Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Different Tone

What had previously seemed like a jocular, engaging affect in Father Dan E. Reilly’s letters to Agnes Tully seems to turn, with the disappointment of his pre-Christmas lament, into a more formal demeanor. Perhaps, at his new location at the Sanitarium in New Mexico, news on health progress has become disappointing. Or could it be that, regaining his health, he is more aware of his conduct and seeking to re-establish what might have originally been a more formal role?

While all the letters have been addressed solely to “Ag,” this one seems to speak with a “third person” edge. Rather than addressing Agnes as “you” in the singular, he frames his terms in the plural: “my friends.” A subtle shift, but one that makes me wonder almost as much as those first letters did. I am still not certain of the relationship.

And yet, with all the dignified demeanor that his position merits, he lapses momentarily in mentioning to his twenty-one-year-old audience that he will be catching a “choo choo” soon. In his mind’s eye I am tempted yet again to see a different picture: is he still wistfully addressing a little girl who has long since grown up?

                                                East Las Vegas, N. M., Dec 28 1909

My Dear Ag.
            It was indeed gratifying to me for so many of my friends to so kindly remember me though thirteen hundred miles separate us. Taking it all in all I spent a joyous Christmas and was happy because my friends wanted me to be and did their best to make me happy.
            I want to thank my friends at 507 W. Garfield Blvd for their kind Christmas offering and those elegant Christmas and New Years wishes. God grant that they may be realized. I am getting along very well and with the help of the prayers of my friends will continue to keep it up until I board a choo choo train for Chicago.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Romantic Plague

As personable and chatty as Agnes Tully’s mystery man (or man-of-the-cloth, as it may be) has been in his letters, with the next letter comes a radical change. Could it be that he was, indeed, perturbed at Agnes’ lack of response to his letters? Or was there another reason for this change?

Answering that question calls for a brief refresher course on tuberculosis of the pre-wonder-drug variety.

First, a confession: in riffling through the stack of letters that Agnes had saved, I belatedly uncovered an empty envelope dated May of 1909—the time of Dan E. Reilly’s letter from Arizona. The pre-printed envelope reveals the location of his stay in Tucson: St. Mary’s Hospital and Sanatorium. He clearly was not traveling for anything other than personal health reasons.

Tucson, with its dry desert air and abundant sunshine, was developing a reputation as a healing center for lung ailments in the early 1900s. Not to be outdone in the race to become the sanatorium destination of choice, places like East Las Vegas, New Mexico, with its relatively-convenient railway access, also boasted an array of treatment options. Resort-styled destinations were by no means the only alternative for treatment. Orders such as the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth saw such facilities as St. Anthony’s Sanitarium as a ministry, providing an alternate impetus for opening accessible institutions.

By the turn of the last century, tuberculosis was considered, internationally, to be an urgent health problem. The contagion was particularly difficult to contain in urban areas, and cities such as Chicago saw a significant percentage of their populations succumb to the disease. Indeed, during the time of these letters from Father Reilly, a good number of another branch of the Chicago Tully clan fell victim to that very malady.

At the very same time that national public health policy was awakening to the seriousness of the epidemic, the “White Plague” was enjoying a renaissance as a romantic notion. Witness the fact that so many well-known creative sorts faced—and wrote about, even envied the role of—the slow death of “consumption.” Having to suffer from the ravages of tuberculosis was seen to confer upon the victim everything from sensitivity to spiritual purity. If ever it were possible for an ailment to assume a reputation as a disease célèbre, tuberculosis would be the most likely nominee. In Agnes Tully’s time, Russian writer Anton Chekhov, a 1904 victim, became one of the most recent in a long line of famous names to have suffered from TB. Composer Frédéric Chopin suffered from it. Lord Byron pined for such a “romantic” end. No less than five French authors contrived to fix tuberculosis prominently in their novels. Though tuberculosis became known as the White Plague long before the start of that century, the resurgence of the disease’s moniker unbelievably served as fashion inspiration. Not to be outdone in the culture statements of those times, fashionable women sought to emulate the “consumptive” look by using makeup that painted their face in a pale cast.

And yet, tuberculosis was serious as death. Without the help of today’s medicines, there was no way out—other than a remarkably strong constitution.

During the process of watching that invincible disease run its course, other than the overt, well-known physical symptoms, what else could be expected?

After reading Father Dan Reilly’s letters—and having a sneak peak at the one to come next—I wondered if the symptoms of tuberculosis would cause any variances in mood or affect. That may seem like a question with a no-brainer answer: of those with untreated active cases of TB, as would be necessitated by this time period pre-dating the advent of the “wonder drug,” over fifty percent died within five years of onset of the disease.

I would speculate that that alone would be sufficient cause for some severe depression.

However, I am not alone in that supposition, nor do we need to leave it to an uneducated guess. Within this past decade, a scholarly paper discussed that very issue: the prevalence of mood disorders among TB patients.

