Thursday, May 31, 2012

Preparations for the Prieshood

In order to tell the story of how Father Patrick M. Flannigan entered the priesthood—the very opposite end of his life from that of his last station as a beloved pastor in the thriving immigrant neighborhoods of the south side of Chicago—we need to borrow from the notes of another man. That man, quite Patrick Flannigan’s elder, was the Bishop of the then-diocese of Sault Sainte Marie in Michigan, the Slovene immigrant Frederic Baraga.

Frederic Baraga was born in 1797 in what is now part of Slovenia, and after attending law school prior to seminary, was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1823. Within seven years, he found himself answering the call of Bishop Edward Fenwick of Cincinnati to serve as missionary to the native people and immigrant miners in the wide-open region of the Upper Peninsula.

His work in missions in that north land eventually earned him the nickname, “The Showshoe Priest.” He did not permit himself any limitations to his ministry owing to the harsh weather conditions of the region, but traveled a circuit between what eventually became several mission outposts. He was consecrated as the first bishop of the new Diocese of Sault Sainte Marie in 1853.

Just before this point, Father Baraga began keeping a journal, which later provided historians—such as Antoine Ivan Rezek, himself pastor in Houghton, Michigan—with a record of his journeys and work among several people groups and in several languages. It is from this one history work, Rezek’s History of the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie and Marquette, published in 1906, that we glean our information on the training and ordination of Father Patrick M. Flannigan, and the background story of his own family.

We’ve already been introduced to an excerpt of the Rezek narrative in the description of Father Flannigan’s own father, Captain James Flannigan. In that excerpt, we learned that the Bishop had stopped by the Flannigan household on more than one occasion, and that the town’s little church—probably no more than a mission outpost—was on the lot next door to the Flannigan household. When the Bishop came to town to meet with the parishioners, he preached in several languages as well as conducting all the other business necessary for any church. This proximity to Patrick’s family must have borne some influence on the young man.

Rezek mentions, from Bishop Baraga’s journal entry on June 27, 1860, that the Bishop himself sometimes did all the hands-on work of setting up for, as well as celebrating, the Mass. That, and walk to and from each village for which he had oversight.

On that same date, according to Rezek, the Bishop’s journal entry made a first mention specifically of Patrick, himself:
In La Point he took the North Star homeward bound; and in Ontonagon Patrick Flannigan joined him, on his way to the Seminary in Cincinnati.
From this 1860 journal entry, we glean our first point in the timeline of Patrick Flannigan’s journey toward the goal of being ordained as priest. As we’ll see tomorrow, the book provides several more points of interest in the story of the younger man’s theological training, as well as that of the energetic service of his mentor.

Photograph: Bishop Frederic Baraga; black and white half plate daguerreotype from studio of Mathew Brady; courtesy Library of Congress, via Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Recapping Flannigans

Having started this series with the slim clipping of a newspaper article announcing the reading of the will of a deceased Chicago pastor, we are about to conclude it with the very same man whose story had begun it. That we will do beginning tomorrow. For now, however, let’s conduct a brief inventory of where we’ve been and whom we’ve researched.

Starting with Father Patrick Michael Flannigan, we moved first to his surviving siblings, Agatha, Richard and John. Locating those names in census records predating his 1907 death, we were eventually able to determine his parents’ names: James and Ellen Sullivan Flannigan. Some wonderful historical documents opened to us the scene of these immigrants’ home in the New World: the Upper Peninsula mining towns of Michigan.

A biographical sketch in a century-old history book told us that this Flannigan family, at one time, consisted of ten sons and three daughters. While there are other possible records out there, digitized and online for our perusal, it is best to call a halt to our search based on the listings that can be found in each decade’s census records, coupled with the 1873 City Directory for Marquette, the town in which the family settled after leaving their homestead in Ontonagon County.

Another reason for setting aside the search: besides the tedium of employing all possible spelling permutations for this surname, without being able to access the actual church records of key life events, it is hard to link missing children with our James and Ellen Flannigan. For one thing, many civil records of the time in that area used only the married name of the mother for birth indices. What are the chances of a couple by the name of James and Ellen with the same-sounding surname to be entirely different people?

While the reasoning may seem faulty, I am presuming that those siblings named in Father Flannigan’s will were the only remaining family members he had. While it is possible that the missing sister—Margaret—if married, might be omitted from his will, that would hardly be the issue with the remaining unaccounted-for siblings, all of whom would be male. Of the brothers whose names we know, only Thomas and James have vanished from the records scene without a trace. For the others—William, Edward, and Matthew—we have confirmation of their dates of death, all of which occurred in the 1870s. The missing two we will have to leave as mysteries—names we never knew and for whom we can find not a trace.

Though we could not find him in the 1860 census with the family nor in the Flannigan household any time beyond that, the young Patrick Michael Flannigan resurfaces for us by virtue of traces of his story embedded within the records and journal entries of the Bishop of his Archdiocese, which thankfully have been transformed into an early church history of the Upper Peninsula region. We will begin mining those records for details on the early years of the priest who later became our connection with a parish hundreds of miles away in Chicago.

Photograph: Captain James Flannigan, from History of the Diocese of Saulte Ste. Marie and Marquette, page 183; published 1906; in the public domain.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Helping Others To Keep Remembering

I have always been a sucker for classic simplicity. So when I ran across an ingenious system for aggregating data in one resource genealogy researchers always need, I was hooked.

