries, up through the mid 1800s, the Wabash was accessible by steamship for a considerable distance north of where it joins the Ohio River.

Lafayette, situated on the southeast bank of the Wabash River, became one of the river's shipping centers. Adding to that profitable advantage, by 1843, Lafayette became one of the stops on the Wabash and Erie Canal. The benefit of that situation to local farmers cannot be overlooked, as the route of the canal was credited with growing several of the cities along its towpath, including Lafayette. Farmers who had previously expected minimal returns for sale of their crops—unless they could be transported to larger markets—now had opened to them the opportunity to sell to a wider market. In one example of that time period, a bushel of wheat which, at best, could command a sale price of forty five cents now could be sold for a dollar each.

Water was not only the answer to commerce and especially agricultural trade, but it was the primary route for transportation of settlers. For us in modern times, it may be difficult to change our mindset about travel from that of the land routes of roads or railways to that of waterways, but as researchers it is important for us to think in terms of available navigable water routes.

The impact of river travel is an important consideration when we are exploring how our immigrant ancestors arrived at their seemingly isolated destinations. In looking to the FamilySearch wiki to find an article specifically speaking to immigration to the state of Indiana, I found it significant that the report indicated, for arrivals before 1850, that "most immigrants" reached Indiana by a water route. Not surprisingly, the result was that, of the three main regions of the state receiving in-bound settlers, land along the Wabash River figured prominently. 

With an influx of settlers plus the means to favorably augment trade, it followed naturally that someone would see the value in promoting sales of land for agriculture nearby. That became the third draw by 1838 when land speculator Henry Leavitt Ellsworth published a booklet designed to promote investment in the region's agricultural advantages. By 1845, Ellsworth put his money where his mouth was, and moved from his native Connecticut to oversee sales of the ninety three thousand acres he had purchased around Lafayette.

While all those benefits of the Lafayette area make promotion seem a logical move for the young city, we still need to ask ourselves what the motivation might have been that drew such immigrants as the Kelly family to this—rather than any other—location. Far beyond the generic promise of profitable farming, we need to examine just what the Kelly family—and other Irish immigrants like them—might have found attractive about a relatively new region such as the Wabash River area near Lafayette. We'll consider more details about what drew the Irish to Indiana when we return to this topic on Monday.


Above: The Wabash River is clearly featured in this 1868 "bird's eye" map of the City of Lafayette, distributed by the Chicago Lithographing Company from artwork by A. Ruger; courtesy United States Library of Congress via Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Collecting Questions


Some may see genealogy as an effort to collect facts about their forebears, and in some ways, perhaps it is. But if that act of collecting remains limited to names and dates of key events—birth, marriage, death—we're not only missing some of the most important details about an ancestor's life, we're missing out on the excitement, wonder, and plain ol' fun of getting to know our family's stories.

In the case of my father in law's great-grandmother, Catherine Kelly Stevens, it turns out that all I can collect is questions. And there are plenty of them.

Perhaps that is a good thing. Otherwise, I'd have been satisfied with the tale of her tragic, shortened life—born somewhere in Ireland before a devastating famine, uprooted from her homeland and enduring a difficult passage across an ocean to America, then settling with her family in western Indiana only to marry, bear three sons, and die young, before any governmental record-keeping could catch up with her.

Even though there are minimal records which seem to indicate that her parents were James and Mary Kelly and her siblings Matthew, Rose, Thomas, Ann, and Bridget, finding documentation on their existence in and around Lafayette, Indiana, was not enough. The more I've thought about this research dilemma—I'm hoping to push back the family line just one more generation to their specific location in Ireland—the more I realize there are several aberrations from the "normal" Irish immigrant story.

It is those "aberrations" which may hold the key to actually attaining my research goal.

For one thing, why did the Kelly family end up in Indiana? Reading most material written about the waves of Irish immigration to North America, it is obvious that the major destinations, leading up to the early 1850s, were either eastern Canadian ports or the American ports of New York and Boston. Indiana is not exactly the kind of spot one thinks of when imagining the quintessential Irish immigrant.

In addition, the one thing immigrants came to America for was to obtain a better future for themselves and their families. That translates into decent jobs—or at least a plot of land suitable for farming. What type of work did the Kelly family hope to attain by coming to Indiana? There had to be a connection between the motivation to come here and the abilities these immigrants brought with them. Of this, I currently know nothing.

The one thing I do know about the Kelly family's condition upon arrival was their religion: they were Catholic. By virtue of their religion, their immigration choices may have been directed far differently than had they been, say, of a Protestant persuasion.

Similar to that might be a clue about their native tongue. While we assume the Irish, being part of the kingdom of Great Britain, spoke English, in the 1850s (not to mention before that decade), there were many Irish who did not speak English—or spoke very little of it at all. If there is any way to glean indications of their mother tongue, that might help in providing clues about why the Kelly family chose to settle in Indiana, rather than an eastern, coastal city where many of their fellow countrymen would have lived.

One of my main questions, though, is this: How did they get there? What route brought the Kelly family to Lafayette? The city—back in 1850 only a town of six thousand people—was founded only twenty five years before that point. How would anyone from Ireland even have known to travel to such a small, insignificant destination?

