Monday, August 29, 2022

Why There was a Second One


In order for a research goal to make sense, I suppose it would help to first learn what inspired the goal. Since we're already getting a jump on my research goal for September—to learn about John Stevens' second wife, Eliza Murdock—let's take some time today to review the back story on why there was a second Mrs. Stevens.

John Stevens, as you may have gathered from my posts earlier this month, was my husband's second great-grandfather. We don't know much more about him than that he came from County Mayo in Ireland to settle in Lafayette, Indiana, by about the end of 1850. Thanks to the Declaration of Intention that had been completed on his behalf—he could neither read nor write—we also know that he arrived in the United States by way of the midwestern river route up from the port of New Orleans, where he had disembarked from his trans-Atlantic journey in December of 1850.

Some time between his December landing in New Orleans and his arrival in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, John Stevens married another Irish immigrant by the name of Catherine Kelly. I say "some time" because I don't have documentation of the exact event. Or, to take it more literally, I don't have documentation indicating that John Stevens actually married Catherine Kelly; what I do have is a court record showing Catherine Kelly's marriage on December 27, 1853, to a man named John "Stephenson."

That John Stevens actually was married to someone named Catherine Kelly can be easily demonstrated by other means—his sons' subsequent marriage and death records, for instance. But what we are interested in today is a brief history of what became of that Catherine Kelly after her marriage.

From a transcription of a family Bible which subsequently was lost in a house fire, I knew that John and Catherine had three sons: James, John, and William. Finding them in census records, however, was a challenge for one reason: Catherine died before the 1860 census was taken. By then, John was on the verge of his marriage to Eliza, and the boys were nowhere to be found.

One might think that a maiden name like Kelly might doom any searches to the limbo of needle-in-haystack hopelessness. Actually, that is not how this quest turned out. Though Catherine's 1858 headstone is now barely legible, records from the old Greenbush Cemetery in Lafayette—accessed through help by members of the local genealogical society—indicated possible names for Catherine's parents: James and Mary.

True, names like James and Mary, combined with the quintessential Irish surname Kelly, are still hard to research. But this was Tippecanoe County in the 1850s, when the entire county amounted to less than twenty thousand people. Yes, it took a lot of searching to find it, but despite James Kelly's death about 1853—same year as his daughter Catherine's marriage—his wife and children plus the three Stevens boys showed up in the 1860 census. But not John Stevens.

With the three Stevens boys born about 1854, 1856, and 1858, we can guess that their young mother's loss was due to complications following the March 28 birth of her third son, William.

From Catherine's death in May of 1858 until John's second marriage in December of 1860, I find no sign of him. Understandably, he was likely working to support himself and his three children—but where? I have yet to unearth any sign of him in the 1860 census, showing how much of a victory it was to at least locate his three children. I can find no census record for John until the following decade, where his 1870 family snapshot includes second wife Eliza—where in addition to two of his sons, there are now three daughters.

As for those three daughters, they were not the only children borne to Eliza. It turns out that there was yet another chapter to Eliza's story—something we need to touch on tomorrow, before moving further into September's research goal of learning more about Eliza's Murdock family.


Above: the frustratingly close introductory entry for John Stephenson in the page-long December 1853 marriage record with Catherine Kelly in Tippecanoe County, Indiana. Image courtesy

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