The very message that first introduced me to BillionGraves convinced me I was going to like this system. See for yourself from their explanation posted on YouTube.

Streamlined. People like me for whom snail mail was made anathema thanks to the now ubiquitous reach of email should really like the BillionGraves concept. I have all sorts of good intentions—and the piles of cemetery photographs still languishing in some drawer in my office to prove it. I meant well, Find-A-Grave!

And I mean well when I try to encourage others to join me in remembering to give back. For all the volunteer help that benefited us as we struggled through that genealogic learning curve, we certainly can afford to do our part and volunteer to give back to the community.

Especially now. With Memorial Day fresh on my mind, I woke up early yesterday and dragged my family with me to a local cemetery to beat the rush. I wanted to try out my new BillionGraves app. We did an experiment, since we are a divided family—divided, that is, over whether to prefer the Android or the iPhone version of smart-phonedness.

Here’s how our experiment went, so far. The Droid is ahead, 1 – 0, by the way.

First, my husband, the proud owner of the HTC Inspire Android, downloaded the free BillionGraves app from Google Play. That was easy.

Then, my daughter whipped out her trusty iPhone and checked out the iTunes Store, where she quickly located Apple's version of the BillionGraves app.

And waited.

Before you are quick to say, “Strike one!” let me add that my husband co-opted my BillionGraves user name, which allowed him to sign in quickly. My daughter had to create her own account. Perhaps that is where we got snagged. Maybe she should have done that ahead of time.

We hopped in the car and made the breezy five minute drive to the closest cemetery. As we pulled up to the main entrance, I have to say that the flags were breath-taking. The grounds were transformed for their Memorial Day ceremonies, with immense flags lining both sides of the streets within the Memorial Park. Smaller flags dotted the grounds designating each veteran buried there. There were so many lives of service to commemorate!

I wanted to start our test-run project at the point of one specific grave. I’ve mentioned before about my first husband, who died young of a rare disorder. As far as I was concerned, that was step number one in this journey for me.

There is no way I want to fool anyone—including myself—that I am any good at photography. Besides that handicap, I also have never tangled with “smart” phones because they make me look perfectly dumb. I can’t read the display. So here I am at this cemetery in broad daylight—the stuff I thought was necessary for a good picture—and I find that the bright light washes out the display even more. So much for me being the guinea pig in this experiment.

My husband graciously took my place as experiment subject, and started snapping away.

We encountered some glitches. First, the whole gig is based on connection with a GPS system. For some reason, after clicking the first shot, we couldn’t proceed to photograph number two. The GPS system suddenly lost track of us—standing right here, two steps over from the first headstone we had just captured! We waited. We moved around. We waved the camera in the air. Nothing changed. We were stuck.

Oh. There it goes! Why? I have no idea. But we’re up and running again.

And so it went, stopping, stumbling, then breezing through the rest of the row until the whole puzzle descended mysteriously upon us once again. After two rows of photographs, we decided we had achieved our purpose in giving BillionGraves a test drive.

Meanwhile, what of the Apple?

Tick. Tick. Tick. Still waiting for the download to complete. Something got gummed up. Or was it the fact that the email confirmation for the newly-acquired BillionGraves user account was delayed by Google? Yeah, it was the gmail account, surely!

While waiting to give the iPhone one last chance to redeem itself, I played around with another notion: could I see the phone display better on the Android if I shot pictures in the shade? I gave that a try. It definitely yielded a better visual for the user, but I didn’t know how well the photo would transmit.

Giving up, by this time, on the iPhone, we headed back home. First consideration: downloading data—the next step—may cost more on your system, depending on how your phone contract is set up. Our plan gives us only a limited amount for transmitting data. So it was better to transmit from home, where we could tap into the house wireless system.

Somewhere in the midst of that five minute drive home, something “dinged” in my daughter’s iPhone. It was Apple’s “ta-da” for arriving at the scene. Which we had just left.

At home, the Droid effortlessly uploaded the data to BillionGraves and gave us the thumbs-up report that the exchange was successfully made.

Not so fast, though, according to my double check on the BillionGraves website later that day, when I tried to access the photos to see what kind of quality we got, thanks to the blinding sunlight. All I could get was an error message that said the photos didn’t load correctly.

That puzzled me. My first thought was about the listing of the cemetery, itself. In preparing for this expedition, I had scoped out the BillionGraves website to see if our cemetery was listed.

It was not.

But when my husband, at the cemetery, started his work, the first step was to identify a cemetery. And there, in the listings, was the cemetery. Go figure.

When I got home again, checking on the home computer, I found—what?!—no listing for the cemetery. So I manually added it in, which can be done.

I noticed on the website that the BillionGraves team is quite interested in transparency and accessibility. They included their phone number as well as a Skype number. Plus, they invite emailed questions, too.

I chose the email route, but even that hit a glitch! I couldn’t get my note sent. I tried again a couple hours later, and it finally went through.

It will come as no surprise to anyone to hear that I was not the only one thinking about test driving the BillionGraves app on Memorial Day. I had plenty of company. At least enough to bog down their system, for which they immediately apologized to me profusely. BillionGraves support staffer Rob Moncur explained,
Today our site has had so much traffic that we are experiencing some load-related troubles.  We are working furiously on the problem and hope to have it solved as soon as possible.
How nice to have a problem such as that! At least their crowdsourcing idea of getting a huge number of people, worldwide, to consider a random act of kindness in photographing local cemeteries seems to be taking off.

