Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Like Mother, Like Son

Sometimes, it takes a monumental effort to get back on track and resume genealogical research. Besides outside catastrophes, there are so many other ways to lose focus on the task at hand.

That task—in case it’s been so long, you’ve also suffered from that amnesia—was to find what became of Kelly descendant and Lafayette, Indiana, native, Julia Creahan Sullivan. We already know she moved to Denver, Colorado, and married a Thomas F. Sullivan there—following which occasion, Thomas disappears before 1900 and the trail goes cold.

About all we know at this point is that there are a lot of people named Thomas Sullivan in Denver. And a lot of people named Julia Sullivan.

Since I wasn’t sure whether the Julia Sullivan I had isolated in the limited Denver-area records available online was the right Julia, I tried working my way down her line of descendants, in hopes of finding a death record showing her maiden name. Wouldn’t you know it, there were no records of her passing available online—with the exception of the hope of a 1930 obituary I’m awaiting for a woman who might be Julia Sullivan—so the next step was to try for records of her children.

Researching the oldest—whom I presume would be Thomas F. Sullivan, Jr.—didn’t work out for the same reason I couldn’t find his namesake father: too many Thomas Sullivans out there in Denver. Trying to find any mention of Julia’s daughters in that era of the Invisible Woman seemed futile. So I thought I’d capitalize on the one remaining son: Harry A. Sullivan.

Since there are relatively few records online for the city and county of Denver—forget that, how about the entire state of Colorado?!—my first move was to scour the online newspaper resources to see what could be found. After all, GenealogyBank does include a selection of newspapers published in Denver up through the early 1920s.

Just as I had found for Julia, however, I now discovered for young Harry. While you may share my misconception that Harry is not a common given name, that misconception will be quickly disabused by the pages upon pages of hits for that simple search at GenealogyBank. There are, apparently, even more Harry Sullivans in 1900s Denver than there were Julia Sullivans.

From the third page of the Denver News exactly one hundred twenty two years ago, I discovered Harry was the victim of a crime of passion:
            Harry Sullivan, the victim of Peter Augusta’s vengeful knife, is still alive, but still has no more chance of life than was at first reported in The News. The man’s wonderful strength and vitality alone keep him alive.
            The Italian still preserves an impenetrable silence in regard to the affair.

And soon after—on May 12, 1895, presumably in the course of the court case addressing the issue—the same paper revealed just why that occurred.
            Peter Augusta’s crime…had a motive. The Italian discovered that the woman with whom he was living had Harry Sullivan for a lover. Finding him in the house, using the stiletto, he killed in cold blood the rival in the affections of the woman….

Considering our Harry Sullivan had his name listed in the subsequent census, I quickly eliminated that possibility. Still, you can see what I mean about losing focus.

Nearly fifteen years later, the Denver Post carried another quirky Harry Sullivan story. This February 19, 1910, entry—headlined, “Deserter Commits Suicide in Saloon”—provided a curious divertissement, too, in the form of a letter written by the man, himself. This, as you will see, proved to be yet another false lead.
I am tired of living. After I am gone please put my picture in the paper. I am a deserter out of the army. My right name is Lyle Commers of Louisville, Ky. I have a mother and five sisters in my home town. Goodby. (Signed) HARRY SULLIVAN
P.S.—Don’t forget to put my picture in the paper.

Apparently, the Denver Post editors didn’t see fit to include that photograph.

By the time I reached this May 26, 1911, entry in the Rocky Mountain News, I was fairly jaded when it came to such false leads. Who knows if this might be the right Harry Sullivan?
            Leah J. Sullivan has applied for a divorce from Harry A. Sullivan, charging non-support. They were married January 13, 1910.

Leah, by the way, was apparently the former Leah J. Weidensaul, whose entry in one of the few Colorado indices available online led me to another document revealing that this was for sure not the Harry A. Sullivan I was interested in. Why? Harry and Leah’s 1910 census entry revealed he was born in New York—not the Colorado native our homeboy Harry was.

It’s said that forewarned is forearmed, and at this point in researching Harry Sullivan, I realized that he, just like his mother, was one of many bearing the same name—sometimes down to the very initial of the middle name.

About this time, I also began seeing a spate of sports announcements about a phenomenal player by the name of Harry Sullivan. With these other false leads now under my belt, I was prepared to ignore everything I was finding and just focus on wedding and funeral announcements. By then, in my search, I was only up to the time period of the Great War, likely far before any obituary might appear for young Harry. If it weren’t for a sweet homecoming story in a Denver paper in early 1919, I wouldn’t have found the clue to—possibly—help connect the dots.


  1. Poor Lyle Commers -- denied his dying wish. Rather sad.

    1. I thought it was rather pathetic, myself. About the only thing I can hope for Lyle at this point is, any researching relative who is wondering whatever happened to him will stumble upon this snippet and connect the dots.

  2. Too many Sullivans! I'll have to relate the tale to my friend, Tim Sullivan.

    1. You're right, Colleen: too many Sullivans in one place--and many of them unlikely to be related to each other!

      I had to laugh about your telling this to your friend, Tim Sullivan. I know a Tim Sullivan, too. And that Tom Sullivan that Julia was married to? I know someone by that name, too.

      Apparently, when it comes to researching Sullivans--at least in the Denver area--it is imperative to tread carefully!

  3. What the papers didn't publish back then...is it sad that I giggled at all the newspaper drama..and yes no photo of Lyle aka Harry :(

    1. Back when I worked in an actual office, I had a co-worker who, in a lull in the schedule, would occasionally pull out the San Francisco Chronicle and entertain the office workers by reading aloud from some of the crazy stories published in the day's news. Now that I'm reading through historic newspaper articles like these, I realize the Chron had nothing on them!

  4. So many enticing stories in the newspapers---it's a wonder we get any of our own genealogy done at all.

    1. A newspaper archive can be a dangerous place to be...

  5. Goodness!! What stories those "other" Sullivans had!!!

    1. I'm telling you: it's like a nineteenth century version of the Chron, reading these reports! Those Denver editors must have been magnets for the strange and unusual.


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