Goldmine!: Following the Kelleys to Iowa, Part 6

In Part 5, I found a connection between my 2nd great-grandfather, John Kelley, and a woman named Mary Stewart while working at the Henry County Heritage Trust, which is the local Historical Society of sorts.

John and Mary had bought and sold land together in Henry County, Iowa. Together, they plopped down $750 to buy 44 acres of land in 1857. That’s a lot of money, and it suggests that John and Mary were more than just casually acquainted. They invested in their mutual livelihoods. Together, they were buying land where they and their families would live and work. Below is the contract of the land purchase.

But how do I know this is the right John Kelley? Well, there’s also a land sale record for the same acreage in 1864.

The underlined script reads “That we Mary Stewart & John Kelly and Eliza Kelly his wife…”

Then, we looked for other names in the records. We found several listings of sales and purchases for a Henry Hebard and an Ithamar Hibbard, who turned out to be Mary’s brother and cousin, respectively. (Side note: I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Mary’s grandparents, who gave their sons bizarre names: Ithamar, Ahimaaz, Ozias. It’s easier to find them in records.)

I was so excited by this find I immediately wrote my cousin to tell her the news. She hopped on Ancestry to dig up more information on Mary Stewart. She made so many more connections that night while I was packing up my stuff and driving out to what had been the Stewart/Kelley farm.

First off, my cousin found a DNA match on Ancestry to a descendant of Mary’s through the Stewart line. She wrote to the match, explained the possible connection to John Kelley, and asked if they had any information they could share.

The DNA match, who turned out to be the husband of Kathy Barber Morley, a descendant of Mary’s son Thomas Stewart, sent back this page from an old Stewart family bible.

Listed above are the birthdates of John and Mary Stuart, Walter D. King, John W Kelly (!), Mary M Kelly, Thomas H Stewart, Elizabeth Ann Stuart, J. H. Stewart, Barbery Stuart, and Loranzo H Stewart.


First off, John has a sister we didn’t know about. Mary. The years of John and Mary Kelly’s births also tell me that their parents were together for at least 8 years. Oh! and… AND! Based on those years, we know that the Kelly father was living in 1830, had a 30-year-old wife, and a 6-year-old son, which means we can look for this family in the 1830 census in Ohio. Maybe with this information we can figure out who John’s father was.

Secondly, the Stuart/Stewarts on this page are definitely John and Mary’s children. I know this because of census records and histories of the family. Not only are they listed in the same handwriting, they are listed in chronological order. I can think of no other explanation for this other than they are all Mary’s children.

But how do we know this is my ancestor John Kelley?

Here’s another page the DNA match sent from the Stewart family bible:

The date here matches the date of John Kelly and Eliza Hurd’s marriage record from Champaign County, Ohio, found in Ancestry and Familysearch. This gives us more information on John’s sister: she married a Criss McCluskey in 1850. We need to track her down. And we know Walter King married Elizabeth Jones in 1850 as well.

Holy cow! We’re 98% sure now that Mary Stewart is John Kelly’s mother. We just need something in writing saying as much. Stay tuned! There’s more to tell.

Read Part 7. Sources for this post are here.

A Sense of Place: Following the Kelleys to Iowa, Part 4

Read Part 3 here. Some things I mention below refer to that post.

I’ve been back from my trip from Iowa for a few weeks now. I have a lot to record, but life got in the way, and this is the first time I have some time to write down what I’ve discovered. And there were some HUGE finds, but all in good time.

I heard back from the State of Iowa about John Kelley’s death record: They couldn’t find it. They sent back an official piece of paper saying they looked for him in the entire year of 1895 and came up with nothing. The thing is I have his obituary and death notice from the local paper and photos of his grave stone. I know he died in 1895, well after the recording of deaths began in that state. I feel like I just gambled away $33. *Shrug*

As for my trip, my first afternoon in Mount Pleasant was spent in the library. I started by looking through microfiche of the Mt Pleasant Journal. I didn’t come up with anything that hinted to John Kelley and Mary Stewart’s relationship. That particular newspaper was not reliable for printing death, birth, and marriage announcements regularly, and it did not seem to have a Local News feature where they reported on people who visited from out of town or who attended church socials like other newspapers did. Oh well.

