Jacob Ellsworth "Jake" Key was my mother's Uncle by marriage. He was born on 24 July 1875, the son of Lourantes "Rant" Washburn Key and Martha Ellen Poorman. He was the second child and oldest son in a family of 10 children living in Saratoga, Randolph, Indiana. His farmer is listed as a Farm Laborer in 1880 but by 1900 is a Farmer. By then, though Jake was gone with a family of his own in Minnesota.
At some point Jake came to Minnesota and was the hired man on the Kells family farm in Melrose, Stearns Co., Minnesota. I don't find him there in the 1895 Minnesota Census and he was there at the time of Stephen Kells' death in 1898, so between those dates he must have been employed. My family has always told the story that in December 1898 when Stephen Kells died, following the death of his wife in 1897, he left his 8 children ages 19 to 5 orphaned. His brothers, the infamous "bankers" in family lore, wanted to split the children up and have them live with various relatives. To prevent that the oldest daughter, Margaret Hamilton "Madge" Kells, married the hired man, Jake. They kept the farm and raised the brothers and sister. Her younger siblings always loved and honored Madge for this. But his daughter, Leora, tells a slightly different story in a 1982 letter to my mother, her cousin, Margaret. She says, "Mama kept the family together--as the "Bankers" Kells--Stephen Avery's Bros.--wanted to farm them out to families (they'd run away and come home.) My father Jacob Ellsworth Key from Indiana (long story) worked at Aunt Phoebe's and would send him over to do the outside work--they decided to marry (Mama & Papa) to keep the family together." And in a 1983 letter Leora wrote, "Our father came from Indiana--fell in love with Margaret Hamilton Kells and that's how we are Keys." So I think this is a possible scenario for this family story: Stephen Kells dies, his brothers, the Bankers, want to break up the family and send the children to live with several different relatives. Madge is distraught and confides in the young hired man, Jake. He tells her he loves her and the solution is for them to get married, keep the farm and raise the children.
And raise the children they did, plus eight of their own. I think Jake must have loved children, he seems very happy to be with them in the pictures I have. Their oldest son was only seven years younger than her youngest brother. I'm sure it was a struggle to make the farm produce enough to support both families. But they did it. And made it so that a common thread of the letters and stories I've heard from both the Kells siblings and the Key kids is how wonderful it is to go home, go back to the farm. In fact the farm is still in the family. And that is a tribute to Jake and Madge.