In order to tell the story of how Father Patrick
M. Flannigan entered the priesthood—the very opposite end of his life from that
of his last station as a beloved pastor in the thriving immigrant neighborhoods
of the south side of Chicago—we need to borrow from the notes of another man.
That man, quite Patrick Flannigan’s elder, was the Bishop of the then-diocese of Sault Sainte Marie in Michigan, the Slovene immigrant Frederic Baraga.
Frederic Baraga was born in 1797 in what is now part of Slovenia, and
after attending law school prior to seminary, was ordained a Roman Catholic
priest in 1823. Within seven years, he found himself answering the call of
Bishop Edward Fenwick of Cincinnati to serve as
missionary to the native people and immigrant miners in the wide-open region of
the Upper Peninsula.
His work in missions in that north land eventually earned
him the nickname, “The Showshoe Priest.” He did not permit himself any
limitations to his ministry owing to the harsh weather conditions of the
region, but traveled a circuit between what eventually became several mission
outposts. He was consecrated as the first bishop of the new Diocese
of Sault Sainte Marie in 1853.
Just before this point, Father Baraga began keeping a
journal, which later provided historians—such as Antoine Ivan Rezek, himself pastor in Houghton, Michigan—with a
record of his journeys and work among several people groups and in several
languages. It is from this one history work, Rezek’s History of the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie and Marquette, published
in 1906, that we glean our information on the training and ordination of Father
Patrick M. Flannigan, and the background story of his own family.
We’ve already been introduced to an excerpt of the Rezek
narrative in the description of Father Flannigan’s own father, Captain James Flannigan. In that excerpt, we learned that the Bishop had stopped by the
Flannigan household on more than one occasion, and that the town’s little
church—probably no more than a mission outpost—was on the lot next door to the
Flannigan household. When the Bishop came to town to meet with the
parishioners, he preached in several languages as well as conducting all the
other business necessary for any church. This proximity to Patrick’s family
must have borne some influence on the young man.
Rezek mentions, from Bishop Baraga’s journal entry on June
27, 1860, that the Bishop himself sometimes did all the hands-on work of
setting up for, as well as celebrating, the Mass. That, and walk to and from
each village for which he had oversight.
On that same date, according to Rezek, the Bishop’s journal
entry made a first mention specifically of Patrick, himself:
In La Point he took
the North Star homeward bound; and in
Ontonagon Patrick Flannigan joined him, on his way to the Seminary in Cincinnati.
From this 1860 journal entry, we glean our first point in
the timeline of Patrick Flannigan’s journey toward the goal of being ordained as
priest. As we’ll see tomorrow, the book provides several more points of
interest in the story of the younger man’s theological training, as well as that of the
energetic service of his mentor.
Having started this series with the slim clipping of a
newspaper article announcing the reading of the will of a deceased Chicago pastor, we are
about to conclude it with the very same man whose story had begun it. That we
will do beginning tomorrow. For now, however, let’s conduct a brief inventory
of where we’ve been and whom we’ve researched.
Starting with Father Patrick Michael Flannigan, we moved
first to his surviving siblings, Agatha, Richard and John. Locating those names
in census records predating his 1907 death, we were eventually able to
determine his parents’ names: James and Ellen Sullivan Flannigan. Some
wonderful historical documents opened to us the scene of these immigrants’ home
in the New World: the Upper Peninsula mining towns of Michigan.
A biographical sketch in a century-old history book told us
that this Flannigan family, at one time, consisted of ten sons and three
daughters. While there are other possible records out there, digitized and
online for our perusal, it is best to call a halt to our search based on the
listings that can be found in each decade’s census records, coupled with the
1873 City Directory for Marquette, the town in which the family settled after
leaving their homestead in Ontonagon
Another reason for setting aside the search: besides the
tedium of employing all possible spelling permutations for this surname,
without being able to access the actual church records of key life events, it
is hard to link missing children with our
James and Ellen Flannigan. For one thing, many civil records of the time in
that area used only the married name
of the mother for birth indices. What are the chances of a couple by the name
of James and Ellen with the same-sounding surname to be entirely different
While the reasoning may seem faulty, I am presuming that
those siblings named in Father Flannigan’s will were the only remaining family
members he had. While it is possible that the missing sister—Margaret—if married,
might be omitted from his will, that would hardly be the issue with the
remaining unaccounted-for siblings, all of whom would be male. Of the brothers
whose names we know, only Thomas and James have vanished from the records scene
without a trace. For the others—William, Edward, and Matthew—we have
confirmation of their dates of death, all of which occurred in the 1870s. The missing
two we will have to leave as mysteries—names we never knew and for whom we can
find not a trace.
