Tracking Other Families to Find Mine, by Juliana Smith

It was taunting me, mocking me even. It was that darned spreadsheet I posted in conjunction with last week’s article.  Every time I looked at all those blanks, I was frustrated. Finally one night after the dishes were done and my daughter was tucked in bed, I decided to answer the challenge.

James Kelly in particular was haunting me. We have a significant number of records for him, but prior to 1880 I’ve been unable to identify him in the census. I know of a daughter, Anna Maria Josepha, born about 1837 (through her burial and death record), and through her obituary I know that her mother’s name was Margaret. There are family stories about a son who died in the Civil War but so far I have nothing to substantiate that. There is another James Kelly in the family plot who was either buried or moved to the plot in 1865, so it’s possible that this is the Civil War veteran. (There were four family members who were interred in the plot on the same date, including one who died in 1852, so I am working on the assumption that at least some, if not all of them, were moved from another plot and didn’t die at the same time from an epidemic or some kind of accident.)

The thing is, for as much time as I’ve spent going through censuses, I still don’t have them. I decided to follow up on some of the close matches to either make a connection or rule them out. Here are some of the methods I employed in trying to find a match.

Focus on the Wife
Since our James was living alone in 1880, I thought I’d look and see if I could find a death record for his wife, Margaret. I went to the Search tab at and selected New York from the map at the bottom of the page. In scanning the databases that were available, I spotted New York, Death Newspaper Extracts, 1801-1890 from the Barber Collection, which covers the time period I need. I did a search for Margaret Kelly and printed off several entries of interest.

Several were close to James’s age, and one was for “Margaret, inf dau of James and Margaret Kelly” in 1839. (I’ll have to follow up on this one later.) One of entries that was close to his age read “Sunday, June 1 [1862], City, Margaret w James Kelly 48 2 5.”

I set off to the Historical Newspaper Collection to see if I could locate a full obituary and I was in luck. The 2 June 1862 New York Times had the entry but no funeral information. I checked the following day, 3 June 1862, and that entry had more information. It read:

KELLY.—In this City, on Sunday, June 1, at her late residence, No. 21 Irving-place, after a long and severe illness, which she bore with Christian fortitude, Margaret, the beloved wife of James Kelly, aged 48 years, 2 months and five days.

The funeral will take place this (Tuesday) morning, June 3, at 10 o’clock, from St. Peter’s Church, Barclay-St. The friends of the family, and of her son-in-law, Daniel Lalor, are respectfully invited to attend, without further notice.

My curiosity was peaked. I checked on MapQuest and located Irving Place and then used that location to find it on a map I have from 1863. (I do this frequently because, provided there weren’t street name changes, it makes it easier to find on the older maps with the teeny-tiny print. Saves a lot of eyestrain!)

Irving Place was in the 18th ward, so I searched for the James Kellys in the 18th Ward. I found the family easily in 1860, but there was no James (the son) and there was no Anna (the daughter). The head of household’s age put him within a couple years of my James. My Anna would have been about twenty-three and her brother James was about to go off to war, so their absence could be explained by them having moved out on their own, but there were now additional family members for whom I have no record.

Since the 1860 census doesn’t state relationships, I can’t state for certain how these people are related, but the obituary named Daniel Lalor as James’s son-in-law, so I can assume that Adaline Lalor was their daughter. Other household members include Franklin, age 17; Walter, age 16; and Agnes, age 13. Then in 1870, Daniel has passed away, and Adeline Lalor is listed with two young girls that also have the surname Lalor.

Where Did They Go?
Here’s where my mind starts going in circles. When our James died in 1896, his only heirs were nieces and nephews. In fact, his grand-niece, my great-grandmother was the recipient of that estate. So, is it a stretch to think that this family might be mine? Where did the rest of his family go? Our James lost two siblings and a daughter to “consumption” (tuberculosis). Due to the contagious nature of the disease, it’s not entirely out of the question that more of the family succumbed as well. I found an obituary for Daniel Lalor from 1864. It would be interesting to see what he died of at the age of thirty-one.

