The Adoption Witness: The Poughkeepsie John and Mistresses Mary, Quite Contrary.

John and Mary Kelly kept home in Poughkeepsie, NY in 1900.1a He was native there, late 1850s, of Irish immigrants while she had arrived about 1888. They were married six years by then.1b It became apparent that she was Mary Devlin, born in the late 1860s, of Irish folks in Scotland.

Mary Devlin 20 Oct 1867 Whitburn WL

The best fit for Miss Devlin was selected from the dozen or so look-alikes in 1881 Scotland.1c She was fourteen, of Whitburn, West Lothian, but living in Lanarkshire’s Old Monkland. Her parents, James and Bridget, uprooted soon thereafter, to begin anew in England.1d All her siblings went too, but she did not, leaving her ripe for a trip to America.

We were smug to brimming on our rightness over this pick for John’s wife, on seeing it endorsed by some independent family trees. Now, John might be our kin, but she would not. So, we placed her detailed heritage off-stage to the attached PDFCLICK as we had necessarily profiled her in great depth for the selection process.2 It serves to broaden our story line and hopefully her kin will stumble upon it, and have a little fun.

Ulterior motive: With the couple’s history now known, it was time for their assist with an intricate proof on an ancillary matter! It depended on their having met in Scotland, rather than by chance, in New York. Mary, though, was a contrary sort, as she continued to display here. To begin with, she was not forthcoming with an itinerary to advise us on the particulars of her transatlantic trip, or possible travel companions.


By now we all know, this also happened in Lanarkshire in 1881: one John Kelly was situated on a Holytown farm. He was a British Subject (born of just one Scottish or Irish parent, or so, would make that true), claiming US birth of about 1859.3 Only he, in all Scotland, matched that sketch.

Mary’s Old Monkland locale was under ten miles from his farm. He labored as a ploughman and in those days, such employment was signed in six-month contracts when found through regularly scheduled hiring fairs. He potentially moved closer or otherwise, made acquaintance with this Mary Devlin. Or, not.


The two John might be one, but we have no proof the Poughkeepsie gent sailed to Scotland. The latter was a day laborer; not a far fetch from farm laborer – despite that he later became a clerk. Holytown-John was gone from the UK by 1891, so could have sailed home to America in Mary’s timeframe. Neither did he, leave us his travel plans.


In 1882, Holytown-John sired a non-wedlock son with a farm-servant colleague, then vanished. Their son could be Granddad, who was adopted by unrelated, doting parents.

The saga of this adoption began to be revealed through genealogical sleuth, in the Town of Ossining. Poughkeepsie is an hour north, up the most beautiful stretch of the glorious Hudson River Valley. That makes more fun, a look at this Mary Devlin, to confirm that she be the right Mary for the Poughkeepsie wife, and then if so, that her John had visited Holytown.  


Miss Devlin was a Mary-come-lately to our table, so not expected to have impact on our John’s liaison with the farm maid. One would think. We surmised he was visiting in Scotland to connect with a past – yet to be discovered – around Bothwell Parish, and, in so doing, met his farm interest. But, Mary’s people were miners and it was the miner’s lot to move about for work. Over many decades, her family had laid significant tracks right under his Holytown nose and it felt like an important clue was lurking under ours.PDF At any rate, their chances to meet would increase, should she have been inclined to visit. That she could have been a spoiler, egged us on.  


In order to make our story work, Poughkeepsie-John needed a draw to Lanarkshire. Our last post showed he was Kelly-Berrigan.CLICK Berrigan was not a factor in Lanarkshire, or even Scotland. Neither could we discern kin of his Kelly line who may have migrated to Scotland. Plus, we were unfortunately shy of matriarchal names for both his parents. There were relatively few Scots in Poughkeepsie in the 1880s, and none rang a familiar bell around Holytown.

Still, no proof is not proof of not true. To conclude that he made no such trip, is to say that this John Kelly did not stray from his parent’s forever Church Street home, other than to later occupy another on Church Street, with his wife. Our rather glued-in-place, Poughkeepsie-John, seemed fulfilled by staying put.   

The six-year gap: It struck as hugely odd, should Mary have come with, or on account of, her future husband, that having arrived of marital age, they did not marry until 1894. Especially since he was in his late thirties, still living at home with his mother on wedding day. Maybe that said he was actually the reluctant Holytown-John. There will always be hope, that our script was right.

Really though, had she not come pre-asked by John, then we expected to find hints of her own family tree in Dutchess County, as her draw. None were obvious in the State’s Census of 1892.

Mary refused to help us out!  She did soften when speaking of their five lovely children. Matilda E came in 1895. Daniel, John and Edward followed, with Joseph last, in 1905. They lived on Church Street in Poughkeepsie until John Sr. died, in 1907.1b

Oh! Her tombstone was etched 1869-1953.4 We have encountered verifiable errors on graves before, even in her own orbit, but Mary Devlin of Whitburn was clearly born late 1867. We began to second-guess our pick for John, for this and other reasons specified in her PDF. Her John, as a double agent, faded too.

HA! Real US-John could have been a wanted man, hiding out abroad. In fact, we have one such candidate; a New Jersey-born 1880-inmate of the celebrated Sing-Sing State Prison. [Update: see note A]. Located in the eponymous village then, and nestled into a lovely bluff along the Hudson River, Sing-Sing remains active today, in that town called Ossining. Splendid river view for the guards! This US-John was “Up the River” as the 1930’s movie would later say.5 Most likely, though, the real US-John was just rekindling family ties.



Come 1910, Mary Kelly (Devlin) was a young widow living on one end of Church Street. Her ancient mother-in-law, Ellen Kelly (Berrigan) held to the other. One Matilda McTaggart was situated right next door to Ellen. She was sixty-five.

