Search billions of records on

To get a good perspective complete with photos of Kansas City history during the times of our ancestors, be sure to visit the Old Fairmount Park website and a great website for a look at Old Westport. For a comprehensive photographic history of Kansas City and much more you may also wish to visit The Missouri Valley Digital Collection on the KC Public Library Website. Each of these sites contain an amazing wealth of information on the city and people living, working and enjoying themselves in the Jackson County perimeter and outskirts.


To understand your place in the direct lineage of this Burke ancestry, please keep the following in mind:
John T. Burke was the son of "Unknown" Burke hailing from Ireland prior to 1862.
John T. Burke and Nellie M. Lawson were the parents of:
Elmer Robert Burke.
Elmer Robert Burke and Elsie Mary Cross were the parents of:
Francis Keith Burke.

Through census records we now know that our Burke lineage came to America from Ireland, and were here as early as 1862, the year of John T. Burke's birth. The county from which they came is currently unknown although many Burkes claim County Galway as their home. Why did our ancestors leave Ireland? Why did they come to Kansas City? Did they live anywhere else along their journey? History can only give us a suggestion of the circumstances leading to their departure. Perhaps our Burkes arrived before this time period, but there is an equally good bet that they arrived during this time period since no prior trace of them has been found to this date.

During the years 1849 through 1851 Ireland experienced a great exodus of her people. Ireland was in a time of utter despair as her main crop failed and launched an era in history known as The Great Potato Famine
Over a million men, women and children perished in the Irish countryside. Countless others were forced to leave their beloved homeland voyaging to other countries in "coffin" ships plagued with great suffering, disease and death. A majority of the helpless victims were the poor Catholic farmers and their families who were living on the rented lands of their Protestant landlords. To learn more about the great potato famine please click on the link above.

An Eviction Scene
An Eviction Scene in Ireland

Kansas City was a very different place back in the early days. During this early period the area was known as the "town of Kansas" and was incorporated as such by Jackson County on June 01, 1850. On February 22, 1853 it was renamed the "city" of Kansas and in 1889 it was officially declared as "Kansas City". In the 1850's there was great unrest as to whether the new Kansas territory should be a "free state" or a "slave state". Most residents were pro-slavery and as such skirmishes began here at least six years prior to the beginning of the Civil War. At one point, when Quantrill's Raiders (sympathetic to the Confederacy) were to come through town, Jackson County area residents were ordered to evacuate. This was famously known as General Thomas Ewing's "Order Number 11". Quantrill and his raiders eventually moved on to Lawrence Kansas where they virtually burned and destroyed the entire town; (August 14, 1863).

Soon to follow came the Battle of Westport (October 21-23, 1864) which was the largest Union - Confederate Civil War clash in Missouri history. Yet another notable event that took place would include Carrie Nation's Prohibition; 1901.

While the area experienced these unsettling times, favorable changes eventually gained pace in the town. The railroad was expanding, new families were settling in, and parks were being built. Areas we currently may not feel comfortable venturing into were becoming very wonderful places to be. Families attended picnics and fabulous fairgrounds close by the Paseo, Troost and Independence Avenue. Here is a link you can visit to go back into Kansas City's past to see just how nice the area was. Fairmount Park and other areas of interest in Kansas City from 1887-1908. What is currently known as Mount Washington Cemetery was then an amusement park called Washington Park. How these events personally impacted our ancestors lives can only be speculative but one could almost surely say that our ancestors visited these parks.

Our direct ancestor, John T. Burke united in marriage at the age of 38 with a very young lady of 16 years, Nellie M. Lawson. We know of her as Nellie Kershaw but let's take a look at her life before her marriage to John T. Burke.

The Lawson family trail has roots in North Carolina and shows a migration path through Tennessee but it makes a very strong appearance in Scott Co., Illinois by the 1850's. Nellie's father, William J. Lawson was born in Illinois in 1849. At some point he married Eveline Campbell of Virginia but it is still unknown where the marriage took place. Click Here to view William Calvin Lawson's land patent record.


Scott County, Illinois 14N 11W Meridan 3;
Land belonging to Calvin Lawson; Date of Purchase 11/24/1853

Between 1870 and 1880 some of the Lawson family picked up and moved to Henry Co., Clinton Missouri. Lawson grandparents, aunts and uncles settled in Bates Co., Missouri and Henry Co., Clinton, Missouri after leaving Illinois. William Calvin Lawson and his family settled in Bates Co., Missouri and his son William J. and Eveline Campbell Lawson settled in Clinton. Others were to follow course. On 20 Feb 1885 William and Eveline Lawson would greet the arrival of their third child, Nellie. Nellie probably lived a somewhat idyllic life in this little community and what is now known as one of America's best cities. However, when she was a young child of only 7 years old tradgedy struck the Lawson family.