I did find this plat map, though:

1859 Henry County Plat Map, Jackson Township

My pen is pointing to the lot John Kelley owned. It must have been pretty prime land wedged there between the Skunk River and the Keokuk Railroad line! I know this is my 2nd great-grandfather because the 1860 census lists him, Eliza, and their children living among all of the neighbors found on this map.

So I discovered exactly where my family lived in Henry County on my first day of researching! I went out to visit the farm the next day. The road it’s on (River Road) is dirt and winds up and down hills as it follows the river. It’s fairly remote, even now, though it’s only about 15 minutes from Mt Pleasant. It reminded me a lot of the land the Kelleys left in Ohio. There was even a little cemetery on top of a hill like Mt Tabor outside Urbana.

I didn’t see a soul—no cars, no cows, not even a crow—on my visit to the Kelley land. Just me and a lot of curious bugs.

Something I’ve learned in these past two genealogy trips is I really enjoy visiting where my ancestors lived. Even all these years later it gives me a sense of what their lives were like, and humanizes the names I see on papers.

Read part 5. Sources for this entry can be found here.

All About Connections, Following the Kelleys to Iowa, Part 3

Part 1 Of this series of posts was about a woman named Mary Hibbard Stewart and the possibility of her being my 3rd great-grandmother. TL;DR: Mary lived near my 2nd great-grandfather John Kelley in two different states from 1850–1880.

Part 2 established that Mary was the right age, had not yet married John Stewart when John Kelley was born in 1825, and John Kelley, his wife’s father, and Mary were close neighbors in Henry County, Iowa, from 1856 to 1870 or so.

So now I want to look for any more ties I can make between Mary Hibbard Stewart and John Kelley.

I’m awaiting John Kelley’s death certificate. Usually, the names of the deceased’s parents are listed on these records. I could get really lucky and discover Mary’s name listed on it. Chances are, though, that other researchers of this family have already ordered his death certificate before me. So, probably, his parents’ names were left blank.

I’ve checked several newspaper archive sites and haven’t located Mary’s obituary. Obituaries often list the names of children and grandchildren. [Update: Mary’s obituary has been located.]

I also checked in the newspapers of York County, Nebraska, where the Stewarts lived before they moved to Washington State, with no luck. I’d like to look through the newspapers of Henry County to see if they mention a connection between the Kelleys and the Stewarts. Newspapers back then reported every little picnic and out-of-town guest, so there’s a chance I’ll find a link.

That leaves me with my dad’s and my DNA tests. I didn’t find any direct ancestors to Mary Hibbard in our matches. [update: we now have a direct match to a descendant of Mary’s!] But I did find this:

You’re looking at’s latest feature. It’s called Thrulines, and it’s a compilation of family trees based from people with whom my dad and I share DNA. At the top is Mary’s father, Ozias, and the next row down are several of her siblings. The far left guy shows that my dad and I share DNA with the 11 descendants of Mary’s brother Henry who have taken DNA tests. The rest of the tree shows descendants of 4 other siblings of Mary’s with whom we share DNA. So all signs point to us being related to this Hibbard family in some way.

John’s mother isn’t necessarily Mary, though. He could have decided to move with his aunt and her family since she had just lost her husband. But it’s not far-fetched to think she’s his mother. I was also thinking John Kelley’s father could be one of Ozias’s sons and his mother could have been a Kelley. I don’t think it was common for a child born to unmarried or divorcing parents to be given the mother’s last name back then, but it’s possible.

And that’s why I’m going to Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in a week!

Read Part 4. Sources aren’t necessary for this post, but here is a link to my Sources page.

