Tuesday, July 15, 2014

“Local Brevities”

With the ease of the modern cyber world, we tend to forget the drudgery encapsulated within the term, “search.” Today, when we say “search,” we think of a task as effortless as moving a few fingers through a brief set of keystrokes. There was a time, though, when the word “search” implied expending a diligent effort.

Despite that magic of the Internet, in this past week, I’ve exerted that old-fashioned kind of search effort in seeking what could be found about our Kelly ancestor, Julia Creahan Sullivan—the Indiana woman who, in her father’s obituary, was noted as being a married resident of far-distant Denver.

Because Julia’s maiden name was so prone to misinterpretation at the hands of government record keepers, the surname had been rendered with multiple spellings. Such as Crehan. And Crahan. Believe me, I’ve seen far worse permutations in the span of years since Michael Creahan’s arrival in New Orleans in the late 1840s.

With that many choices for spelling, searching for any newspaper mentions of either Julia or her husband Thomas presented a challenge. Couple that with the many people in the Denver area also claiming to be named Thomas Sullivan or Julia Sullivan, and it is no surprise the search task could become a wearying proposition.

Nevertheless, I did manage to churn through hundreds of hits served up by GenealogyBank, the one subscription service I use which happens to include Denver area newspapers.

Let me simply say it was a lot of work to get to the point where I came across a promising entry. In the April 12, 1888, Rocky Mountain News under the page five column heading, “Local Brevities” was nestled this tidbit:
Marriage licenses were issued yesterday to Thomas Sullivan and Julia C. Crahan…

Thankfully—since GenealogyBank does not enable the reader to capture website page addresses for specific finds in any of their newspapers—I had copied down the exact text as I found it that day. A good thing, as it turned out, for trying to replicate that search has subsequently yielded nothing—an unsettling realization.

That brief mention—it was just a blip in a column full of dry recitations of names—was the first step. Next was an attempt to see if any record of the marriage would show up in online records. Heading to FamilySearch.org, I bypassed the usual fill-in-the-blanks on the “Search” page, scrolling instead to the bottom of that page, where I could select the specific geographic region I was pursuing.

Under the heading, “Browse All Published Collections,” I selected the hyperlink labeled, “United States,” then on the next page, chose Colorado, the state I was seeking. Right away, I could see proof of what I suspected: FamilySearch does not provide an over-abundance of records for that particular state. In fact, there were only five options, of which three were still not indexed—for the uninitiated, that means you have to hunt and peck through the images to find what you are seeking.

Of those five choices, the state census predated the time at which Thomas and Julia would have been setting up the Sullivan household, so that was eliminated as a possible source of information. Likewise, the statewide divorce index, while beginning in 1900, was unlikely to yield much help. Their listing of Colorado County Marriages looked like a possibility, but besides being unindexed, it turned out not to contain the county I was interested in researching. And the last choice—Denver County Probate Case Files—while tempting, was a browse-only proposition.

That left only one possibility among the five offerings on FamilySearch: the Colorado Statewide Marriage Index. Clicking on that specific file brought up the search bar moment of truth: would I find Thomas Sullivan included in the index?

Though it didn’t mean much additional information, the answer is yes. A scanned copy of a handwritten card confirmed the following:
Sullivan, Thomas
Crahan, Julia C.                     4/11/88
Cath. Priest                            John B. Guida

At this point, though I may not know much else, I have confirmation that our Julia married a Thomas Sullivan—well, at least expressed the intention to do so—obtaining their marriage license in Denver, not Indiana, one day before the entry in the Rocky Mountain News appeared.

For what it’s worth, the date became modestly helpful when I realized that the oldest child listed in widow Julia Sullivan’s 1900 census entry—Thomas F. Sullivan, Jr.—was born the very next year.

The added bonus—though at this point it may seem like minutia—was that the marriage index and license announcement provided the detail of a middle initial for Julia. While I had at first presumed the “C” was short for her maiden name, when given in addition to that surname it might provide an explanation regarding another puzzle piece I encountered during all this newspaper searching: the possibility that Julia used more than one given name.


  1. "Baby steps." "Patience." I hate when people tell me that, but chipping away little by little, you're demonstrating that success can come eventually.

    1. Yeah, I used to hate hearing that, myself, Wendy! I think the more we do this research, the more we develop that patience. By osmosis, mainly. I don't think I could will myself to learn patience!

  2. My grandmother always said, "Never pray for patience, for God gives fierce lessons!"

    I think you are gaining on it (her!)

    1. Interesting saying, Iggy. I've heard people warn, "Be careful what you ask for." I guess sometimes the answer can come as a surprise...

  3. What a rocky ride for such a tiny tidbit. On the other hand, it's thrilling to find even that when the search has been so fierce and diligent. I wonder if the Denver library might have more newspapers and would search for you. Sometimes one gets lucky that way....

    1. Yes, it was certainly a slog, just for that tiny bit of information--but it was just what I needed! I'll be following up on that Denver Library suggestion, Nancy. If nothing else, there should be some mentions in the newspapers when it comes to the next generation.


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