Friday, April 18, 2014

About Mary and Margaret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are so spoiled.

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


  1. Ah, the old Grant's Tomb joke. :)

    It's hard to say if these are the unmarried daughters or perhaps grandchildren... Seems odd they would both be unmarried - but it happen. I wonder how one would "prove" anything? No birth dates on the gravestones? Are they even buried there - sometimes family planning gets carried away you know...

    1. Iggy, I think you are sensing some of what makes me doubt this, too. I don't think it unusual that more than one sibling would remain unmarried--given the hardships of that time for Irish immigrants--but I do find it hard to believe these two would be so long lived, considering their other siblings' early demise.

      Good point about whether they are even buried at that site. A helpful photo of the headstone by a friendly "Some Kind Soul" might help put this puzzle to the test. This may also entail a snail mail follow up...

  2. Maybe it wasn't mom who messed up. Maybe mom rattled off a bunch of dates and the enumerator got confused. Maybe after a long day or after dealing with grumpy neighbors, the enumerator just didn't give a hoot.

    1. Good point, Wendy. Thinking the government would be a sure thing is faulty thinking on my part. I've certainly seen census record problems before. Besides, in all fairness to mom Margaret, she was a widow on top of it all. She must have had a lot on her mind beside birth dates.

  3. Census enumerators talked to who ever was available...sometimes children:)


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