Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Doubting These Thomases

Now that I’ve found—albeit accidentally—transcriptions of the marriage record for Thomas O’Neil and, presumably, Ellen Flannery, I’m not sure which one of the two to believe. The only constant details between the two records are the date and place of the wedding. And Thomas’ own name, of course.

Let’s look a little closer at the details in the records, beginning with the one I found first: the transcription at This record gives Thomas’ age as thirty four, and his parents’ names as Thomas O’Neil and Mary Greime. Admittedly, the surname Greime seems a little unusual—probably a spelling variation, but not something so overtly egregious as to cause us to toss it out of hand immediately.

As for Thomas’ bride-to-be, the listing gives the name Ellen Flannery. While I’m ever so grateful to have found this little tidbit, I do need to cool my fervor over the fortunate find and remember that this is not an actual document I’ve found, but only a transcript of a document. Yes, I’m so pleased that it shows Ellen’s parents to be Edward Flannery and Margaret McKeogh, but it is not yet time to participate in a victorious “I told you so” dance. This bit of evidence is no more than at least two sets of eyeballs’ rendering of one page in the Family History Library’s microfilm number 1030055.

I’m getting the feeling I might become rather familiar with that microfilm number in the next few months.

In the other record, found at, we’ve already discussed the one obvious problem: the bride’s name has been rendered as Flaming, not Flannery. I don’t see that as too insurmountable a barrier. After all, it doesn’t take much imagination to realize that what was written as two n’s could easily be taken as an m, an i for an e, an n for an r, and a rather closely formed top to a y as a g. As reader Wendy mentioned yesterday, if you’ve ever volunteered to serve as an indexer for a FamilySearch transcription project, you will realize what it is like getting these microfilmed documents converted to a searchable format for online research. These things can happen.

That, however, is not the only problem with this transcription for the Thomas O’Neil marriage. While the Ancestry entry shows the same wedding date—February 23, 1868—and even adds the location of the ceremony as the village of Paris, there are some additional name variations to be concerned about. While Ellen’s father is still listed as Edward, and her mother as Margaret, her mother’s maiden name has been revised to show as McHugh. Granted, that could be a phonetic variation on McKeogh, so I’m not too concerned. But still, that’s added to the other concern about Flaming instead of Flannery.

Looking to Thomas’ parents’ information, there is another discrepancy. And I can’t explain this one away. Thomas’ mother, Mary, is shown here with an entirely different maiden name: Spencer. How did they get Spencer from Greime?!

One handy device Ancestry provides is a research tips box in the right column of pages with search results. On this particular page for Thomas O’Neil’s marriage information, a “Suggested Records” box popped up, providing a clickable link to a similar result. I immediately clicked through, hoping some Research Good Fairy had just sprinkled fairy dust on the upper right corner of my computer screen.

That, unfortunately, was not what happened, no matter how much you all gathered together and chanted, “I do believe in fairies, I do!”

The suggested second resource turned out to be drawn from the same original document, if you read the fine print at the bottom of each page—so nothing new gleaned there.

Returning to the 1871 census record for Brant County, Ontario, where I had first encountered the young couple, I saw Thomas declared he was born in Canada. Fine, I thought, I’ll just look for his birth record. Nothing found.

Alright, then, I’ll work it from the opposite angle. Remembering that Thomas was no longer present in the O’Neil family household for the 1881 census, I went looking for a death record. Still nothing.

Some things just need to be set aside until later. If Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither can we put Rome’s full complement of governmental documents online in one day (metaphorically speaking, of course; wouldn’t we all love to see that happen for real).

What I need to realize—and satisfy myself with, for now—is that I’ve achieved my goal of confirming that Ellen was daughter of Edward and Margaret Flannery, and thus also sister of Patrick Flannery. Of Edward and Margaret’s descendants in Paris, Ontario, I’ve now confirmed the outcome of two, with a third possibility waiting in the wings.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Good Thing I Found This One First

Toying with the notion that Ellen O’Neil—or O’Neail, as some records displayed the spelling of it—was one and the same with Ellen Flannery, daughter of Edward and Margaret of Paris, Ontario, I went back to retrace my steps on the Flannery searches. With Ellen showing as a widow, beginning with her appearance with her two sons—but no husband—in the 1881 Canadian census, I thought the logical first step would be to take a peek at the listing for burials at the Catholic cemetery in Paris.

Since we have the good fortune of an online listing of many of the burials at Sacred Heart Cemetery, thanks to an volunteer, I returned to that site to see what was listed for that unusual surname spelling: O’Neail.