Even those ancient diagnostic labels that Father Reilly referred to in his own letter indicate that possibility. He called his malady “nervous prostration,” which can be defined as “an emotional disorder.”

Could this be what brought about the change between his last letter and the next?

Above left: "La Miseria," oil on canvas, Cristobal Rojas, 1886; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Christmas Greetings From the Southwest

The year 1909 must have been a year of flux for Agnes Tully. Perhaps that was during the time when this young woman toured as a violinist. Or perhaps the interpersonal casualty alluded to in a letter from Dan E. Reilly several months prior has still kept Agnes from returning home to Chicago.

Whatever the reason, when another letter arrives at the Tully household from the southwest, the writer seems perturbed that he is getting no response.

Since the previous letter from this writer had mentioned his new position at the church in Belen, New Mexico, it is somewhat odd to see the letter open with the location listed as East Las Vegas, New Mexico. While there is an East Las Vegas, it is nowhere near New Mexico. There is a Las Vegas in New Mexico, however, but it is nearly one hundred sixty miles from Belen—and rather than being south of Albuquerque, as is Belen, it is east of Santa Fe.

To make matters worse, there is an old advertisement for the St. Anthony Sanatarium showing that address, East Las Vegas in New Mexico, as well as a picture post card of the old facility at that location. Evidently, today’s geography does not neatly align with that of years gone by—in this case, something for which the railroads can be thanked.

Whatever the location, it is unfortunately apparent that this gentleman’s recuperation has not been going well, and he has had to return for treatment.

                                                         St. Anthony’s Sanitarium
                                                         E. Las Vegas
                                                                    N. Mex.
My Dear Ag.
            No doubt you have been saying all sorts of things about me but really I didn’t know where you were and don’t know yet.
            However I’ll take a chance on your being home for Xmas and will send a few lines by way of greeting. I wish for you all a very Merry Christmas and bright new year. May God bless you on that day and always. I will surely remember you all in my three masses on that happy morning. This is my one consolation for Christmas cannot mean much for me away out here in this land of strangers. However I shall not complain as I am getting along so nicely and hope that by this time next year we may be together again. How are all the Tullys? 

It seems an age since any word came from you. Possibly it is my fault + if so accept my apology. I wrote to Alice O’Brien but failed to provoke an answer. When you get time Ag will you spill a little ink in the form of a letter.
            Once more wishing you all the joys of the season I remain.
                                    Devotedly Yours
                                                D. E. Reilly

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

No Children Researching These Lines

Now that I’ve started writing about the letters exchanged between Agnes Tully and various priests associated with the parishes in Chicago and New Lexington, Ohio, something is happening akin to my experience while posting about Frank Stevens’ companions in his Navy and Air Force years. I want to know: Who are these people?

In the case of these Fathers, what makes this call particularly poignant is that they, themselves, had no children who might, one day, look back to research their ancestry. And so they are left, much as a fellow genealogy researcher put it in naming her own blog: The Last Leaf on This Branch.

Who follows up for these last leaves? Admittedly, the Church becomes their family—and often, that ecclesiastical association makes sure to recognize the service of these lifetime ministers. Sometimes, these remembrances are even posted online, outlasting the recall of those whose personal affiliation has long since also been forgotten.

That was not, however, the case with any trace of online mentions for Dan E. Reilly of Chicago. Though he mentioned, in his 1909 letter to Agnes, that he would be serving at the parish in Belen, New Mexico, there was no online mention of such a term. Despite that, of course, regular reader and researcher extraordinaire, Iggy, was able to uncover some links. He identified a few possible census records in Chicago. One, from 1880, couples nicely with this possible hint from a 2002 query found on GenForum. Another census listing, much later, shows the household in which a Dan Reilly resides aligning with a listing of assistant pastors found in a passage (page 369) from The Archdiocese of Chicago: Antecedents and Developments.
The following priests have labored at different times as assistant pastors of St. Anne's: Fathers Hemlock, Gallagher, Hennessey, Walsh, Pickham, Reynolds, Crimmins, O'Shea, Purcell, Kearney, Tuohy, Reilly and McNally.
Could this be the “Dan E. Reilly,” as he signs his name, who wrote Agnes Tully from Tucson so many years ago? What became of him? Was he, indeed, a priest? If so, where is there any mention of his lifetime of service?

Though not part of the Navy or Air Force in the midst of a brutal World War, men such as Dan E. Reilly—and Father Austin Cush, who was also mentioned in the letter to Agnes—are also dedicated to the service of others. And just as I wish to remember those who served in that long-ago war, I find myself wanting to acknowledge those men who served in a very different type of war: the battle for men’s souls.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Moving To Belen

Coming to a close in his letter of May 19, 1909, writer—and perhaps priest—Dan E. Reilly reminds the recipient of his note that he will be leaving Tucson for the small town of Belen soon. He evidently appreciates hearing from his correspondent, Agnes Tully in Chicago, and wants to make sure she keeps those letters coming to the correct address.

