It might seem that researching the ancestry of an only child would make life easier for the earnest family historian, but I'm beginning to differ with that assumption. Give me eight collateral lines to work with any day, in exchange for a mysterious single child of unknown origin. Only children put my research progress into a chokehold.
Such is the case with my research task this month. Until I find any further clues, I have to assume that Johanna Flanagan was an only child. Likewise for her cousin Catherine Malloy, whom I actually know was an only child, due to her parents' history. Catherine I can trace a little bit more easily than Johanna, because both she as an adult and her mother before her had the habit of saving every piece of personal papers possible—and eventually passing every such scrap down to the child in the next generation who inherited that same pack-rat proclivity.
But even Catherine's own mother became a mystery to me. Though I know Anna Flanagan Malloy had siblings, I don't know how many. One I know for sure also made the immigrant journey from Ireland to Chicago, but as far as I can tell, he never married and never had any children, effectively leaving me Anna alone to turn to when trying to research her Flanagan forebears.
There was one other possibility to turn to in this Flanagan gene pool: a shadow figure whom we can, by necessity, assume was the father of Johanna Flanagan. What his name was, or what became of him, I can't tell. Nor do I know whether he had any children other than Johanna, thus leaving us in the same research predicament once again: the research chokehold of the only child.
If I could discover the identity of Johanna's father—and thus, Anna's brother—perhaps that would lead to information on other lines of descent in the family. Whether those possible relatives became immigrants to America or remained in Ireland does not matter as much as the fact that it would release me from this research chokehold. I'm operating on the theory that there has to be an answer to this research dilemma somewhere.
Back in my original genealogy file cabinet—yes, back in the days when everything was kept on paper and had to be stored somewhere—I had a folder with the first clues about Johanna's family. This would be a good time to revisit the details stored in that folder—the clues which started me on this research trail. Tomorrow, we'll see if revisiting this research brick wall with fresh eyes might point us in a new direction.