The Adoption Witness: John Kelly – With Planted Bonar Evidence?

Great grandsire made himself rare: An American ploughman in Lanarkshire; John Kelly, born in 1859. That was the early 1880s and practically his claim to fame. Still, it told not a whit about the man. Nor was he about to be explained, what reporting as a farm servant, without a bone of family around to give him away. He had a son by a Scottish lass, given to adoption. Then he was gone. Who was he?

Patrick Bonar, an American lad, lived a few miles down the road from John, in another village and different district.  He was just sixteen and apparently on his own. Like John, he did not stick around. They were among a hundred or so such oddities there, of John’s age, ± 10 years, who dared sail east as waves surged west.1 These unattached folk, who were listed as lodger, boarder or servant are typically unidentifiable today, from the “born in the US” penned to the sparse census lines that they left behind in Scotland.  


Kelly tethered himself to a Clydesdale horse in Holytown while the more junior Bonar stoked a furnace in Coatbridge. Nothing remarkable there. Well, they each had left the US bearing essentially Irish names!

Over nine hundred John Kelly were born in the US around 1859.2 One had a Scottish-born mother, and an Irish grandmother, maiden named Bonar. On what chance, then, might these Lanarkshire chaps have been kin who could validate one another?

Note: the post tells the story summary; CLICK HERE for a PDF of fine detail, if wanted.


Here stands John Kelly of Connecticut in the finest American branded worsted suit. Will it fit the man behind the Clydesdale? He was born in Canton, Hartford County in 1859 and his father’s past suggested farming bona fides. Yet, it is his mother who brings him; she left kin in Scotland, who may have prompted an overseas adventure.

Rare: In the US at the time, John Kelly persons with a Scottish parent and history of farming were scarce. It is but surmise, though, that those were essence of our forebear.

Various Family Data 1860


Margaret Trainor Kelly born 1835, died 1892, reads the tombstone of John’s mother – pointing directly, and to the year, to her birth record in Scotland. Her parents were Irish migrants to Renfrewshire; Peter Trainor and Mary Bonar, who had wed in Paisley, St. Mirin’s in 1834.

Their particular history there, ended in 1850 when Mary Trainor and the children, all first generation Scottish, set sail for Philadelphia. Once in the US, widow Mary Trainor remained in Philadelphia. Peter, a coal miner, was not aboard their Bark Hannah Thornton.

Trainor, Bonar and other names that surrounded the family in Renfrewshire, were found around John’s Holytown home, in the 1880s – relationships, unknown.

Margaret was absent from her mother’s 1860 census. Her first child had come in Connecticut in 1856 to husband, John Kelly, who was employed in farm labor.


Scotland-born Charles Bonar was pictured above, with the Trainor family in 1860. He perfectly matched the son of Cornelius Bonar and Rebeccah Smith, who also reared family in Renfrewshire. Their papers showed family origins in Donegal. How Charles came to Pennsylvania by fourteen is not known, but he seemed to be kin to Mary Trainor, close enough to confer on her, that Donegal past.

Two decades later, the young American, Patrick Bonar, was situated in Coatbridge.

Rare: There was a paucity in the States, of Patrick Bonar persons born around 1865, on whom to reflect. According to its next census; zero. Five, with Bonner included. It seemed fair to conjure a Patrick Bonar as child of Charles Bonar.

Of course, Patrick Bonar would only be relevant to a living John Kelly of Connecticut.


US C1880 and City Directories surrounding, became critical to those questions and if Holytown could be Connecticut. The former was not found in Scotland after 1882; he likely returned home between then and the next census of Scotland;1891. So, the latter was sought, dead or alive, in the US. (Elsewhere too, of course.)

The 1880, though, proved to be Connecticut’s last certain census and his last certain document. If he survived 1880, did he then commence a trip, or detain at home? To qualify, he would need to have been in Scotland on April 3, 1881

Flavors and spirits: His was a very mobile, but fiercely close sibling group, who tracked together. Except, apparently. for John. The flavor of that story must be told for hidden in their comings and goings, was a possible clue as to his fate. It may also reveal if John had the spirit for such a trip abroad, so uncommon to his day.


John was still home with his parents on June 5, 1880, in an essentially intact family unit that had recently moved from Canton to Ellington CT. They had entered textiles. The census said John “works in a woolen mill”. Since that also described John Sr., distinguishing between the two going forward, was dicey.