What those health problems are that this man keeps referencing seem vague yet overwhelming, requiring his removal from city life to the arid climate of Arizona—traditionally the type of climate recommended for recuperating victims of such communicable diseases as tuberculosis. But he doesn’t mention anything about tuberculosis, only about nervousness and pleurisy. It sounds almost as if these go beyond illnesses in themselves, but might be symptoms of another illness.

Whatever the illness, Mister—or Father—Dan E. Reilly will be staying away from his accustomed city life in Chicago for quite some time.

            As to how long my stay away from Chicago will last is only a matter of guess for it will all depend upon how I feel. My strength is coming back with rapid strides + my only ailment serious to be nervousness and an occasional attack of pleurisy. My cough is almost entirely gone and in a general way I’m better.
            It is very lonesome here as most of the patients are going to cooler spots for the Summer.
            I will not be able to write for the June Calendar as I’ll be on the move through the Territory but in July you will have another letter. Now I sincerely hope all your folks in Chi + N. Lex are well.
            Now cheer up + believe me.
            Oh how is my dear Fr Cush
                                    Devotedly Yours
                                                Dan E. Reilly
Belen New Mexico
After May 29

Monday, March 26, 2012

Life at a Higher Altitude

Railroad station, Belen, New Mexico
As a young woman growing up in Irish Catholic Chicago, AgnesTully found her parish to be a center of social activity as well as religious instruction. That was the same experience for many young Irish immigrants and their families in Chicago. Agnes’ particular parish—now no longer in existence—was St. Anne’s church.

Like her mother before her, Agnes eventually found herself writing letters to nuns and priests and others in religious service. Perhaps this was as a sort of ministry that a lay person could perform: to aid and encourage those who had given their life to service in the Church. Perhaps it was just something she enjoyed doing, or something she did merely to follow in her mother’s footsteps. I am not sure.

At any rate, in 1909, Agnes is continuing a correspondence with someone from Tucson who signs his name simply, “Dan E. Reilly.” I do not know who this man is, although I can infer much from the first few paragraphs of his letter. He is evidently someone familiar with both Agnes’ current parish and that of her older married sister in Ohio. Whether he is familiar with the New Lexington community through family associations, personal experience, or through the Catholic organizations there, I don’t know.

Another puzzle involves the unstated reason for his concern over Agnes’ wellbeing. Is the writer a kindly father figure helping Agnes bridge the gap left from the loss of her own father? Why was she—a young woman—so run down? Agnes, who was a talented violinist, toured with a small musical group in her younger years. Perhaps the strain of too much travel had affected her health. And yet, there is that mysterious reference to “forgetting one that is not worthy,” alluding to the possibility of a more immediate emotional, interpersonal strain. What could that mean?

While giving such enigmatic references to Agnes’ current life situation, the writer himself is an unknown. In this next segment of his letter, we find he is in the territory that has not yet become the state of Arizona. He is evidently there for health reasons. Could that be due to tuberculosis? If he was originally from Chicago, could the crowded living quarters and poor health care of the time be what contributed to his ailing condition? Or was his faltering health due to some other Chicago epidemic?

The writer mentions, as his health is now on the mend, that he will be moving to the part of that United States territory soon to become the state of New Mexico. While it sounds like he will be serving as a substitute for a pastor of a church in the little town of Belen, does that mean he is himself a priest? Or someone qualified to take over administrative duties only on the pastor’s behalf?

The more questions the letter generates, the more I want to know about this stranger who is evidently not a stranger to people whom we call family.

            Well my girlie I am pleased to report privately as I did publicly in the calendar that I am getting along very nicely. Aside from two or three serious set backs of nervous prostration my health has surely improved during my nine [?] weeks stay in this climate. 

Rather than let the nervousness get a firm hold on me my next move shall be according to the advice of doctors, to a higher altitude.
            Consequently after May 29 you will find me at Belen New Mexico a quaint little city in the Rio Grande Valley about 5000 feet above sea level 32 miles from Albuquerque. The pastor a lovely soul is going blind + I will have charge of the place as long as he shall see fit to be away for operation + treatment.

Photograph, above right: The Belen, New Mexico, railroad station in 1925; courtesy the National Archives via Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Choosing From Many Letters

A storyteller always has the advantage over his audience in that he knows how things are going to end up and where the story is going.

Unlike the proverbial storyteller, in this series of letters I am about to share with you, I do not know where this story is going. I struggled with waiting to share until I knew what the direction would be and in which order to take it. Hopefully, you’ll be glad to know I’ve decided to throw such caution to the March wind instead of waiting for April showers to make way for those May flowers I won’t be planting if I keep sitting here, mulling over which order to use in presenting some hundred-year-old letters. I’ll be adventurous and let the story unfold for me as well as for you.