Widow McTaggart was already on Church Street by 1900. She had arrived aboard the England on 21 SEP 1887 attended by her children of the 1870s and early 1880s: Robert, Thomas, Edward, Patrick, Matilda and Michael. Little Matilda perished before the family’s first US Census.

That household was full of married offspring, with children. The overflow youngest boys, albeit incognito as McTagney, lived with John and Mary Kelly, just two doors down. Their relationship was described as boarders.


Matilda Kelly was fourteen in 1910. Same age, as Old Monkland Mary, when this all started. Why, she demanded of her mother, if grandmother was Bridget, was she Matilda? Might those boarder “McTagney” boys, with a Matilda mother, be her relatives? Mum said nothing, so young Matilda confronted those boys and they gave up that Mrs. McTaggart was Matilda Devlin.

Back in 1892, when John Kelly and Mary Devlin were yet to marry, he was on still on Church Street with Daniel and Ellen. The McTaggart home was then three families away. It was their first American survey. For some reason, Mrs. McTaggart claimed England as their origin. She had told authorities the same thing, for her transatlantic trip. Their true past only seared the eyeballs after forward documentation corrected this claim to Ireland for her, and Scotland for her children.

She was born in Ireland, in 1844, to Edward Devlin and Mary Donnelly. Matilda Kelly interjected the confession to declare that her third brother was named Edward. Did that not mean something?


As a youngster, Matilda Devlin’s family moved to Ayr, Scotland to farm by 1851. As only with the luck of the Irish, they revealed their origin as County Derry. That tidbit would otherwise be lost to the cracks of history.

Matilda married Thomas McTaggart in Ayr in 1872, and remained there, at least until 1884. Her Robert was born as Devlin before her marriage. It certainly occurred that Matilda McTaggart might be Mary Kelly’s mother, but there was no apparent Mary Devlin born under similar circumstance.


The Develin children, as such, were not disclosed in the 1881 Scotland Census nor in its National Records of Birth. Perhaps they were filed under a name of illegitimacy. However, that Mary might call her third son Edward.

Clearly, Mary Kelly (Devlin) was quite possibly of Ayrshire, not West Lothian and Lanarkshire. Still, we will not make that proclamation in that others made the latter connection, and we do not know the cards they hold, while Ayrshire is speculative. We shall continue to seek our heritage elsewhere.

John Kelly, US-born ca 1859, made Scotland Census 1881: Legbrannock area of Holytown District, Bothwell Parish. Who Was He?  No other Scotland count listed him, nor anyone similar, for decades around. This British Subject and ploughman did not wed his partner, but recognized their son’s birth in 1882, then disappeared from ledgers. Their son may have been adopted and become our history. We sought John Kelly in Double Genealogy: The Adoption Witness. CLICK for stories in our continuing search.

Notes and Sources

Note A: New York, U.S., Prison Records 1865-1839 (Feb 1879 to Jun 1880 for John Kelly). He was received on 4 Mar from New York while living at 265 Madison. He was sentenced on 3 Mar for 2 to 6 years. He was Catholic, born in NJ, a driver, 5’9″, 178 pounds, with blue eyes, brown hair and medium complexion. Updated 29 May 2021

1 1a. US Censuses 1840-1940. Original source: NARA including: Kelly, Mary C1910 Poughkeepsie, NY Ward 4 Dist. 68 and Censuses 1860 -1900 Poughkeepsie, for Kelly (or Kelley), John/ 1b. New York Online Genealogy Records at referred to for New York State Department of Health; Albany, NY, USA. New York State Marriage Index// Mary Devlin 21 Nov 1894 to John Kelly // Certificate No. 22189 Poughkeepsie and New York, U.S. Death Index, 1852-1956 Year =1907 for John H Kelly 8AUG1907 Poughkeepsie/1c. Scotland Censuses (C) 1841-1901 (database on-line) Provo, UT, USA. Original Source: National Records of Scotland including: Devlin C1881: 652/1 9 HS 71/ 1d. England and Wales Census 1891, Original Source: The National Archives of the UK (TNA); Kew, Surrey, England; Devlin C1891 RD: Tynemouth, ED 10.

2 Birth(B), Marriage (M) and Death(D) data were found in Old Parish Records (OPR) and Statutory Registers (SR) at ScotlandsPeople also Scotland Censuses (C) 1841 – 1911 and are © Crown Copyright National Records of Scotland. This includes but is not limited to: SRM1863 628/21 for James Devlin and SRB 1867 673/262 Mary Devlin for the graphic. SRD 1872 617/17 Mary McTaggart SRD 1877 617/3 Alice McTaggart. The PDF contains more detailed references.

3 John Kelly, born about 1859 US: drawn from the book “Double Genealogy: The Adoption Witness by Marilee Wein © 2018 Published by Booklocker .com


5 “Up the River” – 1930’s movie with Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart, Warren Hymer and Clair Luce as directed by John Ford.

4 thoughts on “The Adoption Witness: The Poughkeepsie John and Mistresses Mary, Quite Contrary.

  1. Despite genealogical sleuthing, so many stories are simply lost or truncated. One cannot help but wonder how things turned out, what became of this person or that. God alone knows.


    1. Yup, we delve into their past, as though we ought to know their whole tale. I confess the curiosity that drives, but worry about the intrusion. I generally assume good in the characters I cover and have come to wonder if that is right to do. Your good work, for example shows that all too often there are inflictors among the healers. This may sound too weird, but I’d hate to disturb a wronged soul, even one long departed, by inadvertently mischaracterizing that very real soul’s circumstance. As you say, God alone knows.

      Liked by 1 person

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