My Brickwall Ancestor: John KELLY, (1840-1905) – Madness Monday

Per Miriam’s splendid suggestion, I’m going to attempt a writeup of one of my current challenges in family history. (I’m not overly fond of the phrase “brick wall”.) As a novice genealogist, however, I am modifying Miriam’s instructions, in that I am perfectly glad to be told “you should check database thus-and-so.” I don’t expect anyone to do my work for me. 🙂

What I Want to Know:

John KELLY’s parents, and the date and location of his marriage to Johannah LEAHEY.

Known Timeline:

Searches Done:

Phyllis Crick of the Garst Museum in Greenville, OH kindly sent me their surname files on KELLY. She found an 1865 naturalization for a John KELLY, but in Darke County. A check of KELLY naturalizations in Miami County in this time period only turned up a Samuel KELLY. She also sent me the will and letters testamentary for John KELLY, the purchase and sale records for his farm in Darke County, and copies from extraction books of the Union City newspapers. search (exact) for KELLY/KELLEY in Brown, Miami, OH in the 1800s in census and voting records shows three groups of KELLYs: a John born in Ireland which I believe is my subject, a group born in Delaware (includes a John and a Samuel), and a group born in New Jersey.

A search for John KELLY between 1845-1880 in Ohio turns up four Civil War pension file index cards. I dismiss two because they are for widows (we know my John outlived his wife). The other two are for invalid pensions. It seems like an unlikely lead (see my Theories, below), but if someone tells me I should check it out, you should also tell me how. 🙂

Searched and for KELLY and KELLEY. Found an obit for Thomas Francis KELLY, John’s son. Found a 1902 directory for Union City, IN which lists on Rural Route 5 “Kelley John — Thos, Ed, Maggie, Mary, Robt., Jose, Celia”.

Unchecked Possible Resources:

  • Request Indiana death certificate (in process).
  • Query St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Union City, IN for records.
  • Research extant Catholic churches in Brown Twp, Miami OH during the period he was there, and query them for KELLY records.

Suspicions and Theories:

I have two theories for why his eldest daughter was born in Canada, when all her younger siblings were born in Ohio or Indiana. First: he was ducking the Civil War by skipping north over the border. Second, that he went back to Ireland to marry his wife (I don’t know where the marriage was, or when, except that Johannah first appears as his wife in the 1870 census, and their oldest child was born in 1865) and returned with her through Canada, taking enough time at it that Catherine was born north of the border. Speculation on these lines very much welcome!

My mother (b. 1946) reports being taken, a couple times, to reunions for ARMSTRONG-KELLY-CULLEN-LEAHEY. Of note is that she remembers the older attendees lamenting that the younger generation didn’t have much interest in the reunions, as they didn’t know their cousins. This made me very excited when I determined that Johannah LEAHEY KELLY’s mother was Catherine ARMSTRONG. It also makes me think of chain migration. I have ample evidence that these LEAHEYs originated in Tipperary, which makes me trust the information from Catherine KELLY DILLON’s 1920 census the more.

Tombstone Tuesday: Thomas Francis KELLY (1873-1942)

Kelly, Thomas grave marker, St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, Union City, Randolph, Indiana, USA; photograph by Suzanne Stamper-Youmans, 23 Apr 2008. Digital copy privately held by Jean Marie Diaz, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], Linden, California. 2009.

Thomas Francis KELLY, brother to my great-grandmother, apparently never married. At various times he is listed as a farm laborer or as a worker at Union City Body (I believe those were automobile bodies being manufactured). He and his brother Edward are standing together in this shot, but I don’t know who is who. (Robert Emmett, the youngest brother, is on the left.)

Note this shot gives a shining example of why one should not always trust the dates engraved on tombstones. His birthdate is given as 1874 on the stone, but both his obituary in the local paper, and (more significantly, I think) the WW1 draft card he filled out in his own hand, give his birthdate as 21 Dec 1873. (Reminds me of my mother, remarking on a family obituary which gave Bertha’s name as “Beth”: “It’s a real shame to lose your name.”)

Data Backup Day – backups, you, and me

As a computer system administrator for decades, the necessity of backups is drilled into my hindbrain. I will never forget my first day at a groundbreaking startup, when I asked one of the founders what the backup policy was. “The policy is that anyone who cares about backups knows where the tape drive is,” he replied. Well, that’s a splendid example of laisseze-faire policy, but a lousy backup plan. I promptly wrote a script to fix it.

Then there was another ground-breaking project, a few years later, where we were building a search engine index (no, not Google, but its immediate predecessor). The sheer amount and speed of data being handled made tape backups impractical. The disks were configured so that the data was duplicated at every possible stage, and we thought that was safe enough. Well, it was, until an electrician with a remarkably wide tool belt came into that machine room to do some other work, and inadvertently banged off the power to that precious system. The index in progress was damaged, and we lost a month’s work (under deadline, naturally) once we scraped together what we could. As a result, the process was redesigned to be easier to back up.