Something About Mary: Following the Kelleys to Iowa, Part 2

I suspect a woman named Mary Stewart is my 3rd great-grandmother. Read Part 1 to find out why. This post is all about me speculating if it could be true. Fun!

Mary Stewart, was born in Windham, Connecticut, on February 9, 1799 to Ozias Hibbard or Hebard and Polly Flower. According to her father’s census records, her family moved to Union County, Ohio, by 1830. Union County borders Champaign and Logan Counties on its west. In other words, the Hibbards lived very close to the Kelleys and Hurds in west-central Ohio.

She married John Stewart in Logan County, Ohio, in 1833. She was 34 years old; he was 55. They had five children: Thomas, Ann, James, Barbara, and Lorenzo. John Stewart passed away in 1855, which probably was the reason the rest of the Stewart family moved to Iowa with the Kelleys and Hurds a year later.

By 1870, the widow Stewart and her family lived in York County, Nebraska. York County had recently been the frontier. The village they lived near was called Stewartville because Mary’s son James was a semi-famous frontiersman who had founded the town. He knew and rode with such historic figures as Kit Carson and Jim Beckwourth. Probably due to James’s wandering nature, the Stewarts didn’t stay long. Mary was buried in Montesano, Washington, on February 12, 1883.

How does her story fit into my 2nd great-grandfather, John Kelley’s?

John was born in 1825, so eight years before Mary married John Stewart. She would have been 26 at his birth, which is plenty of time to have been married to another person and have a family. Mary’s son that I mentioned in Part 1 was 3 years older than my John Kelley. He must have been a step-son from John Stewart’s first marriage.

We’ve established that John Kelley and Mary Stewart were living near Urbana, Ohio, in 1850. They were neighbors in Henry County, Iowa, from 1856 to before 1870. It seems the Kelleys stayed in Henry County longer than the Stewarts. But in 1880, the Kelleys had moved west to Council Bluffs, Iowa, three counties away from the Stewarts in York County, Nebraska. The best part about that census, though, is the fact that John’s mother’s place of birth is recorded for the first time on any document (check the far right column):

So exciting, right? I’ve never been so happy to see the abbreviation Conn for Connecticut! The same state Mary Stewart was born in. But how else can I prove my theory that Mary Hibbard is John’s mother? Who is John’s father? Did John have brothers and sisters?

It wouldn’t be fair to not mention my cousin and friend Cathy and our new friend Kate, a genealogist friend of a Kelley relative. We arrived at different parts of this theory and synthesized the information together. I’m just the one recording it. Thanks, Cathy and Kate!

Read Part 3. Also, sources are on my Sources page.

A Lead!: Following the Kelleys to Iowa, Part 1

Last October, I visited Urbana, Ohio, to look into my 2nd great-grandparents, John Kelley and Eliza Hurd Kelley. More specifically, I went to figure out who John’s parents were because I was pretty sure they weren’t the couple most Ancestry researchers said they were. You can read about my trip and my ultimate conclusions starting with this post.

I’m getting ready for another research trip to the town John Kelley and his family settled in when they left the Urbana area in 1856 or so. I’m heading to Mount Pleasant, Iowa, which is in the southeastern corner of the state.

I’ve already figured out the people I need to research while I’m there. In addition to the Kelley family, Eliza Hurd Kelley’s father William and his family followed them there by 1859. But the biggest reason I’m going there is to try to find out more about this person:

What does a woman named Mary Stewart have to do with the Kelley and Hurd families?

Oooo. This is the fun puzzle-y part!

Mary Stewart and her husband James were living in the Urbana, Ohio, area in 1850 in the same township where I believe John was living. And she appears in Jackson Township, Henry County, Iowa, in the 1856 Iowa census, five households away from John Kelley. So they probably moved together.

You can’t see it in the picture above, but Mary here is part of a pattern in the census pages. Four households ahead of her is my 35-year-old great-grandfather John Kelley. Two households ahead is William Hurd, John’s father-in-law. And two households after Mary is William Hurd’s oldest son. The every-other house pattern seems to indicate that the census taker was crossing the street zigzag-style as he worked, instead of recording one side and then the other, which means John, William, Mary, and John Hurd were next-door neighbors.