I promised myself to be flexible with my spelling expectations, knowing how documentation went back in the mid to late 1800s, but as it turned out, there was no need to brace myself to wade through dozens of inapplicable O’Neils. There in the entries for Sacred Heart Cemetery was a decent list of O’Neail family members.

Except there was one glitch: the Thomas O’Neail in the listing didn’t appear to be the right one.

There was one, of course, but he lived well past 1881, the same year our Ellen’s husband failed to appear in the Paris census. As it turned out, this Thomas may have served as mayor of Paris—in 1883, according to the J. H. Beers and Company publication, The History of the County of Brant, Ontario. The detail on page 488 also indicated that this Thomas O’Neail was a grain merchant and miller. In contrast, the last entry to be found for our Thomas O’Neail, in 1871, labeled him simply as a laborer.

Not satisfied with the results I had found on the cemetery listing, I struck out for more likely arenas. Thankfully, I headed first for the free site, There, though garnering absolutely zip for my search terms, while pursuing something else—what became of Ellen’s two sons after the 1891 census—what should pop up but the hitherto-elusive marriage entry for one Thomas O’Neil of Paris, Brant County, Ontario.

There, while scanning through the multiple hits gotten from my search terms regarding Ellen's two sons, I had to do a double take to not lose that result! Why didn’t it come up when I was searching for their marriage record?!

But why complain? There it was, showing Thomas to be son of another Thomas O’Neil and his wife, Mary Greime.

Better yet, it confirmed that the younger Thomas’ wife Ellen once sported the maiden name of Flannery.

What more could I ask?

Well…actually, I could ask one small additional favor: a peek at the document, itself.

So, off to I went. After all, FamilySearch provided the name of the source of their revelation: an index called “Ontario, Marriages, 1800-1910.”

The added value of is that, though limiting access as a subscriber-based site, it does provide digitized versions of many of the actual documents referred to on, rather than just the transcription of the record. All I need do, in many such cases, is note the source document’s name at, then seek the same source at Ancestry.

Unfortunately, in this case, my technique failed me. Ancestry did not have any such collection listed.

Worse, in trying to find any other record of the marriage of Thomas and Ellen—made a bit easier, now that I had not only confirmed that it occurred in the county of Brant, but that it was solemnized on the exact date of February 23, 1868—I was unable to find anything.

Except for one strange entry for a Thomas O’Neil and an Ellen Flaming.

Flaming? What were my chances? I clicked through to the record, in hopes that it included a copy of the original document. I wanted to see that one for myself!

Unfortunately, it didn’t provide anything more than the listing of Archives of Ontario microfilms from which the index was composed.

I’m guessing, given the wild versions of ink-on-paper passing as handwriting by government officials, that “Flaming” could very well have started out with the good intentions of appearing like “Flannery.”

Having found that record, I can now understand why, in my many attempts to flush out any hints on Ancestry, I could never locate any marriage record for an Ellen Flannery in Brant County, Ontario. If it weren’t for glancing at a misapplied result while searching for something else about this O’Neil family, I wouldn’t have found this record on FamilySearch, either.

I am becoming more and more a fan of database hopping, in my quest to find these intractable camouflaged ancestors. And I am developing the ability to come quickly to a skidding stop and make quick turns when stray search errors flash past my eyes. Sometimes, those “errors” turn out to be just the thing I’ve been looking for.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Neighbors, Friends—or Family?

A funny thing happened on the way to determine whether our Patrick Flannery had moved to Brantford, the county seat of Brant County, to be close to his brother: I found another name in that 1891 census, one which I had seen back in Patrick’s old home in Paris, Ontario.

If you remember my first mention of Patrick and Margaret, as newlyweds in the 1881 census, you may have noticed the curious configuration given to his household listing by That website had included a second surname in the enumeration of everyone in Patrick’s family. Beside his wife, Margaret, and their two young daughters Mary and Margaret, there was another family by the name of O’Neial.

I wasn’t sure about this name—not because of the unusual spelling, of course, because spelling contortions like that were bound to happen back then, but because of its placement in the same household as Patrick’s. To check it out, I located the same entry at to look at the actual document for myself.

Though the digitized copy of the 1881 census was quite faded, sure enough, there appeared to be two families in the same household on the document itself. The O’Neial family was comprised of thirty five year old Ellen plus twelve year old John and ten year old Edward—if you are an subscriber, you can see for yourself by clicking here.

Why did Patrick’s young family include these other people?

Sometimes, poring over all these census records is enough to turn one’s brain to mush, as names tumble around and become jumbled with other names. But I thought I had seen that name before.

