Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Last Stop on the Patriline Express


Whenever someone hears that I am an avid family history researcher, the inevitable first question is: "So, how far back have you gone?" 

The answer? Actually, not very far at all. Perhaps mine is more of a "deep and wide" tree than a long line penetrating into the depths of human history.

Of all the stubby branches on that tree, the most frustrating one is that of my husband's patriline. The very man who gave us our surname—Stevens—is the one proving to be most elusive. I've only managed to trace that Stevens history back five generations: from my husband to my father-in-law, to his father Will Stevens, then John Kelly Stevens, and finally to John Stevens, the immigrant.

Despite thorough online research, as well as two on-site visits to the immigrant's adopted home in Lafayette, Indiana, I have yet to discover anything more than what I'm outlining here by way of introduction.

Our founding immigrant ancestor was supposedly born somewhere in County Mayo, Ireland, about 1813. That information was gleaned from naturalization paperwork drawn up long after his arrival in Indiana by about 1850. Unlike many other Irish immigrants to the United States, John Stevens chose a different route: through New Orleans, then up the Mississippi River waterways to the then-small city of Lafayette on the Wabash River.

John arrived a single man. Listed as a laborer on later census records, he was particularly difficult to locate in earlier documents. A transcription of a marriage of John "Stephenson" and Catharine Kelly solemnized on 27 December 1853 in Tippecanoe County was likely theirs, followed soon after by the birth of their son James in 1854. However, before the next census was taken in 1860, John had welcomed two additional sons, John Kelly (our direct line) and William, into the family—and lost his wife, who died barely a month after William's birth in 1858.

While the three young ones were taken in by John's mother-in-law and raised by Catherine's Kelly siblings, by the end of 1860, John was once again married, this time to Eliza Murdock, whose brothers were well known about town. From that point on, John could be routinely found in census records—along with his second wife and their three daughters—up until the point of his death in 1893.

Though a thoughtfully-worded obituary accorded him much respect, it failed to yield to me any of the secrets John brought with him to his grave. Explanations as to why John chose to settle specifically in this inland city, rather than enter through a more likely seaport, or who his siblings or parents were, back in Ireland, are mentioned absolutely nowhere that I can find. With the one fleeting exception of finding another Stevens immigrant from County Mayo traveling the same exact route and arriving in Lafayette almost exactly one year after John's arrival, there is no sign of a Stevens connection, either in Indiana or back in County Mayo.

There may be, of course, other ways for us to wiggle loose of this research wrestling hold that has us locked in this quandary. We'll begin taking a look at other research options tomorrow. 

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