Imagining Genealogy Fairly

Oh. We meant imagining genealogy “Fairlie”. You see, had you read a preceding post here, “Imagining Genealogy from a Death Bed Rant” then you’d know we had been unfairly stymied by Jane Carroll.

Jane repeatedly claimed she was born in Scotland around 1861, including at her last available census, that of 1911, when she was fifty.1 Still, we were curious that her birth record was not forthcoming despite exhaustive search. Of course, some documents are simply lost to history. No matter; we seemed to have her word on name, birth place and date.  Her daughter, Kate, had confirmed her mother’s maiden and married names on her wedding day, and same were reconfirmed upon Kate’s death.1 Ditto by Kate’s sister. We were good to go with all Jane’s prime points covered for our limited, yet potentially pivotal, intersection with her life.

After Jane’s story was told, we received Kate’s whisper. You know; that little notion that says one more document is needed, however redundant it would be. Well now, Kate must have become uneasy with herself, for she informed differently at her mother’s death. Her reveal was stunning for it exposed her mother’s birth as 1856 and under a different surname.1 A singular record of rebuttal of Jane’s life’s story.  Not fair, we howled. Our hard work, put to question by sleight of name and age.

Hmm, this reminds of a comment Renaissance Ann put on one of this blog’s posts. You’d be in for some delightful reads at her blog. Her data is wonderfully thorough, made pleasurable by enviable graphics.

My grandmother “lied” about her age. You might think she “lied” to make herself younger, but you would be wrong. Not only did she lie about her own age she lied about my grandfather’s age. My grandfather was born in 1880 and my grandmother was born in 1903. They were 23 years apart. Grandmother did the only thing that made sense; she made herself older and made my grandfather younger.

Now, the underlying objective of the Jane saga was to profile our biological great grandfather – John Kelly, born 1859 US. 1, 4  Jane was wed to a US John Kelly, likewise born about 1859. 2 She would only be of interest to us, if it were our John who married her. That would be after 1882, when he left our biological great grandmother with whom he fathered a non-wedlock son, in Scotland.1 The mystery was topical in the book “Double Genealogy; the Adoption Witness.” 3 Just who was our John?

So, putting Jane Carroll and her John Kelly aside (although not utterly disqualifying them), we put our newly educated alert on our ongoing search for our John, should he prove to be other than Jane’s.

Fairlie, then; fairly. Sum total of evidence on our John Kelly was captured in the 1881 Census of Scotland and at the 1882 birth of his son.1, 4 He was an unmarried farm servant. His absence from Scotland’s 1891 Census was confounded by the destruction of the 1890 US Census. Thus, the best path forward seemed to be backward. That is, to find a US- born John Kelly in Scotland Censuses prior to 1881. Our thinking was that perhaps he re-visited his Scottish roots in the early 1880s. If so, we might have luck in determining his background.

He was the only US-born John Kelly captured in the 1881 census of Scotland. It provided the sole statement found for his birth: 1859 .4 One-time census statements should always be suspect. No US-born John Kelly was found in Scotland’s 1871 Census.4 There was one in 1861, but he was reportedly born about 1855, or four years too soon.1, 4 That he was grandson to James Fairlie, a coal merchant, offset this shortcoming because grandfather’s adoptive family were coal miners. Plus, 1855 was competing against the unverifiable 1859 birth date.  We decided to explore further.

The 1861 Fairlie Census at West Greenock, Renfrewshire included married daughter, Janet Kelly, b. 1818 Scotland.1 Also, grandson R F. Kelly, born 1845, Scotland, and John.  The family count was ten, including those of surnames Crawford and Ross. Details on these persons, including R.F. Kelly, will soon be posted under this blogs menu “Writing Genealogy” > “Not My Ancestor; Maybe Yours”.

Janet Fairlie married John Kelly in 1841, Scotland.1 Three children were documented at ScotlandsPeople before they immigrated to the United States. This is mentioned because of an iffy US Census 1850, at Philadelphia.2 It lists John Kelly b. 1817 Scotland, whose occupation was painter, with Jeanette b. 1821 Scotland and son Charles, b. 1850 New York.  The Scottish children were not present, although clearly, they all would have been under teenage.  At least R. F. had survived, for he appeared in Census 1861. New York documents supported Charles’ birth in May 1850, followed by christening in December 1851. 2 This increased the likelihood that Philadelphia was a credible find. Charles was not seen in future censuses.

