When Kelly is not an Irish surname

This post replies to this week’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” theme from Amy Johnson Crow: “How do you spell that?” 

“Kelly” is one of the top five most common Irish surnames, along with Murphy, Byrne, O’Brien, and Ryan. My wife’s paternal grandfather was a Kelly, and his paternal grandfather Sylvester Kelly immigrated from County Kildare to upstate New York in 1861. But this post is not about those true Irish Kellys. It’s instead about my brother-in-law (my sister’s husband), whose middle name is Kelly, from his mother’s surname. More Irish in the family, right?

Wrong! His mother’s paternal grandfather, from whom the surname Kelly descended to her, was not an Irish immigrant at all. He was Polish. Born Tomasz Kaliszewski in May 1881 in what is now Poland, but was then part of Germany. His gravestone indicates he was born in the village of Krusin, but there appear to be two such places in modern Poland.

Marianne Kaliszewska and son Thomas, Moravia, departed 11 Dec 1891 from Hamburg, “Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934,” Ancestry.com

Thomas, then 12, and his mother Marianne departed Germany on the Moravia in December 1891. They traveled in zwischendeck, meaning “steerage,” or third class. Their place of residence was listed as “Strassburg,” or Strasburg, now a city in northeastern Germany (not to be confused with Strasbourg, the city in eastern France). The place was once part of the state of Prussia.

At present I do not know whether they were joining other family in the United States. Thomas and his mother found their way to Texas, to a small town called Chappell Hill, located in Washington County between Austin and Houston. After the U.S. Civil War, the area attracted Polish settlers from lands then part of Germany.

On October 21, 1896, Thomas Kaliszewski married Antonina Wendziniska (Anglicized later to “Wendt”) in Washington County. She was born in about 1880, also in Polish-speaking Germany, and so was about 16 at the time.

Detail from marriage license for Thomas Kaliszewski and Antonina Wendziniska, Washington County, Texas, 13 October 1896, via Ancestry.com

By 1900, the couple, then farming a plot in the county, had two daughters, Nastka and Sophia. Their family continued to grow over the decades, eventually including 13 children, 12 of whom lived into adulthood.

Here’s where the surname thing gets tricky. Thomas and Antonina had six daughters who lived into adulthood (Mary was born and died in 1909), married, and thus left their Polish birth surname behind.

  1. Nastka “Nancy” (1897-1957), m. John M. Fridye
  2. Sophia (1960-1969), m. Joseph Derkowski
  3. Valentine “Willie” (1901-1995), m. Tony Kominczak
  4. Rosalie Natalie “Rosie” (1906-1992), m. Anthony J. Gregory
  5. Bernice (1918-1969), m. Calvin J. Lewis
  6. Martha (1920-2007), m. _____ Watkins

The couple had six sons as well:

  1. Stanley Edward (1903-2001)
  2. William E. “Bill” (1910-1975)
  3. Joseph “Joe” Alvin (1913-1996)
  4. Stephen Sylvester (1914-2008)
  5. John Thomas (1924-1993)
  6. Thomas Joseph (1927-2003)

Stanley was the only son who remained a Kaliszewski until the end of his life, using that surname in his Social Security record and gravesite. But all five of his brothers adopted the surname “Kelly” at some point in their lives; their Social Security Death Index records, unlike Stanley’s, all use the surname Kelly.

One time one of the daughters might have used the Kelly surname. In 1930, Joe (17 years old), Bill (20), and Rosie (19) were living with their oldest sibling Nancy and her husband John Fridye and their two little daughters on Salina Street in Houston. All three were enumerated with the surname “Kelly.” Joe and Bill worked for oil companies; Rosie worked in a laundry. However, we cannot be certain that she herself gave that name to the Census enumerator.

1930 U.S. Census, Houston, Harris Co., Texas, via Ancestry.com

When Rosie married Anthony Gregory in 1935, it was under her father’s surname, Kaliszewski.

Joseph Alvin “Joe” Kaliszewski, my brother-in-law’s maternal grandfather, was born March 10, 1913, in Chappell Hill, Washington County, Texas. On October 30, 1936, in Harris County (Houston’s county) Joe married Irene Mary Manint, using his “Irish” surname, Kelly. Houston was Irene’s hometown, but she hailed from a long line of Louisiana Cajuns.

“Texas, U.S., Select County Marriage Records, 1837-1965,” via Ancestry.com

Joe used the last name Kelly for the rest of his life, and his three children with Irene carried it as well, one of them passing it along to my brother-in-law as a middle name. Joe may have legally changed his surname from the original Polish, as his Social Security record used it. He died on October 11, 1991, in Bedford, a small town between Fort Worth and Dallas in Tarrant County, Texas.

— Fred Dews

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