From day one, I was told that my ancestor, Martin Kelly, owned a boardinghouse, maybe two. Family lore was that he and his wife made a living renting rooms to people coming up to the city of San Francisco. They owned a “mile” house which marked how many miles the traveler had to go to reach the city center. The boardinghouse had a saloon, so they had two sources of income.
For the most part despite the difficulties San Francisco has presented, I’ve been able to prove family lore to be true. But, not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined just how successful Martin Kelly had been. In this case the real story is even better than the family lore.
One Estate Indenture Record
This started with an exciting find. FamilySearch.org had a beta feature called experimental search open to the public for a few days, so I took advantage of it.
Searching on the surname Meincke in California using experimental search I found this indenture mentioning my 3rd great aunt, Mary (Kelly) Meincke. I’m not all that familiar with these kinds of records, so I started flipping through pages.
When I looked through the pages (you need to scroll forwards and backwards to capture everything), I found that it pertains to the estate of my 2nd great grandfather, Martin Kelly.
Wow! Here I thought his files were lost in the 1906 earthquake and fire since he died in 1899. There’s a reason this survived. This record was in San Mateo County not San Francisco County!
Records In Two Counties
I should know more about San Francisco Bay Area history than I do. His properties were within both countries. This area where he owned his boardinghouses was in a sort of blurry area between San Mateo and San Francisco Counties that was reported different ways depending on the year and/or who was doing the reporting.
Although his obituary said he died in San Francisco, this indenture after his death was filed in San Mateo County. Perhaps if his will was filed in San Mateo County it survived, too.
Mary Meincke’s Role
Gotta love a surname like Meincke! This Mary (Kelly) Meincke must have been a formidable woman in the late 1800s. She is listed as Executrix on this estate, she was administratix on her uncle, Patrick Dolan’s estate, she owned property with her husband, and her husband left her the family business, the Five Mile House, to her.
Why was she in charge of her father’s estate? Why not his son, Matthew, who was alive and well when his dad died? I will never know, but I am guessing because she could handle it.
What Land Did This Indenture Refer To?
I am not entirely sure. I need more information to determine it.
I decided to take a different tack in finding out. I went back to the newspapers concentrating on San Mateo which I’d never researched before. I hoped to find reference to this land in real estate notices.
I didn’t identify the land parcel, but I found something better. Martin’s name didn’t help, but when I put in the name of the executor of his will, Patrick Canavan…BINGO!
I found an article about his will in the Times Gazette, 27 Oct 1899. Holy man! First, he died in Colma not San Francisco as his obituary stated. And, he owned a tad more than a couple boardinghouses. The man owned 6 properties when he died including 23 acres in Half Moon Bay. That land would be worth a fortune today!
He divided things equitably between his children giving each child 1/5th. Ain’t this something? Because Mary Small’s mother died prior to Martin Kelly’s death, as a grandchild she got her mother’s 1/5th. But, the 5 Jones grandchildren whose mother had also died before him had to share 1/5th between them.
Family Lore was right. It just wasn’t the whole story.
Truth be told, my grandmother and her sister were right that their Kelly ancestor owned a couple boarding houses. But, he was a far more successful businessman than they knew.
I’ve had to reassess how I think about Martin and revise his story. In my mind, he was a struggling proprietor who made ends meet. He ran the boardinghouse and his wife cooked and cleaned. He made a little side money hosting boxing matches outside the saloon.
In reality, he did really well for himself and carved out a little part of the American dream in the Colma area. Not bad for an immigrant who couldn’t read or write.
He owned the 6 Mile House, the 7 Mile House (or 7 Mile Hotel), possible the West End Saloon, and who knows what else? Yes, Martin Kelly did pretty darn well for himself.
This article written for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 1, Family Lore