Friday, April 12, 2013


As many of you know who are regular readers of this blog, I am of mostly Irish and German heritage.  German genealogy research is very rewarding.  Once you get someone who knows the records and reads Old German, you are on your way.  The Germans were fantastic record keepers, and they kept track of everything.  I have a copy of a letter that my ancestors in Germany wrote to the authorities in the 1700s complaining that the amount of the potato crop that they had to pay in taxes was too high.     

Irish genealogy research, on the other hand, is maddening, unless you are descended from the landed gentry.  Oftentimes in days gone by, the priest was the only Catholic in the village who could read or write. Births and deaths were so commonplace that not all of them got recorded, and then, of course, there were all the records that were lost in the Dublin fire of 1922.  But most maddening of all is the naming the Irish used and reused and used again.  I know all about the Irish naming conventions, but what about the names beyond those?  Just how many Michaels and Patricks and Marys and Elizabeths can you have in one family?

That brings me to this week's tale - the tale of my own paternal great-grandmother Margaret Kelly Craig and the brick walls I have encountered trying to learn more about her.

Just  about everything I know about my great grandmother Craig I learned from her obituary, so instead of ending with that, this time we'll start with it.  Here is the obituary of Margaret Kelly Craig from the Lacon (Illinois) Home Journal of April 30, 1914:

Obituary of a Well Known and Exemplary Citizen

Margaret Kelly was born in County Cavin, Ireland, on Mar. 10, 1839. She was the youngest of four children.  Her parents, John and Mary Kelly, came to America in 1840, settling in Pennsylvania, and in 1841, moved to Lacon, Illinois.  There being no Catholic church here, Mass was celebrated in her father’s home, the priest coming from St. Louis once every three months, and later, from Peoria once a month.  The great sacrifices made by those who came so far to hear the words of God, were lessons that she well remembered.  She attended the Lacon schools and completed the course of study in the Lacon high school when Prof. Etter was superintendent.

She was married to Patrick Craig on May 29, 1868, by Father Kilkenny. Five children blessed their home: Mary, John, Peter, William, and James.  Her daughter died nine years ago.  This was a bitter sorrow, yet her Christian faith and hope came to her assistance, and she said “God is strong, He will help me.” Her husband died six years ago, last February, and the following summer she, with her two sons John and James, and her little (grand)daughter moved to Emily, Minnesota. Here, too, the people soon learned to love her true Christian character, and during her illness, all that kind friends, loving neighbors and devoted sons could do was done to assist her.

She died Wednesday morning, April 22nd.  Her remains were brought to Lacon to the home of her son Peter.  The funeral was from the Catholic church last Saturday morning, where High Mass was celebrated by Father Hawley.  She was laid beside her loved ones in the Catholic cemetery.  She leaves four sons and eleven grandchildren to mourn their loss.  From her girlhood until her last illness, she was noted for her broad Christian charity, and this with her beautiful character, and gentle manner will long be revered by her friends and neighbors.  The pall bearers were John Rooney, Wm. Dunn, Jos. Hanley, Edw. Kelly, Frank Dwyer and Thos. A. Connell.  Those from a distance attending the funeral were: Frank Dwyer of Henry; Mr. and Mrs. John Slattery, Agnes and Tim Slattery of Toluca; Mrs. Ed Daly of Peoria; Miss Mace Hanley of Bradford; Mrs. Craig and John Craig of Campus; Elizabeth and Ed Kelly of Chicago; and Philip Martin and daughter of Varna.   

OK - so what did we learn from her obituary?  She was born in 1839 in County Cavan, Ireland, to John and Mary Kelly.  Do you know how many John Kellys there are in the Chicago telephone book alone?  If you type "John Kelly County Cavan" in, you get 1,435,544 entries.  If you add wife Mary Kelly to the search you get more - 1,541,648!  Without knowing the parish of John and Mary Kelly and their daughter Margaret, it is very hard to find the right ones. There were two Edward Kellys in her obituary - the pallbearer Edw. Kelly and Ed Kelly of Chicago (not mayor Ed Kelly - he's another one). Because I have photos posted on my tree on, people feel free to take the photos and plug them into their Kellys, even if nothing else lines up - or as one told me, "I used her picture because that's the way I imagined she looked."

