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. 


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