With that decision behind me, I’m reaching my hand into the pile of letters from the personal papers of my husband’s paternal grandmother, Agnes Tully Stevens, and pulling out what I hope will be a “plum.” Although I can see the name of the letter’s writer, I have no idea who this person is, or what significance he holds. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, I’ll stumble upon that information while I’m going through the process of posting these transcriptions.

Today, I’m starting with a letter from a gentleman who signed his name as “Dan E. Reilly.” He was writing Agnes Tully (at the time, she was not yet married) from his location in Tucson, Arizona, although I get the feeling that he either had previously lived in her home town of Chicago (most likely also attending the same church as she did), or that of her older sister’s family in Ohio.

Whether it is the jovial nature of the letter writer, himself, or the manner of written communication at the time, I am not sure, but Mr. Reilly certainly sounds quite friendly and familiar with Agnes, personally. The opening paragraphs of this letter make me want to know much more of the details of young Agnes’ life and that of her correspondent.

                                                          Tucson Ariz May 19 ’09
My Dear Agnes
            Well you old bummer you took a sneak [?] away from St. Anne’s down to beautiful hilly, inviting, home-like New Lexington where you will I hope spend your time in building up and getting strong and above all in forgetting – forgetting one that is not worthy of a pleasant look from my little Agnes.
            Remember honey that many a young woman who allowed herself to run down was beyond the life line before she knew it. So cast care and worry and seriousness to the winds and in the loveliness of your young and bright womanhood be cheerful and happy both for yourself and for those around you.
            Stay there just as long as you like and if any one complains just tell them that you’ll report them to me.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

So What Did That Newspaper Article Say?

A simple newspaper article, carefully kept for a lifetime among the personal papers of Agnes Tully Stevens, spoke to her about the perils of immigration—more specifically, whipped up a yearning to uncover the truth about her maternal grandfather’s fate.  Though undated and unsourced, this newspaper clipping meant a great deal to this woman whose mother never got to know her own immigrant father—an unsolved family mystery that kept the family’s memory of Stephen Malloy alive long after his abrupt departure from his homeland in Ireland.

“Greatest Migration”
Immigrants And Horrors At Sea

            LONDON (AP) – If you are American with an English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh name and have ancestors who came to the United States in 1800-75, you owe them a lot.
            The debt is illustrated in two rooms of graphic history just opened at Britain’s Maritime Museum at Greenwich. It shows in stark reality how 7 ½ million immigrants crossed the Atlantic westward during the 19th century.
            “It was,” says Cmdr. W. E. May, deputy director of the museum, “The greatest migration man has ever made.”
            Many of the voyagers never made it to bear American and Canadian offspring. Most of the ships were unbelievably tiny, some just 50 feet long.
            Says a chunk of notes from the diary of a man who greeted one of those ships, the Airthy Castle:
            “Two hundred fifty-four passengers had been packed in the hold or steerage. Some had gone ashore when I got there. What I saw was – about 200 human beings, male and female, young and old and middle-aged, talking, singing, laughing, crying, eating, drinking, shaving, washing, some naked in bed and others dressing, handsome young women (some) and ugly old men, religious, irreligious.”

Appalling Conditions

            Cmdr. May comments:
            “In the early part of the great migration and especially during the Irish famine, conditions on shipboard were frequently appalling even by the standards of the 19th century.
            “The records show that the deaths during the voyage were highest among the Irish, for they dragged themselves aboard suffering from malnutrition and some were dying as they sailed.”
            Two photographs show the immigration ships Peter and Sarah. Both were built in 1809 and the picture was taken in 1859. Neither ship exceeded 50 feet in length.
            Some of the ships were packed with humans to the point that it is difficult to understand how the crews were able to sail them.
            “Here you can see records of 300 and 400 people sailing in one ship,” said Cmdr. May. “Yet the casualties were not as high as one might think.”
            The descriptions at the exhibition – all in bold type – pull no punches.
            “They emigrated for many reasons,” says one. “More than half of them were Irish, driven out by poverty, and the great famines of the 1840s. Many were Scots, forced by overpopulation and the policy of their landlords to escape conditions such as you see here.”
            Below [in the exhibition but not included in the news report] are etchings of miserable huts, floors of damp earth, their roofs leaky.
            Another etching depicts 25-30 persons jammed in huge carts leaving for ships to the New World. The description reads:
            “People, poor, sometimes prosperous and even rich left in thousands, leaving their villages to a priest’s blessing to walk or travel in the carriers’ carts to the nearest seaport where a passage to North America was to be found. Between 1840 and 1860 nearly 150,000 a year, mostly Irish, sailed from Liverpool.”
            Some of the ships went down with their passengers. Fire was the main hazard. There were terrible scenes when the Ocean Monarch burst into flames at sea. Others struck rocks and went down in storms.
            In 1947 [probably an error on the newspaper’s account, more likely meaning 1847] – admittedly a bad year – 17,500 immigrants, one in six of all who made the crossing that year, died on the voyage or shortly afterward.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Terrible Turmoil Upon the Seas

Revisiting that newspaper article that had Agnes Tully Stevens so concerned about what became of her grandfather, I feel the need to pause and contemplate just what insanity must have possessed our immigrant ancestors. To choose to face what seems like near-insurmountable perils in their chosen journey reminds me that the cost of remaining behind must have seemed magnitudes worse.