By the way, here's that nice note bloggers like me are supposed to write about product reviews: you can be sure that I was neither paid nor swayed to say what I had to say about the BillionGraves organization and the affiliated businesses.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Telling the Whole Story

Those of you who have followed the whole series here of World War II letters home from my father-in-law to his folks in Chicago may remember that the family always felt that the war substantially changed Frank Stevens. He came home different.

The term “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” had not yet come into use in medical circles. Regardless of what it may then have been called—or not called at all—my father-in-law most definitely suffered the impact of what he experienced in some of the fiercest fighting in the Pacific arena.

The man was, evidently, not alone—and most certainly among the more fortunate. Though his life unfolded so differently than would have been expected—at least for those knowing him before those war experiences—a great number of others returned home in far graver condition, emotionally.

A press release passed along to her readers on DearMYRTLE’s blog earlier this weekend arrested my attention for that very reason: this Memorial Day, I’ve been thinking of how completely this war experience had turned around a life, and all the repercussions that change incurred.

The press release, from the National Archives and Records Administration, announces the re-release of Let There Be Light, the controversial World War II documentary about the rehabilitation of psychologically scarred combat veterans. Developed under the creative hand of Academy Award-winning director, John Huston, the film originally was commissioned to help Americans understand the challenges faced by returning veterans and to demonstrate that the psychological wounds of war are very real, but could heal through therapy.

To tell the story, Huston used then-unprecedented techniques and approaches, obtaining for the film a legacy within documentary film history, but the film itself was pulled by the War Department just before its premiere. Its message remained untold until public pressure secured its official release by the Secretary of the Army decades later, in 1980.

In its currently-restored condition, Let There Be Light is now available for free streaming and downloading at the National Film Preservation Foundation’s website through August.

While film enthusiasts and war historians may have their own reasons for regaling the release of this restored documentary, there are some—like those in my family—who may be interested in the story this film presents for just one reason: we know someone who, after that devastating conflict and without any officially-sanctioned explanation, came back home different.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Resources for Remembering

There’s a lot that can be said about Memorial Day—or Decoration Day, as it used to be called—and I suppose for most all of it, that has already been done. While media outlets, news sources, books, magazines, and all sorts of professional communicators have tackled the subject, there is one more venue which provides a particular perspective: the blog which focuses on the micro-history aspect of military service from a family’s perspective.

To be sure, I’ve been able to do my share of such blogging. Though Memorial Day history extends back to the aftermath of the Civil War, because of genealogical research, I can even write about my great-great-great grandfather, George Edmund McClellan, who, long before that Civil War era, fought in the Seminole Wars. Closer to our own life span, I’ve been  honored to be able to transcribe the letters home from one very young seaman serving in the Pacific during significant battles like Iwo Jima and Okinawa—my father-in-law, Frank Stevens.

There are others who are blogging about their family links to the wars of the last century. I’d like to take some time today to highlight these, so that, in reading them yourself, you can reflect on the micro-perspective of what military service has meant to others.

In addition, I’m sharing some resources that I hope will help you gather your own thoughts about any of your own family members in such roles, and guide you as you honor them by capturing their stories while they may still be documented.

In Genealogy Imaginings, a blog new to me, I find a touching story of the pain of losing a family member to war. The author explores the indications of a painful silence she finds as she combs through family papers seeking any mention of her grandmother’s brother, a pilot-in-training who dies during World War II.

The Daly History Blog comes at the subject from a different approach, by virtue of the writer’s British perspective, reviewing a book about an agency which seeks those who went missing in action during World War II.

The Curious Genealogist discusses the deft use of personal narratives in fleshing out your story of family members who served during war time—and encourages veterans, themselves, to tell their own story, as painful as the process may seem. Those stories need to be preserved. Others will need to remember this, too. One statement in this article particularly struck me:
I had a cousin who was a young medic on Omaha Beach. He told me that you grow up quickly when you have your best friend die in your arms.
This same post, “Finding Family Members Who Fought in World War II,” announces the creation of a research guide by that same title. It includes lists of useful books and links to websites helpful for those wishing to research their relatives who served during that time period.

Local historical societies and museums get in the act with their own posts, too. After extending an invitation to their readers to attend a presentation regarding the battlefields of Europe during World War II, the Hubbard County, Minnesota, Historical Museum reminds readers to, simply, Thank A Soldier. And going back to the original inspiration for this holiday’s designation, my own county’s Historical Society’s blog reviewed a book remembering those Civil War veterans. Even though the Civil War was not fought in our region, of course, we have a legacy of many veterans from both sides of the conflict settling here—and eventually being buried here. Though not a direct commentary on the purposes the holiday was intended for, the blog post does note that the book includes a researcher-friendly burial index for Civil War veterans in this area.

A final posting of note to me—particularly because it resonates with the work I’ve been doing in researching my father-in-law’s story—is a recent entry by DearMYRTLE. She is mainly passing along a press release from the National Archives and Records Administration concerning the restoration of a post-World War II documentary. The subject of the film is the rehabilitation of war-scarred veterans—treatment for a debilitating condition which would, in our current times, be classified as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

This brings up personal remembrances of relatives mentioning that my own father-in-law came back vastly different than when he went to war. It brings to mind the type of sentiment shared in the blog post I mentioned above, The Curious Genealogist:
Only the combat veteran who has gone through battle understands its deep, personal costs. They deserve nothing less than our gratitude, our understanding, and our deep respect.
The movie, what it meant at the time it was originally due to be released, and what it represents for families like ours, will be something I’d like to discuss tomorrow, on Memorial Day.