Though we could not find him in the 1860 census with the
family nor in the Flannigan household any time beyond that, the young Patrick
Michael Flannigan resurfaces for us by virtue of traces of his story embedded within the records and
journal entries of the Bishop of his Archdiocese, which thankfully have been
transformed into an early church history of the Upper Peninsula region. We will
begin mining those records for details on the early years of the priest who later
became our connection with a parish hundreds of miles away in Chicago.
Photograph: Captain James Flannigan, from History of the Diocese of Saulte Ste. Marie and Marquette, page 183; published 1906; in the public domain.
I have always been a sucker for classic simplicity. So when
I ran across an ingenious system for aggregating data in one resource genealogy
researchers always need, I was hooked.
The very message that first introduced me to BillionGraves
convinced me I was going to like this system. See for yourself from their
explanation posted on YouTube.
Streamlined. People like me for whom snail mail was made
anathema thanks to the now ubiquitous reach of email should really like the BillionGraves
concept. I have all sorts of good intentions—and the piles of cemetery
photographs still languishing in some drawer in my office to prove it. I meant
And I mean well when I try to encourage others to join me in
remembering to give back. For all the volunteer help that benefited us as
we struggled through that genealogic learning curve, we certainly can afford to
do our part and volunteer to give back to the community.
Especially now. With Memorial Day fresh on my mind, I woke
up early yesterday and dragged my family with me to a local cemetery to beat
the rush. I wanted to try out my new BillionGraves app. We did an experiment,
since we are a divided family—divided, that is, over whether to prefer the
Android or the iPhone version of smart-phonedness.
Here’s how our experiment went, so far. The Droid is ahead,
1 – 0, by the way.
First, my husband, the proud owner of the HTC Inspire
Android, downloaded the free BillionGraves app from Google Play. That was easy.
Then, my daughter whipped out her trusty iPhone and checked
out the iTunes Store, where she quickly located Apple's version of the BillionGraves app.
Before you are quick to say, “Strike one!” let me add that
my husband co-opted my BillionGraves user name, which allowed him to sign in quickly. My daughter
had to create her own account. Perhaps that is where we got snagged. Maybe she
should have done that ahead of time.
We hopped in the car and made the breezy five minute drive
to the closest cemetery. As we pulled up to the main entrance, I have to say
that the flags were breath-taking. The grounds were transformed for their
Memorial Day ceremonies, with immense flags lining both sides of the streets
within the Memorial Park. Smaller flags dotted the grounds designating each
veteran buried there. There were so many lives of service to commemorate!
I wanted to start our test-run project at the point of one
specific grave. I’ve mentioned before about my first husband, who died young of
a rare disorder. As far as I was concerned, that was step number one in this
journey for me.
There is no way I want to fool anyone—including myself—that I
am any good at photography. Besides that handicap, I also have never tangled
with “smart” phones because they make me look perfectly dumb. I can’t read the
display. So here I am at this cemetery in broad daylight—the stuff I thought
was necessary for a good picture—and I find that the bright light washes out
the display even more. So much for me being the guinea pig in this experiment.
My husband graciously took my place as experiment subject,
and started snapping away.
We encountered some glitches. First, the whole gig is based
on connection with a GPS system. For some reason, after clicking the first
shot, we couldn’t proceed to photograph number two. The GPS system suddenly
lost track of us—standing right here, two steps over from the first headstone
we had just captured! We waited. We moved around. We waved the camera in the
air. Nothing changed. We were stuck.
Oh. There it goes! Why? I have no idea. But we’re up and
And so it went, stopping, stumbling, then breezing through
the rest of the row until the whole puzzle descended mysteriously upon us once
again. After two rows of photographs, we decided we had achieved our purpose in
giving BillionGraves a test drive.
Meanwhile, what of the Apple?
Tick. Tick. Tick. Still waiting for the download to
complete. Something got gummed up. Or was it the fact that the email confirmation
for the newly-acquired BillionGraves user account was delayed by Google? Yeah,
it was the gmail account, surely!