The home was yielding to the call of the young. James and Thomas were absent. but together as cloth finishers in Philadelphia, the city of their grandmother. They were priming a warm blanket their parents had woven and testing the strength of its warp and weft to enfold, release, and enfold their siblings, again and again, throughout their lives. Excluding John. (PDF)

Loom City: nearby Rockville CT, center of textile excellence, called the family, next. There the parents lived out their days and are buried in St. Bernard Cemetery. After Philadelphia, James and Thomas caught up with whatever family remained there. Thomas and Peter were weavers at Hockanum Mills whose prized fabric made up President McKinley’s inaugural suit.3

Hockanum Company: office 125 West Main Street. Organized 1836. Capital $80,200. Employ 350 hands, 10 setts machinery, 113 broadlooms in the manufacture of fine cassimeres and worsteds. Pres. and Treas. George Maxwell, Manager, George Sykes

U.S. City Directories, 1822-1895. Rockville 1883 p. 19. F. Killenberger, Publisher.

The sibling story resumed; James became a mill overseer who may have guided family employment. He left Rockville at least twice in his career path, finally returning, to re-establish his family on Nye Street. He and his Mary Morrison are buried alongside their parents.

James was off to Providence County, RI around 1888. The next decade and half saw various siblings cohabitate in Pawtucket: James with Hugh, Thomas with Peter, Miss Margaret with Miss Ellen and so forth. Never John, at least not obviously.

Misses Jane and Margaret cared for widower Father. They also had textile jobs, living with each other at times, and at times with other siblings. Their later years were with Peter in Plymouth MA, with all employed at a worsted mill. The three share a headstone there, in Middleborough, nearby Thomas and Isabelle Burke.

Mary, as O’Brien, took Miss Nellie to Springfield IL then dropped her home to Rockville, when jobs in New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts tagged her Matthew.  The O’Briens lay in Lawrence MA.


Connecticut held no state census and mandate to gather vital statistics came too late to be helpful. So, street directories provided direction during the twenty-year gap to Census 1900. They do not reveal age; felt in this hunt.

The brothers were James John, Thomas Andrew, Peter F and Hugh Bernard. One early census suggested John S. The first four were keen on pairing their middle initial with forename; a huge assist in discerning their living arrangements over time and place.

The awful thwart: Per directory statement, Rockville’s 1881-1882 edition was not produced, or is otherwise unavailable. Those were the very years to tell if the Candidate died untimely, or took pause from his residence!

The letdown: Mill worker, John Kelly, was listed at the Rockville home of siblings. First taken to be brother John, he was far more likely to be father John. Progression could be seen over the years, from mill worker to stone mason – consistent the elder’s evolving censuses. To be sure, there were other confounding John Kelly persons, who were dismissed, on best evidence.

The upbeat: Youngest brother. Hugh, married Fleda Butler (Fish), in 1918 in Windsor County VT. In fact, Peter joined that household. As a wedding gift to heritage, their papers shared that John Sr. was John James Kelly from Dublin, Ireland. They grew their family in Vermont, where they are buried.

Hugh seemed lost around the 1900 mark. That census did list a Hugh Kelley in Hartford CT, a boarder, within his age range. He was dismissed, not for lack of his “B” and an Irish mother, but for the occupation of electrician. Like Thomas A and Peter F, Hugh B had been a wool weaver before and after that census.

Hugh’s case had come up empty. The decision to close John’s search was imminent for no new leads, when a document owing to Hugh’s son disclosed his father was also an electrician. Hartford’s directory was then visited, with this stunning find;

Hugh B Kelly, Litchfield

Migrations from Hartford Connecticut. Hartford Connecticut City Directory 1901

That Hugh B had migrated to Litchfield was stunning because of that blanket of sibling care – when coupled with awareness of an equally equivocal listing in that same census, in Litchfield!


A John Kelley lived in Watertown, Litchfield, CT in 1900.(Note A) He even had a Scottish mother, was single, a boarder who could read and write and a “laborer in a rolling mill” – but, he was five years too old. Plus, Watertown was no place for a woolen weaver; the keyword “wool” had no output. On the upside, there were few contenders for the older character in the 1880 or 1910 censuses. This evidence was too flimsy to claim John on its own, but Hugh in Litchfield, added weight.

Pins and needles and rolling things: Assuming John was now identified, Watertown Town Historian, Christine Shields, gave some delightful insight.4 About 1853, the Wheeler and Wilson Manufacturing Company set up in Watertown to manufacture its sewing machine. The town had a pin factory, in fact, its census teemed with farmers and pin factory workers. Its silk factory first wound thread about a card, then spooled it, for needs of the new machine. The rolling mill that John referenced would have been the famous Brass Rolling Mills of Waterbury. Watertown and Waterbury are in different counties, but just down the road, one from the other. It is a short walk, still common in today’s commerce.

