Thursday, September 8, 2022

With a Maiden Name Like Kelly


What are the chances that two families with the same surname would, after a migration path leading each family over three thousand miles away from home, end up in the same midwestern city? If we are convinced of the compelling concept dubbed the "F.A.N. Club," we could consider the possibilities high. But what if the surname—a maiden name, at that—turns out to be Kelly?

A quintessentially Irish surname, Kelly is now the second-most common surname in Ireland (Murphy ranks number one). Kelly certainly is a surname frequently appearing in American records, as well. So it might seem strange for me to wonder whether there was a reason why the subject of this month's research project—the Murdock family—would end up in a city like Lafayette, Indiana, solely based on the draw of relatives who had already settled in the area.

Even more so, the possibility that such a connection would be made based on the mother's maiden name—Sabina Murdock was originally a Kelly—seems slim. But consider this: after Sabina's husband's death somewhere during their migration westward through the United States, she was left a widow with four now-fatherless sons. Who else to turn to but family?

It so happened that there was a Kelly family already living in the vicinity of Lafayette at the time of John Murdock's 1853 death. This was the household of James and Mary Kelly, whose daughter Catherine eventually became the ill-fated first wife of John Stevens (his second wife being Eliza Murdock, daughter of Sabina Kelly). 

In fact, like Sabina's husband John Murdock, Catherine's father James Kelly himself also died in 1853. Could the sisters-in-law, Mary Kelly and Sabina Kelly Murdock, have found a way to connect? Did the Murdock sons seek out their Kelly cousins in Tippecanoe County to help them find their way in the business world?

Yes, it's true that Kelly is such a common surname, but I can't simply discard the possibility that an immigrant family might seek out their relatives to help get them established in a new country.

Fortunately, while entertaining such a "what if" possibility, I happened to stumble upon a record which opened my eyes to yet another possibility: that there were more family members in Lafayette than I had previously assumed. Thanks to the explicit details in the will of a very generous family member, I learned that the Murdock brothers—Samuel, James, John, and Thomas—had more than just the one sister I knew about. We'll explore that possibility tomorrow and see whether this new information leads us anywhere. 

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