While waiting to give the iPhone one last chance to redeem
itself, I played around with another notion: could I see the phone display better on the Android
if I shot pictures in the shade? I gave that a try. It definitely yielded a
better visual for the user, but I didn’t know how well the photo would
Giving up, by this time, on the iPhone, we headed back home.
First consideration: downloading data—the next step—may cost more on your
system, depending on how your phone contract is set up. Our plan gives us only
a limited amount for transmitting data. So it was better to transmit from home, where we could tap into the house wireless system.
Somewhere in the midst of that five minute drive home,
something “dinged” in my daughter’s iPhone. It was Apple’s “ta-da” for arriving
at the scene. Which we had just left.
At home, the Droid effortlessly uploaded the data to BillionGraves
and gave us the thumbs-up report that the exchange was successfully made.
Not so fast, though, according to my double check on the
BillionGraves website later that day, when I tried to access the photos to see
what kind of quality we got, thanks to the blinding sunlight. All I could get
was an error message that said the photos didn’t load correctly.
That puzzled me. My first thought was about the listing of
the cemetery, itself. In preparing for this expedition, I had scoped out the
BillionGraves website to see if our cemetery was listed.
It was not.
But when my husband, at the cemetery, started his work, the
first step was to identify a cemetery. And there, in the listings, was the
cemetery. Go figure.
When I got home again, checking on the home computer, I
found—what?!—no listing for the cemetery. So I manually added it in, which can
I noticed on the website that the BillionGraves team is
quite interested in transparency and accessibility. They included their phone
number as well as a Skype number. Plus, they invite emailed questions, too.
I chose the email route, but even that hit a glitch! I
couldn’t get my note sent. I tried again a couple hours later, and it finally
It will come as no surprise to anyone to hear that I was not
the only one thinking about test driving the BillionGraves app on Memorial Day.
I had plenty of company. At least enough to bog down their system, for which
they immediately apologized to me profusely. BillionGraves support staffer Rob
Today our site has had
so much traffic that we are experiencing some load-related troubles. We are working furiously on the problem and
hope to have it solved as soon as possible.
How nice to have a problem such as that! At least their
crowdsourcing idea of getting a huge number of people, worldwide, to consider a
random act of kindness in photographing local cemeteries seems to be taking
By the way, here's that nice note bloggers like me are supposed to write about product reviews: you can be sure that I was neither paid nor swayed to say what I had to say about the BillionGraves organization and the affiliated businesses.
Those of you who have followed the whole series here of
World War II letters home from my father-in-law to his folks in Chicago may
remember that the family always felt that the war substantially changed Frank Stevens. He came home different.
The term “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” had
not yet come into use in medical circles. Regardless of what it may then have been called—or not called at all—my father-in-law most definitely
suffered the impact of what he experienced in some of the fiercest fighting in
the Pacific arena.
The man was, evidently, not alone—and most certainly among
the more fortunate. Though his life unfolded so differently than would have
been expected—at least for those knowing him before those war experiences—a great
number of others returned home in far graver condition, emotionally.
A press release passed along to her readers on DearMYRTLE’s blog earlier this weekend
arrested my attention for that very reason: this Memorial Day, I’ve been
thinking of how completely this war experience had turned around a life, and
all the repercussions that change incurred.
The press release, from the National Archives and Records
Administration, announces the re-release of Let
There Be Light, the controversial World War II documentary about the
rehabilitation of psychologically scarred combat veterans. Developed under the creative
hand of Academy Award-winning director, John Huston, the film originally was
commissioned to help Americans understand the challenges faced by returning
veterans and to demonstrate that the psychological wounds of war are very real, but could heal through therapy.
To tell the story, Huston used then-unprecedented techniques
and approaches, obtaining for the film a legacy within documentary film history,
but the film itself was pulled by the War Department just before its premiere.
Its message remained untold until public pressure secured its official release
by the Secretary of the Army decades later, in 1980.
In its currently-restored condition, Let There Be Light is now available for free streaming and
downloading at the National Film Preservation Foundation’s website through
While film enthusiasts and war historians may have their own
reasons for regaling the release of this restored documentary, there are some—like
those in my family—who may be interested in the story this film presents for
just one reason: we know someone who, after that devastating conflict and
without any officially-sanctioned explanation, came back home different.
There’s a lot that can be said about Memorial Day—or Decoration
Day, as it used to be called—and I suppose for most all of it, that has already
been done. While media outlets, news sources, books, magazines, and all sorts
of professional communicators have tackled the subject, there is
one more venue which provides a particular perspective: the blog which focuses
on the micro-history aspect of military service from a family’s perspective.