Consider this: the ship that Agnes’ grandfather, Stephen Malloy, traveled on was a packet ship launched barely a year prior to his voyage from Liverpool to Boston in February, 1849.  That sailing vessel, the Anglo-Americano, measured a mere one hundred fifty feet in length. It was one of five packet ships built by the shipyard of Donald McKay for the White Diamond Line, Enoch Train’s Liverpool-to-Boston route marketed primarily to immigrants.

Perhaps it was of no consolation to Agnes to know that the Anglo-Americano was not the one of the five—the Ocean Monarch—that was doomed to sink, aflame, off the shores of Wales, taking down nearly half of those on board in its demise. Nor was it any encouragement to know that another of those five of McKay’s packet ships—the Washington Irving—became the one that transported Patrick Kennedy, great-grandfather to this nation’s only Irish Catholic president, to his new homeland in Boston. The bottom line for me: the Anglo-Americano, itself, was not immune from problems. Not more than 18 months after Stephen Malloy set sail from Liverpool, trouble aboard the Anglo-Americano due to a sudden shift in wind carried away the main top-mast, causing the drowning of six of the crew.

To get a grasp on the size of these packet ships, just knowing the numbers describing the dimensions does not do service to my mind’s eye. Seeing a visual representation helps me get a better idea of what I call the insanity of such journeys. Thanks to Iggy, one of this blog’s readers and a research contributor, in addition to providing many of the links included in today's post, two artists' conceptions of what the Anglo-Americano actually looked like can be found here and here.

Quite plainly, they are of a size that I might not mind boarding for a trip across a small lake. An ocean—even such a lesser one as the Atlantic—would be out of the question. If it were left to me, I’d be back in Ireland, starving.

Above: Samuel Walters, oil on canvas, 1850, Burning of the Ocean Monarch, which occurred August 24, 1848; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Work In Progress

For those who expect blogs to be authored solely by experts and geniuses, well…you’ve come to the wrong place. Part of the reason I started writing here was not only to document and organize the many collections of photos and letters I’ve been given or loaned by family members, but to create exactly the kind of place the term “weblog” originally envisioned: a log, online, of my activities as I continue my family history research.

Right now, I’m at a steep spot in my learning curve. I’ve done lots of research in the United States, but I know next to nothing about searching for family roots in Ireland. So yesterday, I took the hint and signed up to participate in the online Ireland site I mentioned last week: Ireland Reaching Out. I gathered up all I know, so far, about the Irish county and civil parish of Agnes Tully Stevens’ grandmother, Anna Flanagan Malloy, and Anna’s brother William, and logged in as a member of Ireland Reaching Out to post my search request.

The site is still in its beta stage, so not all counties are accounted for—let alone representation for every parish. Considering that, I might find myself in the same interminable waiting stage as I’ve found myself in for those long-awaited military personnel records for my father-in-law’s service years. Remember that nice bot I met after sending my request to the Saint Louis National Personnel Records Center? Haven’t heard from him since the second week of February. And he sounded so nice to promise an “average response time” of “three to four weeks.” Ah, now that was music to my ears! But look at him, now. The silent treatment for nearly six weeks.

Sometimes it’s the wait that gets to me. I sure don’t want re-runs on that scenario now that I’ve started closing in on possible connections for our Irish family. Oh, to wish for a Blog Fairy to alight on my shoulder, wave her wand and—violà!—produce those coveted records from across the seas.

Above right: Woman Writing A Letter, oil on panel by Gerard ter Borch the Younger; in the public domain

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

To the Maps It Is!

Now having found sufficient hints to recreate the path AgnesTully Stevens’ grandparents—each one on a separate quest—took in coming to the New World, I can take my cue from both that mysterious letter and from the parish location on Agnes’ granduncle’s grave marker.

Except for one thing: there is no such place as Parish Ballygran.

Don’t go panicking quite yet. It’s just that there must have been a “typo” on William Flanagan’s headstone.

Set in stone may not mean correct.
That, in itself, is evidently not unusual. Take, for example, a similar grave marker from that era, found among our ancestors’ memorials on the Stevens side: engraved in stone for all to see and remember for centuries, the monument bore the proud legend, “Steavens.”


Just how, exactly, does one fix something like that? White-Out was not yet invented, of course, though something of a far greater magnitude in strength would be called for, one would think.

So we just learn to go with the flow, make a polite comment on how lovely that monument looks, and go back to researching the name—and a dozen other possible variants. Nothing like impeding progress in research, eh? If only those 1890s engravers knew….