In the meantime, while you enjoy your holiday weekend, always remember the great sacrifices made by those many others, over the years, who have put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf.

Photograph: The USS LCI(R) 707 firing rockets during the initial assault on Iwo Jima, February 9, 1945.  

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Holiday For Remembering

Anyone who appreciates the joys of the hunt in genealogical research should have a second reason—besides honoring those we know who so rightly deserve that recognition—to appreciate Memorial Day. This holiday sets aside time to encourage us all to remember our collective past as a nation and to recall those individuals from our families' long past who made life securely possible the way we now enjoy it.

Memorial Day—or Decoration Day, as it used to be called—reaches back to the era of the Civil War for its original inspiration. After that war, Northerners sought to commemorate fallen Union soldiers. Southern ladies organized events to decorate the graves of their fallen Confederate soldiers. With so many fallen on both sides, there were so many individual soldiers to remember.

America has since engaged in a number of subsequent wars—and families have had many more members to commemorate for their service to our nation. By 1967, Federal law officially changed the name of the holiday from Decoration Day to Memorial Day. Today people are more likely to presume that the remembrance is for those serving in the military from the era of World War II forward, because each of us who remember, remember those we personally knew who served. But we can take this opportunity to share with our families the stories of those ancestors we know about, who served in those more remote battles of history.

Traditionally, groups take time during this day—or during the extended weekend—to honor those who served by marking their graves with a flag. National cemeteries, with their many war dead, are a sight to see at such times—and a sober reminder of the price paid by many for the benefit of us all.

Whether you have plans to participate in such designations at a local cemetery or not, I hope you will find a way to honor those who have served—both those who have passed on and those still with us.

If you are unable to physically travel to decorate any specific grave sites, I’d like to suggest that you consider creating a digital decoration by volunteering online to insure that the graves of servicemen and –women you have known are properly acknowledged in the various cemetery websites.

For instance, Find A Grave has a large community of volunteers who insure that entries are made on the website for cemeteries in their area. Some volunteers are able to go to specific cemeteries, take pictures of headstones, and post them online on the website. Even those who can’t physically go to the cemetery can enter data on the site—such as dates of birth and death, or even transcriptions of obituaries, for their own family members—so that others may find this information they are seeking. (That, incidentally, is how I found the information for my husband’s uncle, Gerald Stevens—thanks to a Find A Grave volunteer who provided me with the photograph of his grave stone indicating his military service.)

This weekend, whether you are commemorating the service of a long-removed ancestor who served in the Civil War, the more recent memory of grandparents involved in either of the World Wars, or the loss of someone serving in more recent wars, I wish you a meaningful and safe holiday weekend as you gather with family and friends.

Above left: Santa Fe National Cemetery, Santa Fe, New Mexico; courtesy Allen Wheatley.
Below right: Headstone of Gerald A. Stevens, 1977, at Monte Vista Cemetery in Alamogordo, New Mexico; courtesy Find-A-Grave volunteer Tory. Used with permission.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Not the Right Thomas Flannigan

Sometimes, the research trail seems promising, but leads to the wrong conclusion. While that does seem frustrating, it helps to follow that mistaken path just long enough to construct a solid argument articulating the reasons for rejecting your former premise.

That’s exactly what we’ll do today.

You see, it seems tempting to claim as our own the subjects from a newspaper clipping such as the following:
Misses Agnes and Catherine Flannigan of Ishpeming, Mich., have arrived for a visit with their brother, T. A. Flannigan, general superintendent of the Republic Iron & Steel company.

The newspaper in which this remark was included was the Duluth Evening Herald. The plot thickens as we realize the connection both with another Flannigan family member—Catherine Flannigan Cook’s daughter, who married Duluth area mining engineer, William Crago—and another implied connection via Catherine’s sister Agatha, who eventually died in Duluth. Despite what seems like the incorrect detail of the location of Ishpeming, there seems to be enough to connect this Thomas Flannigan with the Thomas we are interested in, the brother of Catherine and Agatha Flannigan.

After all, wasn’t Agatha called Agnes in some records? And though the Flannigans lived in Marquette in the Upper Peninsula, Ishpeming was in the same county. Besides, the family moved there from Greenland, Michigan, and one brother moved yet again to settle in Norway, Michigan—all in the Upper Peninsula. It is quite conceivable that Thomas’ sisters could have moved, themselves, at a later date.

The thread of mining in this family’s heritage seems to tie this man to the family in yet another way. An excerpt from Thomas A. Flannigan’s biographical sketch in a local publication solidifies the link:
Thomas A. Flannigan, general superintendent of the Republic Iron and Steel Company, is one of the best-known men in his calling in northern Minnesota, and a commanding figure at Gilbert. He was born at Ishpeming, Michigan, April 19, 1881, a son of Thomas A. and Johanna (Fogarty) Flannigan.
Though that report confirms the mining link, it discards the possibility that this Thomas is brother to our Catherine and Agnes (also known as Agatha). The 1881 birth year places him in the wrong generation. However, there is still the possibility that this could be a nephew of Catherine and Agnes, and his father their brother.

The biography continues:
The elder Thomas A. Flannigan was born in Ireland in 1831, but came to the United States when he was eighteen years of age, and immediately became identified with mining operations.
At this point, we need to go back to documents from earlier years to confirm this scenario. Looking at the 1860 census, we begin to see problems. In the household of our Thomas’ father, James Flannigan, the census record shows that Thomas is indeed born in Ireland, and he does list his occupation as being involved with mining. However, at age 19, his year of birth is closer to 1841 than 1831.

