General Genealogy

How do you spell Kelly?

[Research Journal #5, Entry #10]

I set off to find the Kelly’s in Massachusetts. But guess what? There weren’t there! All the Martin Kelly/Kelley’s were a wash. What to do? What to do?

I decided that there had to be a problem with the surname. Online census indexes are notorious for creative transcription. I had my choice of two states: New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Since I knew they were in New Hampshire in 1849, I started there.

I put in the search Martin Kel*. (* is the wild card. It means find me everything that starts Kel but has a different ending) I got:
Martin Kelby
Martin Kellohor
Martin Kelley
Martin Kellogg
Martin Kelly
Martin Kelton

Neither of the Martin Kelly’s were mine. Martin Kelby might be worth a look, so I clicked on him. Aha! There’s my guy. His surname is written as Kelley as clear as day, but the transcriber saw Kelby.

The family was in Manchester, Hillsboro Co., NH.
Martin Kelley, 22, Laborer, Ireland
Catherine, 20, Laborer, Ireland
Margaret 9/12, New Hampshire

I now know that the Kelly’s were in New Hampshire as early as 1849. They were there in 1850. And, the for some reason they migrated to Massachusetts by 1852. Possibly following work or relatives. Then by 1856, they were in San Francisco where they set up shop as horse traders and boarding house managers. The Kelly’s sure did get around!

The multiple migrations made research a bit tricky especially with the family being in San Francisco before 1906. Most normal records were destroyed. We learned a couple of things:
1. City directories are important to mapping out where a person was between census years.
2. Church have much more to offer besides baptismal and marriage records. The Monitor, a Catholic newspaper, provided an obituary which replaced the lost death certificate.
3. Newspapers can provide information when vital records (birth, death, and marriage) are unavailable.
4. Even with common surnames like Kelly, you must be on the alert for misspellings in records and in indexes. The alternate spelling Kelley was in my mind but certainly not Kelby!
5. Don’t assume you know where your ancestors were at a certain time. I thought for sure the Kelly’s were in Massachusetts in 1850. If I hadn’t given New Hampshire a second shot, I would have missed them.

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