John Kelly and Mary Douglas

Family History


Lionel Nebeker



Ireland was a poor country and the immigrants from there were used to having very little, and were willing to work hard to provide it.  To escape economical and political trials millions of Irish peasants chose to leave their ancestral home and family in search of a better life.  Most of them did whatever it took to sail across the ocean to North America where stories told of poor folks striking it rich in a land of unlimited opportunities.

In their warn out clothing and uncouth ways they did not make a very sharp impression on the minds of potential employers in their new homes, and with so many of them begging for jobs, their neighbors felt they were little better than rats.  Wages, if they could find work, were very low for the millions of Irish immigrants.

In the early 1800s a plan was put forth to build a commercial canal that would link the navigable Ottawa River to the NE corner of Lake Ontario.  John By, an engineer, was given the job to over-see this project.  It took years to dig the large waterway, and the many locks required to move the barges.  A town soon sprang up on the northern terminus of the canal on the southern shore of the Ottawa River.  This was originally known as ByTown (named after John By) but it was changed in 1855 to Ottawa and is the national capital of Canada today.  The construction of the “Rideau Canal” required thousands of employees who were willing to work very long hard hours for relatively little pay.  The Irish seemed to fit the need and many were hired to use their strong backs--shovels were provided.  Once the first few Irish began to show up they wrote back to their friends telling of the work that was available and even more began to move into the area, which brought about a large Irish population to the local area. 

When the canal was completed the Irish stayed on.  There were virgin forests and the eastern cities were in need of great quantities of lumber for building houses and businesses.  The Irish laborers found they could convert from canal diggers to lumber jacks, and some began claiming the cleared lands to become independent farmers.  It was a good life for those who could survive the hardships. 

ByTown (Ottawa) in the Province of Ontario, lies on the southern shore of the wide Ottawa River.  Opposite this site, on the northern bank, is the town of Hull, Quebec.  The river then divides the two provinces that were then known as Upper Canada and Lower Canada; or Western Canada and Eastern Canada.  The town of Hull, Quebec also happens to be at the place where the Gatineau River (flowing in a SSE direction) empties into the Ottawa River.  Excellent forests lined this waterway which allowed the lumber jacks to float their log jams down to a saw mill that had been built at the town of Wakefield, Gatineau County, Quebec.

We don’t know exactly what brought our John Kelly to this area originally.  What we do know of him is that he was born someplace in Ireland about 1806.  It was probably after his arrival in Canada (location not yet known) that he met and married Mary Douglas about 1830.  John was about 24 years old and Mary (born in 1813, also in Ireland) was then 17.  She was the daughter of Thomas Douglas, but we have not found any record of her birth, nor of her mother’s name, or any of her siblings.  It seems likely that John and Mary may have married in a larger town somewhere in eastern Canada and then traveled to Ottawa and the Gatineau River area as a young couple. 

Because we first find any mention of John and Mary Kelly in Wakefield Township, we assume that he was either in the logging or sawmill trade as there was not yet any real farming since all of the land was still covered by thick forests.

Gatineau County, Quebec, across the Ottawa River from the City of that name.

Note the Village of Wakefield in the SW corner of the Township of that same name.

It is located on the banks of the Gatineau River.  The Kellys lived somewhere in Wakefield Township.

Farther north, along that river, is Farrellton (site of St. Camillus Catholic Church);

Brennans Hill; and Stagsburn, site of the farm of Andrew McDonald and

of his son, Michael McDonald, the husband of Ellen Sullivan. 

Pat and Mary Kelly Sullivan lived near the Gatineau River about four miles

north of the McDonald farm at Stagsburn in Low Township.

John and Mary Kelly eventually had 16 children, all born in Wakefield Township, Gatineau Co., Quebec.  We only know of a premature death of one of their children, their first to be named Bridget (b. 1836), who died when she was about 13 years old.  So, with 15 children growing to maturity, in the next generation this family had intermarried with a great number of families up and down the Gatineau River and they have thousands of descendants today. 

Wakefield, Gatineau, Quebec

located on the Gatineau River

Home of John Kelly and Mary Douglas

Wakefield Village, Gatineau, Quebec on the Gatineau River

A covered bridge over the Gatineau River at Wakefield, Que.

Although we have not been able to find a record of their marriage, we have been able to find the church records for the Christening of almost all of their children.  It is interesting to note the development of the Catholic Churches in this pioneering land.  The family did not move, but as new churches were built closer and closer to developing populations the distance the Kelly family had to travel for a christening became shorter over the years. 

For their first seven children, John and Mary Kelly had to travel about 20 miles (as the crow flies) to reach the closest Catholic Church, which was located in Ottawa.  In those days that was a great distance and would have taken at least two days by land.  There were hardly any roads and those that did exist were in very poor condition.  Much of the travel was by boat up and down the river.  It was a very difficult and risky trip for parents to take such small infants out and expose them to the rigors of bad weather and traveling conditions, and they would not have done so had it not been for the concern for their eternal well-being and fear of dying unbaptized.