Birth dates seem to be rather fluid during that time period, however, so checking another source would be helpful. Looking to the 1870 census, though, Thomas is not showing in his parents’ household. Nor, for that matter, does he show in the 1873 city directory for the town in which his family now resides.

We don’t find our Thomas again in the Flannigan household until the 1880 census, after his mother, Ellen, has died. There—true to form with that era’s morphing dates of birth—his age given would put him as born even later, in 1844.

The 1880 census also shows a shift in occupation from mining to a related field: railroads. He is now listed as a locomotive engineer.

Perhaps that designation helps explain why he seems to have disappeared from subsequent public records. With a job in the railroad industry, he could transfer to any of several possible cities involved in the company’s routes. Finding him—especially given the multiple variables in spelling that surname—would now be difficult. He could very well have moved to Duluth. Or elsewhere.

Just in case, though, I checked the two online sources I use for Michigan death records when both and fail me. But neither Michigan’s Genealogical Death Indexing System, which provides transcriptions from 1867 to 1897, nor Seeking Michigan, which is my source for digitized copies of death certificates in that state for 1897 to 1920, showed any material for a possible Thomas Flannigan. Anywhere. In any spelling variant. If the Thomas who showed up in James Flannigan’s household for the 1880 census died in Michigan, it would need to have been after 1920.

So what about that 1880 census record? While it shows both Thomas and, tantalizingly, his sisters Catherine and Agnes, could there be another Thomas Flannigan in Marquette county records for that census year?

You know I wouldn’t ask that question if I didn’t already know the answer, don’t you?

And yes, here it is: the 1880 census record for a Thomas Flannigan, living in the Marquette County town of Ishpeming. He is listed, along with his wife Johanna and their children—though, of course, not including the younger Thomas, who did not make his appearance until his birthday in 1881. And though we have to wait until the 1900 census to see this confirmation, this Thomas also boasts siblings by the names of Catherine and Agnes, providing the very snare that caused us to stumble in the first place.

But just to make sure—in case this hasn’t provided enough ammo to shoot any false theories out of the water here—let’s find another way to demonstrate that the Thomas who is father of the Duluth mining superintendent could not possibly be one and the same as the Thomas of the Flannigan family we are pursuing.

Fortunately, one of those handy Michigan websites has provided us with a copy of Johanna’s husband’s death certificate. There, if his father’s name were James, I’d seriously doubt myself. And, considering how little variation these Irish immigrants allow in their naming habits, there is a good chance that I could be snared all over again.

That is not the case, though, for the Duluth Thomas’s father’s death certificate shows the man with the earlier birth date had a father named—and here we go, once again!—Thomas Flannigan. And the mother’s name was Mary Ryan. A far cry from our Thomas’ parents, James and Ellen Sullivan Flannigan.

All this to say that, if you happen to have posted an online family tree mixing up your Thomases just as I was tempted to do, you now have your cue to revisit the research trail and rectify the matter.

For it was not our Thomas at all—nor his son—who made the move from the one mining region in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the nearby mining operations of that small city of Duluth.

And, oh…if you’re still not sure, I have one more fact in my back pocket. Remember that newspaper article that mentioned the sisters visiting Thomas in Duluth? I neglected to mention that the date of the newspaper edition was April 1, 1916. By then, not only was our Thomas’ sister Catherine no longer single, she was no longer alive.

Photograph: Thomas A. Flannigan of Duluth, Minnesota; from Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota: their story and people. Chicago: American Historical Society, 1921. Photograph in the public domain.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Meanwhile, Back at Home

If Catherine Cook Crago had to live, essentially, the life of a single mother, Colorado Springs might have been just the place to do it—if she had lived there a quarter of a century later. Then, she would find herself doing what many military wives do when their husbands are away: get involved in the community.

But the time frame of William Crago’s absence, at least as far as can be told at this point, was during and after World War I—a very different time frame, indeed, for finding oneself doing a solo gig at parenting.

Yet Catherine soldiered on. She evidently circulated amongst a social set of community-minded women, judging from some newspaper mentions of her activities. Not long after Will’s departure for Africa, a Colorado Springs Gazette article on June 2, 1918, announced the opening of a new venture for the city: a local branch of the Red Cross.
…The Red Cross shop will be formally opened Wednesday, June 12. It is a new venture for Colorado Springs, but the idea has been tried with success elsewhere. The loyal support and liberal patronage of many prominent persons has been promised. Mrs. Wright has announced the departments to be conducted and the committees who will have charge of them during the summer…
Buried in the midst of a litany of names, sorted by departments, was the entry for Catherine:
Bargain Department.
Chairman, Mrs. R. W. Chisholm; …Assistants to the director—Mrs. William H. Crago…
As the women of the city became more adept at their organizational skills, groups of groups combined in cooperative efforts to benefit the less fortunate, including this example from January 16, 1921, naming Catherine as a member of the club listed only as “A.C.A.”:
Club women of the city have been ransacking their garrets, overhauling old trunks, and clearing out their basements, looking for furniture and clothing which can be used at the rummage sale of the City Federation of Women’s Clubs, which is to be held on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Spaulding house. Each club has appointed a committee to tend to the transporting of these articles to the salesrooms, as well as to help dispose of them on the days of the sale.
…On Wednesday, the following will help: …A. C. A., Mrs. W. H. Crago, …
Meanwhile, the Cragos’ two children, William and Jean, attended Colorado Springs High School, where Jean featured prominently in the 1930 yearbook, thanks to her active student life. Young William could also be found in Colorado Springs yearbooks, both at the high school level and at a city institution then known as Colorado College. This local college might have been his springboard to entry into the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, for there are entries for this name in that school’s yearbooks, too. He did, ultimately, graduate from the University of Michigan in 1932, and subsequently received his law degree there in 1935.
Whatever became of the Crago family after this point is hard to determine. One cannot say that Catherine lost her husband in 1949, though that is when he died. Whatever became of Catherine after that point led somehow to a move to northern California, where she died on January 7, 1959. I’d be tempted to think she had passed away during a visit there, for the only California connection I can find reaches back a generation to her father’s sister, Dorothea, who had married a Joseph Jackson and lived in San Jose. Catherine passed near San Jose, in San Mateo County, the area around Redwood City.