To be sure, I’ve been able to do my share of such blogging.
Though Memorial Day history extends back to the aftermath of the Civil War,
because of genealogical research, I can even write about my great-great-great grandfather, George Edmund McClellan, who, long before that Civil War era,
fought in the Seminole Wars. Closer to our own life span, I’ve been honored to be able to transcribe the letters home from one very young seaman serving in the Pacific during significant
battles like Iwo Jima and Okinawa—my father-in-law, Frank Stevens.
There are others who are blogging about their family links
to the wars of the last century. I’d like to take some time today to highlight
these, so that, in reading them yourself, you can reflect on the
micro-perspective of what military service has meant to others.
In addition, I’m sharing some resources that I hope will help
you gather your own thoughts about any of your own family members in such
roles, and guide you as you honor them by capturing their stories while they may
still be documented.
In Genealogy Imaginings, a blog new to me, I find a touching story of the pain of losing
a family member to war. The author explores the indications of a painful silence
she finds as she combs through family papers seeking any mention of her
grandmother’s brother, a pilot-in-training who dies during World War II.
The Daly History Blog
comes at the subject from a different approach, by virtue of the writer’s
British perspective, reviewing a book about an agency which seeks those who
went missing in action during World War II.
The Curious Genealogist discusses the deft use of personal narratives in fleshing out
your story of family members who served during war time—and encourages
veterans, themselves, to tell their own story, as painful as the process may
seem. Those stories need to be preserved. Others will need to remember this,
too. One statement in this article particularly struck me:
I had a cousin who was
a young medic on Omaha
Beach. He told me that
you grow up quickly when you have your best friend die in your arms.
This same post, “Finding Family Members Who Fought in
World War II,” announces the creation of a research guide by that same title.
It includes lists of useful books and links to websites helpful for those
wishing to research their relatives who served during that time period.
Local historical societies and museums get in the act with
their own posts, too. After extending an invitation to their readers to attend a presentation regarding the battlefields of Europe during World War II, the Hubbard County, Minnesota, Historical
Museum reminds readers
to, simply, Thank A Soldier. And going back to the original inspiration for
this holiday’s designation, my own county’s Historical Society’s blog reviewed
a book remembering those Civil War veterans. Even though the Civil War was not
fought in our region, of course, we have a legacy of many veterans from both
sides of the conflict settling here—and eventually being buried here. Though
not a direct commentary on the purposes the holiday was intended for, the blog
post does note that the book includes a researcher-friendly burial index for Civil War veterans in
A final posting of note to me—particularly because it
resonates with the work I’ve been doing in researching my father-in-law’s story—is
a recent entry by DearMYRTLE. She is mainly passing along a press release from
the National Archives and Records Administration concerning the restoration of
a post-World War II documentary. The subject of the film is the rehabilitation
of war-scarred veterans—treatment for a debilitating condition which would, in
our current times, be classified as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
This brings up personal remembrances of relatives mentioning
that my own father-in-law came back vastly different than when he went to war.
It brings to mind the type of sentiment shared in the blog post I mentioned
above, The Curious Genealogist:
Only the combat
veteran who has gone through battle understands its deep, personal costs. They
deserve nothing less than our gratitude, our understanding, and our deep
The movie, what it meant at the time it was originally due
to be released, and what it represents for families like ours, will be
something I’d like to discuss tomorrow, on Memorial Day.
In the meantime, while you enjoy your holiday weekend, always
remember the great sacrifices made by those many others, over the years, who
have put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf.
Photograph: The USS LCI(R) 707 firing rockets during the initial assault on Iwo Jima, February 9, 1945.
Anyone who appreciates the joys of the hunt in genealogical
research should have a second reason—besides honoring those we know who so rightly
deserve that recognition—to appreciate Memorial Day. This holiday sets aside
time to encourage us all to remember our collective past as a nation and to
recall those individuals from our families' long past who made life securely possible the way we now enjoy it.
Memorial Day—or Decoration Day, as it used to be called—reaches
back to the era of the Civil War for its original inspiration. After that war,
Northerners sought to commemorate fallen Union soldiers. Southern ladies
organized events to decorate the graves of their fallen Confederate soldiers.