My first step in trying to sort out just where—or what—Parish Ballygran might be was to turn to the online genealogy forums I have used so much over the years. Several people were so kind to help me decode the envelope’s address and where it might actually be directed. And, of course, several were quick to correct me on William Flanagan’s point of origin: it was Parish Ballyagran.

Not bad for a typo. Just a slip of a letter. I could live with that.

It turns out that Ballyagran is just over six miles northwest of Charleville, the town in County Cork where Stephen Malloy’s hasty letter was addressed to his beloved wife whom he would never see again. Ballyagran is also just across the border—only one and a half miles beyond—from County Cork in County Limerick. Simple. That explains things further—at least for the birth place of Agnes Tully Stevens’ granduncle, William Flanagan.

But it is the letter that I’m primarily concerned with. How does the address on the letter to William Flanagan’s sister Anna—now married with a one-year-old daughter—line up with William Flanagan’s home town of Ballyagran?

Ballyagran—the prefix “Bally” itself means townland—is a townland in County Limerick located in the Upper Connello Barony. The Civil Parish designated for Ballyagran is called Corcomohide. It is contained within the Poor Law Union of Croom, as I discovered from my helpful forum associates and through more recent internet research. And that all is wrapped up in the Province of Munster.

Oh, the terms that begin to swirl in this American’s head. States and counties, I know. But barony? Civil parish? Townland? Poor Law Union? Province?

Barony is a term I can somewhat relate to, though I’m hampered by a modern American way of life; I have learned in history classes of manors and feudal arrangements of bygone centuries. I imagine that “Barony” is, for Ireland, a term with roots in those medieval centuries. Parish, too, is no stranger as a term here, for many of us in America have church roots where such a word is still used. Even the label “province” is not too unusual, if we look north to our Canadian neighbors, who also use that governmental designation. But Townland? Poor Law Union? It is apparent that I have a lot to learn about Ireland. I especially wonder how that knowledge will help me locate the Irish recipient of a letter addressed in 1849—or even how those concepts would arrange themselves on a common road map.

In a land where it is rare for roads to be named or houses to be numbered, and where mail to rural destinations is specified—at least nowadays—by county, nearest post town, and the townland, the letter’s address actually served as a sort of verbal road map. The letter from Stephen Malloy, seeming to direct the bearer to a spot in County Cork (to someone like me who is only accustomed to the American postal delivery system), the address actually directs the bearer from a more recognized locale—Charleville in County Cork—to a lesser known area further inland. The destination for that letter to “Anne Moley” turns out to be a townland in County Limerick contained in the Upper Connello Barony, the Civil Parish of Corcomohide, the Poor Law Union of Croom, and the Province of Munster.

Where have I seen that listing before?! Once I take all those terms I’m so unaccustomed to, and set them in order for each location—William Flanagan’s and Anna Flanagan Malloy’s—and compare, the list is one and the same for both William Flanagan’s “Parish Ballygran” and Anna Flanagan Malloy’s humble cottage in Cappanihane.

If only I could see it all on a map, perhaps it would be clearer to me.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

To Make Matters Worse—Or Better

With the mystery letter that was the only shred of evidence left to Agnes Tully Stevens of her grandfather’s plans, it is not so easy to construct any logical scenarios of what might have become of him in 1849. True, she didn’t even know whether Stephen Malloy survived the trans-Atlantic journey to Boston. It wasn’t until I found the passenger list for the Anglo-Americano on last summer that I could confirm that he had arrived in Boston—but then what?

Perhaps, to solve that mystery—though for Agnes, herself, it is too late to make that discovery—the better question is: can we trace the steps backwards of Stephen Malloy’s wife’s pursuit of her husband to this New World?

A question like that allows us more room for progress. We know, first of all (or, I suppose, last of all, depending on your perspective), that Stephen Malloy’s wife ended up in Chicago. I am not sure why Chicago, rather than Boston, merited her attention—although I have my guesses revolving around a local parish priest by the same surname as her maiden name: Flanagan. While I haven’t managed to connect any relational dots there, I do have some other Chicago-based Flanagan links to help me in this quest.

I did uncover the actual copy of Anna Flanagan Malloy’s death certificate—once again, spelling variants make discoveries such as this a challenge. The transcription left somewhat to be desired on her place of birth—listed there as “Suninek” County, Ireland. Taking a closer look at the copy itself, I’m guessing that the place of birth listed was actually meant to indicate County Limerick.

Unfortunately, trying to confirm this location through the later, more detailed death certificate of her daughter—also an Irish immigrant in Chicago—yielded even less information: the sanitized version with only the name of the country of origin indicated.