The original Catholic Church in Ottawa was called St. Jacques and was built about 1832, but the name was soon changed to Notre Dame.  It was a wooden structure, but was replaced by a much larger stone building on the same location which was begun in 1841 and completed in 1846.  It is now known as the “Notre Dame Basilica.”   

Notre Dame Basilica

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Site of the christening of Mary Kelly Sullivan

22 March 1833

Inside Notre Dame Basilica

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

At this church site (either in the original old building, or in the one shown above) the first seven children of John Kelly and Mary Douglas were christened:

     Rose Anne Kelly     b. 25 Nov. 1831 in Wakefield;  chr. 25 Dec 1831 in Notre Dame, Ottawa

  1. *   Mary Kelly             b.   8 Mar. 1833 in Wakefield;  chr. 22 Mar. 1833 in Notre Dame, Ottawa

     Richard Kelly          b.  ?           1834 in Wakefield;  chr. 28 Nov. 1834 in Notre Dame, Ottawa

     Bridget Kelly           b.  ?           1836 in Wakefield;  chr. 13 Mar. 1836 in Notre Dame, Ottawa

     Helen Kelly            b. 25 Apr.  1838 in Wakefield;   chr.   6 Jan.  1839 in Notre Dame, Ottawa

     John Kelly              b.   ?           1839 in Wakefield;  chr.    ?

     Thomas Kelly         b. 16 Nov. 1841 in Wakefield;   chr. 13 Apr. 1842 in Notre Dame, Ottawa

Record of christening for Mary Kelly (Kelley) from the Notre Dame Catholic  Parish register.

March 22, 1833.  Note the names of her parents are given as John “Kelley” and Mary Douglas.


After this date, newer Catholic churches began being built in closer proximity to the Kelly family and so the remaining children were christened as follows:

     Matthew Kelly       b.   ?  Jun.   1843 in Wakefield;  chr. 19 Sep. 1843 in St. Joseph’s

     Edward Kelly         b.   ?  Mar.  1845 in Wakefield;  chr. 21 Oct. 1845 in St. Paul, Aylmer, Que.

     James Kelly            b.  ?            1845 in Wakefield;  chr.   ?


     Thomas Martin Kelly      b. 11 Dec 1846 in Wakefield;  chr. 13 Dec. 1846 in St. Etienne, Old Chelsea

     Anne Kelly            b.     ?  Jan.  1849 in Wakefield;  chr. 25 Feb. 1849 in St. Etienne, Old Chelsea, Que

     Bridget Kelly         b.     ?  Jan.  1849 in Wakefield;  chr. 25 Feb. 1849 in St. Etienne, Old Chelsea, Que


St. Etienne (or, St. Stephen’s) Catholic Church

Old Chelsea, Quebec


     Jane Kelly              b. 25 Nov. 1850 in Wakefield;  chr. 16 Feb. 1851 in St. Camillus, Farrellton, Que

     Robert Kelly          b.  22 Mar. 1853 in Wakefield;  chr.   5 Apr. 1853 in St. Camillus, Farrellton, Que

     William Kelly        b.  23 Aug. 1855 in Wakefield;  chr. 27 Aug. 1855 in St. Camillus, Farrellton, Que

St. Camillus (St. Camille) Parish of the Catholic Church

at Farrellton, Gatineau County, Quebec.

This is the location for some of the christenings of the Kelly children, as well as the Sullivan and McDonald children.  It is located along the highway near the bank of the Gatineau River.

1851 Canadian census for Wakefield Township in Gatineau, Quebec.

Note that Dennis and Catherine Sullivan are listed on one side of the Kelly family and

Patrick and Mary Sullivan are listed on the other side, along with their new little baby, John Sullivan

(at the bottom of the page.)

Also living with the Kellys was “Thos. Douglas,” the father of Mary (Douglas) Kelly.

In the 1851 Canadian federal census we find this family living in Wakefield Township.  At that time Mary’s father, Thomas Douglas, was an aged man of 62 years, a widower, and a resident of their home.  He was born in Ireland in about 1789.  Were it not for his presence in that census we would not know his name.  We have not found any other record pertaining to him and assume that he probably died before the 1861 census. 

In fact, both John and Mary (Douglas) Kelly also disappear from all local records after the birth of their 16th child listed above.  It may be that they both died between 1855 and 1861, or it seems more likely that they may have moved from this area to some unknown community, but we have no more information about them after 1855.

We’ll now leave John and Mary (Douglas) Kelly and follow their daughter, Mary Kelly Sullivan, for the next generation.  As shown above, Mary (their 2nd child) was born in Wakefield Township on 8 March 1833 and christened in Notre Dame, in Ottawa.  Her grandson, Thomas M. McDonald tells us that, at the age of 17, she eloped with a recent immigrant from County Cork, Ireland, named Patrick Sullivan, who was 28 years old at the time of their wedding.  We have found a record of their marriage at Pointe-Gatineau, Quebec, which occurred  on 29 April 1850.  This spot was at the confluence of the Gatineau and Ottawa Rivers, just east of Hull, Quebec.  After their wedding they returned back home and must have been accepted well into the Kelly family as in the 1851 census Patrick and Mary Sullivan were living with (or next to) her parents, and in fact, Patrick’s older brother, Dennis Sullivan was also living there. 