With so many fallen on both sides, there were so many individual soldiers to
has since engaged in a number of subsequent wars—and families have had many more members to
commemorate for their service to our nation. By 1967, Federal law officially
changed the name of the holiday from Decoration Day to Memorial Day. Today
people are more likely to presume that the remembrance is for those serving in
the military from the era of World War II forward, because each of us who
remember, remember those we personally knew who served. But we can take this opportunity to share with our families the stories of those ancestors we know about, who served in those more remote battles of history.
Traditionally, groups take time during this day—or during the
extended weekend—to honor those who served by marking their graves with a flag.
National cemeteries, with their many war dead, are a sight to see at such times—and
a sober reminder of the price paid by many for the benefit of us all.
Whether you have plans to participate in such designations
at a local cemetery or not, I hope you will find a way to honor those who have
served—both those who have passed on and those still with us.
If you are unable to physically travel to decorate any
specific grave sites, I’d like to suggest that you consider creating a digital
decoration by volunteering online to insure that the graves of servicemen and –women
you have known are properly acknowledged in the various cemetery websites.
For instance, Find A Grave has a large community of
volunteers who insure that entries are made on the website for cemeteries in
their area. Some volunteers are able to go to specific cemeteries, take pictures of headstones, and post them online on the website. Even those who can’t
physically go to the cemetery can enter data on the site—such as dates of birth
and death, or even transcriptions of obituaries, for their own family members—so
that others may find this information they are seeking. (That, incidentally, is
how I found the information for my husband’s uncle, Gerald Stevens—thanks to a Find A Grave volunteer who provided me with the photograph of his grave stone
indicating his military service.)
This weekend, whether you are commemorating the service of a
long-removed ancestor who served in the Civil War, the more recent memory of
grandparents involved in either of the World Wars, or the loss of someone
serving in more recent wars, I wish you a meaningful and safe holiday weekend
as you gather with family and friends.
Sometimes, the research trail seems promising, but leads to
the wrong conclusion. While that does seem frustrating, it helps to follow that
mistaken path just long enough to construct a solid argument articulating the
reasons for rejecting your former premise.
That’s exactly what we’ll do today.
You see, it seems tempting to claim as our own the subjects from a newspaper clipping such as the following:
Misses Agnes and
Catherine Flannigan of Ishpeming,
Mich., have arrived for a visit
with their brother, T. A. Flannigan, general superintendent of the Republic
Iron & Steel company.
The newspaper in which this remark was included was the Duluth Evening Herald. The plot thickens
as we realize the connection both with another Flannigan family member—Catherine
Flannigan Cook’s daughter, who married Duluth area mining engineer, William Crago—and another implied connection via Catherine’s sister Agatha, who
eventually died in Duluth. Despite what seems like the incorrect detail of the
location of Ishpeming, there seems to be enough to connect this Thomas
Flannigan with the Thomas we are interested in, the brother of Catherine and
After all, wasn’t Agatha called Agnes in some records? And
though the Flannigans lived in Marquette in the Upper Peninsula, Ishpeming was in the same county.
Besides, the family moved there from Greenland, Michigan, and one brother moved yet again to settle in Norway, Michigan—all
in the Upper Peninsula. It is quite
conceivable that Thomas’ sisters could have moved, themselves, at a later date.
The thread of mining in this family’s heritage seems to tie
this man to the family in yet another way. An excerpt from Thomas A. Flannigan’s
biographical sketch in a local publication solidifies the link:
Thomas A. Flannigan,
general superintendent of the Republic Iron and Steel Company, is one of the
best-known men in his calling in northern Minnesota, and a commanding figure at
Gilbert. He was born at Ishpeming,
Michigan, April 19, 1881, a son
of Thomas A. and Johanna (Fogarty) Flannigan.
Though that report confirms the mining link, it discards the
possibility that this Thomas is brother to our Catherine and Agnes (also known
as Agatha). The 1881 birth year places him in the wrong generation. However,
there is still the possibility that this could be a nephew of Catherine and
Agnes, and his father their brother.
The biography continues:
The elder Thomas A.
Flannigan was born in Ireland
in 1831, but came to the United
States when he was eighteen years of age,
and immediately became identified with mining operations.
At this point, we need to go back to documents from earlier
years to confirm this scenario. Looking at the 1860 census, we begin to see
problems. In the household of our Thomas’ father, James Flannigan, the census
record shows that Thomas is indeed born in Ireland, and he does list his
occupation as being involved with mining. However, at age 19, his year of birth
is closer to 1841 than 1831.