The theory about being there just for a visit, though, is trashed by the discovery that, in the same county a little over ten years later, Catherine’s daughter Jean also dies, leaving me to believe this had become their residence. Why there, I don’t know. Maybe this puzzle will have to be left for family members to research.

Jean’s brother William, however, headed east after graduating from the University of Michigan, working for a while in New York before returning to his birthplace, Duluth, to serve as an attorney in the very industrial milieu in which his mining engineer father had felt so comfortable.

That city—Duluth, Minnesota—represented home not only for the next generation of this branch of the Crago family, but shows signs of also becoming home to another branch of the Flannigan family, whom we’ll start researching tomorrow.

Photograph and text insert from Jean Crago's 1930 yearbook entry at Colorado Springs High School.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Making His Way Home

It appears to be a very different William Crago, at least from his passport photograph, who returns home from Africa after the war. A lot can happen in three years—not the least of which is the need to stop in at the American Consulate in Cape Town to see about getting a new passport.

There at the Cape Town office, Will put in his application for an emergency passport on January 27, 1921. Once again, he was obliged to rehearse the tedious minutiae of his life: born December 3, 1879, in New Herrington, a village in England; emigrated with his father, John, and family from the port of Liverpool to Iron Mountain, Michigan, for business purposes in April, 1881; naturalized at the Circuit Court at Dickinson County, Michigan, effective April 6, 1892.

Again, for this document, Will listed his permanent residence as Duluth, Minnesota—not Colorado Springs, where his wife and children were living. We learn from this document that he last left the United States on January 8, 1918—slightly later than his intended departure. The trip to Cape Town had taken him until February 6, 1918, and he didn’t arrive at his final destination, Elisabethville, until the 18th of the same month.

His return trip seemed to be accomplished more quickly—at least at the first. Leaving the Belgian Congo on January 21, 1921, he made it to the Consulate at Cape Town within six days. His trip from there to Southampton, England, was completed—first class aboard the Saxon—by February 14. Though I wonder if he was tempted, while passing through England, to take some time to return to the place of his birth, I doubt he did so, for the distance to the County Durham region would have required the addition of a few more travel days. His itinerary showed he quickly dispatched the final leg of his ocean travels, arriving in New York on the SS Aquitania on February 21, 1921.

And by March 19 of that year, a professional journal was already noting his “visit” to Duluth—considering the lead time for publications back then, I presume that would indicate that Duluth was Mr. Crago’s destination once he disembarked the SS Aquitania in February.

He didn’t lose much time once in Duluth, either. Before that Colorado Springs Gazette piece announcing his “visit” to his family there in September, Will and his colleagues had already traveled to Manchuria, departing Japan August 26 for the return trip to San Francisco on the SS Taiyo Maru.

Whether Will Crago was able to settle down with his wife and family after that point is difficult to reconstruct from public documents. I find no record for him—so far—in the 1930 U.S. Census, though it is quite possible that he was, once again, out of the country. As for the 1940 census, well, that’s not yet available for those states in which he’d be most likely to reside.

There are other signs of his whereabouts, however. That he was in demand professionally continued to be evident from news publications almost up to the point of his death in Duluth in 1949.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

While He Was Away

Will Crago evidently was successful in his pursuit of an American passport, even during war years, as passenger records at least show his return trip after the Great War’s conclusion. As his passport application indicated, his intended departure would be aboard the SS City of Cairo, a British passenger steamer remembered much later for its ill-fated journey in the midst of a subsequent World War with U-boat commander Karl-Friedrich Merten’s odd but legendary dismissal, “Goodnight, and sorry for sinking you.”

I take it the voyage bearing Mr. Crago to his destination in South Africa was less eventful.

We are fortunate, nowadays, to have online accessibility to these many archived records. From the copy of Will Crago’s passport application, we can glean hints about his appearance: Stature, 5 feet, 8¾ inches; Hair, light brown; Eyes, blue; Nose, medium; Mouth, medium; Chin, regular; Face, medium.

On second thought, perhaps there isn’t much to glean from this description.

We even have a copy of his signature, which will come in handy when we puzzle over an anomaly that popped up during his absence from his hometown address of 1205 East Second Street, Duluth, Minnesota.

Even better, we have a copy of his passport photo. Forget those enigmatic government passport descriptions! Just take a look at that face!