It was late January of 1892 when Typhoid came, plagueing several of the Lawson family farms. It is unknown as to whether or not Nellie or anyone in her immediate family came down with typhoid. If so, it would appear they all recovered but aunts, uncles, cousins and even her grandfather would succomb. With the information that has been uncovered, it appears that the first to come down with typhoid fever was Nellie's uncle Sevier Lawson, a young husband and father. Death came to claim him in the morning hours. He was just 36 years old.

After the burial of his son Sevier, W.C. (William Calvin) Lawson (Nellie's Grandfather) went to help his daughter's family.

It was February and typhoid had seeped it's way into the warm home of the Malone's. As evidence lends some credence, it seems that the entire family came down with typhoid leaving no one to care for those that were so sick. Ironically, Grandfather Lawson who had come to help those in need soon became stricken himself. A doctor was summoned to the home in hopes to cure the ill within. Despite all that was done, it was not the destiny of this family and Grandfather Lawson would also pass in the grip of typhoid, his spirit being called on 18 February 1892.

Barron of tombstones, at least nine Lawsons in addition to Sevier and W.C., rest unnamed in the Fields Creek Cemetery, victims of this dreaded scourge. Only cemetery records and the obituaries of Sevier and W.C. give evidence to the Lawson's grim winter of 1892.

1895  First Ward, City of Clinton
Clinton, Missouri in 1895; The Lawson's lived in the first ward in 1895.

Nellie's family remained in Clinton at least through the year 1895 before deciding to move to Kansas City. In the special census of 1895 the family is listed by their initials; W.J. age 46, E.E. age 38, L. age 19, B. age 18, N. age 10 and Harry age 2. We can identify them in order as William J., Eveline E., Lillian, B. (possibly Bert), Nellie and Harry, who is actually Harry "Wolf". The relationship of Harry is listed in another census as Wm. Lawson's "nephew", but he was apparently raised as Nellie's brother.

Harry Wolf born in the Indiana Territory  Harry Wolf and his horse Jim
"This is me, Would you know me?" Yes, Harry now we know who you are!

After arriving in Kansas City, Nellie's father William J. Lawson worked as a carpenter for his occupation. John T. Burke's occupation as a shingler may have brought their paths together. At some point, Nellie and John met and decided to get married. On 09 Dec 1900, they were married at the Wyandotte County, Kansas courthouse. For reasons unknown, Nellie listed her age as 18 when she married John when she was only 15. We can verify this by examining the dates of census records, by her birthdate and also in early and later census records when her real age was given.

At this time I should also note that on the marriage certificate it says that John as well as Nellie are "of" Kansas City, KS. I take this to mean that they live in Kansas City, KS in 1900. I have not been able to locate John in the 1900 census. Nellie was still living with her family in 1900. This is interesting for other reasons but it also helps to verify Elmer's place of birth. In the 1910 census, John and Nellie list Elmer's place of birth as Kansas. Due to this information it is likely that they lived in Kansas prior to Jackson Co, MO.


Built in 1882, Wyandotte Co., Courthouse
This is probably what the courthouse looked like when John and Nellie went there to marry. It was located facing 7th Street (on the east) and the block encompassing State Avenue. to Minnesota Avenue. The new court house which stands today (2010) was built in 1927 (this information according to the Wyandotte County Bar Association). This is where John and Nellie's marriage record was located.
On Nov. 12, 2010 my husband and I went to the courthouse to get a copy of John and Nellie's marriage record. We paid metered parking at a rate of 25cents per 15 minutes and parked downhill from the courthouse. Upon entering the courthouse there was a sign on the door saying all offices were closed. We decided to check anyway and found that the probate records office was indeed open. As we walked through the courthouse you could just smell the age of the building. I love the smell of the old buildings and think it smells like "history"; my husband, on the other hand, was not so fond of it. We took some photos as you will see below. The first is an old brass mail box that had a chute running to it. The next is a stack of several volumes of the old marriage record books. Number 14 is the volume we found John and Nellie's record in. I might add in here that we were simply allowed to go into the room with all of these historic records and we were not monitored. They just told us we could look at records prior to a certain date and none after. So, we respectfully handled the volumes with care. Many of the bindings were deteriorating or had fallen off. I was actually aghast at the way the person handled the volume that I needed a copy out of. It is really no wonder why some of the volumes are in such bad shape. Nonetheless, I was happy to be left to be able to go through the book on my own. Thankfully we took pictures with our cell phones because the copy that the worker made was less than desireable and did not even capture the whole image. She didn't offer to certify it nor did I ask and there was no charge for the photocopy. There were some other probate records and tax records but with "John Burke" being such a common name and no other leads plus the fact that it felt like it was about 90 degrees in the room, we decided to leave it be for now.