I took a look at the previous census to see if I could locate what I thought I had remembered. I did find an Ellen combined with an Edward and a John—ages conveniently reduced by ten years on the earlier record—but this time, they were in the separate household of one Thomas O’Neil.

More importantly, they were right next door to a Flannery household. But it wasn't Patrick’s. Instead, Thomas and Ellen O'Neil were living next to the household of the now elderly Edward and Margaret Flannery. Hmm.

Taking it yet another step backwards to the 1861 census, there in Edward and Margaret Flannery’s household, was a single woman by the name of Ellen Flannery.

Could this Ellen Flannery born in Ireland in 1843 be the twenty five year old wife of Thomas O’Neil in the 1871 census? We’ve already seen how fluid those birth dates seem to have been in that era. Can I trust it to be so for this instance? Why else would this same O’Neil family later move in tandem with Edward Flannery's son Patrick when his family relocated from Paris to Brantford?

Not sure to rely solely on a possibility like shifting ages, I’ll first have to do some searches for records for any of this O’Neil—or O’Neail—foursome.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Family Tradition: Pass It On

Whether you are celebrating Easter today—Resurrection Day, as many prefer to call it—or have been celebrating Passover this past week, you have been participating in a vital force that preserves culture in such a way that permits it to be passed on to future generations. “Culture is religion externalized and made explicit,” claimed Henry van Til, author and nephew of the famed Dutch theologian Cornelius van Til, and the traditions we re-enact today make visible to our children the beliefs we hold as essential to sustaining our philosophy of life.

How do we pass down our beliefs and traditions? It is not solely through the words we say, I’d like to maintain, but through the actions we take and the stories they tell.

My daughter, now a junior in college, has been serving as tutor in the home of a conservative Jewish family. It has been a cultural education for her as she observes the manner in which the adherents to a religion very different from her own apply the quote I mentioned above, from a theologian and adherent of a Calvinist Christian perspective. While these two belief systems are quite divergent from each other, we can still see the concept in operation in the traditions this Jewish family upholds in daily life.

Think about it: the culture of the Hebrew (Jewish) people has been passed down for thousands of years now. How did it preserve itself through such a long span of time? Those beliefs were not mere litanies weariedly recited by generation after generation. They were kept alive by story and by re-enactment. Their traditions included retelling the story of Passover in a family setting, with even the food they were eating serving as symbols of a pivotal moment in their people’s saga. The actions, the drama of the episodes, the sharing via family, all helped to bond these people to their history—to their story.

The Christian observances of this past Holy Week also serve to pass our heritage to the next generation. The meaningful ways we transpose concepts into actions we can absorb through our five senses find their way into the hearts of our children—a place where they may be safely harbored, cherished, and preserved.

In some ways, our culture’s viability is fragile—only as certain as the tenuous link between one generation and the next. It is not that we pass down our beliefs from one generation to the next, but how we do it that will count. The childlike eyes that brighten at candlelight stories told by a beloved grandfather, or the participatory factor of the re-enactment of a historic event: these are the highlights that, for a new generation, bind meaning to the memories of bygone years.

In a much humbler way, we who are careful to preserve our own families’ stories can take our cue from this lesson on how the Hebrew line preserved their culture for millennia. We, too, are pivotal: only one generation away from seeing our families’ stories forever forgotten. It is when we create that spark, not only of excitement but of personal identification with the experiences of our ancestors, that we equip that next generation to carry our stories forward.

Above: Painting, "Easter," by Russian artist Mikhail Andreyevich Mokhov (1819-1903, also identified as Mihail Mohov); in the public domain; courtesy Wikipedia.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Think I Found Something

Sometimes, genealogical research just goes on its plodding way, tiresomely slowly, one step at a time. Sometimes, those steps don’t seem to lead anywhere. Sometimes, they seem like they are actually going backwards.

And then, sometimes, it’s like something breaks through and streams of light flow in. Everything falls into place. Angel choirs sing.


Well, it isn’t quite as good as that. But I think I did find something.

Remember Cornelius? The elusive Cornelius, the guy with the unusual name that was a sure fire clue to help me push back another generation in this Flannery family from County Tipperary in Ireland?

I might have found him.

I’m not going to rush into this too quickly. No sense getting my hopes up—although if he managed to die a good twenty years after his brother Patrick, it would certainly help my cause.

So, I’ll take my time laying out the little bits of evidence I’ve garnered so far. This could take a few days. I’m still piecing things together. And, of course, I could be wrong. But at least I’ve got to try—to test this hypothesis out.

