Sunday, January 2, 2022

Seeking the Stevens Surname


DNA is figuring prominently in my research goals for 2022 already. Or perhaps it's just that I've had my father-in-law's research goals so firmly in mind that the idea is inserting itself into the rest of life.

Was it just coincidence that, in researching another line last night—on my mother's ancestors, not even close to my father-in-law's Irish roots—I discovered my fifth cousin on my Tilson side just happened to live not more than four hundred feet from the house in Fort Wayne where my father-in-law's grandfather John Kelly Stevens once lived? Of course, we need to insert a good sixty years interim into the equation, but still: that's about as close a near-connection as I've ever been able to find on paths crossing between distant relatives.

With such "coincidences" in mind, and while in the midst of deciding who to add next to my Twelve Most Wanted list of research goals for the new year, I may as well tackle the founding immigrant on my father-in-law's patriline. John Kelly Stevens' own father, John Stevens, was the Irish immigrant whose arrival in Lafayette, Indiana, became the start of an American legacy for my father-in-law's descendants.

After years of researching the Stevens line, though, I've realized one disturbing detail: there don't seem to be any other Stevens men out there who share this line's Y-DNA. Nor can I find any indication of John Stevens' siblings, either in this country or in his supposed origin in County Mayo, Ireland, with one blip of an exception. This, despite the arrival in Lafeyette of a likely Stevens relative—possibly even a brother—who followed the same route from County Mayo to follow in John Stevens' path, just a year after he arrived here. And then disappeared.

Where did these Stevens people go? Where did they come from? And even more troublesome: was Stevens really their original surname? With stories I've heard in the world of family history research—everything from the anglicisation of Irish names to Irish tactics to avoid conscription in the British navy—I begin to wonder whether John Stevens' name was never really Stevens at all. I want to examine whether there are any reasonable connections in County Mayo for either John or Hugh Stevens (the other Stevens immigrant to Lafayette). If not, what could that surname have possibly been?

The eighth of my research goals for 2022 may seem messy, indeed, but sometimes we need to follow the path of questions with an unclear trajectory. Call this a month of exploration. It certainly isn't a clearly-planned target I'll be hitting. But it will be worth the effort to embark on this different type of learning expedition.

Above: Crossing paths: what are the chances? Map of neighborhood near downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana, showing the 1920s home of my father-in-law's grandfather John Kelly Stevens (1519 Oakland Street) within one minute's walking distance from the home where my distant Tilson cousin settled, decades afterwards.



  1. Those moments are so fun. One of my first discoveries was that my 3x great grandparents lived 3 miles from my current home back in 1940. There are a few of those odd little coincidences in my genealogy... I enjoy such things.

    1. Yes, it is fun to stumble upon those quirky facts. And what an interesting discovery you made about your former home. Only a genealogist would discover something like that!


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