Location, Location, Location: The Two John Kelleys, Part 15

Where to start…at the end, maybe?

I’ve been back from my genealogical adventure to Ohio for a few weeks now, and my big news is that I did NOT achieve my goal of finding out who John Kelley’s parents were.


I literally stumbled over a huge piece of evidence in a cemetery in the middle of nowhere.

The first thing you should know is West Central Ohio is beautiful. These photos flatten out how hilly it is there. Pictured is Mt Tabor Church and Cemetery due east of West Liberty, Ohio, in the middle of nowhere. The church is no longer in use, and the cemetery is small and very old.*

I went there to find Elizabeth Enoch’s grave and to find out who was buried near her. Quick recap (to save you the trouble of reading the previous 14 posts in this series): Elizabeth, whose maiden name was Kelley, was the wife of a prominent man in the area. In the 1850 census, she and her husband employed a farmhand named John Kelley, who I suspect was my 2x great-grandfather. I believe this because my John Kelley ancestor was definitely married in this county four years after this census was taken, the age listed matches the age I believe he was, and my father and I have DNA matches to the Enochs.

John Enoch household 1850 census
1850 US Census, Salem Township, Champaign County, Ohio

I found a dozen or so Enoch family graves in this cemetery, most of them clustered toward the front right side as you’re facing the church. Many gravestones around them were tipped over or broken.* Engravings were worn down so much that you could barely tell what they said.* John and Elizabeth Enoch had the tallest monument. Plaques for them were mounted on either side of it, and five of their children were buried next to them in a row.

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When I was backing up to take the picture of the Enoch monument, I stumbled over a gravestone—it was a little thing, just ankle high. It couldn’t even fit a full name on it, just the initials “JTN.” It looked like a toadstool compared to the large edifices of the wealthy Enoch family. I was curious so I checked out the larger gravestones next to it, and I found these graves:

The shadows on these photos are distracting, but descendants of John Kelley and his wife, Eliza Hurd, will recognize the last name right away. They are Philip and Rachel Nitchman. Philip and Rachel are the parents of Eliza Hurd’s stepmother. Let me say that another way: Eliza’s mother, Mary Reynolds, died young, and her father married Mariah Nitchman when Eliza was 10 years old. Mariah helped raise Eliza. Philip and Rachel are Mariah’s parents.

What are the odds that Eliza’s family just happened to be buried DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF the woman I suspect is Eliza’s husband’s relative in a cemetery of maybe a dozen families three miles outside a tiny farming community in rural Ohio?

This confirms a few things. The Nitchmans passed in the 1860s, Elizabeth in the 1870s, and John in the 1880s. That means the Kelley family that I suspect were John’s relatives DEFINITELY knew Eliza’s stepmother and her family. Eliza’s father and Eliza herself probably attended this church. Eliza may have even met and/or married John here. If not, she probably met someone who knew John here.

Now I’ve already mentioned the Enochs I found in this cemetery. I also found a few Kelleys here.

These are the graves of Griffith Evans Kelley, Jemima wife of Abraham Kelly, and Robert M. Kelly. I have DNA matches with all three of these people. I’d like to point out that Griffith Evans Kelley shares his name with the original land donor of the church mentioned in the Mt Tabor Historical marker sign in the first cluster of photos. These families have deep, deep roots in this area.

So everything about my trip to this cemetery had me thinking I was right to think that my John’s family lived in this county and not in Erie County, Ohio, like so many of my family researchers on Ancestry claim. And then I went to the local library and discovered even more evidence…

More to come!

*Did you notice the asterisks? They mention facts about the cemetery that will come into play in my next post.

Chasing Rabbits

Genealogists work in an economy of questions and answers. It seems like for every answer I find, 5 more questions pop up to take its place. The obituary of Mary Benn that I posted in my previous entry is a good example. Before I sit down to research, I try to focus on finding the answer to just one question I have about a family member or a document. This technique has worked well for me because I’m distractible. The question I was trying to answer when I found Mary’s tribute was, How did my relative, Eliza Kelley, meet and marry Hank Ruffe?

A little back history is required here, I think. According to census records taken in Council Bluffs, IA, our Miss Eliza lived in the same house with her parents until she was about 50. I lose her after the 1905 Iowa special census and pick her up again on her wedding day in Portland, Oregon, in 1912. For a while after I found it, I wasn’t sure their marriage record was the right Miss Eliza. I mean there she is taking care of her elderly parents and then suddenly she pops up as a wife in Oregon? It seemed unlikely. But, her brother’s obituary confirmed that she was indeed Mrs. Henry Ruffe of Oregon. Finding her brother’s obituary supplied an answer, but it also generated more questions for me. The following is what I call a list of rabbits:
1. Where was Eliza in the 1910 census? (US Censuses are taken every ten years starting consistently in 1790.)
2. Did she disappear from the census because she was traveling to Oregon?
3. What made 2 people well into their golden years (we’re talking 1912 remember) decide to retire their single lives?
4. How exactly does someone move from Iowa to Oregon in 1910?
5. How did she meet this man from Oregon after seemingly leading a sheltered life?

Let’s just chase #5 down the rabbit hole.

Obviously Mary Benn’s obituary alone doesn’t answer my question. It’s definitely interesting, though. She ran a cigar factory, she grew alfalfa, she hunted bears, she collected rocks for posterity. So, when the obituary mentions her father’s eccentricities, I had to look him up. How could Mary’s father possibly top his daughter’s ‘colorful’ life?

Turns out Mary Benn’s father founded Aberdeen, Washington. He sailed through the Panama Canal, and up to Olympia, WA. He then set off south, found a spot where 2 rivers meet, and decided it was going to be a town.  And since Samuel Benn was a founding father, his life and family are very well documented.

Samuel Benn, builder of cities
Samuel Benn, builder of cities

I have never owned land or a house in my lifetime. The idea of traveling somewhere, sticking a flag in the ground, and declaring it to be Oregon’s next BIG THING is just amazing to me. If I were to go to some remote part of the country and declare it  for myself, I would immediately be deemed as eccentric. Thankfully, when Mr. Benn was doing it, it was a highly respectable prospect.

This article mentions that Mary Benn’s mother was born and raised in Polk County, Iowa. That’s a couple counties over from where our Miss Eliza was raised. As Mary Benn’s right hand (so the obituary paints him), it would follow that Hank may have been introduced to Eliza as a freshly-arrived acquaintance of Mary Benn’s Iowan family. So, BAM! Question answered.

Well, a little bit. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I’m never going to be able to wrap up my family tree in a neat little package. It’s messy work that never ends; it’s a kid eternally stuck in the “Why” phase.

The death of a brother; a cigar rolling ranch hand; a Native American artifact collection; the father of Aberdeen, WA. Answers to the questions we ask our family trees can take us on a journey to unexpected places. I never know where I’m going to end up.

All of this is to say that the questions and the messiness are worth it for the journey. In fact, they’re probably more valuable than the hard copy of my family tree. To put it a different way: the paper work is the body, the journey is the soul.

It’s important to mention also that Mary’s obituary may have solved another mystery. Its explanation of Michigan lumbermen in Oregon might explain some relative’s migrations on my mom’s side of the family, but the details of that clue aren’t important here.

This story continues. I’m awaiting the arrival of Eliza Kelley Ruffe’s obituary from the University of Oregon library. We’ll see where that rabbit leads us together. I can’t wait!


The subject of this post is also related to the song “Come As You Are.” Google Aberdeen, Washington, and look around a little; you’ll see how pretty quickly.



If you were to be the founder of a town, like Samuel Benn, where would it be in the world? Why there? How would you run it?