As it turns out, delving into the history of such small locales—especially if they eventually claimed our ancestors as their residents—helps broaden our understanding of why our ancestors might have made the immigration choices they made. Clues embedded in a city's history—or transportation's history, or occupational or religious history—help us get into the heads of our ancestors. Those clues may not make it entirely clear what choices our ancestors made, or even why they made such choices, but as we'll see this week, those details will lead us at least closer to some research possibilities.

Any step closer to our research goals is well worth the effort. Not to mention, each detail we glean about the "big picture" of life-as-they-lived-it will illuminate our ancestors' stories, gifting us with a greater appreciation for the challenges they faced within the framework of the times in which they lived—not assumptions simply lifted from our own era. As we finish out this month's research goal of finding more about Catherine Kelly's origin in Ireland, we'll examine what can be discovered about the bigger picture of Irish immigration specifically to Indiana. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Wait! Don't Quit Yet!


When you've checked every resource you can think of to find that elusive brick wall ancestor—and found nothing new—it is tempting to assume you will never find the answer you are seeking, and give up the chase. The paper trail can only reach so far, leading us step by step from our own immediate relative back through the generations, especially when we are seeking an immigrant ancestor. With a common surname. From a country that everyone left in droves, all at the same time. And then, the chain is broken.

That is the frustrating realization I've come to, in my quest to reach back just one more generation from my father-in-law's great-grandmother, Catherine Kelly Stevens. All evidence of her existence dropped off earlier than the birth of her eldest son James in 1854. And shortly after she gave birth to her third son William in 1858, once again records of her passing seemed to be swallowed up by time.

Embedded within her life story, though, are shreds of evidence we can sift through to piece together a narrative. It won't necessarily come to us by virtue of carefully preserved records, but we can glean details by inferences left by her extended family. We've already discovered that in the listing of her three sons in her siblings' household rather than her husband's home for the census subsequent to her passing.

Still, that is not enough to grant me my goal of finding her origin in Ireland. There likely won't be any further tangible resources to find such a detail. So, should I give up? Not necessarily.

When I realized that my research dilemma seems to generate more questions than answers, I began taking a closer look at those questions. They led me further and further away from the detail-oriented laser focus of finding answers specific to the minutiae of the who, the what, the when, and especially the where, and closer to the overarching scenario that led the Kelly family away from Ireland and to the unlikely landing place of Lafayette, Indiana.

The questions also reminded me that part of my search so far had been informed by guesses—educated guesses, to be sure, but suppositions on my part, rather than solid evidence. That realization prompted me to play a guessing game of "What If?"

What if...the Kelly family arrived in Indiana much earlier than I thought?

What if...Catherine met and married her husband, John Stevens, somewhere other than Lafayette?

What if...there were other Kelly siblings whose life story might reveal the clues I'm seeking?

Beyond those questions, I could see the need to delve deeper into the underlying and broader historical basis—the events and timeline which caught up not only the Kelly and Stevens families, but impacted a broad swath of humanity through then-current events. What were the historic impedances keeping them from choosing one immigration pathway, or redirecting them to paths less traveled? Were there others who faced these same difficulties? Could it be that the Kelly family didn't just pop up with the novel idea to travel to Lafayette instead of, say, Boston? Perhaps they traveled with others—or followed others—to this unusual destination, leaving me an as yet unseen trail of Friends, Associates, and Neighbors

There was clearly a lot yet to be learned about immigration in general—and Indiana's Irish specifically—which might further inform my search. Before I can choose the finality of giving up on this search for the Kelly family, there's some due diligence to attend to, first.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Retracing Research Steps


It is clear that, despite waiting a few years to tackle my Kelly brick wall again, I'm making little further progress. In an attempt to retrace my research steps from a few years ago—I know, insanity—I was, however, pleasantly surprised. But not successful.

However, it's helpful to see what is new on those online sites we've used in the past. After all, active sites are constantly updating their material. So, just to catalog my steps—and take a look at what has changed since the last time I passed this way—let's take a look at a list of local online resources for the city of Lafayette and Tippecanoe County, Indiana. 

I've always been one to check out local resources, and Tippecanoe County has been fortunate to have not one, but two volunteer-driven genealogical sites. Of course, the GenWeb network is ever-present, and Tippecanoe County has been part of that system, and has a list of clickable links to resources on their landing page. Among those links was a listing of the county's early settlers; clicking through, I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see that neither my Kelly family or the Stevens line was represented on that list. But when it comes to such lists, I'll always look, just in case.

Another old familiar site is the TIPCOA website. Short for Tippecanoe County Area Genealogical Society, the site has had a face lift since I last visited. Apparently still hosted on the old Rootsweb, many of the links lead to other pages also on Rootsweb, making me wonder whether the site will, someday, simply disappear. The website includes links to many resources, yet none of them seem to hold the key to answer my research problem.

I checked once again the wiki for Tippecanoe County. Though it clearly indicates that marriage records should be available back to 1830, I know I had already attempted to find confirmation of Catherine Kelly's marriage to John Stevens with no results in the past. However, I had approached this puzzle from the angle of looking for church records, not civil records, so maybe that is one revision to make, as I rework this research dilemma. Despite there being a Catholic church presence in Lafayette well before the possible date of the Kelly-Stevens wedding—at least according to this chart—the response to my former inquiry was that such records were no longer available.

