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. 

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