Janet’s husband was not with her in 1861, and not seen again until US Census 1870. 2 The family was then found in New Lots, King County, New York.  It refined his occupation to house painter, and placed his birth at 1815, Scotland. The only child in this household was John H. b. 1854 NY. He was a Postal Clerk.

Our John Kelly was supposedly born about 1859. This John Kelly was actually born in 1854. Ah, but his birth/christening documentation left some extra room to wonder. He was documented as John Henry Kelly, born September 1854 New York and christened July 1860. Shades of Jane Carroll.  1861 vs 1856 and 1860 vs 1854. What was it with our ancestors?  

We know that the “where and when born” census question of those days was open to some interpretation. That was a time when many responders neither read nor wrote. Could our John Kelly [of unknown parentage] have been John Kelly [of mother maiden name, Fairlie] who was replying with his christening date?

Otherwise, our John’s 1859 could have been off in its last digit.  Long shot, but then we had practically no shots to shoot.

John Fairlie was with his mother in New Lots, Kings County NY in 1880.2 She was now widowed, and he, an unmarried engraver. He would have had time for a year or two in Scotland.   US Census 1890 was destroyed, but John was still an unmarried engraver, living with his mother in Kings County in 1900.2   He was yet a bachelor in 1903, when he married Elizabeth Wallace in New York.2 His father died in 1876; his mother, 1905. 2

His engraver skills rather spoke against Mr. Fairlie being our John.  Ours was a ploughman. If John Fairlie sought his roots in Scotland, he would likely have returned to existing family in Greenock and able to pursue his more arts intense profession.

In the end, we dismissed John Fairlie from consideration as potential ancestor. We felt it fair to assess his occupation, combined with his age discrepancy, as incompatible with our givens. Further, he seemed like a dedicated soul, tending to his widowed mother, until he was age forty-eight; not the adventurer we sought.

Reminder: there is more detail, here, under “Not My Ancestor, Maybe Yours”

Double Genealogy: the Adoption Witness and Updates are © Marilee Wein 2018.

Please scroll below Notes and Sources to comment or like, etc. 

Notes and Sources

1 Cited BMD data were found in Old Parish Records and Statutory Registers at ScotlandsPeople and are Crown Copyright © National Records of Scotland. These include but are not limited to: Marriages 1906 Kelly Kate 494/2 13.
Cited census data 1841-1891 are from ScotlandsPeople and are Crown Copyright © National Records of Scotland. These include but are not limited to: 1911 Kelly, Jane (Census 494/2 3/7 and 1861 Kelly, James R F (Census 564/3 45/11
2 Documents accessed at © 2017 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
New Jersey, Dept. of State, Div.of Archives and Record Management, State Archives at Trenton. Citing NJ Marriages 1678-1985 Specifically, Jane Carroll to John Kealy. and NJ Births 1670-1980 film 494199 and NJ Births and Christenings 1660-1980.
US Censuses 1840-1900 from United States Archive and Record Administration (NARA)
New York Births and Christenings 1640-1962 for Charles Kelly and John Henry Kelly
3 Double Genealogy: The Adoption Witness. Published by Copyright © 2018 Marilee Wein
4 Documents accessed at FMP: Findmypast Ltd., © 2017 Findmypast and with thanks to Findmypast The underlying Scotland BMD and Census data are Crown copyright © National Records of Scotland.

5 thoughts on “Imagining Genealogy Fairly

  1. It’ll never stop surprising me how many folk can trace their roots to Greenock. I was brought up in West Greenock for the first 4 years of my life as my parents, especially my dad’s side, had lingered in the area for possibly centuries, as I recently found out from the ‘Caldwell Papers’.

    We did the Couchsurfing thing for years, allowing folk from around the world to stay with us while visiting our part of Scotland, and about 12yrs ago a young guy by the name of Geoff came to stay with us from Canada. It was clear he had a native American heritage from his colouring but his mum was sure he had Scottish roots too and did some research as he was staying with us. She sent him the results and it turned out he had Greenock Caldwell ancestry. Practically a cousin 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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