Saturday, April 26, 2014

Cat Genealogy and Why I’m Not Surprised About Missing Flannerys

Not being a morning person, I have to take great caution in examining any thought that hits my foggy brain any time between dawn and, oh, say, noonish o’clock.

A thought occurred to me after the great misfortune of awaking too early yesterday morning, but I do have to say it may still be worthy of consideration.

I was pondering the trouble I’ve had, seeking what became of the descendants of Ed-whatever-his-name-was and Margaret Flannery. Granted, the1852 Canadian census pinpointed them squarely in the village of Paris in what was soon to become the county of Brant in then-Canada West. Though the father’s name was obliterated by an ink blot and the mother’s name camouflaged by the annoyingly proper “Mrs.,” the four sons’ names were clearly documented for all to see: Patrick, Cornelius, Michael and John. The 1861 census added “Mat” and Ellen.

Other than finding Patrick and Ellen—she who married Thomas O’Neil and as a widow, moved with her brother Patrick to Brantford—I’ve been unable to locate any of the other children as adults.

Could they have all died in early adulthood? That is a possibility, though one I struggle with, since the only online resource for Paris area Catholic burials does not include any of their names besides Patrick’s family.

I found another helpful resource in researching Paris, thanks to the Brant County branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society. In their surname search engine, I entered Flannery, to see what finding aids they could provide. Even there, though, there wasn’t much of a lead for my Flannery case other than a different burial ground listed for a Michael Flannery.

Sometimes, my mind runs from theory to theory, trying to think of all the research options I can pursue. Right now, that mind feels trapped in a maze, cornered in one dead end after another.

It was in that endless run around yesterday morning that I recalled Pottenger’s cats. While there is more to the story of this scientist’s experiments with cats, the brief version is that he noticed that, depending on what the cats were fed, some nutritional ailments did not fully manifest themselves in the first generation, but in the second or even third generation.

That, of course, reminded me of the various health ailments of my senior editor and constant writing companion, Luke. You may recall having met him in a previous post a few years ago. If not, here’s the brief rundown: Luke is the great grand-kitten of a rescued jail cat.

There was a visual trail of effects obvious in this cat genealogy. Luke’s great-grandmother, Tux, was born to a feral cat out in the country. Though we got her as a rescue kitten and cared for her well, she never grew to more than a runt—a cute one, admittedly, but tiny. The next generation of kittens looked basically the same: puny. Only with the third generation did the kittens appear to be of what we consider as normal size and appearance for a domesticated cat. While Luke’s generation seems fat and sassy, they come with some genetic problems even so.

Now, I’m no scientist, and I can’t trace the genetic causes for Luke’s various handicaps—hey, I can’t even figure out my own genetic genealogy yet!—but it gets me wondering whether such a process would also work in reverse. After all, it did for Pottenger’s poor cats. Could something like that have been the cause of so many of our Flannery descendants?

Think about this: though Ed and Margaret Flannery escaped the Irish Famine in the earlier years of that tragedy, their now-teenaged sons would likely have not had the best of nutrition and care during those poverty-stricken years of childhood. While the Flannery parents may have seen better times as children themselves, their own children did not. That, essentially, is what drove them from Ireland to seek better times in Canada.

Their children, however, did not escape the effects of that deprivation. Perhaps the building blocks of those Flannery descendants’ welfare showed itself, much like what was experienced by the Pottenger cats, in that next generation—and, thinking of granddaughter Agnes, for instance, in the second generation removed from that famine.

Whether that was what caused their demise or not, I don’t know. Perhaps the call to “go west, young man” echoed in the ears of our northern neighbors as well as on the American frontier. Perhaps the anonymity of such common Irish surnames loses these Flannery sons in the crowd. I don’t know.

Perhaps, on the other hand, some of them, like the next generation in the genealogy of Pottenger’s forlorn cats, simply met an early end—a death too early for anything other than local church records to recall. And for that—with the exception of one notable mention of a Flannery granddaughter—we’ll have to bid the Flannery family adieu until the time of any future trips to Ontario.


  1. It is possible that they all died. In the 1880's when my husbands Grandfather was a baby they move to the USA from Canada, right after they arrived all his siblings died except one, his oldest sister. I think it was diptheria that claimed them. I need to go find their grave about 45 miles away from where we live. :(

    1. I keep forgetting to keep in mind all the diseases prevalent in that era--and especially the historic epidemics. Such sweeping devastation is not something we keep in mind when studying our roots. But you are right, it is true that many succumbed to diseases we seldom hear about today.

  2. I think perhaps in this case, many of the family members married and moved on - some to the USA. The migrants are often hard to keep up with - as you noticed with your God Mother.

    By the way, I was reading about the Potemkin (the Russian Navy ship that had a mutiny and tried to spark the revolution in Russia. They left Sevastopol in 1905 and went to Odessa - where they held a funeral - amid chaos that resulted in hundreds killed and most of the port burned to the ground. Maybe nothing directly tied to your god mother's family - but that area was seeing really rough times.

    1. Interesting that you found that Odessa story, Iggy. Those were trying times. I don't know what sparked the immigration idea in my godmother's parents' minds, but I sometimes feel as if I am the only one holding the tattered shreds of "The Rest of the Story" for family lines such as these.


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