Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Tale of Two Margels

My name is Margel (prounced Marge-l). I have never gone by any other name.  Not Marge or Margie,  just Margel unless you count the times my mother got mad at me, and then it was "Lady Locket".  I have NO idea where that came from?When I was growing up my classmates had names like Linda, Sally and Barbara with a Carla or Beth sprinkled in.   As a young child I remember wanting a name "like everyone else."  I always held my breath and waited as attendance lists were called knowing that there was a 90% chance that they would say Mar- Gel with a hard G and the emphasis on the second syllable.  My only decision was to correct them, and the whole group would turn to look at me, or let it go. "Is that what you go by or do you have a nickname?"  Nametags would inevitably be a conversation starter with the question, "Where did that name come from? Is it a family name?"  But if they asked, I told them . . .

I'd always known where my name came from, but it wasn't until I was a teenager that I began to really think about it more.  Margel was my mother's sister, but my mother never knew her because she died before my mother was born around age two of spinal meningitis. At some point in my teenage years, I became very proud of carrying this family name and of being a living reminder of a very special little girl.  As a teen, I remember asking my mother where she was buried.  Why didn't anyone visit her grave?  "Oh, her grave washed away long ago." my mother replied, "There's nothing to visit"  I had visions of coffins floating down a river.

Margel Florence Kennelly
Then a couple of years ago, I became interested in family history.  Finding Margel was at the top of my list.  At that point in time, I assumed that I would enter her name in the search engine for Cook County, and the information would magically pop up on the screen.  But, oh no, Cook County vital records database had no record of her.  The wheels in my head started spinning.  Could she have died somewhere else?  There were lots of photos of her with the family in Clinton.  Maybe she died there.  But they had no record of her death either.  Then a chance encounter with another researcher at my local library introduced my to CyberDrive Illinois and the searchable online databases of the Illinois Archives.  This time when I typed in her name and, hit enter, I found the record!  Back I went to the Cook County website with the record number . . . . again it was not to be as they had someone else listed with that record number.  Frustrations, frustrations.  Then when I was unsure of what to do next, a post on the  Cook county message boards suggested that I contact Cynthia at Chicago Genealogy so I did.  Yippeeee!  She found the death record and the price was very cheap reasonable.  Unexpectedly, I cried when I opened it.  I have used Cynthia's services through her genealogy lookup service Genlighten several times since then and always been immensely satisfied. 

Now that I had the death record, I found that Margel was buried at Calvary cemetery in Evanston and IT'S LOCATED ON LAKE MICHIGAN.  It turns out that there was a scrap of truth to my mother's story of the grave washing away - it is located near water.   Next, I called the cemetery to find out how I could locate a grave if I would travel there for a visit.  The wonderfully helpful man told me that there was a kiosk that I could type in the name, and it would print a map of the grave location if I came during the hours the office was open.  Fabulous!  Now . .  how could I talk my brother into traveling with me to the Chicago area to find her grave?  I better get more information about other family members so that I could sell this as a package deal.

I began to assemble a list of Chicago family members and the cemeteries where they were buried. In addition to Margel, I found three ancestors who were buried at Calvary - Margret Kennelly Logan (my g-g-grandmother), John J. Kennelly (her son and my great grandfather's brother who was unknown to most family members), and Edward Kennelly (possibly my g-g-grandfather and Margret's first husband).  Then last Fall, when I knew winter was fast approaching and I might have to wait another six months, I talked my brother into committing to a weekend in Chicago. Remember, he does the driving and at that time, had the only GPS. Besides, this would be way more fun if we could share it.  This seemed like a good opportunity to also visit with another cousin of my mother's if she was available. We originally met at a funeral and so didn't have much time for conversation, but we emailed a few times, and she sent me a large brown envelope full of family photos, obituaries, and newspaper clippings.  She told us that no one in her family wanted them, and she had already thrown some away.  I was thrilled.  Luck was on our side, and she was free on the Sunday afternoon we would be in Chicago. She would go with us to Calvary.

Calvary Catholic Cemetery - Evanston, IL
The Saturday of our trip was spent traveling to Chicago and then going to several of the other cemeteries on our list.  Again, my sister-in-law was a good sport tramping up an down rows of graves helping my brother and I find our family.  We managed to find most of the people on our list, but finding the graves would have been near impossible without the kiosks and maps.  It is a great system.  We needed to quickly stop by Calvary while the office was still open so we could get the map for the next day.  I typed in the name Margel Kennelly, but the information on the screen said that no one by that name was buried there.  WHAT!  But the death certificate said she was buried there.  I approached the counter and told the man of my dilemma.  He asked for the information that I had and disappeared into a back room. A few moments later, he reappeared with a record in hand.  It seems that she was listed as Margaret and the age was incorrect due to a very poor copy of the death certificate.  Here's the bonus:  The record he copied for us had a list of everyone who was buried in that block of graves, the dates of death and identified James Logan, Margret's second husband, as the owner of the block.  Margel, Margret Logan, and John Kennelly were all buried in the same block.  This was a goldmine that I have still not sorted out.  "Did you have any other graves you were looking for" he asked.  "Why, yes I do." was my speedy reply as I handed him the death certificate of Edward Kennelly.  Again, he went to the back and came out with a complete listing of everyone in that block of graves.  We explained that we wouldn't be able to look for the graves until the next day, and he told us to look for the cemetery custodian who went through every hour if we had any difficulty. I was so excited.

