Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Universe of Possibilities

Having stumbled upon the handy hyperlinked listing of the Chicago descendants of our Johanna Flanagan Lee in Find A Grave, I have to confess I immediately fell prone to the Ooh, Shiny Syndrome. It was inevitable. I have no resistance to candy-shop temptations.

I wasn’t sure which way to head first: sideways through the list of all the siblings in the next generation, or down the line as far as I could go. Nor could I decide at first which tack to take: old documents or newer newspapers.

Of course, I tried my hand at a little of both. I’m good at the sampling approach.

Using the Find A Grave listing as my guide, I started searching for each of the names in the Lee family on a number of historical newspaper sites. It didn’t take long to find mentions that I felt certain were ours.

I was particularly elated to have discovered validation for the surname Blakely. In Johanna’s own obituary, I had long ago found a list of survivors including a daughter, whose name—unfortunately but predictably—was given only as “Mrs. Thomas Blakely.” For years, I had agonized over which daughter might be the one to claim that name.

My struggle was compounded by the ripe possibility of misspellings as Blakeley or Blakley—not to mention addition of possible stray letters, rendering the end result Blakesley, or even Blakeney. At last, I had confirmation not only that it was Lillie who was the Blakely bride, but that there even was a Blakely to begin with.

Granted, many of the sources I’ve been able to access since yesterday are of the common “index” variety—coming with a high unreliability factor, if you ask my opinion. An index is only as good as those transcribing the information. As reader Wendy had mentioned only a few days ago, one slip of a letter can mean the difference of being able to find Lee as Lee, where it ought to be, or as “See” or “Gee” or however that first flourish preceding the capital letter might get read.

In Lillie’s case, I may not previously have been able to locate her in marriage records because she was actually indexed as Lillian Gee, not Lillie Lee—at least at To compound the problem, a middle name was inserted that I hadn’t yet run into: Anysia—a name, in my opinion, quite uncharacteristic of those claiming descent from the Irish.

Of course, to resolve such an issue, the best approach is to look at the certificate itself and form my own judgment as to whether those were just reading errors. Couple that with seeking a preponderance of other documents, and one can be quite forgiving of a misread Lee as Gee.

Assuming Lillie was Lillian, I proceeded to find what I could from other documentation. I was dismayed to read, on that Find A Grave site, that Lillie’s obituary had not yet been found, despite a diligent search—well, at least by that one volunteer—so I wanted to locate as many corroborating documents as could be found.

Since that questionable marriage certificate dated their wedding as August 30, 1906, my first stop was to find the couple in the 1910 census.

Surprise! Lillie and Thomas had a household full of children—not what you’d expect for a fairly recent marriage. It was apparent that this was a blended household; my task was to determine which ones were Lillie’s children.

It wasn’t hard to find the demarcation point in that 1910 census—George Robert Blakely, born in 1907—and subsequent census records allowed me to build upon that starting point with his sister Lillian and two younger brothers Thomas and Richard.

Somewhere along the way, I discovered a brief mention that the oldest child of Lillie and Thomas served for a while as a newspaperman. Having tucked that possibility away in the back of my mind, as I romped through the newspaper archives, I was elated to discover a mention—on the first page, no less—of George Robert Blakely’s wedding to a coworker at the Southtown Economist, published on Tuesday, August 18, 1931:
            Two former members of the Southtown Economist editorial staff, Miss Gladys Baechle, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Charles H. Baechle, 5722 Marshfield ave., and George Robert Blakely, son of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas J. Blakely, 5644 Peoria st., were united in marriage at 3 o'clock Saturday afternoon by Rev. John Bennett in the St. Basil church rectory, 55th and Wood sts.
            Mr. Blakely was sports editor of the Southtown Economist for several years and his bride was an assistant on the society desk. At the present time Mr. Blakely is public relations director for the Chicago College of Commerce.
            For the wedding Miss Lillian Blakely, sister of the bridegroom, served as maid of honor, and Robert Denver of Austin was the best man. The bride wore a black chiffon velvet suit with a white lace waist and her hat was a turban of black velvet. Miss Blakely was frocked in a brown transparent velvet suit with an eggshell satin blouse and she wore a brown felt hat.
            Mr. and Mrs. Blakely are spending their honeymoon at Lac du Flambeau, Wis. They are to make their home at 6802 Normal blvd.

With that one handy entry, I now was supplied with the name of George’s bride—complete with maiden name—as well as a handy confirmation of George’s parents’ names and even that of his sister.

By the time of the next census, George and Gladys were still on the south side, and George was now serving as editor of a “local” newspaper. There were no children in the household, nor could I find any further information on either of them—although, ominously, there was a Gladys Baechle in the Social Security Death Index for 1975, with last known address of record in Cincinnati, Ohio.

That loose end did not serve to deter me. I could easily go back and pick up on any one of the additional “ooh, shiny” distractions bestowed by the anonymous benefactor at Find A Grave. I gladly picked up the trail with another name in the Johanna Flanagan Lee list and went back to giving it a twirl on the search box at There was so much more to discover!


  1. Miss Blakely was frocked in a brown transparent velvet suit
    Transparent?? :)(

    1. I couldn't quite envision that one, myself, either. I'm sure, on the transparent side, the eggshell satin blouse was coupled with something else of that sort...but transparent velvet?

    2. says it is "sheer" ... I doubt it is see-thru!

      :) I love that you found this news article!

    3. Thanks for the fashion link, Iggy. I still have trouble envisioning how that would be sheer. Maybe by sheer, the article just means lightweight, not transparent or translucent. Perhaps I just need to take a field trip to my local fabric store...


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