You know the moral of the story, right? If you can’t face the job of recreating it, back it up. Your life will be simpler, your hair shinier, your sleep more refreshing. Really.

My personal backups are enormously simplified by running Mac OS X. I really have lost count of the times I have done a complete brain transplant from backups (last time, just over a year ago, because I baptized the then-laptop in 16oz of black coffee. Coffee may make your brain run faster, but I assure you it has exactly the opposite effect on your favorite computer.) I have an external drive at home (500MB, though you can now buy something 4 times the size for less than what I paid. It’s a Western Digital My Book, and it’s been well-behaved for me) which plugs into the laptop. (The link is to a 2TB version.)

Apple’s Time Machine software (comes standard in current OS X) does an incremental backup every hour, and manages the results so that I have a backup every day for the previous month, and then weekly from then on, until the disk fills up (which it also manages neatly).

Note that this is not an archival format. It does let me get last week’s or month’s version of a particular file if I want it, but it does eventually throw away the oldest backups. This is not a problem for me, but the point is that this is excellent for working files, but not for archiving, eg, copies of scanned photos that you don’t keep on your system, but want backed up for the long haul. That’s a different problem. I’m a system administrator, not an archivist. 🙂

That covers the files on my laptop. How do I back up my blog? Well, I chose to use the WordPress platform, so I use a plugin called BackUpWordPress. It’s configured to do a full backup weekly and mail it to one of my Gmail accounts. A filter on that account tucks it away where I won’t even notice it — until I need it. That way, I’m not counting on my server host (which is, uh, me) for access to their system backups.

Written for Data Backup Day, 1 March 2009.

Finding John KOHL (1840-1903)

Early in my genealogy career, I ran into a third cousin (hi, Craig!) who was a gem with sharing information and photographs. This naturally inclined me to pay more attention to our shared line, the TIERNEYs. When I turned my attention to my grandmother’s German lines, I was feeling distinctly intimidated (maybe it was the umlauts). And as my mother reminded me, KOHL is KÖL in German (the city of Cologne begins with this syllable, I’m told) and can be transliterated as COLE or any number of things. Eek! (Need I add that I’ve never studied German?)

I had been reading quite a lot of what Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak had to say, and she mentioned Progenealogists more than once. I was curious about what a pro could deliver, so after doing my due diligence, I engaged them for a four-hour “taster” project, namely, finding John KOHL‘s parents.

I supplied the information I had to that point, which was death certificates for John’s two oldest children, the household’s appearance in the 1880 and 1900 censuses, and (my gem) spotting them on the 25 Jun 1872 passenger list for the Hansa, via All the sources were unanimous in placing them in Hesse Darmstadt, but nothing more specific than that.

The wait for the report seemed endless (but was delivered in the time frame promised; it wasn’t late. Waiting is just hard!) It was educational, both for what was searched, what wasn’t searched that I had found in the intervening weeks, and (best of all) the suggestions for further research.

In short, the strategy was to locate the record of the death of John KOHL. Ohio’s state collection of death certificates, Clark County probate records, county histories, and the available cemetery transcriptions all came up empty. They did find a record of the death of his wife, Gertrude BERG KOHL, and succeeded in narrowing the window for John’s death from 1900-1910 to 1900-1904.

Their recommendations for further research were to look up Gertrude’s obituary and investigate Catholic church records in the hands of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. In the interval, I had found the RB Hayes Presidential Library and their obituary index, and the Clark County library came through with the obits of both John and Gertrude. Alas, no more specific information about their origins came with them. So I turned to their second suggestion, writing the Archdiocese, and after another breath-holding wait, I had a grand pile of photocopies, some quite faint (and annotated with apologies by the archivist). Buried in someone’s baptismal record was my answer:

Kimbach, Darmstadt, Germany.

Speaking of buried in records, those photocopies have found somewhere in my house to hide. I keep slashing at mounds of paper, and the recycling bin gets fuller and fuller, but I haven’t turned them up since I started working through Dear Myrtle’s monthly organizational checklists. I found the empty envelope, today, so I know I’m not just imagining it!

My next stop was where their pointer to navigating the Meyers Gazetteer has me staring at a location in Google Maps and thinking “Hmm!”

But then, there’s a reference in the HESSE-L mailing list that there are four separate Kimbachs in Hessen, so perhaps I’m not done yet.

Edit: I found those papers and turns out my memory was bad. That’s the origin of a different German ancestor! Clearly there’s a new post to write.

Written for the 16th edition of the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy.

Hug Your Local Library

My encounter with the Clark County [Ohio] Public Library should have been the first clue. I wrote them to order a batch of obituaries I found on the RB Hayes Obituary Index (a source no Ohio researcher should be without). At the end of the note I added that I was hoping to find an obit for John KOHL, whose death date had been narrowed down to sometime between the 1900 US Census and 1904. I thought this was overly optimistic of me, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Well, I sure enough got. Not only did I get the obituary, I got a photocopy of a register page of deaths in Springfield, showing the record of his death. This is material that a respected professional firm didn’t come up with in a microfilm search of the FHL’s Clark County records.

