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Friday, April 4, 2014

52 Ancestors #14: Margaret Hamilton Kells, "Aunt Madge"

     My mother's Aunt Madge was born Margaret Hamilton Kells on 30 Apr 1879 in Melrose, Stearns County, Minnesota. She was the first child of Stephen Avery Kells and Isabella Duncan, although she was his third child. Stephen was a widower with two children when he married Isabella Duncan. But she was their first child and Isabella named her after her own mother, Margaret Hamilton. She was generally known as Madge.  Margaret was soon followed by six brothers and one sister. She would have gone to the local schools and graduated from Sauk Centre High School in 1896. It is likely that she was planning to go on to College as her mother was a strong advocate of education for women as well as men. However, in February 1897 her mother, Isabella Kells, died of cancer and she was soon followed by Stephen who died in December 1898.

     The death of her parents left Madge the oldest of eight children ranging in age from 19 (herself) to 5 (her youngest brother, Robert). Her two older half siblings had already left home.  Henry Avery was living in Wisconsin and Bertha had gotten married in 1895. Three of Stephen Kells' brothers lived in Sauk Centre, Lucas, Lyman, and Robert. These three were always referred to by my mother, who got it from her father, as "the bankers". They owned the bank in Sauk Centre and were much wealthier and more socially prominent than their brother, Stephen. According to the story my mother told me (heard from her father) the bankers decided that the children should be split up and sent to live with different relatives since no one person wanted to take them all. The Kells siblings did not want to be separated and this was a very upsetting idea to them. To solve the problem, Madge married Jacob Key, the handyman on the farm and continued to live on the farm and raise her brothers and sister. My grandfather highly admired and loved her for this.  He felt that she had sacrificed herself for the family. I'm not sure what she sacrificed since she and Jake had a long happy marriage. But I believe he felt that she sacrificed her own College education. And probably that is true, I'm just not sure that a College education was that important to her. My impression is that what was important to her the most was family.  Madge and Jake had eight children of their own, four boys and four girls.

     Madge and Jake and their children lived on the farm and as her brothers and sister left for College and their own lives yet they would all come back to visit her on the farm. Her brother, Lyman, wrote her many letters from his barracks during WW I. They all brought their wives and children again and again to see her. The farm was home and she was home for them.  My grandmother left a shoe box full of photos of gatherings on  the farm from the 20's through the 40's. Madge is always in the center of everything and always seems happy to have her family there. Many of the pictures have the names written on the back by her or some by my grandmother or mother or even by her brother Bob. In later pictures her children and the children of her brothers are there with their children.  I also have pictures of her visiting my grandfather and his family in Seattle so the visits worked both ways. She was the loving heart of her family.

     Jake died in 1954 in Wadena, Minnesota and she died in 1970 in the same place.  They are buried in Sauk Centre. The farm is still owned by her descendants, although it is not a working farm now. My grandfather would be very happy to know it is still in the family.

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