Birth dates seem to be rather fluid during that time period,
however, so checking another source would be helpful. Looking to the 1870 census, though, Thomas is not showing in his parents’ household. Nor, for that
matter, does he show in the 1873 city directory for the town in which his
family now resides.
We don’t find our Thomas again in the Flannigan household
until the 1880 census, after his mother, Ellen, has died. There—true to form
with that era’s morphing dates of birth—his age given would put him as born
even later, in 1844.
The 1880 census also shows a shift in occupation from mining
to a related field: railroads. He is now listed as a locomotive engineer.
Perhaps that designation helps explain why he seems to have
disappeared from subsequent public records. With a job in the railroad
industry, he could transfer to any of several possible cities involved in the company’s
routes. Finding him—especially given the multiple variables in spelling that
surname—would now be difficult. He could very well have moved to Duluth. Or elsewhere.
Just in case, though, I checked the two online sources I use
death records when both FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com fail me. But neither Michigan’s Genealogical Death Indexing System, which provides transcriptions from 1867 to 1897, nor
Seeking Michigan, which is my source for digitized copies of death certificates
in that state for 1897 to 1920, showed any material for a possible Thomas
Flannigan. Anywhere. In any spelling variant. If the Thomas who showed up in
James Flannigan’s household for the 1880 census died in Michigan, it would need to have been after
So what about that 1880 census record? While it shows both
Thomas and, tantalizingly, his sisters Catherine and Agnes, could there be
another Thomas Flannigan in Marquette
county records for that census year?
You know I wouldn’t ask that question if I didn’t already
know the answer, don’t you?
And yes, here it is: the 1880 census record for a Thomas
Flannigan, living in the Marquette County town of Ishpeming.
He is listed, along with his wife Johanna and their children—though, of course,
not including the younger Thomas, who did not make his appearance until his
birthday in 1881. And though we have to wait until the 1900 census to see this
confirmation, this Thomas also boasts
siblings by the names of Catherine and Agnes, providing the very snare that
caused us to stumble in the first place.
But just to make sure—in case this hasn’t provided enough
ammo to shoot any false theories out of the water here—let’s find another way
to demonstrate that the Thomas who is father of the Duluth mining superintendent could not
possibly be one and the same as the Thomas of the Flannigan family we are
Fortunately, one of those handy Michigan websites has provided us with a
copy of Johanna’s husband’s death certificate. There, if his father’s name were
James, I’d seriously doubt myself. And, considering how little variation these
Irish immigrants allow in their naming habits, there is a good chance that I
could be snared all over again.
That is not the case, though, for the Duluth Thomas’s father’s
death certificate shows the man with the earlier birth date had a father named—and
here we go, once again!—Thomas Flannigan. And the mother’s name was Mary Ryan.
A far cry from our Thomas’ parents, James and Ellen Sullivan Flannigan.
All this to say that, ifyou happen to have posted an
online family tree mixing up your Thomases just as I was tempted to do, you now
have your cue to revisit the research trail and rectify the matter.
For it was not our Thomas at all—nor his son—who made the
move from the one mining region in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the
nearby mining operations of that small city of Duluth.
And, oh…if you’re still not sure, I have one more fact in my
back pocket. Remember that newspaper article that mentioned the sisters
visiting Thomas in Duluth?
I neglected to mention that the date of the newspaper edition was April 1, 1916. By then,
not only was our Thomas’ sister Catherine no longer single, she was no longer alive.
If Catherine Cook Crago had to live, essentially, the life
of a single mother, Colorado Springs might have been just the place to do it—if she had lived there a quarter of a century later. Then, she would find herself doing what many military wives do
when their husbands are away: get involved in the community.
But the time frame of William Crago’s absence, at least as
far as can be told at this point, was during and after World War I—a very
different time frame, indeed, for finding oneself doing a solo gig at
Yet Catherine soldiered on. She evidently circulated amongst
a social set of community-minded women, judging from some newspaper mentions of
her activities. Not long after Will’s departure for Africa,
a Colorado Springs Gazette article on
June 2, 1918, announced the opening of a new venture for the city: a local
branch of the Red Cross.
…The Red Cross shop
will be formally opened Wednesday, June 12. It is a new venture for Colorado Springs, but the
idea has been tried with success elsewhere. The loyal support and liberal
patronage of many prominent persons has been promised. Mrs. Wright has
announced the departments to be conducted and the committees who will have
charge of them during the summer…
Buried in the midst of a litany of names, sorted by
departments, was the entry for Catherine:
Chairman, Mrs. R. W.
