The Marriage Certificate

Photo of framed George McKeldin Mary Wells marriage certificate

My mom lived in a historic home in Maryland and liked to use period appropriate furniture and decorations. In one of her antique forays she happened upon a framed marriage certificate. It caught her eye because the couple married in the year her house was built. She purchased the frame and it hung on a wall in her home until she recently moved to a much smaller home. Without enough wall space she offered it to me saying I could remove the certificate and use the frame.

That was my intent when I got it. I thought that if I was going to remove it from its frame I could possibly locate a family member to give it to. Things like this should remain in families. Unlike the old photos you come across in flea markets and antique malls that don’t have names, the certificate did.

The certificate reads: This is to Certify that George E. McKeldin of Baltimore in the State of Maryland and Mary C. Wells of Baltimore in the State of Maryland were by me joined together in Holy Matrimony on the ninth day of August in the year of our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Seventy Five. Robert S. Lowe, Minister.

In my research I learned that Mary was the second daughter of fisherman, John W. Wells, who was born in Virginia. He was listed in a Baltimore directory dated 1860 but I have not found him before that. His wife was Mary was also from Virginia. In 1880 John and Mary along with their two youngest sons are living with their son in law George McKeldin. By that time the George and Mary had a 2 year old daughter named Ada. George was a glass blower. His father in law a laborer.

George E. McKeldin was the son of Edward H. McKeldin and Sophia (possibly Wolf). He was most likely the grandson of Joseph McKeldin who arrived in Baltimore in 1810 from Ireland and was naturalized in 1823. Joseph was a grocer in Baltimore with addresses on Eutaw Street at the corner of Whisky Alley and Pratt Street and Eutaw. He left the grocery to his son William when he died in 1834. His wife Mary died in about 1842. 

At some point George’s father, Edward McKeldin, went to Cecil County Maryland where he was employed as a stone-cutter. He and wife Sophia were reportedly married by an itinerant preacher in December 1845 though no record exists. In 1850 they are both in Port Deposit, Cecil County Maryland, although they do not live together. He was living with a group of men and she and their four year old son David live elsewhere probably boarding. In 1851 a Baltimore city directory lists Edward as a stone-cutter living at 127 Columbia and in 1864 at 236 Columbia. Columbia is now Washington Blvd. and is in southwest Baltimore. According to the 1860 census for the 18th Ward they then had six children and George was seven years old. The youngest son James was 4 months old. They would have one more daughter, Mary, born in 1862. No shortage of Marys to keep track of.

Edward McKeldin enlisted and re-enlisted several times during the Civil War. There are quite a few cards for him in his service file on Fold3. He enlisted as a 3rd Sgt. in Co. B of the Baltimore Light Infantry Maryland Volunteers for a period of three years and mustered in on November 21, 1861. He mustered out on May 28, 1862 at age 38 as 4th Sgt. with what appeared to be an injury to his finger. His second enlistment was in June of 1863 as a private in Co. A 2nd Maryland Cavalry for six months. He mustered out on January 26, 1864. According to his file Edward was ill and confined to the US Army Field Hospital at Camden Station in Baltimore for some time in October 1863. He was reported as a deserter and arrested and confined at Ft. McHenry for reportedly leaving the hospital without a pass. His file tells a somewhat different story with the help of his wife’s statement.

The army reported that he left the hospital without a pass on November 4, 1863. Per his wife he was arrested at his home on November 10th, election day. Putting together the pages of his file it appears that his Captain requested a furlough for Edward on October 1, 1863 saying that he had been ill for four weeks and that he also needed to take care of some trouble with the house he recently purchased. Edward had purchased the home of a deceased person and there was some trouble being made about it in his absence. His Captain vouched for him saying he was a good soldier. A statement attributed to Edward after his arrest details that he left the Company at Annapolis on October 5th for a five day furlough and had been in the city drunk and disorderly ever since. He had sold his army issue overcoat and was wearing a civilian coat when arrested and also resisted arrest. The detective arresting him collected a $30 reward.

There is a statement in his file dated February 10, 1864 by his wife Sophia; “My Husband, Edward McKeldin, a private in Captain Bragg’s Co. Six months Cavalry, came up from Annapolis on furlough about six weeks ago. Before his furlough ended he was taken sick and went to Camden St. Military Hospital. He had a pass from the hospital to remain at home but requiring him to report daily at the hospital. He failed to report to the hospital on Election Day. The next morning five persons came to the house, one of whom was a detective, and arrested him and took him to the Fort where he remained until last week when the company was disbanded. The detective who made the arrest was a man by the name of Lafflin.”

