Edward D. O’Kelley (or is it Ervin…maybe Irvin??)

One of the easiest ways to trace members of your family tree is through census records. I’ve found not just information on the person I’m trying to trace, but more often than not, relatives lived right next to them so I was able to add them to my family tree as well.

Today marks my first day back in the genealogy library since…well, since a long time. I wanted to focus on just one person today – Edward O’Kelley, my great-great grandfather. Typically, I run across last names that have multiple spellings, but this time, the first name was all wonky. Edward has been called Irvin, Ervin, Irian, and Eryin. Which one was correct? I’m not sure. After you read this post, you be the judge. And let me know. 😀

So! Here’s a quick little timeline on Edward’s life:

Edward D. O’Kelley was born October 23, 1874 somewhere in Alabama. The first time he shows up in census records is 1880. He’s listed as Eryin Okelly alongside his two brothers: Mack and Jacob, a sister: Emerline, and his parents, Rebecca and John W. They lived in Newburg, Franklin County, Alabama.

The 1890 census was pretty much obliterated in a 1921 fire so there’s not much to get from that year.

The next time we see him is when he gets married. In the Lawrence County Alabama Marriage Records book, he’s listed as Erven D. Okelly married to Nancy Elizabeth Harden. Date of marriage is Sept. 24, 1891 in Book K, p. 447. He was 16. The strange thing is he’s listed again a couple of lines up. Two things are different: his last name is Okelley and under the Book column, it says Original.

His son, Mackey O’Kelley, was born July 1892 in Alabama when Edward was 17.

His son, Daily Amorn O’Kelley (another one whose name has has multiple spellings), was born March 3, 1895, in Haleyville, Winston County, Alabama.

His son, Alfred Willis O’Kelley (my great-grandfather), was born Jan. 8, 1896 in Alabama.

His daughter, Elizabeth O’Kelley, was born May 1898, in Alabama.

His son, George W. O’Kelley, was born May 1899, in Alabama.

The 1900 census shows he was still living in Newburg, Franklin County, Alabama. Now, he’s listed as Irvin D. O Kelley with a different birth year: 1873. By now, he’s 26-ish and has been married for 9 years. His place of birth is listed as Alabama. His father and mother are both listed as being born in Georgia. His occupation is a farmer and they rent their home. By now, we know he’s never been to school. He can read, but he can’t write.

A few years later, his daughter, May O’Kelley, was born in 1907, in Mississippi, so in that 7-year span, they’ve moved from Newburg to somewhere in Mississippi.

The 1910 census shows us they moved to the Burnsville Precinct in Tishomingo County, Mississippi. His name is still Irvin D. Okelley (although whoever transcribed it to an online record recorded it as Irian), married to Nancy E, and kids: Daly (age 16), Alfred W. (age 14), Effie (maybe Elizabeth-age 12) J., another name that I can’t make out (I’ll have to wait until I go back to the library, but they’re 11 and male), George W. (age 7), Rebecca (age 5), and May (age 3). We have another change here. He’s listed his father as being born in Kentucky. I’m not sure how you get Kentucky confused with Georgia, but whatever. He’s still a farmer and renting his home.

In 1913, his son, Herman O’Kelley, was born in Alcorn County, Mississippi so one of two things has happened: 1) they moved again or 2) the county boundary lines moved. I haven’t researched this so I don’t know which one is the case.

On May 18, 1917, the Selective Service Act was enacted and Edward was one of many Americans to fill out a draft card. This is another interesting document. He’s listed as Ervin David Okelley, married to Nancy Elizabeth. His DOB is Oct. 23, 1874. Their address is 10 Corinth, Alcorn County, Mississippi. These draft cards are cool because they provide physical features. Edward was tall with a medium build, had blue eyes, and grey hair. At 44. The other interesting feature is that it lists he has one eye. Needless to say, he wasn’t sent off to war. Remember how the census stated he couldn’t write? He obviously either learned or just knew enough to sign his name: E. D. O’Kelley.

The 1920 census shows he’s still living in Alcorn County, Mississippi. The west end of the 4th district, to be exact. In this census, he’s listed as Irvin O Kelley Sr because now there’s a Jr. At this point, Irvin Sr. is 45, Nancy is 50, George is 16, Rebecca is 15, Rosie Mae (nickname??) is 13, Pearline is 10, Jr is 8, and Herman is 5. Alfred is *ahem* boarding with a family and will eventually marry one of the daughters. Irvin/Edward’s father’s birth place is now Alabama (I’m thinking at this point he’s just pulling random states out of his head). He’s still a farmer, but this census doesn’t say whether or not he owns his own property. I’m guessing he’s probably still renting (see the 1930 census). Everybody but Jr and Herman can read and write so Edward learned at some point.

On August 5, 1921, Herman died.

The 1930 census has him listed as Ervin D. O’Kelly. He’s renting the home and is still farming. He stated he could read and write so that’s his story and he’s obviously sticking to it. He’s gone back to saying his father was born in Georgia, though (you see why this can start becoming a pain to research???).

In 1934, he died as Ervin Dewey O’Kelly and is buried with his wife, Nancy, at Holly Baptist Church in Alcorn County, Mississippi. His date of birth is listed as 1871.

After seeing all the evidence, what do you think? What was his real name? When was he actually born? Where the heck was his father born?? His father, by the way, is a vital connection for me because it’s a vague possibility HIS father is the Rev. James O’Kelley and if that’s the case, I’ll be able to trace the whole O’Kelley/O’Kelly line back to Ireland. Which would be very cool. We’ll see. For now, I obviously have some holes to fill, but that’s the fun of genealogy research.

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