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.

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