While this brief tour, revisiting old resources, did point out a few new options to try in seeking details on Catherine Kelly Stevens' origin back in Ireland, it brings to light the lack of records needed to connect the Kelly family with their roots back home in Ireland. Find the marriage record in Indiana, yes, and also the telltale passenger records for the entire Kelly family. But if nothing further can be found, then what? 

The realization that there may be nothing more to be found—at least from my limited current position of not being able to travel and research in person—may mean I'll need to set aside this research goal and move on to the next month's challenge. Sometimes research can be that way; in one case, we find next to nothing, in another, we amply fill the time allotted and then some.

Monday, July 19, 2021

D N A : Documentation Work-Around


There are certain points, in researching our family history, when ancestors just seem to fall in the gaps. They immigrated to this country before passenger records were carefully kept. Or they were born and died in between the 1880 census and the subsequent existing enumeration in 1900.

In the case of my father-in-law's great-grandmother, Catherine Kelly, she must have arrived in Indiana after the 1850 census—and died before the next one was recorded. Worse, I can find no existing record of her marriage to John Stevens, and even her burial record is spotty. Granted, even with these challenges, her three motherless boys were taken in by her Kelly siblings, providing one solid clue to point us to the right one of several Kelly families. But even diligently studying each of those Kelly siblings' lines has not turned up the paperwork I was hoping to find.

There is, of course, another way to confirm familial connections: DNA. Granted, the concept of "matches" means it takes at least two to confirm a connection—my willing subject (my husband) needing someone out there with just the right genetic makeup to take the notion to test at the same company.

The next step isn't quite as easy as that statement makes it sound. Once a DNA match shows up in our account, we need a way to compare notes and confirm that the match is owing to that specific family relationship. That confirmation process requires trees—two of them would be optimal. But not just a pedigree chart reaching back in time only to direct line ancestors; this tree needs collateral lines and lines of descent.

That has been my primary motivation, over the past seven years since taking my first DNA test, for building out my trees. As Diahan Southard of Your DNA Guide says, "A wide tree is usually better than a tall tree."

It takes lots of work over time to adequately document a "wide" tree. Despite that challenge, though, some DNA testing companies provide tools to help manage the flood of DNA matches and sort through the many unknowns.

For instance, at, I've been careful to maximize the option of creating custom groups. You can be sure I've worked my way back through the generations, setting up a custom, color-coded group for each of the great-grandparent couples. In the case of Catherine Kelly, because she is one of two separate ancestral couples bearing that same surname, I clarify by using her parents' names, James and Mary Kelly.

Once I've set up that color-coded custom group, I work my way through all new DNA matches to add those I recognize to the correct custom group. In that way, I'm now set up to benefit from the system and sort all matches by surname. All I need do is select the "Filter by" option and select "Groups," which gives me the drop-down menu to identify the group I want displayed.

Right away, I can see that the James and Mary Kelly descendants group only has four matches currently attached to that group—but that is plenty for our purposes right now. The point here is to see that, by regularly maintaining the categorization of matches by this system, when I have a question about a specific ancestral line, I can go directly to this sorting mechanism and pull up the matches in question.

It is encouraging to see that there are some DNA matches which link back to this specific Kelly line in my father-in-law's tree. They all link back to that same sibling of Catherine Kelly Stevens—her youngest sister Ann—but they inform me that I am pursuing the right Kelly family. With a name as common as Kelly, that is an important first step to confirm.


Sunday, July 18, 2021

Just Because They're so Cute


At some time in either late 1913 or early 1914—even mothers sometimes can forget—Mrs. Joseph L. Sowle brought her two cherubs to the Pryor photography studio in La Crosse, Wisconsin, to have their young portraits taken.

She certainly dressed her children for the occasion. David Moore Sowle, by then having passed his fifth birthday, did not seem to chafe at the outfit she had chosen for him—certainly not the togs preferred by boys his age. Little Miss Josephine Lucille Sowle, though yet a mere infant, smilingly cooperated with the procedure.

Baby Josephine eventually became the woman Marilyn Sowle Bean called "Aunt Jo," and David, thirteen years later, married Olive Brague and soon after became Marilyn's father. And old photographs like these, carefully passed down through the decades, ended up abandoned at an antique shop upon the passing of the last generation in that family line.

Above: Photograph of David Moore Sowle and Josephine Lucille Sowle, taken circa 1913 by the Pryor studio in La Crosse, Wisconsin; currently in possession of the author.


Saturday, July 17, 2021

Three Friends


Where are those old high school yearbooks when you really want them?

It's the 1930 yearbook which would have featured Josephine Sowle, perky "Aunt Jo" to Marilyn Sowle Bean whose entire photo collection ended up in a local antique store after her passing. In 1930, Jo would have likely graduated from high school in Onalaska, Wisconsin.

