Tuesday, September 6, 2022

The Murdock Brothers' Mother


It is always helpful to be able to push back a generation in our family history. In the case of Eliza Murdock and her brothers, we can easily do that despite the fact that census records during the family's stay in Indiana did not include any listing of family relationships. There are ample clues that the elderly widow listed in the Murdock household could be mother to Samuel, James, John, and Thomas Murdock.

The problem, however, is deciphering exactly what her name actually was. In the 1860 census—first one in which I can find any of the Murdock family—the entry for the widow named in Samuel Murdock's household looked like it was spelled Salle, or possibly Sally. Still, we learn that she was sixty two years of age, had come to Lafayette, Indiana, from Ireland, and that she could neither read nor write.

In the 1870 census, the same woman seemed then to be living in James Murdock's household. While that enumeration, like the 1860 census, did not normally indicate relationships, in this one exception we become fortunate: the then-seventy two year old woman was listed as "Mother." Only problem: now her name was given as Sibba.

Though we learn nothing further about this mother than what we had discovered with the 1860 census, we have other resources to help us. Thanks to her son James' business success, her full name was mentioned in his biographical sketch included in a 1909 volume of Lafayette history called Past and Present of Tippecanoe County, Indiana. From that record, we discover that Sibba's full name was actually Sabina, and that her maiden name was Kelly.

Though Sabina's age given in those census records consistently seemed to indicate she was born about 1798, her 1873 headstone in the Murdock family plot at Saint Mary's Cemetery stated a birth year of 1795. Other than that, there was no other documentation to consult. Deaths were not officially recorded in the counties or state of Indiana until 1882. While a librarian at the Allen County Public Library transcribed state and county records citing deaths before that year—and made that searchable list public on the library's website—there was no entry to be found regarding Sabina Kelly Murdock. And if there were any obituary published concerning Sabina Murdock after her 1873 passing, it is not one I could locate among the online resources for Indiana newspapers of that time period.

True, I could look for church records for any mention of Sabina. After all, years ago I availed myself of microfilm rental opportunities then possible at local Family History Centers to access the records of the Lafayette diocese; these are still available online and can now be accessed by going to a local center. However, if I remember correctly, the films contained mostly baptisms and marriage records, not deaths.

While musing over my next research step, something occurred to me about that maiden name Kelly. While Kelly is such a common name, could it be possible that the Murdock family finally ended up in Lafayette for a personal reason? Were there any Kelly relatives in the area? While a conjecture like that is such a long shot, let's take some time to review the possibility tomorrow.

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