How hard could it be to locate an Irish immigrant in a city the size of Chicago? After all, now that we have each decade's census records digitized and accessible online, up through 1950, search capabilities should make anyone easy to find now, right?
That's not how it is going, now that I'm trying to locate one Edward Flanagan, possible brother—or maybe even father—of Johanna Flanagan Lee. Since Johanna was born in Ireland in 1849 and died in Chicago in 1909, I'd presume Edward, if her brother, would follow suit. But there are precious few possibilities for an Irish immigrant named Edward Flanagan living in Chicago within that same time frame.
Let's look at what can be found. First, since Johanna's own children did not show up in records in Chicago until 1875 with the birth of her presumed first-born, William, I'd suspect any of Johanna's siblings—or even her parents—would not have arrived much before that same time. Then, since someone named Edward Flanagan was listed as godparent for Johanna's second-born son, George, in 1877, I'd presume that meant Edward was present in Chicago, not Ireland, by that point. So what can be found in the 1880 census for such a name in the Chicago area?
Short answer: not much.
There was a twenty-two year old single man renting a room in the household of Thomas and Ann Sullivan by the name of Edward Flanigan, according to the 1880 census. Tantalizingly enough, this Irish immigrant lived with a possible younger brother by the name of George Flanagan. That, however, was the only possibility I could find for Irish immigrants by the name of Edward Flanagan, even using a wildcard search for all the spelling possibilities of Flanagan.
Looking ahead to the next census—unfortunately including that twenty year leap forward to 1900—there was another Edward Flanagan to be found. He did not arrive in the United States until 1887, explaining his absence from the prior enumeration. However, the others in his household may serve to eliminate him from possibilities. Though his wife, listed as Margareth, was mother of four children still living, including their son Thomas present in the 1900 household, her given year of birth—1839—would have made her far too young to be Johanna's mother. Still, there might be a possibility that this Edward could have been Johanna's much older brother—but not the man named in the 1877 baptism of Johanna's son George.
The first Edward found, though, keeps tugging at my attention for a different reason: he was living with another Flanagan by the name of George. George was a name which resonated in Johanna's family along with Edward, as those were the names she chose for two of her sons.
Both these Edwards merit some scrutiny. I'll be tracing their names in subsequent years' records to see if anything can be found. In the meantime, there are a few other options to ponder a bit more, regarding this family history puzzle. And not all options are open to us at the click of a mouse. This time, it might take placing an old-fashioned phone call to resolve the issue.