Jo and a friend—the photograph was thankfully labeled with the name Hazel Rahn—were captured in a 1930 snapshot flanking a man whose name was given as Ernest Otto. Jo we've already discussed, and I've been able to find quite a bit about Hazel, but Ernest was not so easy to discover. Not only was his expression, in contrast to the two smiling faces of the young women on either side of him, difficult to read, but the only man by that name in the same town would not have been of an age to be high school companions with Jo and Hazel.

Josephine Sowle could easily be found in the 1930 census in the household of her parents, Joe and Dora Sowle. Ever mindful of each relative's "FAN Club"—her friends, associates, and neighbors—I took a look around the census page where I had found the Sowle family. It wasn't too hard to spot Hazel Rahn, two doors away, living with her parents, Herman and Lula, and her three younger siblings.

Hazel Rahn was easy to find online, not only in trees on, but in other records. While not in a high school yearbook, her face could be found in its college counterpart a few years later. It was in that year, 1933, when she graduated from the State Teachers College at La Crosse, and began a long career in education and community service.

Two years after her graduation, Hazel married farmer Henry F. Heider, and while she continued teaching, the couple raised three children. Her years in a close-knit farming community inspired her, in 1982, to publish a book, Along the Waterloo Road, on the history of the place which she had come to call home.

All that, of course, was long after she smiled for an unnamed photographer in 1930 while standing arm in arm with her neighbor Jo and Ernest Otto. But who was he? 

The only detail I could find for someone by that name in Onalaska, where the picture was taken, was for a twenty seven year old man living not far from Jo and Hazel in the same town. This Ernest was part of the household of Louis and Frieda Otto in 1930

Looking closely at that family, I noticed a younger sister, Elisabeth, who would have been the same age as Hazel. Could the gathering have been on account of a party for their graduation? Hard to tell from the one snapshot. A moment in time, capturing three people who, together in 1930, likely had very different stories from that point onward.

Above: Photograph labeled "Josephine Sowle, Ernest Otto, Hazel Rahn, Onalaska, 1930." From collection of Marilyn Sowle Bean, currently in possession of author.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Resisting Temptation


After poring hours of effort into dislodging an ancestor from a brick wall—hint: it still isn't working—it can be tempting to grasp at clues showing up at one's Ancestry doorstep.

I'm still stuck on the origin of the Stevens brothers' deceased mother's family. Ireland is the certain answer—but where in Ireland?

It doesn't help that the surname we are seeking is Kelly. And no, it isn't that particularly trying fact that Kelly can be—and often has been—spelled in two formats: Kelly and Kelley. The problem lies with the lack of records either preserved and passed down, or maybe never kept in the first place. After all, we are looking for a family who arrived in what was then the outer fringes of America in the early 1850s.

It's not like they followed the tried and true immigration pathway, either. At least, if they took the same route as John Stevens had, in arriving in western Indiana via the Mississippi River tributaries from New Orleans, passenger records from the east coast ports would be of no service to us.

What I do have, fortunately, is a fairly large Kelly family living in Lafayette, complete with the telltale sign of the three Stevens boys living in that same Kelly household after their mother, Catherine, died in 1858. So why can't I find any sign of James and Mary and their six children—Matthew, Rose, Catherine, Bridget, Thomas, and Ann—arriving on the New World's shores?

For one thing, it is possible that, like many immigrants, the Kelly family engaged in "serial" immigration. In other words, one sibling was the first to come over, secure employment, and send money back to the homeland to bring the others to America, likely one by one. With that in mind, it was tempting, after not having found the Kelly family constellation in the 1850 census, to try and stuff one promising early arrival, Rose Kelley of about the right age in the 1850 census, servant to an attorney in town, into that slot for our Catherine's sister.

But I resisted the temptation.

Likewise, knowing how the Irish of that time period tended to follow a traditional naming pattern for their children, I couldn't help notice in following Catherine's brother Thomas, that he named his oldest son James—a nice confirmation tying Thomas and Catherine together with their father James, who died shortly after reaching Indiana.

Right after noticing that detail, up popped a hint at Ancestry for my consideration: a baptismal record for a Thomas of just the right age, with parents James and Mary, from a parish in County Westmeath. Added bonus: the maiden name for mother Mary. Not to mention, the proximity of the county to Dublin aligns nicely with oral family tradition that Catherine came to America from Dublin. Should I take this hint?

Again, I'm resisting the temptation. While it is a valuable way-sign, what I'll need to do first is see whether those baptismal records also provide entries for all the other children in our Kelly family—attached to a Mary with that same maiden name. The encouraging news, though, is if this does turn out to be a keeper, County Westmeath happens to be one of the few Irish counties whose 1841 census records are still partially extant.

Although matching details can be alluring, we can't just spring for the two or three data points which line up just right. After all, we're talking about a surname like Kelly in Ireland. The chances that a Thomas was son of a James and Mary likely was a scenario repeated over and over again in that location. We need to fit a much larger set of data points into such a comparison—for instance, the names of members of the entire family, intact, into that same test case. That will take much more work before we can safely accept such a hint. It's not just Thomas we're looking for; it's the entire Kelly family.

