Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Clay County Kelley


I’ve been very lucky in my genealogy research.  I’ve had whole families open up with just a small bit of information.  Since so much of my ancestry is in New England, I have benefited from many early carefully researched genealogies.  Somehow I knew I wouldn’t always be so lucky!

John Ward Kelley & Melvina Robertson
John Ward Kelley is my great great grandfather.  He was born on 8 Aug 1849 in Teges, Clay Co., KY and died 12 Mar 1909 in Sparks, Lincoln Co., OK. (His gravestone has a different date - I don't know which is correct)  My mother had such a limited amount of information on her father’s family – mostly because he had died when she was very young and she had little contact with him.  I don’t remember exactly how we discovered the names of my great grandmother’s parents – but it wasn’t a clue that immediately yielded benefits.  Kelley is a name somewhat like Johnson, Smith or Jones (I have all four of these names in my ancestry)!  It is very common and very difficult to trace especially when your ancestor has a common first name like John.  I began my search for John Ward Kelley many years ago on a Clay Co., KY newslist.  Back then, the internet was still a new player in genealogy research and these newslists were a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the geographic area as well as the families of a particular county.  Clay Co., KY – I soon learned was one of the poorer counties in Kentucky and had been a site of feud violence in that latter part of the 1800’s which is when my ancestors left the area.  I soon learned that I should contact a lady by the name of Lucy.  From then on my research opened up to new vistas.

Gravestone of John Ward Kelley and his son Louis Cass Kelley.

Gravestone of John Ward Kelley's wife, Melvina Robertson.
Lucy’s grandfather was John Ward Kelley’s younger brother.  She actually remembered Francis Marion Kelly and well knew the old Kelly home place in Sexton Creek, Clay Co., KY.  I learned from her that John Ward Kelley was one of eleven children and was the son of William Kelly and his wife Ailey Allen.  William Kelly was probably born in Knob Creek, Washington Co., TN and walked alongside a wagon from Washington Co., TN to Clay Co., KY around 1838 with his parents John Kelly and Elizabeth Anna Hunter.  Not too long after his arrival in Clay Co., KY, he married Ailey Allen and they built their own place at Sexton Creek.  Their son John Ward Kelley married Melvina Robertson on 2 Sep 1867 in Clay Co., KY and by the time she died in 1890 they had 14 children.  John Ward Kelley and Melvina Robertson left Kentucky in 1885 and traveled to Kansas around the Chautauqua Co., area.  I don’t know if they left for new opportunities or left because of the unrest in their home county.  Clay County at this time was considered to be one of the most lawless places in the country torn apart by family feuds.  Either way, they left for new horizons.  Melvina died in 1890 during childbirth with her last child…and the child died with her.  John married a woman named Laura sometime after Melvina’s death.  Evidently, this new step mother’s wasn’t to the liking of some of John’s children…his son Leander Kelley left supposedly because he couldn’t get along with the stepmother.  He married for a third time to Sarona Spivey…and I’ve no idea if she outlasted him or not.  I can’t really find much trace of either wife since records weren’t kept at that time.  I’ve never even been able to confirm that John Ward Kelley died in Lincoln Co., OK.  He is buried with Melvina at Oak Hill Cemetery, Belleville, Chautauqua Co., KS – so I wonder at the accuracy.  It is around 150 miles between the two locations – although if there was a railway, it could be possible.  I know from another cousin that John Ward Kelley made a trip to Idaho to visit his son, Leander – which seems like quite a trip in the early 1900’s.

So, during the past decade or so I have slowly peeled back the layers of John Ward Kelley’s life.  It hasn’t been an easy process and I still make attempts at peeling back more layers.  I would like to know more about his second and third wives…or at least have the information confirmed.  There are still some of his children that I don’t feel like I have complete information on and I am hopeful that I will be able to make some progress when the 1940 census comes out in a few months.  So after all the facts that I have found from census records to names and dates of his life, marriage, and children – I am left to fill in the blanks.  Why did he leave Kentucky?  Was it because of the unrest in Clay County or because there were new opportunities further west?  Perhaps he followed his brother Kinchen to the Kansas-Oklahoma area.  Where did he die…was it really in Oklahoma or was he in Kansas where he is buried and which date is the correct death date?  I figure if I keep looking…I may find some of the answers to my questions and perhaps some new questions to research.