Matilda Martin, Who’s Your Daddy?

My 3rd great-grandfather, James Kelly, married Matilda Martin on 30 September 1830 in Sumner County, Tennessee. That much I know for sure. It has always been less clear who Matilda Martin’s parents were. I think I have that figured out now. In the process, a family pattern was also revealed.

I had previously narrowed Matilda’s father down to either a James Martin or a Boston “Boss” Martin, likely brothers, both from North Carolina. Most family trees have settled on Boston Martin, but it always bothered me that he had no daughter the right age to be Matilda in his household in June of 1830 when the census was taken. Since she married James Kelly in September, she really should be living with her father three months earlier, right? James Martin, on the other hand, had a daughter exactly the right age to be Matilda on his census entry. Primarily for that reason, I had settled on James Martin as her father in my tree.

However, a Sumner County cousin recently reminded me of a deed in which James Kelly receives a plot of land in exchange for a promise to care for Boston Martin and his wife in perpetuity. I ran a search for this deed, and I actually found three of them conveying a total of 186 acres, all dated 1832, and each with a variation on the following language,

…for and in consideration of the comfortable support of himself and his wife during the residue of days on the premises hereunto described and in the same house he now occupies to be furnished with a plentiful supply of meat, drink, washing, lodging and support…and for the consideration of having all necessary expenses that might accrue from sickness, debility be defrayed…and at their death to have them buried in a decent christian like manner…

Boston Martin to James Kelly, 1 March 1832

These deeds are not absolute proof that Boston Martin was Matilda’s father—he could have been a beloved uncle, after all—but certainly add a good deal of weight to the theory that he was her father.

There’s another fact to consider, After having put the wrong Duncan line on my tree for several years because I didn’t pay close enough attention to census dates, I now note the actual date on each census! The 1830 census was dated June 1, but in reality, the census takers had six months to compile their data. All the information was supposed to have been current as of June 1, but it is certainly not hard to imagine a census taker visiting James Martin’s household in October, for example, and not counting Matilda as a part of it because having been married in September, she would be living with her husband by then.

James Kelly is not listed on the 1830 census, however his father, Edward Kelly has a man the right age to be James, and two young women the right age to be Matilda in his household. Based on the information I have about his daughters, there should only be one woman that age in his household at that time, therefore it is logical to conclude that the other woman is a daughter-in-law. Again, not absolute proof, but probably the best I’m going to get out of Sumner County, Tennessee in the 1830s.

So, Matilda just became Boston Martin’s daughter on my family tree.

It’s a good thing James insisted on those three plots of land in exchange for lifetime support, because though Boss Martin passed away by 1840, his wife Mary (maiden name unknown) outlived even her own daughter. She is found living with James on the 1850 census when she would have been at least 83 years old, quite a good age for the time.

While researching these deeds I came across another that indicates that exchanging land for what we would now call “eldercare” was a pattern in the family. In 1910, Albert Kelly, James and Matilda Kelly’s eldest son, deeded 70 acres to his eldest son, William Jasper Kelly for one dollar with the consideration that,

…W J Kelly shall feed, clothe, and administer unto the necessary needs of this life and bear all necessary expense through health and sickness including Dr bills, and at death Burial expenses and any further expenses that may become necessary for the comfort of A Kelly through the remainder of his life.

Albert Kelly to Jasper Kelly, 4 October 1910

Jasper Kelly (Papa Kelly) was my great-grandfather. In 1941, over a century after Boss Martin made arrangements with James Kelly, Jasper and his wife Mary Pearl Harrison (Mama Kelly) put a modern twist on the tradition by signing over the deed to their house to their daughter, Lillian Kelly,

…with the understanding that W. J. Kelly and wife, Mary Pearl Kelly, may hold possession of the property all during their natural life, and at their death the said property shall go into the possession of Lillian Kelly and she shall be the lawful owner of it.

Jasper and Pearl Kelly to Lillian Kelly, 7 October 1941

By this time, not only were may more women like Lillian Kelly buying  property in their own names, but wives were legally co-owners of marital assets. Mama Kelly was not listed on the original 1919 deed to the property, however, she did have to give her consent to a Notary Public for its sale 32 years later.

Mary Pearl Kelly wife of the said W J Kelly having appeared before me, privately and apart from her husband the said Mary Pearl Kelly acknowledged the execution of said instrument to have been done by her freely, voluntarily, and understandingly, without compulsion of constraint from her said husband, and for the purposes therein expressed.

In previous centuries, women in most states were only required to give consent to sales if the property came with them into the marriage, for example, by inheritance. All property acquired after marriage belonged to the husband alone.

It is always interesting, when tracing family history, to be able to step back, see patterns developing, and take a moment to be thankful for change.

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