Regarding that Kelly family which arrived in Lafayette, Indiana, we have one other way to check out the family connections: DNA testing. It's fortunate that we do have the listing of Catherine's many siblings, and that I've been able to trace many of their descendants. It is the youngest of the Kelly family line which provided me with genetic confirmation of our connection—but that is a story to save for next week. 

"6th [September 1837] Bapt[ized] Tho[ma]s s[on] of James Kelly and Mary Coffey sp[onso]r Honora Shanaugham" from Catholic Parish Registers 1655-1915, Castletown-Geoghegan, County Westmeath; courtesy

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Attending to Unfinished Business


I often hear talk of genealogy "do overs." Perhaps I just don't get that concept because I am always making adjustments to my family trees. 

Now that I am revisiting a brick wall ancestor who had previously kept me locked in check mate, I am again discovering several spots needing further attention. Catherine Kelly Stevens may have departed this life early, but her siblings' entries in my newly-combined family tree still need attention.

That problem occurred back in January, though of course I never noticed the defect until now. It all came about when I realized the best way to handle our new world of genetic genealogy was to abandon my former tree-keeping design of a separate tree for each of my child's grandparents. Instead of keeping one tree for my mother-in-law and yet another one for my father-in-law, I decided to merge the two trees into one.

That decision, however, presented a problem of its own. While I could now attach my husband's DNA test to one specific tree—and better handle the identities of each of his DNA matches on that same unified tree—I couldn't simply take the one tree and merge it with the other.

Well, technically, I could. But I don't want to.

Why? I'm a stickler for what I call the "footnote" column on each relative's profile in If I simply add information from another tree—whether it is a tree I've built myself or someone else's work—all I'll see on the "footnote" column is a tag identifying the source as another Ancestry tree. Of course, I don't want that; I want the footnote column to include, well, footnotes. I want to see a link to the document where I found each line item of that ancestor's life details.

So yes, that meant ever since January, I've been slogging through those thousands of names and adding each census record, each death record, and each additional genealogically significant item, line by line, to the correct ancestor on the new, combined tree.

The easiest way to do this was to add my father-in-law's tree to my mother-in-law's tree. After all, hers is the disproportionately huge one which was approaching twenty thousand entries already. Why make things any harder on me?

In the process, inadvertently there were some Stevens line ancestors left out of the the very family I'm trying to work on right now. So, just consider this month my own personal genealogy do-over of sorts, rebuilding the tree for all of Catherine Kelly Stevens' siblings, their spouses and, for those who had children, all those lines of descent as well.

On the positive side, any time we review our work with those fresh eyes, not only do we discover incomplete work, but we can discover newly digitized documents which can add to the story. Using, for instance, I've now added several other details to this extended family line, by virtue of marriage and obituary entries which were not available to me, the last time I passed this way.

Tedious? Yes. But while I haven't yet stumbled upon any new facts to help point me in the right direction concerning these Irish immigrants, at least I'm getting a clearer picture of what life was like for the Kelly family, once they settled in their new world in Lafayette, Indiana, back in the 1850s.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Falling Into the Gap


Have you ever celebrated finding a new record set, and set about scouring its contents for your ancestors, only to discover there's a gap in the collection, right where your ancestor should have been?

I've had that happen several times before, and seeking the passenger listings for my father-in-law's Stevens and Kelly families, it looks like I'm about to see that happen once again.

Let's just say that experience has cooled my enthusiasm for jumping right into the fray when I find a new online collection. I've learned to stop and consider what, exactly, is available within each collection I'm about to examine.

Based on the Declaration of Intent for John Stevens, an immigration document he filed in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, he claimed to have arrived in the United States at the port in New Orleans. An unexpected route for an Irish immigrant right in the midst of the famine back in his homeland, John Stevens' itinerary might have been for an entirely different reason than that of his fellow countrymen.

While I can't yet determine the route taken by his future wife's family—I have yet to find any immigration documents for the James Kelly family that I can say with assurance belong to the right individuals—I suspect they may have taken the same route as John Stevens. After all, what would have caused them to end up in the early 1850s at the same small town in western Indiana, other than the logical conveyance by river navigation?

Still, no matter where I've looked for John Stevens in record collections for the port of New Orleans—and, at the same time, searched for the Kelly family—I've come up short. Let's review the reasons why and see if anything has changed since the last time I attempted this search.

First, I review the resources available online—since I won't be traveling to do in-person research any time soon. My first stop is usually to check out the FamilySearch wiki. While the overview of the collection seems promising—the digitized records from the National Archives cover the years from 1820 through 1945—there are some caveats which already are sending me warning signs.

One warning, for instance, comes from the observation that the earliest records were handwritten, making it possible that, in transcription or indexing, the writing could have been misread. A second caution comes from the realization that all information recorded was gleaned from passenger reports. A false report, of course, leads to incorrect information. Even if the passengers reported all details correctly, there was always room for the possibility of clerical error. Combined, this cautions me that I might have to read through those handwritten passenger names, myself, line by line, if the usual search methods don't yield me an answer to my search query.