But what about this three year journey? It occurred in the midst of traveling dangers, to be sure. Most all of Europe was now embroiled in the Great War. The United States had now entered the fray. Even remote locations in places like Africa were not immune from being seen in a war-tinged shade of light. Perhaps the main reason Will Crago remained away from home, from his family, and from his adopted country was because there was no safe way to return.

And so, mining engineer William H. Crago remained at the vicinity of the copper mines in the Katanga region of the Belgian Congo until 1921.

However, in the meantime, the United States had been drafting its citizens to participate in this Great War. At first, the requirements for registration were for young men between the ages of twenty one and thirty one. At that date, June 5, 1917, Will Crago was beyond that range, being nearly thirty eight, himself.

However, when the requirements were expanded to include all men between the ages of twenty one and forty five in 1918, that change had an impact on Will.

There was only one problem: his status at the time was that he was already out of the country. How was he to register?

Curious as to how Will—or the company sending him overseas—would handle this dilemma, I took a look online to see if I could discover any World War I registration card for him.

I found one. It was signed by William Crago on September 7,1918.

With that same governmental precision as was demonstrated on his passport, this document identified Will as having medium height and medium build, with blue eyes and light brown hair. It showed him to be a naturalized citizen, with his father, John, still living in Michigan. It even showed him to be working for the right company, the Oliver Iron Company, in the same county as his Duluth residence, Saint Louis County, Minnesota.

The only problem: the date of birth was incorrect. It showed his birth occurring on March 27, 1874.

Oh. And that other problem: William H. Crago wasn’t even in the country to sign this document. At the time, he was in Elisabethville in the Belgian Congo, a matter of a mere eight thousand miles away.

Photograph, above left: William Henry Crago, from his United States Passport application dated November 24, 1917; above signature from the same 1917 document; compare with the second signature at bottom right, purportedly from his World War I registration card, perhaps completed in proxy on his behalf.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Why Such Urgency?

It seems a little out of the norm for protocol regarding routine passport applications to include both a cover letter and further letter of explanation. What was behind the letters and additional references for William H. Crago’s passport request?

For one thing, the application itself reminds us of his foreign-born status. Will Crago was born, not in the United States, but in New Harrington, Durham County, England. A while  after the date of his birth—“on or about the 3rd day of December, 1879”—Will’s father, John Crago, herded the family aboard the “fastest liner on the Atlantic” and headed for America. They traveled on the ss City of Berlin from Liverpool some time in April, 1881, settling shortly thereafter in Iron Mountain, Michigan. The family eventually attended to the legalities of the naturalization process before the Circuit Court of Dickinson County, at Iron Mountain, Michigan, becoming citizens on April 6, 1892.

On the passport application, Will Crago declared his permanent residence to be Duluth, Minnesota. He reported himself to be a mining engineer, and listed his intended destinations to be the Union of South Africa, en route to “Congo Belge Africa.” The accompanying letter from his potential employer, as we saw yesterday, explained that his services were needed to consult on the use of specific American-made equipment for an international company engaged in “supplying copper to Ministry of Munitions of the British Government.”

I don’t know how tedious the governmental bureaucratic red tape was during the year of 1917, but Will’s application, filed November 24, indicated his intent to depart New York by the “latter part of December, 1917,” about a month away. Perhaps that explains the inclusion of the officious documentation by the intermediaries for the Union Miniere du Haut Katanga.

There is, of course, more to the explanation than that. Taking a look at the date—as well as the broad clue dropped by the mining company regarding the “Ministry of Munitions”—reminds us of the bigger picture of world events at the time. Though seemingly disorganized in its readiness to do so, the United States had finally declared its intention to enter the foray of the Great War barely seven months earlier, on April 6, 1917. William Crago’s presence at the remote site of these copper mines essentially  assisted the war effort through the British government’s contract with this mining organization. It was in someone’s interest to see that the State Department of the United States understood how to cut through any potential red tape in the process.

Photograph: The ss City of Berlin, circa 1898; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Of Course, There’s a Back Story

Having already found mentions in old documents regarding William H. Crago’s professional forays into remote locations of Africa and Asia, I wasn’t surprised, a day or so ago, to run across an announcement, in a professional journal, of his pending journey to Manchuria. The Google search pulled up the lead to the report, naming Will Crago and a number of his colleagues, as they prepared to head west from their office to their next step in the journey—a Pacific coast port.

Unfortunately, I didn’t save the link. Silly me. Google didn’t recapture that citation the next time I searched.

All is not lost, however, when there is access to collections like those at (And no, I didn’t get paid—nor swayed—to say that; I just use a number of services to achieve my research goals.) I managed to find a number of travel references linked to this William H. Crago.

Keeping in mind that there are a number of other William H. Cragos out there—including one from Australia, born at about the same time—I had to tread lightly through the search results.

I was pleased, however, to uncover this urgent petition in the form of a letter attached to Will Crago’s passport application preceding his trip to Africa. While it does seem to employ an unusually pleading tone, the letter provides some useful background information on the reason for Will’s participation in this particular venture in what was then the Belgian Congo.

                                                                        Chicago, Illinois,
                                                                        November 13, 1917.

Honorable Secretary of State,
            Of The
United States of America,
Washington, D. C.