While the introduction of the more specific designation of County Limerick helps zero in on the Irish roots of this part of the family, it does bring with it a puzzle: why does the mystery letter from Stephen Malloy to his wife in Ireland indicate a location in County Cork rather than County Limerick? And, if it is County Limerick, where in the county? Where would I go next to follow up on records of Stephen and Anna’s marriage? Or Catherine Malloy Tully’s birth?

This is where a hint from another Flanagan comes in. Anna evidently had a brother who also lived in Chicago. In the brief obituary for this brother, William, it identified him as the uncle of Mrs. John Tully, who we already know is Catherine Malloy Tully, daughter of Anna.

The obituary also identified his burial place as Mount Olivet. One summer, during a brief visit to Chicago, our family took the drive to Mount Olivet to see if we could find William Flanagan’s grave. Expecting little, as he died a single man with no children and precious few to remember him other than his niece and her family, we were amazed to see the monument erected in his memory. And, in one of those serendipitous moments that always seem to happen only to the other guy, we were pleased to discover that his grave marker actually contained the place of his birth.

The headstone was marked:
Native of
Parish Ballygran
Co. Limerick Ireland
Aug. 14 1893

That discovery provided me with two gifts. First, it confirmed the veracity of the location in County Limerick. And second, it narrowed my search to a specific parish: Ballygran.

Now, I could begin searching in earnest for these Flanagan and Malloy ancestors.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Getting That Precise Date

You may be wondering, at the conclusion of the story of Agnes Tully Stevens’ letter regarding her grandfather, how she could not have known the general fate or whereabouts of  someone for whom she was able to so precisely pinpoint a date of departure. After all you have learned about this woman, you surely know the answer to that puzzle: she saved the letter that provided the information.

Of course.

I came upon a copy of that very letter from Stephen Malloy over ten years ago during a visit to family in Chicago. Regrettably, having not yet instituted an organized filing system myself, at that time, I now cannot locate my copy of the copy. Not to worry, I had told myself, for the original letter was in storage with the many documents from Agnes Tully Stevens’ papers that had since been passed to her only daughter, Pat.

When Aunt Pat passed away, though, I discovered that that was not so. No one has been able to find that original letter. No one has located the duplicate that served as source for my photocopy.

In desperation yesterday, I resorted to firing up an “antique” computer in which resides the copies of years-old emails, including my inquiries to forums and researchers about the details of that letter. In a search stretching late into the evening, I succeeded in only partially reconstructing the information on the letter—leaving me quite keen to do some spring housecleaning on every file in my cabinet and storage boxes!

What I did manage to reconstruct, from those old computer files, of that letter from Stephen Malloy to his wife Anne was, first of all, the date: 20 February, 1849. Then, the origin: Liverpool, England. And the strangely-assembled address. The letter was sent to “Anne Moley” but it included a side inscription on the envelope, in an illegible—or at least shaky—hand stating that the note was to be delivered in care of John Melan (or possibly Malon).

The address ran more like a set of traveling directions than what we’ve come to recognize as an address. There were no street numbers. The first line after the addressee’s name read something like “Coppanahane.” That was followed by a line that identified Charleville. Squeezed in between these two lines was an added note: “County Cork.” And, of course, at the bottom of the envelope was the expected, “Ireland.”

In a set of emails to various online genealogy forum members from nearly ten years ago, I gleaned some more information. Someone suggested that Cappanahane, since it was not showing in any townland index, might be its own place name. There was such a place in Granagh, County Limerick—but the original letter had stated County Cork. Granagh seemed to be the post office nearest Cappanahane, and is in Ballingary parish, which is just north of Corcomohide parish in County Limerick.

All these names seemed so foreign to me, and the swirl of names dancing between the county lines of Limerick and Cork had me dizzy. This would most certainly call for a little more education on my part—or at least a good map to set me straight again.

Photograph: true-color satellite image of Ireland courtesy NASA Earth Observatory via Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Another Letter Asking for Help

Three weeks after receiving the disappointing letter from the United States Department of Justice, Agnes Tully Stevens resumes her weary task of trying to discover her immigrant grandfather’s fate in crossing the Atlantic from his home in Ireland. It appears she left a handwritten copy of the letter, jotted on scratch paper, for her own records. It contains as much information as she could retrieve of the numbered instructions on the letter from Department of Justice.

National Archives,
Washington, D. C.

Dear Sirs:
            Have received a letter from Mr. L. W. Hurney, U. S. Dept. of Justice informing me that you may be able to give me information concerning ships which left Liverpool, Eng in 1849.
            My grandfather, Stephen Malloy, left that port on Feb 20th – 1949 [she meant to write 1849] on the “Anglo Americano” for Boston. 

            It took about 3 months for the voyage and I recently read that many sailing vessels were lost in those years.
            Did the U. S. keep records of boats landing that far back?
            My grandmother received a letter from him written just before sailing and never heard from him again. My mother was just one year old and thru’ the years we have wondered if he died at sea.
            I would be most grateful if you could find old records.
            Thanking you I remain
            Sincerely yours
                        Agnes T. Stevens.