While the overview on the FamilySearch wiki for New Orleans passenger records is helpful, that is not the only place I look. Of course, I'm certainly pleased that also includes two record sets on New Orleans passenger lists in their holdings, which glean microfilmed material from several sources. And just in case one resource incorrectly identified my ancestors' entries—hey, this happens—not only can I jump from the records at FamilySearch to Ancestry to compare notes, but I can also check out the same material from the Louisiana Secretary of State's website.

Yes, having resources in more that one place can be cause to celebrate, but let's not get too hasty yet, shall we? After all, we have yet to actually do the work of searching for our Stevens and Kelly names in those records. And there is one more caution to keep in mind. This I found, courtesy of a finding aid compiled by the ever-helpful Joe Beine on the German Roots site online, where he notes that those lists I mentioned come "with some gaps."

Guess where the gaps are?

Granted, some of the gaps may have occurred before or after our Kelly family arrived in America—and other gaps have inspired work-arounds for those critical years of 1851 and 1852. However, because some of the handwritten material may require a thorough—remember the term, "reasonably exhaustive"?—search, before jumping into such a project, it is always good to review the fine print to see if we are still headed in the right research direction.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Passengers and Ports of Entry


Sometimes, to track down an elusive ancestor, we need to rethink the entire research puzzle. In the case of William Stevens' mother—the unfortunate Catherine Kelly we discussed yesterday—I am stuck with only a part of her information. Yet I can't seem to fill in the rest of the blanks on her immigrant story.

From very tenuous sources, I've been able to determine that Catherine's parents might have been James and Mary Kelly. At least for Mary Kelly, we've been able to spot her in her children's census entry in 1860—in the same household where the motherless William and his two older brothers also lived. It was only from an old transcription of a now-defunct cemetery in Lafayette where I might have gleaned the correct name for a Mary Kelly's husband: James.

What seems strange to me is that I cannot seem to locate either the Kelly family or Catherine's husband, John Stevens, in the 1850 census, in the area in Indiana where they later settled. Nor yet can I find them in any ship's passenger records between that census date and 1854, the year Catherine gave birth to her oldest son, James. The presumption, of course, is that Catherine and John Stevens were married after they both arrived in Indiana—but where are the marriage records? It would be nice to fix a date to this event.

Furthermore, just how did they arrive in Lafayette, Indiana? Many researchers, starting out, assume most immigrants arrived at New York harbor—or, given the affinity of the Irish for the city of Boston, consider that second option. The truth is that there were many ports up and down the Atlantic seaboard which welcomed in immigrants, depending on the time period.

The trouble is, in the case of either the Kelly family or John Stevens, that sought after arrival record might not be found in the passenger records for any of those Atlantic ports. From a copy of the first immigration form completed by John Stevens in Lafayette—his Declaration of Intention—he indicated that his port of arrival was actually New Orleans.

Could John have traveled with the Kelly family? Is it possible that he met them in passage from his native Ireland? He gave a date for his arrival, along with the identification of his port of arrival, and yet, I've never been able to locate a record of his arrival in New Orleans in any ship's records. Nor, following this line of reasoning, have I been able to find any possible mentions of a Kelly family.

There are several reasons why, on my last attempt to find these individuals, I may have fallen short of my goal. For one, seeking names as common as Kelly and Stevens present a challenge, especially when so many names were listed only with an initial instead of given name. More challenging than that, though, is the fact that last time I looked, there were several gaps in the records for that time period I'm interested in.

Still, records keep getting added to digitized collections, and it is always worth the effort to re-check those places which we've searched before, after a span of several years. It is likely time to explore what can be found about New Orleans passenger records now, and see if there have been any updates since I last passed this research way.

Monday, July 12, 2021

A Son who Never Knew his Mother


William Stevens was born on March 28, 1858, in the little town of Lafayette in western Indiana. He had no idea at that point, of course, what would become of his mother only five weeks later. Her death on May third of that same year meant her son would grow up never knowing his own mother.

Despite such a loss, William and his two older brothers did have a way to learn a bit more about their mother, Catherine Kelly Stevens. As was repeated so many times over throughout history during those previous centuries lacking so many medical advancements we now benefit from, the extended family stepped in to fill the void for child care of bereaved youngsters. In Catherine's case, her many siblings still at home with their mother lived close enough to make such a difference.

Only two years after Catherine's passing in 1858, the census record shows us William and his brothers James and John were living in the household of Matthew Kelly, along with his seventy year old mother Mary and his three siblings. The Kelly household was in Adams Township in nearby Warren County, not far over the county line from Tippecanoe County, where the boys' father, John Stevens, lived.

Whether the infant William had lived with his grandmother from the start of his life is difficult to determine. However, I did discover yet another Kelly sibling who did live in Lafayette: Matthew's sister Bridget.

Bridget Kelly had married Michael Creahan and, not many months after her sister Catherine gave birth to William, she welcomed her firstborn, a daughter, Ellen—or Ella, as she came to be called. Though there are no records to show us whether this might be so, perhaps Bridget nursed her sister's infant son along with her own daughter.

If nothing else, due to Bridget's own untimely death in 1869, there were indications that one of her children and William both found a second home elsewhere than their father's house. The 1880 census, back at the Matthew Kelly household, helps reconstruct William's story.