So, John and Mary Kelly and Margaret came to the United States in 1840 to Pennsylvania, and the next year moved to Lacon, Marshall County, Illinois ("The Duck Hunter's Paradise").  Why they came to Lacon I do not know.  Margaret Kelly married Patrick Craig in Lacon in 1868.  I will save my frustrations about Patrick Craig's genealogy for another post.

Patrick and Margaret had five children:  Mary Teresa (1869-1904), John Joachim (1871-1946), Peter Anselm (1873-1945), William Patrick (1875-1937) and the baby James Vincent (1880-????)

On St. Valentine's Day, February 14, 1900, Mary Teresa Craig married William Hennesey Dunn in Lacon.  All was well with the family until Halloween, October 31, 1904 when Mary Craig Dunn died giving birth to her fourth child and second daughter, who survived and was named Mary Teresa Dunn after her mother.  Mary Teresa joined siblings Frank, Margaret and Morris. 

Families stuck together in those days, and Margaret Craig stepped in to take care of her infant granddaughter.  William Dunn was so broken up over his wife's death that he did not object - in fact he gave the house he had built for his wife Mary to Mary's brother Bill (my grandfather). He said "I'll never be able to set foot in that house again." It is ironic that William Dunn had lost his own mother Ann Hennessey Dunn in childbirth when she was 32 - and then he lost his wife Mary Craig Dunn in childbirth when she, too, was 32.  William never remarried.  

In February of 1908 Patrick Craig died in Lacon at the age of seventy-five. Margaret Kelly Craig decided she had had enough of Lacon, so the following summer she took her granddaughter and moved with her sons John and James to a farm the boys had bought in Emily, Minnesota.  It was hard work, and desolate.  Here's a photo of them taken at the farm circa 1911:

As her obituary said, Margaret Kelly Craig died Wednesday April 22, 1914 in Emily, Minnesota.  Her body was brought back to Lacon for burial.  She was buried in the Immaculate Conception Catholic Cemetery in Lacon on Saturday the 25th of April, beside the grave of her husband and nearby the grave of her daughter.

In time, her sons Peter, John and William would be buried nearby in the same cemetery.  I believe James Craig (who I was named after) is buried in Gary, Indiana.

The only other thing I know about Margaret Kelly Craig came from her daughter-in-law Ida Stinger Craig (my grandmother).  After Ida and Bill were married they lived with Bill's parents from their marriage in June of 1903 until William Dunn gave them the home he built for his wife who died in 1904.  How my Methodist grandmother came to marry into the Irish Catholic Craig family, tavern-keepers and cigar makers, is a story for a future post.  But one day when the newly married Ida Craig was walking down the street in Lacon she met one of her friends who asked her what her Irish in-laws were like.   Ida replied "Well, they both talk with an Irish brogue, and I've never eaten so many potatoes in my life!  Potatoes for breakfast, potatoes for lunch and potatoes for dinner."  She went on "I've seen my father-in-law go into the pantry, pick up a potato and eat it like an apple."   

So now you know as much about my great-grandmother as I do. Anyone who knew her is long dead - even her funeral took place just short of 99 years ago.  She is one of the "brick walls" of my family tree research.  If I had a lot of money I could pay someone to do the research, but it would be a long and arduous quest.  One of the frustrating parts of genealogy research is that sometimes you just come to a dead end.  Believe it or not there is a John and Mary Kelly of the same era buried in the Immaculate Conception Cemetery but not the right John and Mary Kelly. "My" John and Mary Kelly were buried in the old Catholic Cemetery.  But that means in a town of less than 2,000 people there were two couples named John and Mary Kelly.  Is it any wonder I said researching my Irish roots is maddening?

Margaret Kelly Craig - devoted daughter, loving wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother - may she rest in peace.

1 comment:

  1. My Great Grandfather (Leonard Toomey) was raised by the Craigs in Campus Illinois after his mother died in 1904 in Henry Illinois. My father has pictures and information of the Toomeys, Craigs, Doyles, and Dwyers if that would be helpful. His email address (if you would like to contact him) is