Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Widow With Attitude

From the obituaries of her father and step-mother, it is obvious that Kelly descendant Julia Creahan Sullivan was at one time married, and at a later time, not. Whether that later time indicated her loss through widowhood is not yet apparent, and in the end—as I’ve since observed while trawling through census entries in the “wild west” flavor of her adopted hometown of Denver—may not reveal anything.

While Internet-powered genealogical research may be a wonder to behold, the only search results I had previously been garnering were those of a Thomas and Julia Sullivan of Colorado Springs. While the names sounded right, as we discovered, the maiden name for that Julia turned out to be no match for our subject.

It took that tedious route of cranking through several options on umpteen pages of results on both and before I narrowed the search down to one possibility: a widowed Julia Sullivan in Denver’s 1900 census. Could this be our Julia? Without the name of a husband included in the entry, it was hard to tell. I couldn’t find any corresponding records—marriage, death, newspaper reports—to connect what I knew about our Julia with what could be discovered about this Julia.

There was one other hint, though: an oldest son named Thomas. I don’t want to make the mistake of assumption here, but I’d say that could qualify this census entry as a possible candidate, so I took the liberty of further examination. Here’s what I noticed.

First off, this Julia reported to the census enumerator that she was born in Indiana. That was a good sign. She also told the enumerator she was born in January, 1867. That was not a good sign; the 1870 census showed our Julia in her father’s household at the age of nine, not three.

On the other hand, this Julia—as well as ours—reported her parents were both born in Ireland. I’m willing to make some concessions here, while I await further corroboration from, well, who knows where at this point. There really isn’t much out there that I can access online so far.

The Sullivan household on Grant Avenue contained five residents in 1900: in addition to the widow, there was oldest son Thomas, aged eleven, followed closely by his brother Harry, then a four year gap in the birth sequence before the arrival of daughters Regina and Florence. Two year old Florence likely provides the delineating point for possible dates of death for her father Thomas—if, indeed, “widow” wasn’t the era’s euphemism for deadbeat dad.

What can be gleaned about the missing father was that he was born in “New Hamshire”—an entry serving double duty by not only reporting the senior Thomas’ origin, but heralding the warning that we are working with a dyslexic enumerator.

Why would I say dyslexic? Taking a look around the very page upon which the Sullivan household was listed, I noticed, for instance, that a neighbor worked as a “Sitchman” for the railroad. And, in a very careful hand, the enumerator made note that Julia’s own occupation was “Captialist.”


Okay, U. S. Census enumerator Frances A. Sigler may now posthumously entertain the claim that he (or she) made me actually look up the term. After all, maybe there was an occupation known as captialist (although my spell-checker doesn’t seem to think so).

So what woman at the dawn of a new century would display the pluck of not only choosing aught but demure “homemaker” as her occupation, but go so far as to claim she was a high rolling capitalist?

Apparently, more than one.

And more than one known as Julia Sullivan.

Life in early 1900s Denver, Colorado, must have indeed been gloriously colorful.


  1. Good point about not assuming a man was dead just because a woman was enumerated as a widow. I've read that "widow" was used in different ways: to indicate divorce, long-term separation (such as in times of war, business travel), and of course, death of spouse. As for dates in the census, there is nothing as slippery as a given date of birth. I would think people would know the month, but I've seen "Apr" in the census but "Nov" on the tombstone. How do family members get it so wrong?

    1. Exactly, Wendy. I've seen examples of all these issues as I go through my family history--as I know you have!

  2. Given Thomas Jr was a Law Clerk for a railroad, I suspect Thomas Sr was a railroad man.

    This might be him:

    Grand Junction of course was a railroad junction. Julia might have had "settlement" money from a wrongful death?

    1. Now, that's an interesting possibility. I'll have to look into that one, Iggy. Thanks for the lead.

  3. Capitalist? She must have had money to work with:)

    1. Well, you know what they say about "Follow the money." She certainly wasn't born with it!

  4. I suspect that one of the older children gave the enumerator the information:)

    1. Maybe so...but what a strange way to list a person's occupation--even if it was a child providing the report. Kinda makes you wonder what kitchen table conversations occurred in that Sullivan household...


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