I’m borrowing this for Randy’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun since I wrote it only two days ago. This is by far my best research adventure of the year. I located obituaries that were out of my reach and I uncovered a new line of my Kelly family tree. None of this would have been possible if a volunteer at findagrave.com hadn’t been kind enough to photograph my family’s tombstones at Holy Cross cemetery in Colma, California.
2010 was the year I figured out that errors had been made on the tombstones at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, CA for my Kelly and Dolan ancestors.
The whole thing started when a stranger at findagrave.com photographed a couple of my family’s tombstones at Holy Cross. I already had copies of the file cards, so I set out to match those up with the data on the stones. The problem? They didn’t match up!
I was already suspicious of the information on the file cards when I learned that my Great Great Great Grandmother, Catherine (Dolan) Kelly had given birth to a child a couple of years after she died. Even modern medicine can’t cure that one!
I also I noticed that the information on file for her children, Joseph and Ellen, didn’t add up. The dates were either confused or their names were mangled.
On top of these two problems, I searched high and low for an obituary for the Michael Kelly who was listed on Catherine’s tombstone. I couldn’t find any mention of his death.
When faced with so many problems, one has to consider if some or all of the information is incorrect. With that in mind, I started over with my newspaper research.
Over several months, I researched the San Franciso Chronicle and the San Francisco Call Monitor. First, I decided to find out when Michael Kelly really died. It turns out that it was a year prior to what the tombstone had. Not only did I find Michael’s real death date, I found out that he had committed suicide. But that wasn’t all of it! I also found out my Great Great Great Grandfather, Martin Kelly, had a brother living in San Francisco. This was huge because it gave me another avenue of research on the Kelly line.
Then I tried to sort out the mess with Joseph and Ellen. I haven’t sorted it all out, but I believe that Joseph could have really be Josephine. I’m not entirely sure but I believe they had one child, Josephine Ellen, who died in 1866. Then another child, Ellen, who died in 1874. Somehow the names were mangled creating a son who didn’t exist.
Finally, my research revealed that the death date associated with my Great Great Great Grandmother really belonged to her sister-in-law. The cemetery file card and the tombstone had two different death dates for Catherine. I searched each newspaper until I found an obituary matching one of the dates for Mary (Kelley) Dolan, wife of Catherine’s brother, Patrick Dolan. Although this solved Mary’s death date, it now leaves me without a death date for Catherine.
How did this mess happen in the first place? During the 1880s San Francisco was expanding at a fast pace. At some point, the cemeteries in the middle of the city needed to be moved to make room for progress. The Kelly’s and Dolan’s were buried at Mt. Calvary and moved to Holy Cross Cemetery in the late 1880s.
I think that since there must have been hundreds of plots being dug up, transported, and reburied that the paperwork was a nightmare. Perhaps things had to be done very quickly or the clerk involved was overloaded. So a typo is made here and name is switched there. No one bothers with the accuracy since everything needs to be done in a rush.
I still have some things to sort out with these reburials. I don’t know why Patrick Dolan paid for the reburial of the Kelly clan and not the patriarch of that family, Martin Kelly (husband of Catherine Dolan). I don’t know when Catherine died. I don’t really know if Catherine or Mary is born in the plot with the stone that bears Catherine’s name. I don’t know why Mary’s name was never added to Patrick’s stone or if she is buried with him. If she wasn’t buried with Patrick, why not? And, why did Patrick buy three extra cemetery plots next to his despite the fact that he had no descendants?
Why, oh why, didn’t my ancestor keep diaries? Why did they move to San Francisco and not live beyond the 1906 earthquake so that I would have records to work with? I guess I can’t blame them for the 1906 earthquake and fire. LOL
What this whole mess has taught me is not only to ask what are the facts but are the facts true?
I blogged extensively about this whole research adventure. You can read about how I unraveled the mystery of the cemetery plots:
Genealogist and writer. Creator of the Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogy and Heritage website, yourislandroutes.com