Chisholm; …Assistants to the director—Mrs. William H. Crago…
As the women of the city became more adept at their
organizational skills, groups of groups combined in cooperative efforts to
benefit the less fortunate, including this example from January 16, 1921,
naming Catherine as a member of the club listed only as “A.C.A.”:
Club women of the city
have been ransacking their garrets, overhauling old trunks, and clearing out
their basements, looking for furniture and clothing which can be used at the
rummage sale of the City Federation of Women’s Clubs, which is to be held on
Tuesday and Wednesday at the Spaulding house. Each club has appointed a
committee to tend to the transporting of these articles to the salesrooms, as
well as to help dispose of them on the days of the sale.
…On Wednesday, the
following will help: …A. C. A., Mrs. W. H. Crago, …
Meanwhile, the Cragos’ two children, William and Jean,
attended Colorado Springs
High School, where Jean featured prominently in the 1930 yearbook, thanks to her
active student life. Young William could also be found in Colorado
Springs yearbooks, both at the high school level and at a city
institution then known as Colorado
College. This local
college might have been his springboard to entry into the University
of Michigan at Ann Arbor, for there are entries for this
name in that school’s yearbooks, too. He did, ultimately, graduate from the University of Michigan in 1932, and subsequently
received his law degree there in 1935.
Whatever became of the Crago family after this point is hard
to determine. One cannot say that Catherine lost her husband in 1949, though
that is when he died. Whatever became of Catherine after that point led somehow to
a move to northern California,
where she died on January 7, 1959. I’d be tempted to think she had passed away
during a visit there, for the only California connection
I can find reaches back a generation to her father’s sister, Dorothea, who had
married a Joseph Jackson and lived in San
Jose. Catherine passed near San
Jose, in San Mateo County, the area around Redwood City.
The theory about being there just for a visit, though, is
trashed by the discovery that, in the same county a little over ten years later, Catherine’s daughter Jean also dies, leaving me to believe this had
become their residence. Why there, I don’t know. Maybe this puzzle will have to
be left for family members to research.
Jean’s brother William, however, headed east after
graduating from the University of Michigan, working for a while in New
York before returning to his birthplace, Duluth, to serve as an attorney in the very industrial milieu in which his mining engineer father had felt so comfortable.
That city—Duluth, Minnesota—represented home not only for
the next generation of this branch of the Crago family, but shows signs of also
becoming home to another branch of the Flannigan family, whom we’ll start
Photograph and text insert from Jean Crago's 1930 yearbook entry at Colorado Springs High School.
It appears to be a very different William Crago, at least
from his passport photograph, who returns home from Africa
after the war. A lot can happen in three years—not the least of which is the
need to stop in at the American Consulate in Cape Town to see about getting a new
There at the Cape
Town office, Will put in his application for an
emergency passport on January 27, 1921. Once again, he was obliged to rehearse
the tedious minutiae of his life: born December 3, 1879, in New Herrington, a
village in England;
emigrated with his father, John, and family from the port
of Liverpool to Iron
Mountain, Michigan, for business
purposes in April, 1881; naturalized at the Circuit Court at Dickinson County, Michigan,
effective April 6, 1892.
Again, for this document, Will listed his permanent
residence as Duluth, Minnesota—not
where his wife and children were living. We learn from this document that he
last left the United States
on January 8, 1918—slightly later than his intended departure. The trip to Cape Town had taken him until February 6, 1918, and he
didn’t arrive at his final destination, Elisabethville,
until the 18th of the same month.
His return trip seemed to be accomplished more quickly—at
least at the first. Leaving the Belgian Congo on January 21, 1921, he made it
to the Consulate at Cape Town
within six days. His trip from there to Southampton,
completed—first class aboard the Saxon—by
February 14. Though I wonder if he was tempted, while passing through England, to take some time to return to the place of his birth, I doubt he did so, for the distance to the County Durham
region would have required the addition of a few more travel days. His
itinerary showed he quickly dispatched the final leg of his ocean travels,
arriving in New York
on the SS Aquitania on February 21, 1921.
And by March 19 of that year, a professional journal was
already noting his “visit” to Duluth—considering
the lead time for publications back then, I presume that would indicate that Duluth was Mr. Crago’s
destination once he disembarked the SS Aquitania
He didn’t lose much time once in Duluth, either. Before that Colorado Springs Gazette piece
announcing his “visit” to his family there in September, Will and his
colleagues had already traveled to Manchuria, departing Japan August 26
for the return trip to San Francisco on the SS Taiyo Maru.