It all happened while I was fully intending to grind my way through the census records for Patrick Flannery’s family in Paris, Ontario. After all, I already know where most, if not all, of his family were buried. Conveniently, we can supplement those findings with digitized records online for the births of his children—and, in some cases, their death records, too.

Patrick, though born in Ireland, seemed to have established himself in the village his parents claimed for their adopted home once they arrived in Canada West. Except for that anomaly of the newspaper report of his death being published so far from his home, I had only found him in records for Paris.

Now, having begun the process of tracing his descendants, I had used the 1881 census for Paris to identify his first two children—Mary and Margaret. I zoomed ahead to the1901 census to get a sneak peak at the end of the story, while the children were all young enough to still be at home, and his death precluded the arrival of any more babies.

Following my post on Patrick’s first two daughters, I had thought to write about the next surviving daughter, Ellen, and began pulling up whatever records I could find for her. One of my first stops in the online search was to locate a copy of the 1891 census, to double check such fuzzy reports as date of birth.

That’s when I hit a little glitch: there was no Patrick Flannery in Paris in 1891. At least, none that I could find.

I started wondering about Iggy’s suggestion that Patrick actually was living in Essex, after all—the location of the newspaper that ran the report of Patrick’s death. The problem with that idea, though, was the Essex County man had declared himself to be single. And, with as many children as our Patrick and Margaret had by that time, he certainly didn’t qualify to call himself single.

So here I am, looking for any records on daughter Ellen in the 1891 census, and I see a listing for a Patrick and Margaret Flannery family—not in Paris, but in a place called Brantford.

Now, I happen to know that the city of Brantford is actually the county seat of Brant, the county in which the Flannerys had settled when they chose Paris as their new home. As often happens, perhaps Patrick had moved his family to a larger town—Brantford's population at the time was twelve thousand, much larger than the village of Paris—to find better opportunities for employment.

On the other hand, there are so many Patricks out there—even Patricks married to Margarets—so I wanted to go carefully in this leap of research faith.

It sure steadied my nerves to find another entry in that same subdistrict in Brantford for a Flannery family. Maybe this was the reason for Patrick’s move: to be closer to family. This record was for a man by the name of Francis C. Flannery, aged forty eight, who was born in Ireland. Granted, that would put him as having been born around 1843, a bit young to have been Patrick’s brother. Seeing how loose people played with those birth dates back then, though, it made me wonder about the possibility. After all, what did the “C” in Francis C. Flannery stand for?

Though he wasn’t born in 1835, could he have been our Cornelius?

Besides that question, there was another hint I found in that same census record that made me wonder if I had found some of the missing Flannery siblings—but this discovery will require a long explanation, so I’ll save it for tomorrow.

Friday, April 18, 2014

About Mary and Margaret

Question: Who’s buried in Mary and Margaret Flannery’s tomb?

Answer: No one. Mary and Margaret weren’t buried in a tomb.

Now, if you want to ask who was buried in Mary and Margaret’s cemetery plots, that’s another matter. And I’m not entirely sure I have the answer.

What made me wonder was that first glance at the list of burials at Sacred Heart Cemetery in Paris, Ontario. There is a Mary Flannery listed there, who died October 11, 1962. And there is a Margaret Flannery listed as well, with a date of death of July 8, 1965.

My problem is that, after reading that Mary and Margaret’s sister Agnes died at age fifteen, and their brother Edward James (or James Edward, depending on which record you are reading) died in his forties, I tend to doubt these two others would be so long lived.

You see, according to the 1881 Canadian census, Mary was born in 1878. Her younger sister? Born in 1880. That would make them, respectively, eighty four and eighty five at the time of their deaths. Approximately.

How did these two manage to survive so much longer than their other siblings?

No, I am not going to start talking about yogurt or aerobic training. That is a rhetorical question. And this is not a health and fitness blog.

The differences in life spans have got me wondering if the surnames were just coincidental occurrences in that same cemetery.

At least Mary and Margaret had left some form of birth record to help with comparisons. While we may not know whether those two buried in the Sacred Heart Cemetery are our two Flannery sisters, we can at least examine any variances in documentation over the years for these two sisters.

One index of transcribed birth records shows Mary’s date of birth as February 13, 1878—and, thankfully, confirms her parents as Patrick “Flanery” and Margaret Gorman, exactly as we’ve already found. A different index from the same website, showing the same two parents, provides Mary’s sister Margaret Flannery’s date of birth as December 30, 1879.