Even though he was not part of the direct line I was researching, following William through the census records, decade by decade, helped piece together the story of his deceased mother's roots—an ironic twist, considering William himself may have known next to nothing about his own mother.

While past attempts to trace the stories of these Kelly aunts and uncles did little more to divulge the secrets of this Kelly family's past, it is always worth the effort to review our brick wall ancestors periodically. Maybe this time, with July's research goal of finding more about Catherine Kelly's roots, we can press our way beyond that roadblock, if only a little bit more. 


Sunday, July 11, 2021

Heat Wave = Genealogy Time


What is it about us avid researchers? When we entered the uncertain times of this (hopefully waning) pandemic, the accompanying side bar to that bad news included comments about how many people turned their attention to researching their family history. Perhaps misery loved company, and we drew inspiration from the hardships our ancestors suffered.

I'm not sure I can say the same this weekend, sitting in air conditioned luxury when temperatures soared to one hundred ten degrees outside my kitchen window. It's hardly like I put my kitchen to good use yesterday in a heat wave like this—unlike my ancestors, who had little choice in the matter. About the only use my kitchen served this weekend was to afford me a view of the outdoor thermometer which was perched in the shade, not the one outside the living room window, melting in the direct line of the setting sun.

So this was the weekend to hunker down and work on genealogy. Since both last month and this involved research on my husband's families, it will come as no surprise that it was that tree which showed the most advancement for this biweekly progress check. With an addition of 310 names, that tree now includes documentation on 22,014 individuals.

With all the focus on my husband's tree lately, not much happened to results for my own side of the family. Right now, that tree sits at 26,138—a respectable accomplishment, to be sure, but gaining only twenty six individuals in the past two weeks, since all my focus went elsewhere. Of course, my family tree will again share the limelight, when research goals swing back to my father's side of the family in the fourth quarter of this year.

One surprise in this biweekly sequence was the big change in the match count coming out of Family Tree DNA. Granted, FTDNA adjusted their algorithm, and is now using Build 37 of the human reference genome, but I was surprised to see a resultant extra 468 DNA matches in my account, plus 678 more for my husband's test at that company. Really? Can I believe my eyes? Or is this just the after-effect of a heat wave coupled with an earthquake? Guess we Californians really know how to rock and roll. 

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Yearning for the Interactive


Last night, our family did something different. We waited until the sun dipped behind the tree line and the day's heat wave abated enough for us to gather, face to face outdoors, with some friends. That was something we hadn't done in such a long time, it felt almost awkward. There were no volume controls to adjust when the person at the far end of the circle mumbled into her mask, and no record buttons to press to capture that funny story for replay later. We just did something that, decades ago, used to come naturally to friends: we hung out.

We need to get back to doing that again, more often.

Perhaps it is the lingering Zoom fatigue which dimmed my enthusiasm for this past week's breaking news that RootsTech will once again be offered, free for all, virtually, come next March third through fifth. Or perhaps I'm jaded by the over-abundance of online learning opportunities. After all, I've still got over a dozen sessions from last year's RootsTech event yet to view in my queue—to say nothing of the multiple learning resources afforded us by other genealogy sites. As much as I love learning, I can't seem to find the motivation to log in and give a listen.

On the other hand, I would love to develop a way to conduct sessions online in which everyone could have some input—not a talking head being watched by a gallery of other attentive heads, but a collaborative experience with the give and take of many people sharing what they know and what they've found. A hands-on workshop. An interactive experience—as in learning as a two way street. The give and take of a live genealogy event, the kind we used to enjoy before our world got turned upside down, even if it is packaged up in a teleconferencing format.

We just really need people. To connect. Even if we're stuck in a digital domain. Surely, someone is creative enough to come up with an alternative.

Friday, July 9, 2021

What I Know About Catherine


It is surprising, despite thinking we know very little about a specific ancestor, how many details we can come up with, given a little diligence in searching. That turns out to be the case for our research goal for July: learning more about my father-in-law's great-grandmother, Catherine Kelly Stevens.

First, the obvious: Catherine married Irish immigrant John Stevens some time in the early 1850s, likely in or around Lafayette in Tippecanoe County, Indiana. For something as basic as that detail, though, I lack direct evidence; I had to discover it via one of those W. P. A. projects. Even then, I found the detail in a document for her son, not herself—besides, the transcription for her maiden name was "Riley" rather than Kelly.

In fact, most everything I know about Catherine came to me thanks to records pertaining to her three sons. James, the firstborn—at least of the three I was able to find—was born in 1854. That detail was owing only to a transcription of a family Bible entry—a Bible which, passed down through the generations, was sadly lost in a house fire. John Kelly Stevens, the middle son, became my father-in-law's direct line, providing with his life story far more details than just the date of his 1856 birth. It was third-born William, though, from whose information I could glean the few details necessary to connect Catherine to the previous generation.

The reason William became such a research key—something I wouldn't have learned without plodding methodically through every document I could find on the entire family unit—was owing to his young age when his mother died in 1858. Though we don't often see such scenarios played out in our own generation, back in his time, there were several infants who, if they unwittingly survived such a tragic loss as the death of their mother, grew up without the woman who gave them life.