This brings us to February 1864 when Edward was reportedly released from Fort McHenry. He must not have held a grudge since surprisingly he once again re-enlists on June 13, 1864 for 100 days as a Private in Co. I, 11th Regiment Maryland Infantry. He is now 40 years old and still a stone-cutter. He was mustered in on June 16th. Sadly Edward died in the battle of Monacacy on July 9, 1864. One card mentions that he lost his accouterments and arms in battle. His wife’s pension application says he died of sunstroke at or near New Market although I did not read this in the cards I found. Edward was buried at Antietam Cemetery in 1867 after his body was removed from it’s original burial location in Frederick Maryland.

Sophia collected a widow’s pension for herself and her minor children and in 1870 she has a Variety Store and lives in the 18th Ward in Baltimore with her five youngest children. George, orphaned at 10 is now 16 years old and a laborer. The eldest son David is a stone-cutter and is now married and lives next door to his mother. In city directories Edward was last seen in 1864 at 236 Columbia (now Washington Blvd.). However I need to note here that Sophia’s address was 236 Austen in her pension file. In 1865/66 Sophia is listed at 360 Ostend which was south of Columbia near the railroad tracks. In 1868/69 she is at the same address and so is son David. By 1875 Sophia, a grocer, lives at 391 S Eutaw Street as does sons George, David and Lewis. In 1878 the address is 415 Eutaw Street where she remains listed until 1886. At that point she may have given up the store and gone to live with family until her death in 1891. She is buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery along with several of her children and their families.

This takes us back to George McKeldin and the marriage certificate. He married Mary C. Wells in 1875 and in 1880 we found him living with his in-laws and employed as a glassblower. Sadly George died August 10, 1899 at his home at 1640 S. Charles Street. The next census is in 1900 and Mary is now alone and a widow. She told the census taker she was the mother of six children and three were still living. They were the three sons living with her, William, George R. and Robert H. McKeldin. In 1900 William is a druggists’ apprentice but the other two are in school. She is taking in boarders at the home they lived in when George died, 1640 S. Charles Street. At the same address is her widowed sister Alice Eberhard and children with their mother Mary Wells.

In 1910 they are at the same address but her sons are now working and there are no more roomers. William is a polisher at a gun factory and the other two sons work for the railroad. Her mother Mary is now living with her and her sister is still there with her children.

In 1920 Mary is living with her sister at 1640 and enumerated by her middle name as Catherine McKeldin. Her son William, still single, also lives there. I found a passenger list with his name for a ship from Liverpool arriving in New York in December 1917. He may have been working on the ship or returning from War.

In 1930 Mary is living at 1638 Charles Street, the house next to her sister. She is rooming with another family along with her now divorced son Robert, a steamboat engineer and married son William a polisher at a furniture store but no other family members. William indicates that he has been married four years. I’m not sure where the wife is. William died in 1932.

In 1940 she is renting at 1415 S. Charles Street and living with her son Robert still a Steamboat Engineer. Mary died on July 6, 1941 and her son Robert died on April 21, 1942.

Mary and George McKeldin’s son George Ralph McKeldin married Helen Hoffman on September 7, 1910, had two sons and lived beyond 1942.

I began my trip down this particular rabbit hole with nothing more than a curiosity about the marriage certificate in the frame. I had no idea that the family name and location in Baltimore could lead me to anything but an ordinary family. I thought I might find a relative I could give the certificate to but did not. I did however find out that George McKeldin had a nephew who became the Governor of Maryland. He was the youngest son of his youngest brother James A. McKeldin and wife Dora. His name was Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin.

Theodore R. McKeldin served as the 53rd Governor of Maryland from 1951-1959. He was Governor when my mother moved to Baltimore. He also served twice as Mayor of Baltimore. He came from a family of simple blue collar laborers and remained close to his roots. If you visit the memorial page for Edward H. McKeldin on Find a Grave you will see a photo of the Governor kneeling by his grandfather’s headstone in Antietam Cemetery.

This brings to a close some of the story of a working class Baltimore family that was hidden in a framed marriage certificate.  It still sits in the frame and I’ve decided to leave it there for now. This small fragment of one couple’s life that survived the passage of time deserves to be preserved that way.

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