Don’t you think there’s something about Mary living BETWEEN the two Hurd households that hints at a closer relationship than just neighbors?

You probably see where I’m heading here, but just because Mary moved from Ohio with my family doesn’t mean she’s also family. Right? Just looking at this census page, how could a widowed woman with the last name Stewart and a son three years OLDER than my John Kelley be his mother?

Read Part 2. Sources are on my Sources page.

The Halved

The only tree on the desolate Missouri prairie stood upon the only hill. It shook its top branches at me like a dog after a dip in a pond. As I drew closer, a smell overtook me, and I noticed something large hanging underneath it. I covered my nose and mouth with a handkerchief and steered my horse toward it. I recognized two long sacks hanging low to the ground and the graceful curls of deer antlers sticking out of the top. The antlers mimicked the archings of the oak branches above them. The sacks turned out to be bodies. No, that ain’t right. The sack turned out to be one body—a deer’s—hacked in two. Pools of blood had collected on the grass underneath.

Although halved, the animal was still intact, which was odd considering the thin frames of the settlers I had encountered on my journey. Being that no hunter would leave his food unguarded and no beggar would pass a free meal, I reckoned the carcass was a warning and a queer one at that. I left the deer where it hung, gathered my horse, and continued on my way.

Giddingstown was a small affair. Most of its residents claimed to be Iowans in the border troubles between Missouri and Iowa, but Lilburn Boggs, the fine governor of Missouri, had shown me the land surveyor’s notes himself, had read to me the President Van Buren’s decree defining the border between the two states. The town belonged to Missouri no question. Boggs had handed me a badge and a canteen for water that day. With a curt pat on the shoulder, the governor told me to ride north to Giddingstown to collect taxes. He said it as if his pockets were already heavy. That happened three weeks ago, and here I was now walking between the five buildings that made up the town.

I tied my horse to a post and stepped into the only shack that seemed lived in, which turned out to be a saloon. A stout, fiery-haired man stood behind the bar. He nodded his head when I asked for the owner, but did not meet my gaze.

“You might do well to take that badge back across the border where folks have more respect for it.” The barkeep’s voice was a pistol drawn.

“It’s just a hunk of metal, my friend.” I clinked a coin onto the counter and an ale appeared before me followed by a grunt.

The room was plain. A fireplace squatted against the wall opposite the bar. The nine patrons sat at ramshackle tables. Some scowled, some gulped from their mugs, but they all kept their eyes on the star decorating my chest. I was sizing them up when the light in the room changed. Three men entered the room pointing their rifles at me. The men at the tables remained still. The barkeep, washing mugs in a tin pan, wiped his nose on his sleeve and said, “Take him on over. Tell Stevens to write that letter we discussed.”

Two of the men, a young pup with barely a whisker and a short man missing a tooth, took my arms. Before they ushered me out of the bar, I called over my shoulder, “What’s my crime?” My own voice rang back in my ears.

The third man followed behind us shoving a rifle in my back. We walked to the next building, the jail, and they shoved me into the only cell. The door slammed behind me and I started carrying on, reminding them that I was one of the governor’s men, that an army would be after me. The men only scoffed. They eventually left me alone. The youngest of them came back with some gruel for me when the room grew dark.

“No one’s coming for you because we was his militia. Some of us was anyway. We been here so long no one remembers who’s Missouri and who’s Iowa. All we remember is they owe us money. We were sent here months ago, but no one ever bothered to tell us the war’d been called off.” He spat again. “Did you see the deer on your way in?”

I nodded. “Didn’t know what it meant.”

The pup laughed. “One side is Boggs. The other is Governor Lucas of Iowa. We shot them both and let them hang for the vultures. Tonight, we’re going to bury them. I expect we’ll have our money soon enough.”

Photo by Siska Vrijburg