Still seeking John Kelly

There is a wonderful piece of dialogue from a radio programme broadcast on the BBC in 1972.

Neddie: [on discovering Eccles in the coal cellar] What are you doing here?

Eccles: Everybody’s gotta be somewhere…

Quite so, Eccles. Everybody does have to be somewhere. But where? I am still trying to discover more information about John Kelly. I prefer to keep the explanation of ‘abducted by aliens’ at the very bottom of my list of scenarios. Moving a few miles from the last known address, or even a few thousand miles, is always a possibility. But John was a farmer, so he was unlikely to have moved very far, especially as his sister Catherine and her family (husband Patrick McHugh and seven of their children) moved down to stay with him in the 1870s.

A faulty transcription of a record is quite common. “Roadstown, Thailand” instead of “Roscommon, Ireland” is one of my favourites. The name John Kelly is difficult to get wrong. So that explanation does not really work.

Some people were missed off census returns. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have estimated that 0.7% of the population was missing from the 1901 UK Census. (0.3% in 1891 and only 0.1% in 1911). The figures are much higher in some Parishes and much lower (i.e. more accurate) in other places. That accuracy is quite impressive. It is certainly good enough for the Government to use for planning purposes. It is still annoying if your relative is one of the ‘missing’. My instincts say that mistakes were more common in areas of high-density housing. Rural Missouri does not fit that model.

There is one certainty for anyone born before or during the nineteenth century: they are now dead. This means that I can search cemetery records. I found eleven possible/probable relatives in just one cemetery in Missouri (Bethany Cemetery, Foley, Lincoln County) and another four buried nearby (Corinth Cemetery, Foley, established 1803 – pictured). And what about John Kelly? Well, to balance out all the positive news, there was absolutely nothing! Perhaps he is the world’s oldest man rapidly approaching his 200th birthday. I put that explanation on a par with the theory about the aliens.  No one said tracking down relatives would be easy. The search goes on.