            This is to certify that Union Miniere du Haut Katanga, desires to send Mr. W. H. Crago, an American citizen of Duluth, Minnesota, to its mines in the Katanga province of the Congo Belge, Africa, as mining engineer in charge of the Special Exploration Work being done by the Company with diamond drills furnished by the Sullivan Machinery Company, an American firm, in Chicago, Illinois.
            The Union Miniere du Haut Katanga is an Anglo-Belgian Mining & Smelting Company, at present supplying copper to Ministry of Munitions of the British Government. The services of an American mining engineer familiar with the Sullivan equipment is necessary to the Company in order to maintain and to increase its production.
            The address of the Union Miniere du Haut Katanga is Room 1227 – 42 Broadway, New York City
            and Friars House, New Broad Street, London, England and the African address is, Elisabethville, Katanga, Congo Belge, via Cape Town.


                                                [signed] Robert M. Johnson
                                                General Supt. Of Mines
                                                Union Miniere du Haut Katanga

References:      Bucyrus Company, South Milwaukee, Wis.
                      Sullivan Machinery Co., Chicago, Illinois

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Lots of Whisky & Very Few Barber Shops

What does one say to a Kiwanis Club which has extended an invitation to address their luncheon meeting? Apparently, if one is a world-traveled mining engineer speaking to a local group of businessmen at the base of Pike’s Peak, enough to warrant a lengthy newspaper article recapping the entire presentation.

Will Crago seems to have just the right touch at bringing his narrative alive for the folks back home, according to a report in the Colorado Springs Gazette on December 22, 1921. Armed with just enough of that generation’s version of Power Point bells and whistles, he cavalierly tosses those colored maps to the side except for the occasional reference. After all, he wasn’t here for a live version of a documentary. His purpose was—and here he evidently succeeded—to give “an unusually interesting talk.”

He peppered the discussion of his topic with references targeted to connect the foreign with the familiar:
Mr. Crago told of his African experiences while with a copper mining company in the Belgian Congo, stressing the fact that the equatorial forests of that region comprised today “the darkest Africa” referred to in so many novels and historical books.
While piquing the interest of would-be big game hunters among his listeners—mentioning, for instance, that licensing fees meant hunting elephants for ivory “didn’t pay”—Mr. Crago could also insert a twist of dry humor into his observations of hunting. For those not interested in hunting those elephants, he
remarked on the prevalence of “small game,” meaning everything from tste flies, which produce sleeping sickness, to jigger fleas and other crawling and flying insects.
And, of course, there was the obligatory comment on the red ants:
All creatures flee before the red ant…[I] had seen them with a mile and a half front. There is no stopping them and human beings and animals leave when they advance.
I can just imagine him delivering this line with a wry smile:
White men have not been able to live in the equatorial forests…but if they discover gold or copper there, they probably will be able to live in the thickest jungles.
So what is this white man’s take on the totality of his observations in the heart of “darkest Africa”?
“There is lots of whisky in Africa and very few barber shops.”

Photograph: Map of Belgian Congo by cartographer Leon de Moor, published by J. Lebègue and Company, Brussels, Belgium, in 1896. Notice the inset, bottom right, of Katanga. Courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Where’s Crago?

While William H. Crago is conspicuously missing from the Colorado Springs household for the 1920 census, he is not the “absent father” that might be conjured up by today’s mindset. The family, sporting a live-in maid, was obviously not hurting too badly at the time—at least as far as material considerations might lead one to believe.

That benefit was most likely owing to the reputation the man had built up over the years owing to his professional accomplishments. A Google Books find from the March 19, 1921, edition of the Engineering and Mining Journal includes a short explanation under the appropriate column title, “Men You Should Know About.”
W. H. Crago, in charge of mining engineering and exploration for the Union Minière du Haut Katanga, is visiting in Duluth, Minn., after an absence of three years in the Belgian Congo, Africa. Mr. Crago was formerly assistant to John Uno Sebenius, general mining engineer for the Oliver Iron Mining Co.
I’m unsure of what drew William Crago back to Duluth in 1921—business obligations, perhaps?—because his family, at that time, resided not there, but in Colorado Springs.

By September of that year, he does find time to squeeze in a visit with his wife and children, as we can surmise from a mention in the Colorado Springs Gazette on the sixteenth:
One of the most distinguished engineers in the United States is here for a brief visit. He is William H. Crago who has just returned from an extensive trip thru the coal fields of northern Manchuria in the interests of the Manchurian railroad system. With Mrs. Crago, he is staying at 509 North Tejon street.
Strangely enough, that 509 North Tejon Street address is not the one given for the family in the 1920 census. Perhaps they have moved. Hopefully, they have already settled in at their new location, for this visit, the newspaper assures us, will be brief. With duties completed both in the iron and copper mines of the then-Belgian Congo and the coal fields of northern Manchuria, who knows what adventure will come calling next. The man is evidently in demand.

But, no, it appears: by December 21 of that same year, the Colorado Springs Gazette announces that Mr. Will Crago—Just Back From Belgian Congo—will be speaking the next day at the Kiwanis luncheon meeting. His topic: his time spent in the Belgian Congo.
Will Crago, engineer, who has recently returned from two years in the Belgian Congo, with the British East Africa company, and now engaged in equally interesting work in Manchuria, will be the principal speaker at the regular meeting of the Kiwanis club at 12:30 o’clock today at the Elks home. Mr. Crago will speak on “My African Experiences.”
So that “brief” stay in the Springs that began in September was either interrupted by other whirlwind professional tours of duty, including that three—no, make that two—years' effort in Africa, or William H. Crago actually got a breather to stay home with his family for a while.

Or, perhaps, it was merely another instance of newspaper error.

Photograph: Ruandese workers at the Kisanga copper mine, Katanga, Belgian Congo, late 1920s; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
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