Using Ancestry: Getting Back in the Game, by Juliana Smith

A while back, my daughter’s martial arts instructor and I were talking about how her interest in the sport sometimes wanes. I remember him saying that there are peaks and valleys in martial arts training. Interest gets strong for a while, and then things happen that pull you away for a while. I can definitely equate that philosophy with family history. For the past couple months, things have been crazy around here, and I haven’t had much time to work on family history. What I’ve been able to do has been scattered at best, and that doesn’t make for the best research.

Last week though, I feel like I actually was starting to make progress, and this week I made time to follow up on my findings from last week’s article. For those of you who have been with me “in the valley,” I thought this week I would share some of the things that got me back in the game.

A Backwards Approach
Last week I was trying to figure out whether a James Kelly I had found near where we had placed our Kellys was the one I was missing in the census. There were a lot of similarities between this James of 21 Irving Place and my elusive James Kelly. They were the same age; had wives with the same name (Margaret); and both had real estate interests and were relatively well off. However, James of 21 Irving had some children that weren’t mentioned in my James’s probate. While they could have died, I thought it too much of a stretch, but decided to take a backwards approach by working to eliminate the Kellys that aren’t related rather than prove they are mine.

This week, I was able to do that. First I searched for James (21 Irving) in 1880. Since his name was so common, I chose his son Franklin to search for because his name was less so. I found Franklin living at 21 Irving Place with a brother, Theodore, but no James. Had he died or just moved, perhaps with one of his other children? I re-used one of my strategies from last week and returned to the New York, Death Newspaper Extracts, 1801-1890 from the Barber Collection at Ancestry and searched for James Kelly. Since he would have died between 1870 and 1880, I focused on those entries, pulling any that could possibly have been him. Some gave very little information besides the name and death date so having that range was helpful.

I printed these out and turned to the Historical Newspaper Collection and began browsing for newspapers with the death dates I had. I found his obituary, which stated,

“KELLY, At his residence No. 21 Irving place, on Tuesday morning, Jan. 10, James Kelly, aged [??] years. Funeral services at the Church of St. Francis Xavier, 16th st., near 6th av. on Friday the 12th inst., at 10 o’clock.”

Here was another similarity. My James’s daughter’s funeral was also at St. Francis Xavier, four years prior.

I have bundled up all of these records and will hang on to them. While he is not my James, it’s still possible that he is somehow related. In addition, as I come across other James Kelly records, they will be helpful in making sure I don’t confuse these two similar families.

As I delved back into the Kelly files and did look-ups in my database, I realized that despite my good intentions to always enter my finds in my database, I had missed a few records. I am now going through my binder and doing a kind of audit to make sure that everything is current in my database. In addition to updating the database, it refreshes my memory, and I’m finding new clues as I put everything together.

Reviewing What Is Available
Last week I also reviewed what databases were available at Ancestry by going to the Search tab at
( and selecting New York
from the map at the bottom of the page. Although I keep a close watch on what goes up on the site when I put together the newsletter, I noticed a couple databases that snuck by me.

New York Alien Residents, 1825-48
According to the introduction, aliens “had no right to acquire, hold, convey, inherit or bequeath land except by act of the legislature. To deal with this problem, the New York Legislature, on April 21, 1825 passed ‘An act to enable resident Aliens to take and hold Real Estate and for other purposes.’ In brief, the Act required an alien to make deposition that ‘he is a resident in, and intends always to reside in the United States, and to become a citizen thereof as soon as he can be naturalized; and that he has taken such incipient measures as the laws of the United States require, to enable him to obtain naturalization.'”

One entry I found in this publication was for:

“Kelly, James, of Cayuga Co., res. of N.Y. for past 5 years; came to U.S. from Donegal, Ire. – 7 Feb. 1841.”

Since Co. Donegal is also the home of my Kellys, I took a quick look at the 1840 U.S. Federal Census for Cayuga and found a James Kelly, who was of the right age range, with a wife and two children of the right age range. Of course when I look for him in 1850, he has vanished without a trace, so I’m back to square one, but I’ll be looking into other records to see if perhaps this is him.

Landholders of Northeastern New York
This book “identifies approximately 600 original grantees whose land awards . . . lay within northeastern New York . . . [and] approximately 9000 persons whose land transactions were completed between 1764 and 1802 within this same region. Northeastern New York as here defined includes all the lands within the present counties of Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Warren, and Washington.”  It predates my Kellys, but I did note a John Kelly, “gentleman” of N.Y.C., who had quite a few land transactions to his name. It appears he died in 1801 as a 9/21/01 transaction lists him as “late of the City of New York, deceased.”

Good News, Bad News
The bad news is, James Kelly continues to evade me, but the good news is I am now really energized and making a concerted effort to find a half hour or so every evening to work on my research. After all, I have a whole lot of James Kellys that I need to rule 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.

5 thoughts on “Using Ancestry: Getting Back in the Game, by Juliana Smith

  1. I find Juliana’s contributions consistantly interesting and informative. I’ve been at the Genealogy table for only a bit
    more than two years, but have recognized numerous “brick-walls” which she has shattered in her searching.
    ” Keep on keeping on “, Juliana !

  2. I could not agree with Harry’s comments more. I look forward to each article in Ancestry Weekly Journal being published and looked up the chapters you wrote for The Source…, specifically because she had written them.

    Juliana, I would love to know how you file or database the extraneous pieces of information about individuals that are not clearly related so that you can find them again in the future. Is it with one of genealogy software or on a separate spreadsheet?

    I have started to use some of your spreadsheet formats in an attempt to break through my own brick walls.

    Thanks for the help,

    Melissa Haskell

  3. I agree with Harry & Melissa, I too appreciate Juliana’s articles and I tend to identify with her, especially in the pursuit of organization (and I have a great tendency to get sidetracked also).

    I too would like to hear about how to file those that are “maybe family” in our research.

    Thank you for writing so clearly, it seems your articles always strike a chord with me.

  4. Hi,
    I feel Juliana’s pain!! I have two families who lived in Brooklyn Urff & Hoecker. They are my brick walls. I keep looking at every new database of Brooklyn but to no avail. Oh well, someday I will hit the “mother lode”. Thanks for all the great articles.

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