Monday, April 16, 2012

A Father’s Sister

In order to trace Father Patrick M. Flannigan’s family roots, it only helped slightly to know that his brothers’ names were John and R. C. There are so many sons of Ireland boasting the given name, “John.” And trying to chase initials opened up more possibilities than I was prepared to pursue. Yes, it is true that having the clue of “Norway, Michigan” narrows those possibilities considerably, but I decided to first pursue a different tack: Father Flannigan’s sister, Agatha.

Here was a woman who, after all these years, still retained her maiden name. In addition, unlike so many Irish daughters, she did not sport one of those traditional Catholic girls’ names like Mary or Anna that would have gotten her lost in the crowd. With a name like Agatha, I thought surely I’d find a lead quickly, even if the surname was misspelled.

With that decision made, I strode out into the wild online world of digitized genealogical records. I made my first search terms “Agatha Flannigan” and “Norway, Michigan.” Surely this would be a winning combination!

It was…until I hit my first fork in the road: 1900 census? Or 1910?

Fortunately, I chose to play it forward, opting for the 1910 census. That saved me from missing the entry entirely for the 1900 census, as our gal was listed there as “Aggie.”

There, my next serendipitous discovery was that “R. C.,” Agatha’s brother, was actually the head of the household in which she resided. At least that’s the presumption I made once I saw the man’s first name—Richard—conveniently aligning itself with the first of the initials given in the newspaper clipping from which I had been working.

Agatha was listed in the 1910 census as a public school teacher. Still single at age forty-eight, she lived in the household of her brother Richard and his wife Anna, whose only son, Clement, was currently a university student. Two servants rounded out the Flannigan census tally.

Working my way backwards from that point, I confirmed information with each previous decade’s census record. In the 1910 census record covering the small city of Norway in Dickinson County, Michigan, Agatha’s parents’ birthplace was incorrectly—as I later found out—listed as Michigan. The 1900 census showed public school teacher “Aggie” again in the household of her brother in the city of Norway, Michigan—and thankfully rectified the error on Agatha’s parents’ Irish heritage. It showed Agatha’s birth occurring in February of 1861 somewhere in the state of Michigan.

Jumping past history’s unfortunate census gap in 1890, I checked for what became of the family unit in 1880. Unfortunately, the trail ended there—at least as far as I could find. Thankfully, long-time reader “Iggy” located a Michigan State census record for 1894, though only in a transcribed format. There, once again, was “Aggie” in the Norway, Michigan, home of her brother Richard.

By the time of this 1894 state census, Agatha was showing as being in her early thirties. I was worried that, if I pressed back another decade, I’d encounter another problem: surely that far back, she would be residing in the home of her parents, not with an adult brother. If that were so, then I’d be lost. I didn’t yet know the names of her parents.

The next task, then, was to find another way to determine her parents’ names. Playing it forward once again, I searched for any information on her passing. After all the success I had had in finding her owing to her less-common given name of Agatha, here I ran into a problem. And I found out that my original delight with this less-usual given name was quite premature, for it turns out that this Aggie’s first name was, indeed, that oft-used Irish favorite: Mary.

A transcription of a death certificate for Mary Agatha Flannigan surfaced in Listing the place of death as Duluth, Minnesota, it was dated December 22, 1945. Her father was listed as James F. Flannigan. Her mother’s name was—disappointingly—given as simply, “Ellen.”

Then the questions began: was “Mary Agatha” the same as “Agatha”? If so, what was she doing in Minnesota instead of her native Michigan? I began to have doubts about this discovery. The fact that the online record was merely a transcription didn’t help. We all make mistakes from time to time.

Not being able to find an obituary compounded my concerns. But this is where—I think—the story starts getting exciting. Over the weekend, help began coming in. A generations-separated relative left a comment on the post in this series showing that newspaper clipping from my husband’s grandmothers’ belongings—the one that named Father Flannigan’s then-living relatives. That began a conversation on another branch of that family. Then, a fellow member of a wonderful Facebook Groups page, Chicago Genealogy, saw my query there seeking ways to find records from St. Anne’s Church, followed my link to my Flannigan posts here, and responded by posting news clippings in answer on her own blog.

I still have to figure out just what it was that inspired Agatha to leave her lifelong home in Norway, Michigan, and move to Duluth, Minnesota. But now I’m armed with her parents’ names. And the start of a really great conversation.

Isn’t the Internet just grand?!


  1. What happened to the 1890 US Census anyway? The fact that it is missing makes for a "twilight" zone of sorts.

    I suspect Agnes only moved to Duluth to go to a hospital (before dying). Looking at a map, Duluth is really the only town of any size (outside of Marquette) in the general area of where she lived. Maybe she needed a specialist?

    Of course, Duluth is also a mining town - and her family were miners... perhaps a friend of the family sheltered her for her final years.

  2. Agatha Flannigan was my gr gr gr Aunt! I have the original copy of her will and some mining stock certificates with her signature. I will try to dig them up today and scan them for you.
    I am still researching James and Ellen. Still havent found all of the children as 4 came over with James from Ireland before Ellen later joined them with the younger children. At least we know the 3 girls but I have found only 8 or the 10 sons so far.
    Thanks to the connection to the other blog with Agatha's obituaries. They are helful. Mary Agatha (Agnes) "Aggie" Flannigan were all of her names! So yes it is a challenge keeping track of her!


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