Watertown had but one preserved directory: 1884. That Hugh was in contact with his brother could not be verified, but he had some unexplained years that an unpublished stay in Litchfield would cover. Watertown though, was not going to prove that John lived for the Scotland tour and Watertown would now be John’s last evidence.


John Sr. was getting on; in 1905 he joined Peter in Pawtucket, dying there in 1908.

The original 1908 run of the newspaper, The Rockville Leader had been preserved in town.5 Director Jean Luddy of the Vernon Historical Society and volunteer Jim, were most helpful in locating two precious pieces.6 John Sr. was brought home and today, the warm tones in his obituary attest to the loving family he left behind. All ten of his children lived to mourn him!

The Rockville Leader January 30 1908

Kelley-Kelly: spellings have been presented as they appeared in source documents; most often Kelley. The Pawtucket clerk named John Kelly; the Rockville obit, John Kelley. All tombstones referenced in the PDF were notably etched as Kelly.

Kelly is important to the story. Thanks again for the diligence of volunteer Jim in securing the clerk’s note. It had not been imagined or requested, but proved very valuable.

Holytown was Kelly at census; moreover, he penned himself Kelly at the Registrar’s Office, attesting to the birth of his son. The latter episode was more definitive as executed by its owner, whereas that for a lodger, boarder, or servant, was of a landlord.


The Connecticut family of go-getters was led by a father with four distinct occupations. Like his father, John may have evolved his work life to revisit or learn the plow. His siblings were remarkable in experience over many venues – many more than have been presented. John seemed out-of-step with them in textiles, but then, maybe that augured well for his imagined solo adventure on a farm abroad.

Connecticut appeared to fit Holytown’s profile. Only now, would it make sense to put effort into determining if Patrick Bonar might support his case.


That Patrick Bonar failed US Census 1870, made sense when Charles Bonar did too. Turned out, Charles married Bertha Daniels in Nova Scotia in 1872. Neither male made Canada’s 1871.

Charles and Bertha Bonar emerged in Boston, MA in 1880 – as Bonnie. However, with a child named Rebecca, odds were, they were Bonar. Furthermore, they were Bonar in 1900, with an added son; Cornelius. In a huge disappointment, no Patrick ever graced a family scene.


The furnace stoker was likely one of the variant namesakes in US Census 1870, first presented as five, plus the mythical son of Charles. Down one. One was from Cattaraugus County, NY. In that case, Bonner had been erroneously posted for Connor. Down one more. The balance was born in Pennsylvania, save one from Peaine, Manitou, Michigan.  The latter, who was found as a stepson in 1880, was referenced to Bonar. Up one. Unfortunately, most of his antecedent information was missing from the systems, such that his father’s core data is lost. No Scottish influence was detected in the remaining Pennsylvanians, except through association, for Patrick of Delaware County. This Patrick had been called Augustine until after 1880. Up one more. Even steven on Patricks.


House guest, Charles Bonar, caused the uproar on Patrick Bonar in the first place. Four decades later, another house guest raised stakes for the Delaware County chap.

Philadelphia City Directory delisted Mary Trainor in 1888. She had probably died, without record. She had lived with her daughter, Annie and husband Henry Culmery, variously a tavern owner and grocer. The couple was at 4821 Greenway, when Henry died, with Annie following in 1906.

Census 1900 for widow Annie was terribly curious. “Mother”, Jane Bonner, was at home! A Jane Bonner died at that address in 1903, who was destined for burial at St. Charles Cemetery in Delaware County, PA. Jane had lived in that county since 1850, with her husband, Charles.

Jane was Scotland-born, Charles, Irish. They were likely “Charles Bonnor and Jannet Steurt” who wed at Paisley St. Mirin’s in 1841. Jane lived in the Paisley neighborhood of Peter Trainor and Mary Bonar. This suggested kinship between Charles and Mary, with the spread of Donegal links.

Spreading in Delaware County: Patrick Augustine Bonner was born in 1863 to the Irish couple, Cornelius Bonner and Susan McMakin, in Chester. Patrick started his career there, in a cotton mill and ended it as a photographer/artist in Philadelphia, where he died in 1908.

Now, Jane’s Charles, Susan’s Cornelius and Patrick Augustine all worked in Delaware County’s cotton mills and Jane had proved close to Mary Bonar. A set of Donegal-steeped, Scotland-interrupted kinship was needed. That was not so easy to know, but then ….


A domestic servant to well-to-do coal merchant, Thomas C Cahill of Philadelphia, was a fair match to Mary Trainor’s namesake daughter, for Census 1870. It might not have been called for her on its own merit, but servant-mate Ann McMakin added some weight.