That’s good to know, for if we fast forward to the 1901 census for this family, apparently their mom couldn’t quite remember all those details. Okay, so she was a little busy with all those kids. It’s easy to see right away, though, that the birth date the census record shows for Margaret—December 28, 1882—would come impossibly close to next daughter Ellen’s arrival on March 6 of 1883. Besides, with a birthday that late, she wouldn’t have made the cut for appearing in the 1881 census, now, would she?!

That’s the kind of opportunity we have, looking in retrospect at all these documents in a digitally-searchable mode. We can spot which record conveyed errors forward to us in the future, and speculate on which data are the correct versions.

We are so spoiled.

Not only that, but the temptation to superimpose our current standards upon those former times can sneak up on us. And before we know it, we are wondering why a mother can’t even keep her own kids’ birthdays straight, for crying out loud!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

When It Doesn’t All Add Up Right

If you found the comparisons of the various census records available for the Ed Flannery family to be frustrating—no two census records seeming to contain reasonable projections of household ages—you’ll just love diving into these records for son Patrick’s own family.

Fortunately—well, at least that’s how I felt about it when I first began this comparison—we have cemetery records for Patrick’s family. By the time we compare them to all the census records and other documents, we’ll find a phantom other person—an unexplained additional Flannery.

But let’s not bite off more than we can chew in this one sitting. Today, we’ll take a look at what’s available from the file for Sacred Heart Cemetery in Paris, Ontario, for the Patrick Flannery family.

As we’ve already discovered, Patrick himself met with a sudden end in March of 1895. Sure enough, his headstone reflects that fact with a date of death as March 29, 1895. The helpful volunteer who took the time to list the burials at Sacred Heart also entered the detail that he was “h/o Margaret Flannery (Gorman).”

Patrick’s wife—indeed another Margaret for the family, following in the footsteps of Patrick’s mother and, possibly also his aunt—apparently lived out her widowhood on Dumfries Street in Paris, Ontario, until May 11, 1929. Giving a date of birth as May 22, 1854, the death certificate indicated her age at passing as seventy five years, eleven months and twenty days. Maddeningly, that precise certificate also managed to give, for the informant, Margaret’s daughter’s name as “Miss Flannery.”


At least her headstone agreed with the county records. As a consolation prize, the death certificate updated the maiden name of Margaret’s mother to read as Hudson instead of the Huttson given on her marriage license back in 1877.

But what of the children? Our helpful volunteer indicated two of the Flannery burials as children of Patrick and Margaret: Agnes, who died January 26, 1899, and James Edward, who died September 1928. Looking online, we can find confirmation of these dates.

Though only fifteen years of age when she passed, Agnes was already working as a mill hand at the date of her death, and had suffered from diabetes mellitus for the past three years. The year of her death predated the period in which governments collected such details as names of parents, but included—in two places on the record—the name of the physician following her and pronouncing her death. At this point, we can only presume that the volunteer who indicated Agnes’ filial relationship to Patrick and Margaret gleaned that information from her headstone or other documentation.

James Edward, having lived well past the date in which details that gladden the rabid researching genealogist might have appeared, managed to at least confuse, with an index of his death record reversing his two given names: Edward James. Transcription problem? Indexer’s error? At least the date of death agrees in both records: September 6, 1928. With a date of birth as April 14, 1886, that put him at age forty two at passing—significantly better than Agnes, but still relatively young.

What of the other Flannery burials at Sacred Heart? Are they children of Patrick and Margaret? A census record for 1881, just a few years after Patrick and Margaret were married, show children Mary at age three, and Margaret at age one. There is a Mary Flannery buried at Sacred Heart, having died October 11, 1962. There is also an additional Margaret with a date of death as July 8, 1965. Perhaps these two match the daughters showing in that 1881 census—further documentation will be needed to verify that.

There are two other Flannery burials at Sacred Heart: that of Catherine (died March 3, 1979) and Zita (died January 18, 1988).

Conveniently, we can now fast forward to the 1901 census, in which widow Margaret Flannery is listed with six children. If you think the list of these six children will nicely align with those we’ve already discussed, you are sadly mistaken. Witness the six for yourself, if you have access to, or peruse the list here:
Mary, born 1878
Margaret, born 1882
Ellen, born 1883
“Eward” (surely taking after his grandfather, Ed-blot), born 1887
Catherine, born 1890
Florence, born 1893


Where’s Zita?

Shall we collectively lift our voices in a cry of agony? Or tear our hair out (for those of you having enough to spare)?

Perhaps we shall set this aside for a saner moment, and retreat to our online resources in search of further documentation.
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