In that marriage document it states that Patrick’s parents were named: Jeremy (short for Jeremiah) Sullivan, and Helene Druhlhal.  We had suspected that Pat’s father must have been named Jeremiah as Dennis named his fist son “Jeremiah” and Patrick named his second son “Jeremiah.”  (Pat’s first son was named “John” after his father-in-law, John Kelly.)  

Mary Kelly and Patrick Sullivan with their first child, John Sullivan

Photo taken about 1851

Together Patrick Sullivan and Mary Kelly had 16 children over a period of 26 year, making her 44 years old at the birth of her youngest child, and Pat was 55 at that time.  Grandson, Thomas M. McDonald further stated that after they moved out of John Kelly’s home, they went north and built their own home near the west bank of the Gatineau River at a spot about four miles north of where Andy and Emily McDonald had their home, or about four miles north of Brennan’s Hill.  With a few exceptions we have found the record of the christening of most of their children in the St. Camillus (or St. Camille) Catholic parish in Low Township, Gatineau County, Quebec, which is located on the Gatineau River at Farrellton, Quebec, a few miles down-stream from the Sullivan home.  The following children were born to Patrick and Mary Kelly Sullivan: 

          NAME                                 BIRTH            CHRISTENING    

     John Sullivan                           Aug 1851       (May have been born in Wakefield Township)

     Jeremiah Sullivan                10 Sep 1852         26 Sep 1852

  1. *  Ellenor Sullivan                    11 Jul 1854            4 Sep 1854

     Patrick Sullivan                       Aug 1856          19 Oct 1856

     Matthew Sullivan                    Aug 1858          20 Sep 1858

     Andrew Edward Sullivan           Jul 1860          12 Aug 1860

     Thomas Sulivan                    6 Mar 1862         15 Mar 1862                    

     Michael Sullivan                 17 Oct 1863         18 Oct 1863

     Mary Agnes Sullivan            29 Jun 1865                     1865

     Rose Teresa Sullivan                 abt 1867

     Dennis Joseph Sullivan         2 Sep 1868          19 Sep 1868

     William Patrick Sullivan     16 Mar 1870         20 Mar 1870

     James Robert Sullivan         15 Apr 1872          21 Apr 1872

     Jeremiah Sullivan                 1 Aug 1873          10 Sep 1873

     Elizabeth Jane Sullivan       17 Mar 1875          21 Mar 1875

     Annie Sullivan                         Oct 1877    

The second child, Jeremiah, as we have said, was named after his paternal grandfather.  He was a very close brother to his sister just younger than himself, Ellenor (Eleanor, Ellen) Sullivan.  In his late teens he began making his living by working as a lumber jack in the woods with his father and so many of the other men in his community.  Sadly, when just 20 years of age, he was drowned in a tragic accident while floating a raft of logs down the Gatineau River on 24 May 1873.  It was about four weeks before his body was recovered down stream and he was buried at St. Camillus Parish Church on 17 June 1873.    

Just about six weeks after that funeral Mary Kelly Sullivan gave birth to another little boy, who was given the name of his deceased older brother, and also of his paternal grandfather, so he too was named Jeremiah (aka “Jerry”) Sullivan.  This child turned out to be special in another way.  He was a dwarf and only grew to be about three and a half feet tall.  He made a living acting on stage in shows such as “Mutt and Jeff.” 

Jeremiah “Jerry” Sullivan

Son of Patrick and Mary Kelly Sullivan

The next generation was growing up and Patrick and Mary Kelly Sullivan’s children began seeking mates of their own.  In 1875 their oldest son, John Sullivan, married a local girl, Ellen Ryan, and they began their family near the home of his parents.  On 19 Sep 1880 their oldest daughter, Ellen Sullivan married Michael McDonald and settled on a farm next to his parents.  This Ellen Sullivan McDonald was the grandmother of our Donald T. McDonald. 

By about 1880 much of the good timber had been harvested throughout the Gatineau Valley and stories had been told of new virgin forests in Wisconsin.  Many of the younger men in Low Township began moving to Wisconsin, including several of the Sullivan boys.  Soon, just about everyone in the family, including the parents--Pat and Mary--relocated to Wausau, Marathon County, Wisconsin.  The only ones left behind in Gatineau County were the married children, and even their son, John, moved his young family there by 1886.  This left only Ellen Sullivan McDonald back in Low Township, Quebec. 

Ellenor (Ellen) Sullivan McDonald

Daughter of Patrick and Mary Kelly Sullivan

The last record we have showing that Patrick Sullivan was still alive was in 1884.  We know that he died sometime between that year and 1900 when he was missing from the census.  His widow, Mary Kelly Sullivan was still living in Wausau, Wisconsin at that time, but she died there on 16 Mar. 1903.  Mary was buried in the Wausau Cemetery.  It seems likely that Patrick Sullivan may well have been previously buried in that same cemetery but we have not yet been able to find a record of his death or burial.  

1900 US federal census for Wausau, Wisconsin

Death certificate for Mary Kelly Sullivan

1903, Wausau, Marathon, Wisconsin