The next day, we stopped by one more cemetery before we went to our cousin's house.  When we arrived, we found that she had invited her sister to join us - how wonderful!  She told us so many family stories and pulled out more photos.  It was almost too much to absorb and we loved it.  Then we got in the car and headed for the cemetery.  It was a very cold windy day, and we were not prepared for it.  I only had on a thin jacket when I really needed mittens and a wool hat.  If you have ever been to Chicago, you know how the wind can blow off the lake, and the trees only slowed it down a little.  We walked to where we thought the map showed the grave, but there were no Kennelly graves in sight.  We spread out farther.  No luck.  There seemed to be lots of missing headstones.  Maybe we weren't in the right section, I suggested hopefully.  I did not want to get this close and not find her.  When our fingers were numb from cold and we were just about to give up, a truck came towards us on the cemetery road - the custodian, I thought as I flagged him down. 

With a smile on his face he asked if he could help us find a grave.  We handed him our map, and he walked us over to the correct area.  My heart sank, still no headstones, only grass.  He told us to wait, and he drove back to the office garage.  A few minutes later he was back with a shovel, a brush, and a long metal rod.  Quickly, he stepped off a measurement from the road then took the shovel and tapped the ground until there was a thunk.  Using the shovel he revealed a circular stone marker with numbers which indicated the block of graves and explained how we could read them to find our block.  Then he started to probe the ground, explaining that early graves would have had wood coffins that would have rotted away by now.  It had rained recently and the ground was very soft.  He took his shovel and again went along one side vigorously tapping the ground.  Nothing, nothing, clunk!  This would be a headstone, he told us.  So he pushed the shovel into the ground feeling for the edge of the headstone.  The level grass showed no evidence of a headstone below. When he had gone all the way around, he knelt down and peeled back the seven inches of grass and dirt to reveal . . . MARGEL KENNELLY.  She shared a headstone with her great grandmother, Margret Kennelly Logan, and her uncle, John J. Kennelly.  I couldn't believe it.  The headstone looked like new.  I quickly knelt down and started brushing the excess dirt from the top.  It may sound silly, but it felt like I had reached into the abyss and pulled her out.  Then I noticed the dirt and roots that had been peeled back.  The names were clearly visible in the roots that had filled in their names.  When I asked, how we could have the stone lifted, he told us to call the office and they would take care of it. "How much will it cost?" I asked.  "No charge."  What a nice surprise.  As I looked around the grassy cemetery, I envisioned the multitude of stones hidden beneath the surface. I hope others will heed this lesson and check for sunken headstones before they give up like I almost did.

It was getting late, and we had to go.  We had a long trip home and our cousin, Kitty, had dinner waiting for us at her house.   The grassy plot of Edward Kennelly would have to wait for another visit.  We never even checked for any other stones in our block.  We were so excited, we didn't think about any others, but I noticed the headstones in the block next to theirs was O'Connor.  Hmmm . . . Margret Kennelly Logan's maiden name was O'Connor.  Do you suppose they're relatives?  I took a few photos just in case, but that is another story.

The search for Margel was a roller coaster ride with a satisfying and exciting end.  It was very late that night when we arrived back at my house, but this still remains one of my most emotional experiences.  How can anyone think genealogy is boring?

Oh, who is that girl in the photo at the top you ask??   Why she is the third and original Margel.  She was my grandmother's school friend at Mount St. Clare college, and so she named her first daughter, Margel Kennelly, after her.  I don't know her last name, but this was taken at Lake Delavan according to my grandmother's photo album. This is a special photo for obvious reasons.


  1. How wonderful that you found kind people at Calvary who knew how important it was for you to find those graves.

    Loved this post.

  2. Dear Margel --
    An emotional journey to say the least. The photo of the roots filling in the carved names of your family, including Aunt Margel is like something from a movie. How quickly nature overcomes our man-made endeavors. You've saved this gravestone --literally unearthed it!
    Now, since we're both Chicago girls from the very same street (about 2 miles apart), it's not surprising that some of our families' experiences may have been similar. Do you know where that cute picture of your aunt in the little car was taken? I do. But I won't tell you just yet. Email me if you think you know. If you do or don't I'll make a post linking to this site.