Cornelius Bonner and Susan McMacken had no marital record, but their first child appeared around 1861 in Chester. They had no C1860 together either, but that census listed sisters Ann and Susan, of appropriate ages, with McMakin parents in Chester. This certainly grew the impression that Augustine’s mother, Susan, was Ann McMakin’s sister, who, in turn, was servant-mate with Miss Mary Trainor.

Patrick Bonar of Coatbridge could not be tied to Scotland’s Charles Bonar in America, but Jane Bonner adroitly provided this stand-in. Patrick Augustine was an improved choice; his 1863 birth was a better match to John, his proposed travel partner, while still fitting the heritage search custom of 1865 ± 2.

OH! James and Thomas were already in Philadelphia around travel time; perhaps, John and Augustine visited and hatched a plan for Scotland. Perhaps not, too.

No other idea to identify Patrick Bonar of Coatbridge percolated. If the Patrick piece failed altogether, this John candidate had presented a fair story on his own.


The Charles Bonar “bonus” proved dud again. He did leave all his Renfrewshire siblings behind in Scotland, as expected, but none migrated to Lanarkshire (PDF). Any family influence around Holytown would have to be found elsewhere.

There were Trainor in their Lanarkshire area, but it seemed more prudent to focus on Bonar. If Holytown were the namesake from Connecticut, then Bonar would be common to both.

The test case was Patrick Bonner, an age-peer of Margaret Trainor Kelly. He and his wife, Bridget Lynch, had left Ireland for Coatbridge in the early 1860s, with a couple of children in tow. Their next five were born Bonar, in Coatbridge.

Patrick died in 1903. His son, the informant, gave forebear names of Patrick Bonner, a farmer, and Jane Carlin. Patrick Bonar and Jeannie Carlin from Donegal are cited in Ancestry Family Trees, for parents of Ann Bonar. While unproven as Patrick’s sibling, she was age appropriate to be so. No competition was found.

It seems that kin were available to have called John of Connecticut on a young man’s sojourn to Holytown.


The plethora of positive discoveries enhanced the resume of John Kelly of Connecticut for the position of John Kelly of Holytown.

Yet, did a woolen worker chuck that job to manage a Clydesdale? Bigger elephants lurk in the room of doubt. It seems unlikely that records will ever tell if Connecticut, specifically, took leave of the USA, in the small window of travel opportunity. For all candidates, sailing documents that have been preserved from the day, prove unhelpful, for they specify birth, only to the country level.

The evidence is utterly circumstantial, but still allows John Kelly of Connecticut to stand proudly in his American worsted, contending in the search for John Kelly, the American ploughman of Holytown. The wonderful family he represented, would make an honorable heritage. It seems it could have been so.


This page is the summary story from the attached PDF. Sources, details and fuller stories are found there, except for the following:

Note A: US Census 1900 for John Kelley at Watertown Litchfield, CT is incorrectly mapped at some genealogy sites to Washington, Litchfield CT. It is due to heavy ink in handwriting of the enumerator.


1 Search was conducted at on National Records of Scotland Census 1881 of Lanarkshire: Criteria: Born=1859±10. Location=USA. Lived in=Lanarkshire. Keyword=America. Relationship=lodger + boarder + servant. (Omitting keyword=America gives in a much higher result, still miniscule of population inflow, compared to outflow. Review of the extra flow, reveals most were not born in America)

2 Search was conducted at on National Archives and Records Administration US Census 1870. Criteria: Forename=John. Surname=Kelly and variant. Born=1859 ± 2.  Location=USA. Next, John had asserted that he was a British Subject – results were omitted where both parents were born in the US. Note: US 1860 collected the first half of that year, and none of 1861. The real John Kelly may have already left for Scotland by June of 1880, so US C1870 was the most comprehensive collection of contenders. All three were consulted.

3 The Hartford Courant Article Textile Excellence Put Rockville on the Map by David Rhinelander, The Hartford Courant, August 25, 2000.

4 Watertown History Museum, 401 Main Street, Watertown CT, 06795

5 The Library of Congress, Chronicling America: Libraries That Have It

6 Vernon Historical Society, 734 Hartford Turnpike, Vernon CT. 06066

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.

4 thoughts on “The Adoption Witness: John Kelly – With Planted Bonar Evidence?

    1. Hi Sue – The system wouldn’t let me edit your address, so I sent you an invite, using your new one. I’m impressed if you have read my daunting John Kelly series! I think only ancestors of the referenced would want to get to my data. I shall be returning to Matt Hemmingsen soon, as I am only at 1912, of his memoirs, which extend to mid-1950s. – great to hear from you – Marilee


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