Tombstones Can Have Errors, Too: Part One

Tombstones Can Have Errors, Too: Part One

Recently, a volunteer at sent my photographs of my Kelly family tombstone at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, CA.  Not only was my Great Great Grandmother’s name on the stone, but a couple of her sons.

I was disappointed to find that Michael Kelly was not the Michael Kelly that I had been tracking in the San Francisco city directories up to 1890.  My Michael Kelly died 8 July 1882–or did he?

I tried unsuccessfully to find Michael’s obituary in online indexes.  I even went page by page through newspapers around that date, but came up with nothing.  So, I put the whole darn thing away.

Last night, I took another look.  It occurred to me that something was amiss with Michael’s age.  I noted that he was born 13 March 1853.  The age on the tombstone said “27 years”, but it should have read “29 years”. This got me thinking.  We all know that people didn’t always know their own age, and a person reporting information under the influence of grief, might be off a year or too.  Still, I had to wonder.  I have found obituaries for Martin and Catherine Kelly’s children who died in the 1870s.  Why not Michael?

On a whim, I decided to check the San Francisco newspapers for the same date in 1881 and 1880.  Maybe the year on the stone was wrong.

It didn’t take long before I found what I was looking for.  On the 9th of July, the Daily Alta Newspaper had this little number…


A Michael Kelly committed suicide on the same day my Michael Kelly died–only it was 1881 not 1882!  He was the nephew of John Kelly.  Michael was crippled (it doesn’t say how so) and he was mourning the loss of his Aunt who had died 6 days earlier.

I was jumping for joy.  This was my guy!  This was my guy!  Then I stepped back and doubt set in.  What information in this article pointed to my Michael Kelly?  I knew that he had lived on Jessie Street at one or another.  I also knew that he was a bartender for his father’s saloon a couple of years earlier.

I knew I was on to something, but I still had to prove it.  I either had to prove this was my Michael or that John Kelly was Martin Kelly’s brother.  I planned to see what the census, the newspapers, and city directories would tell me about John Kelly.

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