1) Old Brass Letter Box 2) The stacks of Old Marriage Record Books (Vol. 14) 3) John and Nellie's original index page 4) The actual License to marry and certificate showing they did so.

In the year 1901, Nellie gave birth to Elmer Robert Burke in Kansas. The family appears together in the 1910 census in Kansas City, Missouri. On the 19th day of March, 1918, Nellie filed for divorce from John. Although at this time the grounds for divorce are unclear, it does appear that John disappeared and so the divorce was granted on 03 April 1918.

Later, on Christmas Eve of 1918 Nellie married fireman, Herman Kershaw, a widower whose wife (Katie Madden-Kershaw) had died in 1911. This marriage lasted until Herman died on 09 Aug 1947 from coronary sclerosis. Nellie never remarried and lived the remainder of her life out in Independence, Missouri.

Nellie's son, Elmer Robert "Bob" Burke enlisted in the US Navy on 04 Mar 1919 in Kansas City, Missouri. The ship he would call home was the USS Schley.

USS Schley
The USS Schley Destroyer

On 10 July 1922 Elmer was discharged from the Navy in San Diego, CA. While in attendance at a military dance, Elmer met a lovely young lady by the name of Elsie Cross who would later become his wife. On 17 Apr 1926 Elmer married Miss Elsie Mary Cross of Independence, Missouri. Sadly, he had contracted tuberculosis at some point during his service and the diagnosis was soon described as "chronic", "moderately advanced" and "active". On 21 Oct 1927 he was admitted into the Old Soldier's Home in Leavenworth, KS to receive care. Through this record we learn a bit more about Elmer.

He was a young man with a ruddy complexion, blue eyes and black hair, and he stood at a height of 5'6". He claimed Catholicism as his faith and was a painter by trade. After a brief stay at the Soldier's Home in Leavenworth, Elmer was discharged on 30 Nov 1927 by his own request. By 14 May of 1928 Elmer was readmitted and there was no date of discharge listed. It is probable that he was admitted to Fort Lyon in Colorado at this time. We know for a fact that Elmer was present there in the year 1928. A 1928 Thanksgiving menu, carefully held and preserved through the years, is the meager possession that lets us know his life extended at least that far. A couple of photos of young son, Francis Keith, sweetly addressed "Keith to Daddy" suggest that perhaps Elmer lived as long as 1929.

Keith Burke, son of Elmer Robert Burke and Elsie Cross BurkeTo DaddyKeith Burke, son of Elmer Robert Burke and Elsie Cross BurkeTo Daddy

The Fort Lyon photographs we have of Elmer and the two of his father, John, (along with an unknown young man) were more than likely taken on a Thanksgiving visitation. Elmer appears a mere shadow of a man in the clothing he wore and we can make the presumption that he was very near to the final days of his life. Unfortunately, we have not been able to locate where Elmer was laid to rest although I suspect it was St. Mary's Cemetery.

Elsie was left a widow at the young age of 22 and Keith was fatherless at age 3. What could have been a more than sad situation was remedied by the strong ties of extended family. Elsie and Keith lived with her parents, Brainard and Mabel Cross and appear with them in the 1930 census. She married again, once on 03 March 1931 to Hubert E. Millerand then again on 31 December 1934 to Roy H. Lienau, both ending soon in divorce. On 10 June 1936 Elsie married William Brausford Lynn. Francis Keith was raised by "Bill" and the extended family.

Keith and Family
Young Keith and his Family

The search for more information on John T. Burke continues. The mystery of the identity of the young man in the photograph with John also continues. Was there a marriage prior to his marriage with Nellie Lawson? Census records say otherwise claiming his marriage to Nellie as his first. Was there another son? As time goes on these mysteries tend to unravel and we learn more about our ancestors, who they were and how we came to be.

If you would like, you can submit some family memories to beincluded in this ongoing Burke genealogy. You can make submission through the link below: