Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Remembering a Beautiful Life

For whatever reason Agnes Tully Stevens chose to save the article recounting the funeral of Sister Mary Mercy, she merely expressed the same deep feelings of respect and appreciation mirrored by many at that 1912 funeral.

The outpouring of love expressed during the funeral must have been overwhelming. I have no doubt Agnes Tully—the by-now newly married Mrs. William Stevens—was among the mourners. She may even have accompanied the funeral procession as far as its destination at the Calvary cemetery to the north of Chicago where her own family members had also been laid to rest.

But was it only for the sentiment of the moment’s poignancy that she saved this clipping? The article itself was cut, folded, and unceremoniously pinned together with a common straight pin. The holes and bending of the paper are marks cemented over time and still visible in the scanned copies.

What I now need to puzzle over was whether there was any further connection between this former student at the Saint Anne’s Parochial School and its former Sister Superior.

As a last token of their love and gratitude for Sister Mercy, several hundred members of St. Anne’s Parochial School, St. Anne’s Alumni and the parochial sodalities accompanied the remains of the departed Sister to the northern boundary of the parish and many all the way to Calvary.
            Though Sister Mary Mercy has gone, her work and her influence will remain for many years in the hearts of those who knew and loved her. She has labored faithfully and well. She merited by her life that great calm and peace of soul which came upon her a few days before she passed from this world. We know that now she is happily enjoying the reward which belongs to those who cut themselves off from this world by choosing the Lord as their portion and giving themselves up body and soul to His service. May her soul rest in peace and may her memory remain fresh in our hearts for many, many years!

Monday, July 30, 2012

What? Another Flannigan?!

In poring over every piece of paper passed along to our family from Agnes Tully Stevens’ belongings, I, of course, hope to find some clue that would lead me to other family links. I know there are other Tully and Stevens family connections out there—I have seen their fingerprints. And yet, mysteriously, those clues remain just out of reach.

Those clues taunt me, for instance, when I find a newspaper clipping regarding a Flanagan or Flannigan saved among this grandmother’s papers. Spelling, during that busy immigration era here in the United States, seemed an easily-discarded formality. Where did the rest of that Flanagan/Flannigan family go?

I have followed cold trails in vain attempts to link various Flannigans with our own Tully line’s heritage. So don’t tempt me now. Please.

And yet, here it is again: a newspaper clipping carefully saved for over one hundred years. And tantalizingly, it mentions that surname again.

The eulogy for the greatly-missed Sister Mary Mercy of Saint Anne’s parish and parochial school evidently included one small mention of her earthly heritage. The difficulty in tracing genealogical records involving relatives who chose a cloistered life is that deliberate, though non-civil, change of name. Especially for those women entering the convents of the nineteenth century, I find tracing them challenging. Perhaps that is partially owing to my own non-Catholic heritage, and my ignorance of historical Catholic tradition in this regard.

In the midst of recounting this Sister’s work in the various parochial schools in the Chicago area, and while detailing the officiants involved in the Mass during her funeral, this several-page article slips in one name: Rev. John Flannigan of Rockford, Illinois. According to this history, he is the nephew of Sister Mary Mercy.

Maddeningly, though the article mentions a brother and several sisters surviving her, the author takes pains to never mention those relatives’ names. Yet, with the mention of this one priest—thankfully listed by name—I know that Sister Mary Mercy has one familial connection to secular life.

So…whether friend, counselor, or confidant of the young Agnes Tully, I do know one thing: Sister Mary Mercy was a Flannigan.

Finally Sister Mary Mercy and others came to St. Anne’s Parish to open the Parochial School. In her immediate family she leaves to mourn her loss, besides the Rev. Mother Mary Xavier, Superioress of the Mercy Order at St. Xavier’s Academy and Sister Mary Evangelist, Superioress of St. Cecelia’s Parochial School, one brother and several sisters.
            Sister Mary Mercy’s funeral was a grand tribute to the humble, self-sacrificing, kind Sister of Mercy and she must have looked down from heaven and rejoiced at the hundreds who came to show their love and veneration for their friend and benefactress. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was offered by a nephew of the departed Sister, Rev. John Flannigan of Rockford, Ill., assisted by Rev. J. R. Kearney and Rev. D. J. Tuohy of St. Anne’s as deacon and sub-deacon, and Rev. Edward Hoban, D.D., Chancellor, as master of ceremonies. Our beloved Archbishop delivered the funeral oration. In it he dwelt at length on the life of the religious, her joys, her sorrows and her trials; and in particular on the life of Sister Mary Mercy, the good she accomplished and the way she endeared herself to the hearts of all the young and old, during the many years of her stay at St. Anne’s. In the sanctuary besides His Grace, Archbishop Quigley, were Rt. Rev. Bishop McGavick and over one hundred of the clergy. The Sacred Heart College Choir chanted the mass.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Remembering a Teacher

Whoever Sister Mary Mercy was, she emerged from relative obscurity yet left her final post beloved by many. Of course, eulogies tend to see the positive side of people—a habit which might serve the living well, too, if we could see fit to universally adopt it. This eulogy, reprinted in a Parochial Monthly newsletter kept among Agnes Tully Stevens' personal papers, seemed quite earnest in its expressions of grief.

Sister Mary Mercy’s gift was in the field of education. She served in many locations in the Chicago area, and yet she, herself, was not from Chicago. She was born in Freeport, an Illinois town far to the west of Chicago. Freeport’s claim to historical fame was that it was the site of the second Lincoln-Douglas debate, which cost Abraham Lincoln his bid for the U.S. Senate but eventually influenced the nation to elect him as President in 1860, the year of Sister Mary Mercy’s birth.

Though rural, Freeport was linked to Chicago by a stagecoach line. Far separated from the difficulties of urban life in those times, Freeport residents must not have been ignorant of the risks of city life posed by such a place as Chicago—the press of immigrants, the crowded conditions, the crime, the many serious illnesses. It must have been with great reluctance, indeed, that her parents released her as a teenager to follow her calling in such a place.

She came a stranger into our midst; she left friends numbered by the hundreds to mourn her loss almost as one of their own immediate family. At her life’s close we look in vain for fault or blemish unless it be a too great devotion to duty or what she believed was her duty. For the last few years Sister Mary Mercy suffered in a manner few of even her most intimate friends realized. In her last illness they thought it would not be so serious. They expected before very long to again find her at her post of duty. But God had ordained otherwise.
            During these nineteen years Sister Mary Mercy has been as the kindest of mothers to the Sisters placed in her charge. To the children of the parish she has been not only a mother but also their counselor and directress to whom they could go in their joys, sorrows and trials. Only the day of judgment will reveal all the good accomplished by this humble servant of God. Everyone who came in contact with her felt the influence of her noble character.
            Sister Mary Mercy was born in Freeport, Ill., fifty three years ago. With great reluctance on the part of her family she came to Chicago at the age of nineteen years and entered the Mercy Order at St. Xavier’s Convent, then situated at Twenty-ninth and Wabash Avenue. After her novitiate she began her life’s work in All Saints’ School, where she spent six years. From there she went to St. John’s school, where she labored for six years more. St. Xavier’s Academy then received the fruits of her endeavor for two years.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Remembering a Sister

As I reach the last few items in the collection we’ve inherited from my husband’s grandmother, Agnes Tully Stevens, I find stray pieces that don’t seem to relate in any other way than for sentimental value.

The packet that I’ve just begun transcribing seems to fit that catch-all category. A stack of papers one column’s width wide and consisting of five pages is bound together, for lack of a stapler, by a rusty straight pin. I carefully release the news clippings from their makeshift fastener and spread them out to scan.

The message is from a publication known as Parochial Monthly, a newsletter undoubtedly originating with the Chicago school associated with the Tully family’s parish. The article is undated. Based on the context, I presume it was written in late 1912.

Because of the typeset article’s length, I’ll reprint it here as I found it: one column per day. Hopefully, by the end of the series, I—very possibly with the help of others reading here—will know more about the woman whom the column sought to honor.

The column begins with gratitude for the help of many in the parish during a time of grief:
            To the societies, sodalities and people of St. Anne’s Parish, we wish to express our appreciation of their loyalty, and of the kind, loving manner in which they showed their affection for our dear Sister Mary Mercy.
                        Sincerely and gratefully,
            The Mother Superior and Sisters and the relatives of Sister Mary Mercy.
It then begins the explanation not only of Sister Mary Mercy’s history, but of earlier times at the new St. Anne’s parish—and on the south side of Chicago as well.


            It is our sad duty to chronicle the death of one of St. Anne’s oldest sisters and superioress of the Parochial School since it was opened nineteen years ago. Sister Mary Mercy came to St. Anne’s, a young sister to a young, struggling parish. The first years of the school were those of hardship on account of the prejudice which then existed in the minds of most people in regard to Catholic education. This did not cause the least discouragement to Sister Mary Mercy. She began the work to help to bring souls to God by teaching them their duties to God, their neighbors and themselves. She made the will of God the guiding star of her life, so that trials and crosses had no other effect on her than to draw her closer to God. Nineteen years have made a great change in this parish and in the school, and Sister Mary Mercy’s work has been crowned with unlooked for success. When God called her from our midst on Friday afternoon, October 18th, through her untiring zeal and patience, the parochial school was crowded to overflowing and had a standard, not only in religious but also in secular education, far superior to any other school in the district.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Don’t Try This One at Home

A snippet from a letter whose remaining segments I could never find provides a sliver of life in Chicago from nearly a century ago. One side, I am quite sure, was written by the woman in whose possession it has remained: Agnes Tully Stevens. Save for the tone of the other—and certain inferences in the text—the second page could well have been written by her also.

The most likely reason that Agnes tucked the paper in her own file was a recipe of sorts. Not a recipe you might use for a new casserole dish, or for a delectable dessert, but for relief from the type of misery that someone in the household must have been suffering. (Just in case you read this and think it would be a terrific home remedy to try, I add: warning—I am not a physician, nor do I intend to play one on this blog. What I am writing about is not something for you to try at home! And don’t say I didn’t tell you so.)

Whoever “Dad” is in this letter, he has been suffering from abdominal distress long enough to be desperate for relief. I suspect the letter may be intended for Agnes’ mother-in-law, Theresa Blaising Stevens in Fort Wayne, the step-mother whom I’ve mentioned previously. In that case, “my father” would refer to Agnes’ own father, John Tully, now long gone.

It would be no surprise to know that “Dad” had been having such troubles. If that was John Kelly Stevens, he died in 1929 of “cancer of the sigmoid,” in late stages a possible cause of his pain. Whether the episode that elicited this advice occurred before the elder Stevens sought out professional help, I’ll never know. The distress that ultimately led to that diagnosis wasn’t documented until his physician signed the death certificate after his passing two days before Christmas at the end of that year.

…this awful weather. We have a splendid prescription for that sort of cholera that Dad gets—It is wonderful for any pains in the stomach or bowels and dysentery—
            Equal parts of—Peppermint; Camphor, Rhubarb, Capsicum and Opium. –I don’t think a Druggist will put in the Opium without a Dr’s prescription but may be Dad could get the Dr. to write it for you, then you could get it filled any time—
We always keep it in the house. It cured my father many times. You put a teaspoonful in a cup of hot water and sweeten a little with sugar. It is pleasant to take.
I suspect the recipe was the reason for clipping the page. It was specifically framed by the scissors that carefully discarded whatever else the letter contained. However, the reverse of the letter could not be entirely obliterated. From it I can glean a few clues as to the time frame in which it was written.

This reverse side of the letter had some odd details. First, it is written at a ninety degree angle to the lines of the reverse side of the letter. In other words, while most letters either flip to the reverse with a side to side movement, or an upside down motion, the other side here is not so. It is almost as if the two sides had nothing to do with each other—as if one side were used as scrap paper with which to jot down a separate note.

The content of the letter seems to indicate otherwise, however. From this snippet, with missing words completed within brackets where I could guess them, here is the reconstruction:

…are swollen. The Dr. told her s[he] must go to bed and stay there.
            She has two lovely baby girls. Wi[ll] and I stood for the baby. She is ten months old and they called her Josephine Therese. Antoinette was [born?] last June.
            I stopped for supper. John ma[de] two swell coffee cakes. He is [a] great baker— Now he has gone out to spend the evening with [one] of the fifth year seminarian bo[ys]. He has been helping him out wi[th] his Latin. Bill went out to serv[e] Benediction and is back again— I….
It tells me that the letter was composed sometime in the late 1920s—obviously before John Kelly Stevens, Will’s father, died in 1929, but after Agnes’ namesake niece, Agnes Tully McNamara, had given birth to her second child. The fact that she, too, died in 1929—perhaps of the very ailment that caused the swelling that confined her to bed—helps narrow the date to one previous to April fifth of that year, yet after the birth of her second daughter in 1928.

Having escaped the trash bin so many years ago, this letter also gives me a clue that William and Agnes Tully Stevens may have been that baby’s godparents, too, a possibility that I’ll note in my database. Why, though, it was a letter that Agnes wrote and then kept for herself, I’m not sure.

Perhaps there is another explanation…

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Birthday Party, Seventy Years Later

Though she was only a girl at the surprise party of her mother in 1898, Agnes Tully Stevens must have thrived in such a social milieu, for the next letter I find among her keepsakes talks about nothing else. The social circles around Agnes must have been lively, friendly, clusters over the decades. That one thing, for certain, seems not to have changed.

I have no clue who it is that composed this letter. The letter was written just a few days after Agnes turned eighty, so it must have followed a party for a grand occasion, indeed!

Chicago, Ill.
June 17,
*    *    *    *    *    *
My Very Dear Friends:
            Have you ever met people for the first time in your life, and felt that you’ve known them all your life? Well, that’s exactly how I felt last nite, after leaving your house—like I’ve known you and have been visiting with you all my life! I couldn’t resist writing you folks this letter, to show my appreciation for having been invited to a “GRAND LADY’S” Birthday Party! I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed anything more.
            If my mother were living, today would have been her birthday, and she would be 81.
            You certainly have a wonderful “bunch” of relatives and friends—and what a grand re-union it must have been for you, Agnes.
            After we got home last evening, Terry told me what a grand time she had out there too!
            Some Tues. or Wed., when I’m out driving around with my girlfriend who has her own car, we might drop in and say “hello.” Sometimes she takes me shopping to Ford City or to Scottsdale, and sometimes we wind up as far as 95th Street!
            With this letter, I’m enclosing about 8 copies of that joke that Alice O’Brien gave me to type up. Maybe some of your relatives might want a copy. I’ll keep the one Alice gave me, and if I need more, I can make them easily enough.
            Once again, I want to say how much I enjoyed meeting everyone out there yesterday.
            Hope to see you folks again before the summer passes.

                                    Love and Prayers to all - - - - -

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Party Time 1898

Birthdays and surprises have been elements of celebrations for centuries, no doubt. A little card within the papers of Agnes Tully Stevens reveals that the Tully family loved a party just as much as the next Chicago family.

The honoree for this event, Mrs. John Tully, was Agnes’ mother, Catherine Malloy Tully. Though the card doesn’t indicate it, the celebration was on account of her fiftieth birthday.

No clue allows us to peek into the preparations for this gala event. I wonder whatever became of the guest list. It would have been great to see if it included any stealth relatives I’ve not yet encountered. And who was the host-in-hiding, whose property at 509 Garfield Boulevard became the assembling point for the guests, according to the handwritten instruction at the bottom of the invitation?

Was the event given by her husband, South Park policeman John Tully? Her oldest, twenty two at the time, was a son, who may have helped—although parties tend more to be the domain of the women in a family. And the oldest of the women in this family was not yet twenty. Perhaps, though, with the help of her eighteen year old sister Lily, Mary Monica could have coordinated the preparations.

Agnes, the baby of the Tully family, would have just been delighted to get to stay up late and have fun at the party. At the time her mother turned fifty, Agnes was not yet even ten.

Your presence is desired
at a
Birthday Surprise Party
Mrs. John Tully
at her residence
607 Garfield Boulevard
Saturday Evening, Feb. 19th, 1898
Meet at 509 Garfield Blvd.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

And Then, To Raleigh

Receiving the invitation to the events surrounding the installation of the Bishop-elect of Raleigh, North Carolina, must have been quite the moment for the household of William and Agnes Tully Stevens. Not only was there the December, 1937, Ceremony of Consecration for The Most Reverend Eugene Joseph McGuinness in Philadelphia, but it was followed, after the New Year, with the actual Installation Ceremonies at the site of the Cathedral in Raleigh. Enclosed within the packet that included the invitation to the Philadelphia event were two smaller cards extending this second invitation:

You are cordially invited to the
Installation Ceremonies
on Thursday morning, January-sixth
at ten o’clock
Nineteen hundred thirty-eight
Raleigh, North Carolina

Though I am sure Will and Agnes did not take the occasion to make the journey from Chicago for either of these two occasions, the thought that was extended with the gesture of the invitation meant enough for Agnes to tuck the whole set of invitations among her treasured papers—one of those kept until her passing in 1985.

Monday, July 23, 2012

But Wait! There’s More?

Perhaps my lack of Catholic upbringing handicaps me when I happen upon invitations such as the one I encountered yesterday in the papers of Agnes Tully Stevens. I am not properly equipped to perceive the nuances of Catholic formality, perhaps.

At least, I was surprised to see the additional card come tumbling out from the folds of the official invitation:

If it is your intention to attend the Consecration, write at once so that ticket or tickets may be sent you.

Given the distance involved for the family, I don’t suppose that Agnes took up the offer to send for those tickets, despite the solemnity of the august occasion. I do have to admit, it must have been quite the honor to be included in such a guest list.

I know I never have.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

An Invitation

It is inevitable, with the comings and goings in a city the size of Chicago, that Agnes Tully Stevens would eventually have connections in far-flung regions of the country.

This invitation bears witness to that process.

When I first glanced at the designation, “North Carolina,” my mind flew back to the set of photographs from the waterfront resort at Wrightsville Beach, thinking I had made a connection. However, buried deep within the flowery text of this formal invitation was the date: 1937, too late to match with those Wrightsville Beach pictures.

Whoever the Most Reverend Eugene Joseph McGuinness of Raleigh, North Carolina, was—or how he connected to my Tully and Stevens family—I will have to set aside for another day’s musings. For now, he becomes a token of how widespread the circle of friends and acquaintances were for one humble homemaker in 1900s Chicago.

The Most Reverend Eugene Joseph McGuinness
Bishop-elect of Raleigh, North Carolina
Vice President of The Catholic Church Extension Society
requests the honor of your presence at the
Ceremony of his Consecration
His Eminence Dennis Cardinal Dougherty
Archbishop of Philadelphia
The Most Reverend William David O’Brien, D. D.
Titular Bishop of Calinda and Auxiliary of Chicago
The Most Reverend Hugh L. Lamb, D. D., V. G.
Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia
Sts. Peter + Paul Cathedral, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
nine-thirty, Tuesday morning, December twenty-first
One thousand nine hundred and thirty-seven
The Most Reverend Francis Clement Kelley, D. D.
Bishop of Oklahoma City and Tulsa
will deliver the sermon

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Did You Hear the News?

Yesterday was promising to be an eventful day. I knew I might be receiving some early morning emails, so I made sure to get the old clunker computer up and running in preparation for the anticipated work. When the system fired up, it first loaded, as usual, a news feed. It was inevitable that I would thus start my day knowing the news that has now horrified nearly everyone.

It didn’t take long for me to find out that this was not just a generic news story. The minute I connected to all my online links, an acquaintance on chat sent me one of those “did you hear the news about…” messages I’ve learned to dread. One of our mutual friends, a talented recent college graduate with an incredible future, had happened to be back in her home state—Colorado—where she happened to decide to join a group at the movie theater for opening night.

It was that movie theater.

Today, my tasks from yesterday are predictably tucked away in all their respective files and folders—and my friend has taken a radical detour from life-as-planned to spend some post-op time in a neuro-ICU bed. Someone had decided to play the Joker in real life, and many, many people are losing in that unexpected game change.

Yet, life for the rest of us goes on. We are relatively unscathed—as soon as we can tear ourselves away from the news broadcasts, or shut our eyes to the trending Twitter feed on #theatershooting. Considering all three hundred twelve million of us in the United States, there is, really, only a miniscule percentage of us who actually knows anyone suffering in this aftermath.

But we still hurt, anyway.

There is something collective about our nature. Something that allows us to mirror in our faces the pain we see in a friend’s face. Something that we can’t help responding to that cringes when we hear about certain injuries, or makes us follow the glance of the person we’re talking to, when that gaze suddenly averts over our shoulders. One scream, and we’re all on alert. We are all connected that way—connected to each other’s well-being.

Connected: that’s a word that takes on a different connotation for those whose passion is family history research. Sometimes I wonder, when I devote so much energy to genealogy work, whether it would be better for me to come back from “the dead”—spending so many hours poring over the facts regarding people long gone—to that land of the living where thriving, breathing souls actually talk to each other rather than leaving cryptic clues about themselves intended for no one to discover for, oh, maybe a couple centuries. And yet, those stories from years past have a way of connecting, too.

“Did you hear the news” must have been a recurring theme in life for my ancestors in those more recent centuries, as I'm discovering as I delve into their lives' histories. I spend hours researching the stories of men and women who bear children—lots of them, in multiples of numbers above the family sizes of today—only to see those children die in near-like multiples of numbers, succumbing to diseases, famine, injuries or other challenges we no longer face.

Sometimes I wonder how those people from prior ages bore the pain of those types of suffering—like our family’s distant Tully relatives who saw five of their eight children die before reaching their mid-twenties, and only one of them marry and go on to have children of her own.

The pain is in the loss of a relationship. The relationships are what give life its meaning.

Perhaps, though the relatives I study are now only remembered on paper—or now, digitized in archival records—it is the relationship I pursue rather than the mere conquest of discovering that that connection is one hundred, two hundred, three hundred years old.

It’s the realization of connection that compels me to continue searching. But it’s the discover of the relationships—through uncovering the stories of those lives—that breathes life into the connection and draws me closer to the person.

Ancestor whose story beguiles me from a distance of a safe century away, or friend whose story doubles me over in the agony of prayer today: each is calling out to be remembered, to be cared for, to be important for each other.

It’s that essence that makes me care about those two-hundred-year-old stories that also enables me to care about and carry the burdens of those I know in the painful and all-too-frightening challenge of the here-and-now. It’s what permits me to blend the stories of the remote ancestor and the near acquaintance. It’s what makes me yearn to enable others to care about the people whose stories—whose lives—I’ve loved.

The connections, the relationships: I want to pass them on.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Uncovering Hidden Branches

There have always been those tantalizing yet frustrating clues that there are more branches of the family tree than I can see from my present vantage point. As I near the final few items in the collection of personal papers from Agnes Tully Stevens—those last pieces that I still don’t know how to connect to the puzzle—I’m now sure those mysterious branches are indeed there.

My original goal, in starting out on this project after receiving this delightful stash last August, was to scan, organize, transcribe, and otherwise reshape this nondescript mass into material that can further my family history research. Putting it into a searchable format gave me a handle with which to organize and peruse the mess. Converting it to a digital form permitted me to preserve its current appearance and contents and also share it with others interested in these family lines. And yes, it helps me puzzle over those unconnectable names and—worse—maybe gives me some traction on identifying unnamed faces.

Many of the letters are now completely scanned, transcribed and awaiting the next step of being safely stored in an archival-quality storage container. For many of the photographs, this step will not come a minute too soon!

For some of the straggler items still awaiting my attention, though, I’m at a standstill, puzzling over how to handle them, categorize them, or do further research on them. Each, in its own way, has formed a brick wall.

Take this undated snapshot below. On the reverse, it has been carefully labeled “Coz Will Nevis + Kathy Flanagan.” I jump at the possibility of researching more Flanagans, that elusive branch of Agnes’ maternal grandmother’s line. There was another branch in Chicago—I know because of shadows and signs—but I can’t seem to find the smoking gun to provide adequate documentation. It will take lots of work delving into a time in Chicago history predating many civil records and, unfortunately, attempting a peek at private records before the Great Chicago Fire. Many of those records are non-existent at this time. I may never know about that branch of the Flanagan family.

As for the man listed in the photograph as Will Nevis, I’ve had no success finding any reasonable record that would not only identify a possible bearer of that name, but show the way which permits him to be called a cousin of anyone in this Tully family.

But for now—and fervently hoping a distant cousin online finds this helpful—at least I can add this one more picture to the stream of digital genealogical clues laid down over the last year via A Family Tapestry. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Means Well

As I move through the collection of family papers saved by Agnes Tully Stevens, I’ve run across some items which still puzzle me. One such piece was a post card that I posted here in mid-June, from someone called Sister Mary Agnes. In her message on that post card, she did insert the name Eileen in parenthesis, just in case her great aunt didn’t remember which relative wrote the note.

Years later, Eileen surfaces again, this time to write a note of sympathy after the passing of Agnes’ son Frank. Since her 1944 post card, Eileen—or, we can presume, still Sister Mary Agnes—is now teaching at a school in Guatemala. Quetzaltenango, the second largest city in the country, is home of Colegio Teresa Martin, a Catholic institution of long standing, where she is evidently serving as an instructor.

Unfortunately, since the time of that first post—and even the speculations I meandered through the following day on her possible connection in the McGonagle family—I’ve not yet been able to determine her identity and position within the Tully and Stevens family constellations. That is still a task awaiting another trip to Chicago and a visit with some relatives who might know.

In the meantime, here she is, surfacing once again within this collection of letters, still corresponding with family though her own life has removed her miles and miles away. And yet, for all the kindness of the condolences, she seems to have an awkward way of expressing herself, as if imposing upon the other party the burden of actually reaching out to make that connection. I’m sure, despite the awkward gestures, she really does mean well.

                                                           Colegio Teresa Martin
                                                           Quezaltenango, Guatemala
                                                           March 22, 1966
Dear Aunt Agnes,
            In one of mother’s last letters, she told me the tragic news of Francis’ death. I had meant to write before this, but since I’m teaching nine hours a day, I find it quite difficult to get letters off to the States. I am really very sorry to hear about Francis. Somehow I felt closer to him than to the other members of your family.
            How have you been feeling? And Patsy, too? I suppose Mother told you I had been in the hospital. I don’t have all my energy back, but am working almost as hard as I was before I took sick. At that time I was teaching 13 hours a day in the classroom. Now I have only nine. I try to rest two hours a day—one in the morning and one in the afternoon. It’s hard to rest in a country where one can see so much to do. It would be nice to have some of the family come down and visit with me a little while—say, to pass a vacation or something like that. I have a very lovely little apartment of five rooms. It is a little on the expensive side, but it is nice and quiet. I had been looking for a nice quiet place for a long time. In January, I finally succeeded in renting this one. Of course, the apartments here are nothing like the apartments in the U. S. but I am very much satisfied with this one.
            Is Frank’s family going to stay in New Mexico, or will they move back North. Did his wife have a profession so that she can get a job easily?
            Dear Aunt Agnes, I don’t want to make this a very long letter because I want it to be an expression of sympathy and I doubt if you would like to talk at length in a sympathy letter, so for this time, I shall just say I am very sorry, and I shall be sure to include his soul in my prayers and daily Mass.
            I can write more some time later, or if you care to know something about what I’m doing or about the country here, you may write me and give me some guide questions. Then I shall know what you are most interested in. That will give us a chance to keep in touch with one another, that is if I can find time to squeeze in a letter now and then.
            Love and sympathy to all,

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Some Summer Fun

You know the summertime routine: Dads, Grads, and maybe a few weddings in June, lots of fireworks and barbecues in July, followed by vacations through whatever point in August signals your hometown’s return to school and sanity at the end of the season.

Right in the middle of summer heat is not the time anyone would expect to catch the flu. However, just before leaving on another research trip, that is indeed what I managed to do. Having a rather bland outlook on productive work of any kind for the last several days, I thought maybe today might be an opportune time to pull out a little fanciful item I found among the papers of Agnes Tully Stevens.

The card, folded in half, is roughly the size of an index card. On its cover it bears the title, “The Wedding of Rose Flower.”

Thinking at first glance that this might be a memento from Agnes’ son’s wedding to an Ohio Flowers family, I took a look inside to discover the questions I’ve reprinted below—obviously a diversion for a young ladies’ event: a bridal shower.

The back cover showed only the printer’s credit:

Dunwell & Ford – Stationery – Chicago

Checking online for any historical reference for that particular enterprise, I found numerous auction web sites mentioning a 1904 pocket calendar produced by this company, as well as an entry in a directory of printers from 1918. However, the time frame extends well before those dates, as I discovered with this entry for a Mr. Ford from the 1905 edition of Who’s Who in Chicago:
FORD, George Wilson, stationer; b. Oswego, N. Y., May 31, 1851; s. Asa R. and Mary A. (Nickles) Ford; ed. public schools of Oswego, N. Y.; m. Chicago, 1879, Minnie M. Cherry; 1 daughter: Mary Cherry. Began in stationery and engraving business in Oswego, N. Y., 1867-9; came to Chicago; since 1876 partner in firm of Dunwell & Ford.
Since 1876? That broadens the horizons considerably. This little pamphlet is more likely the keepsake not from the festivities of the Stevens-Flowers wedding—or any of the in-laws thereof—but of Agnes’ own wedding, a little over one hundred years ago, to William Stevens.

1.         To what nationality and type did the bride belong?
            American Beauty

2.         What was the disposition and name of her husband?
            Sweet William

3.         What was his object in marrying her?

4.         How did he propose?

5.         To whom did she refer him when he asked for her hand?

6.         What time was the wedding?
            Four O’clock

7.         Who performed the marriage ceremony?
            Jack in the Pulpit

8.         What did the organist play before the wedding march?

9.         How many came to the wedding?

10.       What were the names of her two bridesmaids?
            Pansy + Violet

11.       What was the color of their gowns?

12.       What flowers did they carry?

13.       Who was the maid of honor?

14.       What color did the little flower girl wear and what was her name?
            Blue Bell

15.       What did the bride wear in her hair?
            Orange Blossoms

16.       What flower did she carry?
            Lily of the Valley

17.       What did the groom wear the night before his wedding for 
            the last time?
            Bachelor Button

18.       How was the house decorated?
            With Flags + Palms

19.       What did they throw after the carriage?
            Ladies Slipper

20.       Where did they go on their wedding journey?

21.       What was the condition of the mother at the close of the 
            Bleeding Heart

22.       What were the groom’s parting words at their first separation?
            Forget me not

23.       How did she feel when he returned?

24.       What was the manner of her greeting?

25.       What favorite bon bon did he bring her?
            Butter cup

26.       How did the bride rule her husband?
            Golden Rod

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Living Legend

Whoever the child Donna Grescoe was that I met through the saved papers of Agnes Tully Stevens, the adult Donna Grescoe has become a living legend. While Wikipedia boasts no mention of her—other than a “stub” linked from the Wikipedia page for her Winnipeg violin instructor, George Bornoff—a Google search reveals nearly twenty pages of results for her name.

Among those pages I found out that, in later years, she was a founding member of the Manitoba Conservatory of Music and Arts, where a scholarship to encourage young violinists also bears her name. At the University of Manitoba, the Centre for Ukrainian Canadian Studies honors several creatives from various artistic disciplines—all Manitobans mentioned because of their shared ethnic heritage—including Donna Grescoe.

Though the professional accolades are numerous—and over a significant span of decades—the most fascinating discovery for me, though, was that her childhood experience was turned into children’s literature in 1951. Called The Little Magic Fiddler: The Story of Donna Grescoe, the book came from the pen of prolific children’s author Lyn Cook and was illustrated by Stanley Wyatt.

The book itself was thoroughly critiqued as a significant contribution to the multicultural efforts in Canada, as explained in the 2011 Netherlands publication by Miriam Verena Richter, Creating the National Mosaic: Multiculturalism in Canadian Children’s Literature from1950 to 1994. Within that work, I was delighted to see a quote featured from the afterward of the original story that “all the events concerning Donna and her violin…the broken fiddle, the scholarship and the years in Chicago and New York are true.”

Somehow, I now want to turn the clock back to that 1951 publishing date to obtain a copy of Donna Grescoe’s story—fictionalized though other parts may be—to see what was mentioned of that earlier Chicago year.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Fingerprints of Friendship

There were others who helped the young violinist Donna Grescoe achieve the acclaim she deserved for her musical talents. Some who supported her year in Chicago might have been those mentioned in the program I found among Agnes Tully Stevens’ papers.

There were undoubtedly many others, especially from her hometown of Winnipeg, who were not mentioned here or elsewhere. However, many people’s efforts, gifts and well-wishes went into sponsoring her formative training years.

After her year studying at the Conservatory in Chicago, Donna Grescoe returned to her home in Canada. Still hard at work pursuing her goals, she continued receiving acclaim for her talents. After her formal debut there in 1946, several supporters formed a trust fund on her behalf. From the proceeds of this, she was able to further her studies in New York—where she debuted in 1947, followed by her performance at Carnegie Hall in 1948. Small wonder, leading up to such events occurring in Donna's life, that Agnes’ son Frank Stevens would be surprised to receive any letters from her!

Each step of the way, there were people willing to become a part of the success she earned through her talents. The Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs was one example in promoting Donna’s Canadian tour, as seen in a 1949 article from The Newmarket Era and Express. Of course, The Ukrainian Weekly was her avid supporter, including favorable reviews of her performances and sharing reports of headlines from New York papers.

But nothing seemed so personal as whatever thoughts were behind the saving of this simple recital program I found among the papers of my husband’s grandmother. Despite never being included in the names listed as patrons or sponsors, there must have been some nearly-imperceptible connection between this child violinist and that one music-loving family on the south side of Chicago during the 1930s.

Patrons and Patronesses
Most Rev. Bernard Sheil, D. D., V. G.
Rt. Rev. Msgr. J. J. Horsburgh
Rev. Daniel A. Lord
Rev. J. H. Fitzgerald
Dr. and Mrs. P. Kanchier
Mr. and Mrs. Charles J. Haake
Mr. and Mrs. Allan Findlay
Mrs. Samuel Roebuck
Mr. and Mrs. John R. Hattstaedt

The instrument used by Donna was presented to her
last year by Mr. Carl George of Chicago

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Community Leaders Make Things Happen

Perhaps you recall the front cover of the recital program I found in the midst of Agnes Tully Stevens’ personal papers. It was for the “Farewell Recital” of child violinist, Donna Grescoe.

In the fine print below her name, there was a mention of one detail: Donna Grescoe was winner of the Morris B. Sachs Amateur Hour. The date given for her victory was December 4, 1938.

While I am not a Chicago native, I did suspect that there might be something of interest to that designation. And there was. Morris B. Sachs, much like Donna’s family, was an immigrant from Eastern Europe. Arriving at the age of thirteen and finding himself unfit to take a factory job, he used his ingenuity to build a dry goods business. Morris Sachs’ success as a businessman is commemorated by the flatiron building in Chicago that still bears his name. (A nice history of the Sachs building is incorporated into a two-part blog post on Peopling Places here and here.) He also experienced some success in politics.

Alongside his business success, he took on the new venture of broadcasting a program featuring amateur performers in the Chicago area. By the late 1930s, the Sachs radio program began its decades-long run, eventually taking the opportunity in the 1950s to switch to the medium of television.

Mr. Sachs evidently was a successful person who believed in giving back to the community. And of all who benefitted from his largesse, Donna Grescoe may be counted as one of these.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Making the Acquaintance of a Prodigy

In attempting to widen the horizons of my search for the identity of those ancestors I’ve never met, I’ve spent the last several months examining the letters, news clippings, and photographs assembled by Agnes Tully Stevens. Everything from critical communications to ephemera stashed in her desk drawers has been held suspect for clues about her life.

Yesterday, I mentioned that, in her younger years, Agnes toured as a violinist. She belonged to a small group of musicians for whom classical music meant much.

I know from others who have had such experiences that that is the type of opportunity that is never forgotten. Perhaps because of lingering fond memories of her own, Agnes felt impressed to become part of the life of a young Ukrainian-Canadian girl whose own remarkable talents had brought her from her home in Winnipeg to study at the Conservatory in Chicago.

Somehow, in Chicago, Agnes made the acquaintance of the young Donna Grescoe. By the time of Donna’s “Farewell Recital” there in 1939, Agnes was in her early fifties and the mother of six children—the oldest of whom would be married within the year. Donna, by contrast, having been born in November of 1927, was not yet twelve.

Donna began playing the violin when just five—admittedly not unusual in these days of the popularity of the Suzuki method—but her native ability and requisite hard work saw her performing in public by the age of eight. Soon after followed studies with George Bornoff, Winnipeg native and violinist noted for his namesake study method—and, by the time of Donna’s venture to Chicago, founder of his own music school.

In 1938, Donna was awarded a five thousand dollar scholarship to study at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. Apparently, she had the support—as well as admiration—of Winnipeg’s music lovers, who provided financial support for her studies and tours through the next decade.

Whether Agnes’ Tully and Ryan relatives in Winnipeg were among those supporters I cannot tell. For whatever reason, once Donna came to Chicago, she made the acquaintance of the Stevens family. I don’t know that came about through neighborhood associations, through church membership, or through some musical connection. The telltale strands from family letters, though, make mention of her as if a familiar part of the Stevens household.

Frank, in particular, made mention of her in his letters. Donna was almost exactly three years younger than this son of Agnes and Will Stevens. Of course, at the time of Donna's stay in Chicago, Frank—my father-in-law—was a teenager. Perhaps that fourteen-year-old charmer had his mind on other matters than eleven-year-old violinists. But by the time he was serving in the Navy during World War II, he certainly appreciated her letters and the photos she sent him.

As Donna Grescoe’s career unfolded in the ensuing decade, her Ukrainian roots showed in her selections of music. Even at the recital given at the close of her studies in Chicago, the program was peppered with names which I—myself a conservatory student—hardly recognized. Oh, there was the more familiar Handel and Gounod. But these were followed by the barely pronounceable likes of composers such as Drdla and Wieniawski. Those composers, it turns out, while not from her ancestors’ Ukrainian homeland, haled from Eastern European cultures. Selecting some of these composers’ most notable works, Donna devised concert programs that not only displayed her technical brilliance, but also brought to life the musical gems of cultures with which her audiences might not have been familiar.

The more I learn about Donna Grescoe, searching through today’s internet resources, the less she seems to have in common with that Chicago Irish family I’ve been researching—other than that one strand of commonality embodied in their respective violin performances.

Perhaps Agnes, in meeting Donna, was reliving her own dreams and hopes—opportunities she might have wished to have had. Or perhaps, as a strong-willed mother whose purpose was to make a difference in the lives of those around her, she wished to have a hand in allowing someone else to pass along that gift of music in a way she no longer could, herself.

And sometimes, that is our role in life: to bring others forward as they, too, achieve the best they can be.

Assisting Artists
Leahfay Mead                                     Marie Therésè Gallagher
Pupils of
Mme. Herman Devries
Accompanist – Walter Inskip

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Search

As I continue examining this collection of Agnes Tully Stevens’ personal papers, my hope is to obtain a better understanding of her as a person. Perhaps that’s why I’ve moved away from dubbing my endeavor as “genealogy” and instead prefer the more open and descriptive “family history” label. I want to make the acquaintance of these people I will never get the chance to meet—at least in this world—and see them morph from static dates on archival records to flesh-and-blood beings. I want to engage them in ways not possible through mere genealogical records. To allow these statistics to blossom into real, live people, I need something much more tangential than duly footnoted, date-filled research. I need a 360 degree view of what went into inspiring the development of each ancestor’s character. I crave the stories—not of when or where they lived—but of how they lived.

Because of that, I don’t see what I do as research. I see it as The Search.

Reviewing the letter posted yesterday—including the finds mentioned in the comments revealing more of the possible identity of the letter writer—I realize how important collateral information is to The Search. If we see our discoveries as each creating a mosaic that eventually, filled in, gives us a composite picture of who our ancestor was, we look much farther than just to vital statistics, or census or church records. We broaden our circle of inquiry to include a greater personal sphere of influence.

Finding Family Through Friends and Neighbors 

In sifting through the many letters in the Agnes Tully Stevens collection, I’ve begun to piece together a sense of who this Chicago woman was. She was no celebrity, but her life had meaning, purpose, and achievement. Of course, she is important to those who descended from her—she was, after all, my husband’s grandmother—and to those cousins in both the United States and Canada with whom she kept in contact over the decades. Though in the greater scheme of things she is relatively obscure, I see within her life’s story the impact of the lives of others who, similarly unknown, became the obscurely significant in her life’s circle.

I’ve already written the stories of some who were tangentially important in influencing Agnes’ life, such as the pastor of her neighborhood parish, Father P. M. Flannigan—and those of his family members who, in turn, exerted their influence through him. I’ve noted the many letters from ailing priests recuperating in sanitaria in the southwest—not well known, perhaps, but sharing a formative role as she ministers to them in their sickness and isolation, and as they comment on the ups and downs of her own young life. Then, too, there have been the former-classmates-done-well from her Chicago parochial school who moved on to business accomplishments in the South, or region-wide renown in the legal profession of the Northeast.

Agnes’ relationship with each of these disparate players in her life’s story provides me with a glimpse of what she was like, how she saw life, who she personally valued as an important influence in her life.

A Friend and Neighbor Network

I see this type of research more as a diagram of a network than the grid of a family tree. The picture it draws looks more like a mind map than a descendants chart. It becomes a sketch of a network of the social relationships that held meaning for those particular people in the circles of my ancestry for whom I seek more details.

The little slip of paper I’m posting at the bottom of this page gives an example. This scan is of the first page of a simple recital program, printed on a standard sized sheet of paper. Folded in half, with the contents of the program displayed inside, the cover announces:

Mr. Herbert Butler
Child Violinist
(Winner Morris B. Sachs’ Amateur Hour Dec. 4, 1938)
in her
Sunday, March 19, 1939
3:30 P.M.
At Hackman Hall
96th and Throop Streets

This plain paper program was kept among Agnes Tully Stevens’ possessions ever since that date. Why would that program be important to her?

I scoured the four pages of this document to see if Agnes' name was mentioned anywhere. After all, Agnes was, at one point, a touring violinist, herself. But there was no trace of Agnes’ involvement in this program—not as sponsor, not as performer, nor mentor—if the many names listed were to give any indication.

I know from reading family letters that there were a few mentions of someone by that same name—Donna Grescoe. My father-in-law, in his letters home while serving in the Navy during World War II, mentioned that he was “surprised” that Donna Grescoe had written him from New York.

Why surprise?

To uncover such little details of life, I have to take a detour from genealogical research to The Search. I have to explore the intersecting spheres of influence that connect Donna Grescoe with Agnes Tully Stevens to see if there is anything edifying to be extracted from what I find. Once I discover the story of that other person’s life—as I’ll begin recounting tomorrow—I can see how it fits into the story of Agnes' own family’s history. At the nexus of those two, I can begin to flesh out the kind of details that will lift a mere name on paper, stand that name up and breathe some life into it.

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