While Agnes generally kept meticulous care of all her correspondence, I have yet to find any reply to her inquiry to the National Archives. Perhaps this was yet another dead end—having started with the note to Chicago Today’s Action Line, wending its way to the false-start referral at the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and then, as precisely as possible, following instructions in hope of this time receiving the answer she sought.

Yet, the newspaper article that got the whole process percolating in her mind still sits among her treasured papers. While I’m sad to think that she never did find out what became of Stephen Malloy, I am so grateful for our current internet age where I can access such records—often in a moment of time—and find the answer for myself.

At least I know that Stephen Malloy—or Molley, as it was written in the passenger list—made it safely to Boston harbor. As to what happened to him next, I have yet to discover.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Wish Ireland Would Come Looking For Us

As disappointing as the letter from the Department of Justice must have been to Agnes Tully Stevens, it was not enough to stop her from pursuing her quest. Taking the numbered list of required items in hand, she sat down once again to compose a letter.

Ever since that time in 1969, both in Agnes’ home town of Chicago and here on the West Coast where her grandson now lives, this Irish-American family has sought for any trace of actual documentation enabling them to link to their homeland in Ireland. Just the other day, I attended a seminar in which another researcher recounted his experience with Irish governmental and parish archives: a journey to the homeland, full of unexpected turns, many disappointments, and the rare, at-long-last connection.

It was heartening, therefore, today to stumble across a mention of a reverse research project—one in which the motherland comes looking for her long-lost sons and daughters. Begun as a beta project in Galway focusing on specific parishes, Ireland Reaching Out has now been launched as a nationwide project. Businessman Mike Feerick took the original concept of organizing local volunteers in Ireland to trace and contact descendants of parish emigrants and established a pilot project culminating in a heart-warming homecoming event he calls Week of Welcomes. He now takes that pilot project from its local roots in Galway and rolls it out throughout Ireland. Agnes Tully Stevens, it turns out, is only one of seventy million of what Mike Feerick terms The Irish Diaspora.

As if establishing this service just in time to honor Saint Patrick himself, perhaps Ireland Reaching Out will provide a little accelerant to those American researchers needing some of their ancestral luck o’ the Irish to find their roots. If that isn’t enough to make the connection, there are other online resources springing up to close those gaps.

While many still acknowledge the dearth of online sources for Irish genealogical documentation, I like to encourage people to remember that sage advice to “Give Back.” While everyone is focusing solely on that wildly-anticipated release of the United States 1940 Census, and reminding each other to sign up as volunteer indexers, I’d like to suggest, in your Saint Patrick’s day celebration, to remember the Irish. Yes, sign up for the census index project—and while you are waiting for its official release, practice your indexing skills by letting your green fingers do a little Irish jig on your computer keyboard by volunteering to index some Irish (or at least United Kingdom governmental) records. (For instance, right now, you can join FamilySearch volunteers who are indexing the Ireland "Calendar of Wills and Administrations 1858-1920.") In doing some practice ahead of time, with a little luck, you will be up to speed in your indexing skills by the time April 2nd’s release of the U.S. Census rolls around—and pass a bit o’ help to your Irish heritage while you are awaiting the big day.

If Agnes Tully Stevens had had access to all the online records that are now available—and, admittedly, those Irish records have a long way to go before a substantial amount becomes representative of what can be available—perhaps she wouldn’t have had to take pen and paper and hand write her plea for help in finding her Irish immigrant grandfather’s fate.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Not Much of an Answer

When Agnes Tully Stevens opened her mail one afternoon early in August, 1969, she may have been puzzled by the official-looking envelope that sternly announced itself as  
Agnes, now an eighty-one-year-old widow living alone in the Chicago suburbs, could hardly have been expecting such a letter.

Once back inside her home, perhaps safely seated in a comfy spot in her own familiar living room after having taken a deep breath, she opened the imposing envelope to reveal something which, though hardly expected, made sense once she considered it.

It was the result of her inquiry to the sure-fire solution-finders at Chicago Today’s Action Line.

What a disappointment it must have been for Agnes to read:

Dear Miss Stevens:

Your recent letter addressed to Chicago Today’s Action Line has been referred to us for reply.

We do not maintain any records at this office which would be a possible source of information regarding your grandfather, Stephen Malloy.

The National Archives has custody of the United States Customs Service records relating to arrivals at New York, New York, occurring before June 16, 1897. You may wish to make a request to National Archives, Washington, D. C 20408, for information concerning the possible arrival of your grandfather. Since these records are not indexed the following information should be furnished in order that they may be searched:

            1.         Full name used at the time of entry.
            2.         Port of embarkation.
            3.         Name of vessel on which arrived.
            4.         Date of arrival at New York.

                                    Sincerely yours,

                                    L. W. Hurney
                                    District Director

And with that, it was back to letter writing for Agnes. If nothing else, she was still persistent.
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