But yesterday I was preparing for some film to come into my local FHC, so I was trying to set up the correct sources in TMG ahead of time. I went looking for the Greene County (Ohio) archives on the web. I found them here… and discovered that the early birth and death records originally generated by the Probate Court are available online!

Now, as pleasant a surprise as this is, I probably shouldn’t complain. But I wouldn’t be the technologist I am if I didn’t have better ways to do things. 🙂 The software they appear to be using to serve up the images looks similar to that used by the NEHGS, and I find its lack of drag and drop support annoying beyond words. Instead of being able to move a rectangle representing the visible subset of the enlarged page, one has to click. And wait. And click. And wait. Heck, my browser handles large graphical files better than that. Just serve up the raw images and let me at them, ok?

Complaints notwithstanding, I see lots of browsing (and clicking, and waiting) in my future, to see if I can find the TIERNEYs born in the village of Osborn.

Tombstone Tuesday: John KELLY (1840-1905)

John Kelly's grave marker

Kelly, John grave marker, St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, Union City, Randolph, Indiana, USA; photograph by Suzanne Stamper-Youmans, 23 Apr 2008. Digital copy privately held by Jean Marie Diaz, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], Linden, California. 2009.

John KELLY is my second great-grandfather. He’s one of the more elusive characters in my tree… at least of the ones whose names I know. Thanks to a fortuitous error by an overzealous census enumerator in 1920, I know he and his wife hail from County Tipperary, Ireland. However, while he’s consistently listed as naturalized, I’m not convinced that the naturalization papers found in Darke County, Ohio are actually for him, because at the time they were filed, he was living in Miami County! What about naturalizations there, you say? None for John Kelly! And then there’s the mystery of his eldest daughter, who is consistently (across six censuses) listed as being born in Canada… well after the dates given for John’s immigration. (All her siblings were born in Ohio or Indiana, which makes sense as they were living near the state line.) Did John go back to Ireland to get his wife, and take enough time at it for their first child to be born on the way back? Mysteries.

Tombstone Tuesday: Johanna LEAHEY KELLY (1848 – 1894)

Johanna Leahey Kelly's grave marker

Kelly, Johanna grave marker, St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, Union City, Randolph, Indiana, USA; photograph by Suzanne Stamper-Youmans, 23 Apr 2008. Digital copy privately held by Jean Marie Diaz, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], Linden, California. 2009.

Johanna LEAHEY KELLY is my second great-grandmother, another of the ancestors I didn’t know I had before I started this project. I have a photograph of her ten surviving children, but none of her. Not yet, anyway. Scanfest ahoy!

I particularly appreciate how these posts make me review my use of the evidence. For example, until I looked hard at this image, I had Johanna’s birth date as ‘c. 1849’. Oops!

Wordless Wednesday: William James TIERNEY and Margaret Theresa KELLY TIERNEY

William James TIERNEY and Margaret Theresa KELLY TIERNEY
William James TIERNEY and Margaret Theresa KELLY TIERNEY

TIERNEY, William James (1870-1937) and Margaret Theresa KELLY TIERNEY (1872-1911), standing center. Robert Emmett KELLY (1885-c. 1940), seated right. Photographed c. Apr 1908 by unknown photographer, Union City, Indiana. Privately held by Jean Marie Diaz, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Linden California. 2009.

Tombstone Tuesday: Margaret Theresa KELLY TIERNEY (1872-1911)

Tierney, Margaret grave marker, St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, Union City, Randolph, Indiana, USA; photograph by Suzanne Stamper-Youmans, 23 Apr 2008. Digital copy privately held by Jean Marie Diaz, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], Linden, California. 2009.

This photo resulted from my first encounter with the website Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness. The amazing Suzanne Stamper-Youmans looked up obits and took photographs, which gave me not only the death date for great-grandmother Margaret Theresa KELLY TIERNEY, but the link to her mother’s LEAHEY family.

Thanks again, Suzanne!

I had known the family story that my grandfather had been adopted as a small child because his mother had died, but I hadn’t been clear on the relationships involved. The evidence came together bit by bit, but now we know that Margaret married William James TIERNEY in Apr 1908, and my grandfather was born in Dec 1908. Margaret died of TB (“from a bad cow,” my mother theorizes) 11 Sep 1911, but not before she had arranged for her son to be cared for by Will’s sister Nellie TIERNEY MCKINNEY and her husband Herbert Vincent MCKINNEY, who eventually adopted him. The formal adoption played a big part in a family tussle over the estate of another of Will and Nellie’s siblings, but that’s another story that hasn’t been properly researched yet…