In such a case, some of these infants were raised by surrogate mothers. Many times, the woman who stepped in to fill the void may have been a subsequent wife of the widower. In other cases, it might have been another family member.

In John Stevens' case, though he chose to find another wife to raise not only his six week old infant son but also the two older boys, the culmination of that search in 1860 likely meant that infant William bonded to another "mother." Fortunately, that surrogate mother was a member of the deceased Catherine's own family—not only providing love and security for the bereaved baby, but a research trail for us to follow. We'll meet the family who raised William next week, and re-examine details about the Kelly family to see whether any further clue can shed light on our brick wall Catherine.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Name Twins in the Family Tree


I don't expect you would be surprised—would you?—if I told you my father-in-law's Irish family sported not one but two ancestors by the name of Catherine Kelly. Both of them immigrated to Indiana. And that's not the end of their similarities.

We've discussed the family of the one Catherine Kelly in my Twelve Most Wanted ancestors for 2020. It was she who, having become second wife of John Kelly Stevens in a quiet 1883 marriage ceremony in Fort Wayne, became the second of his wives to lose her life after giving birth to his child. (Note: his third wife wisely chose only to raise his other children.)

For this month's goal of my Twelve Most Wanted for 2021, we'll be shifting to begin three months of tackling research challenges among my father-in-law's ancestors. First off will be the other Catherine Kelly. This woman was not John Kelly Stevens' second wife, but the mother who bestowed him his middle name, her maiden name. Strangely she, too, lost her life early, following the birth of her third son—with the result that not only did John Kelly Stevens lose two of his three wives to such a tragic outcome, but his mother as well.

I know very little about this elder Catherine. Included in what I do know is family lore that she came from Dublin, but I have found no substantiation for such a claim. Still, so many times I've gone back to revisit a brick wall ancestor's challenge, only to find with this latest review, a new resource supplants those question marks with answers.

With hopes for the same outcome for this Catherine Kelly, we'll begin tomorrow with a brief introduction to Catherine herself—brief, of course, simply because there has been so little to discover about her short life. We'll then take some time to review her family constellation and explore those few details about her siblings. From there, we'll launch out into the deep unknown of her roots somewhere in Ireland before 1850—a challenge in itself. Hopefully, by the end of the month, we'll emerge with a research victory of some sort, no matter how small it may be.

If nothing else, at least we can try.  

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

The Proliferation of Orphan Photos


The school tradition, in the past half century or so, of printing sheets of wallet-sized photos of elementary grade students will likely proliferate into an extreme case of unidentified—or orphan—photos in many of our inherited family picture collections.

Just think of it: little Janey comes home with an envelope stuffed with pages of miniatures for proud parents to snip and send far and wide. If grandma, grandpa, and all the doting aunts in the family carefully tuck away those miniature portraits for fifty years, who is next in line to inherit the multiplied echoes in each unidentified collection?

Fortunately, the sole remaining school photo in Marilyn Sowle Bean's forsaken collection did have a label—enough of a clue to help me discover just who claimed that earnest gaze and Mona Lisa half-smile. Above the recognizable handwriting of Marilyn herself was a child's signature, telling me instantly that whoever this was, she struggled with dyslexia.

"Carolyn Cublert" was the child's signature at the top of the photo's reverse, followed immediately by an adultlike correction, "Culbert."

Marilyn's due diligence with such labeling duties provides us the guidance to understand why the girl's photo was in her collection. "Aunt Verna's girl at about ten," Marilyn wrote, followed by the date, 1951. Verna was sister to Marilyn's mother, Olive Brague Sowle. Since Olive was the oldest of Oliver and Ragna Brague's nine children, she was seven years older than the couple's fifth child, Verna.

In what might have been seen, among high school sweethearts, as a couple made for each other led to the marriage of seventeen year old Verna to her beau from La Crosse, Wisconsin, named Vern. Vern and Verna were married in 1933—though not at home in La Crosse. Theirs was a marriage in Houston County, Minnesota—not only over the county line from La Crosse, but also across the state line.

Carolyn was the third child of Vern and Verna—and the last. By the time Carolyn was seven, her mother had married widower Arthur Hjelsand, who eventually, at least by some reports, adopted her three children as his own, adding yet another surname for Carolyn to struggle with.

I can't determine when, but at some point after that, Verna and Arthur moved their combined family to the Philadelphia area, where Carolyn's own 1963 marriage license application was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer under her adopted surname. For years after that, she and her husband resided in a New Jersey town, where they raised their only son, but by 1984, she had succumbed to cancer at the age of forty three.

Now knowing her story, I can see why that earnest gaze from the ten year old's photo strikes me as wistful—not only from her unfortunate end, but from the possibility that there may be no one to find who would treasure having that ten year old's photo once again. But for an unexpected disease, Carolyn would likely still be there in her community in New Jersey, perhaps passing her own photo collection on to her grandchildren, instead of being remembered only through a thumbnail sketch from her cousin's lost treasures rescued from a local antique store.


Above: Photo, along with its inscription on the reverse, of ten year old Carolyn Nancy Culbert, also known as Carolyn Hjelsand, as a student in La Crosse, Wisconsin, in 1951.

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