Searching for genealogically-sound connections sometimes seems like, oh, say, being stuck inside a one-man tent that just collapsed on you in the middle of an overnight camping trip. You know you’re in there. You know what’s out there. But for the moment, all you can do is poke around until you find the opening and get yourself out.
I have to remind myself not to despair. It sometimes seems like hit after hit of results seems futile, when all point to false leads. But they don’t always lead to the wrong stuff. I can’t help but remember going through this process once before—starting from that very same Paris neighborhood in Ontario just one decade later—and ending up having a delightful lunch meeting with a new set of distant cousins, back in Chicago. It can happen again. But only if I keep plugging away at it. Even when I think it is useless.
This is me, giving myself a pep talk. I don’t do well with wandering around in circles, poking at possibilities. And that is what it feels like I’m doing.
See, this Michael Flannery I'm seeking is not showing his true colors. I found someone by this same name, back in Paris, Ontario. And then, he’s gone. Gone to Michigan, where I found a similar Michael Flannery? Who knows? It might have been merely coincidence that he lived next door, in Detroit, to someone with the very same name as the brother back in Ontario.
So I wander through his life history—at least the part the census record is willing to divulge. Once every ten years, it gives a researcher like me a snapshot of what was going on in the family life of suspected ancestors. And then, not a peep for the next ten years—if, that is, I can even find the family once again.
In Michael’s case, I couldn’t. Not after 1910. The key, of course, is to stay with the chase up ’til the bitter end. That’s when the genealogist gets the prize: the certificate that announces the name of the subject's father and mother, and where he was born. If, that is, anyone serving as the reporting party remembers to mention it. (Correctly would also be a nice touch.)
I don’t have to worry about that little detail, though, because I can’t even get to the point of finding the death certificate. That’s when I have to fan out even farther, looking for any hints connecting me back to Michael.
There is the possibility of uncovering where all his unfortunate children were buried in Detroit, Michigan. As his wife Ann had reported in the 1910 census, she had lost six of them by that point. I did go back and find some more listings online, but they were records from indices, not copies of the actual documents. Of course, the detail I’m seeking is one not included in the transcribers’ instructions: the place of burial. For Michael’s children Catherine in 1870, Maggie in 1883, Hanora and John in that same year and Michael in 1893, I can find references to their deaths. But only one includes a digitized scan of the original document—Catherine’s, from 1870—and that entry does not include any mention of the place of burial. So much for locating the family plot.
What about the two daughters for whom I found married names? Even with these, I’m struggling. I did find daughter Mary’s death record, identifying her married name as Lynch. But the index for this, while telling me of her August 22, 1947, passing, does not provide any record of where she was buried. The other sister—Johanna, who married George A. Barkley in 1911, likely a widower—remains as difficult to locate as Mary.
Even if I forget about that detail, and just try to follow them through the census record, I run into difficulties. For the very next census in 1920, I can’t find a likely candidate for Mary Lynch in Michigan. One turns out to be a single woman living in the household of her brother-in-law. The other, nicknamed Mamie, gives both parents’ place of birth as New York. Wrong.
On the other hand, at least I make some progress in tracing Johanna and her spouse in the 1920 census. They are living with his two sons, George and Russell. Coincidentally, they are living right next door to a fellow by the name of Frank Flannigan.
Suddenly this is starting to sound familiar. I look up to check the street name for their residence, and it is Russell Street in Detroit. Feeling pretty confident about those details, I flip back to the 1910 census for Michael and Ann Flannery. After all, they had had a “boarder” by the name of Frank Flanagan, whom I suspected might be Ann’s brother. And in this census, here we have a case of Michael and Ann’s married daughter and family renting from someone by the same name as that previous boarder. Both on Russell Street.
Coincidental neighbors? Or family? Either way, I’ve got to keep following this trail to build a phantom family tree. Until I can find a link back to our line in Canada—or a way to disprove the whole association—I’ve got to keep searching.
If I want to know the answer, that is…