I have a feeling that this is not our family. However, I have decided to pursue it further, if nothing else, to separate this James and Margaret from mine.

James the Baker
I called my mom to see if any of this sounded familiar. She dug through some old Kelly notes and found a transcription of the same family in the 1855 New York State census. It was a goldmine of information, but the most interesting note was that James had been a baker. In the 1860 census he was listed as “Rec. of Taxes” and in 1870 as “Ex-Post Master.” But the ages of James and Margaret were very close and Adeline and Agnes also appeared, so I’m fairly certain that these are the Kellys of Irving Place. Franklin and Walter were noticeably absent, but at ages eleven and twelve they may have been away at school.

James was a relatively wealthy man. An industry schedule at the end of that state census gave the following information:

James Kelly, baker
Capital invested: $14,000
In tools and machinery: $2,000
Raw materials: quantity 2,500
Kind: flour
Value: $30,600
Annual product: bread
Kind of motive power: hand
Persons employed: 9 men, 4 women
Children under 18: 3 boys, 1 girl
Wages exclusive of board: $40/$20

As Mary Penner mentions in her article this week, Ancestry has some state censuses and although New York is not yet available, there are several other states that are online. With information like this, they are definitely worth a look.

My Directory Collection
Years ago, on a trip to the Family History Library, I culled 275 James Kellys from New York City directories, beginning in 1816, on through the mid-1850s. Transcribed into a spreadsheet, I was able to sort some of them using a combination of addresses and occupations. I colored the fields as I sorted out various families so I could easily follow them through the years.

Kelly city directory grid.bmp 

Click on the image to enlarge it.

In 1852-53, there is a James who is listed as “baker and 2nd Ward Alderman.” Hmmm, a politician. A high-profile position might make this task a bit easier and it could explain the later census occupations which would seem to be political in nature. The address doesn’t match, but since there is no James Kelly living at 21 Irving Place at that time, it’s possible that he moved there between the directory listings I have which end in 1853, and the census where I pick him up 1860 in the 18th ward. Since I haven’t found any other James Kellys who are bakers, I think this is the likely scenario. I’ll need to follow up in directories for those interim years to see if they support this theory.

Follow-Ups in Newspapers
I’ve decided to use elimination as my mode of attack for a while. With the spreadsheet, I have been able to track several other James Kellys through the years. I am now going through the Historical Newspaper collection, both in search of more on my politician friend, and also to collect obituaries that mention a James Kelly. I’ve already found one obituary with an address that matches a man on my directory spreadsheet and have noted his entries with a comment giving his death date and where I found it.

As I piece together these other families, I’m beginning folders for each family and have them gathered in an expandable file so they don’t get mixed in with my Kelly research. I hope to eventually make a connection between one of them and my family, but even if I don’t, at least I’ll have enough information to rule them out.

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Juliana Smith has been an editor of newsletters for more than eight years and is author of The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book. She has written for Ancestry Magazine and wrote the Computers and Technology chapter in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy, rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e- mail at, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.

2 thoughts on “Tracking Other Families to Find Mine, by Juliana Smith

  1. I was glad you mentioned ‘other families’. I found one as an inlaw, who opened almost 400 names for me, as well as Revolutionary War records. Another place I found names, when I looked for cemetary information, two names that I had never heard surfaced as the people who paid for an entire family plot, paying for 12 gravesites. I know only a relative would have done that, so I have two new names to check to find my own family.

  2. I am trying to find my great-greatgrandfather’s parents (William Nichols) and also how Curtis came to be a middle name in our family. By checking on his daughter’s family (my greatgrandmother’s sister) I am moving closer. I haven’t succeeded yet, but I have several clues to follow up on. I have used lots of census reports. I lost William after 1860 until I found his daughter, Apperline, in the 1880 census and found out where her daughter was born. The latest info I have re Apperline is the 1930 census when she was probably eighty-eight and my sister was about eight. We are pretty sure that there was interaction between these two families. That interaction has given us clues to follow.

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