Whether Will Crago was able to settle down with his wife and
family after that point is difficult to reconstruct from public documents. I
find no record for him—so far—in the 1930 U.S. Census, though it is quite possible that
he was, once again, out of the country. As for the 1940 census, well, that’s
not yet available for those states in which he’d be most likely to reside.
There are other signs of his whereabouts, however. That he was in demand professionally continued to be evident from news publications almost up to the point of his death in Duluth in 1949.
Will Crago evidently was successful in his pursuit of an
American passport, even during war years, as passenger records at least show
his return trip after the Great War’s conclusion. As his passport application
indicated, his intended departure would be aboard the SS City of Cairo, a British passenger steamer remembered much later for its
ill-fated journey in the midst of a subsequent World War with U-boat commander Karl-Friedrich Merten’s odd but legendary dismissal, “Goodnight, and sorry for sinking you.”
I take it the voyage bearing Mr. Crago to his destination in
was less eventful.
We are fortunate, nowadays, to have online accessibility to
these many archived records. From the copy of Will Crago’s passport application, we can glean hints about his appearance: Stature, 5 feet, 8¾ inches;
Hair, light brown; Eyes, blue; Nose, medium; Mouth, medium; Chin, regular;
On second thought, perhaps there isn’t much to glean from
We even have a copy of his signature, which will come in
handy when we puzzle over an anomaly that popped up during his absence from his
hometown address of 1205 East
Second Street, Duluth, Minnesota.
Even better, we have a copy of his passport photo. Forget
those enigmatic government passport descriptions! Just take a look at that
But what about this three year journey? It occurred in the
midst of traveling dangers, to be sure. Most all of Europe
was now embroiled in the Great War. The United States had now entered the
fray. Even remote locations in places like Africa
were not immune from being seen in a war-tinged shade of light. Perhaps the
main reason Will Crago remained away from home, from his family, and from his
adopted country was because there was no safe way to return.
And so, mining engineer William H. Crago remained at the
vicinity of the copper mines in the Katanga
region of the Belgian Congo until 1921.
However, in the meantime, the United States had been drafting its
citizens to participate in this Great War. At first, the requirements for registration
were for young men between the ages of twenty one and thirty one. At that date,
June 5, 1917, Will Crago was beyond that range, being nearly thirty eight,
However, when the requirements were expanded to include all
men between the ages of twenty one and forty five in 1918, that change had an
impact on Will.
There was only one problem: his status at the time was that
he was already out of the country. How was he to register?
Curious as to how Will—or the company sending him overseas—would
handle this dilemma, I took a look online to see if I could discover any World
War I registration card for him.
With that same governmental precision as was demonstrated on his
passport, this document identified Will as having medium height and medium
build, with blue eyes and light brown hair. It showed him to be a naturalized
citizen, with his father, John, still living in Michigan.
It even showed him to be working for the right company, the Oliver Iron Company,
in the same county as his Duluth residence, Saint Louis County, Minnesota.
The only problem: the date of birth was incorrect. It showed
his birth occurring on March 27, 1874.
Oh. And that other problem: William H. Crago wasn’t even in
the country to sign this document. At the time, he was in Elisabethville in the
Belgian Congo, a matter of a mere eight
thousand miles away.
Photograph, above left: William Henry Crago, from his United States Passport application dated November 24, 1917; above signature from the same 1917 document; compare with the second signature at bottom right, purportedly from his World War I registration card, perhaps completed in proxy on his behalf.
It seems a little out of the norm for protocol regarding
routine passport applications to include both a cover letter and further letter
of explanation. What was behind the letters and additional references for
William H. Crago’s passport request?
For one thing, the application itself reminds us of his
foreign-born status. Will Crago was born, not in the United
States, but in New Harrington, Durham County, England.
A while after the date of his birth—“on
or about the 3rd day of December, 1879”—Will’s father, John Crago, herded
the family aboard the “fastest liner on the Atlantic” and headed for America.
They traveled on the ss City of Berlin from Liverpool some time in April, 1881,
settling shortly thereafter in Iron
The family eventually attended to the legalities of the naturalization process before
the Circuit Court
of Dickinson County, at Iron Mountain, Michigan,
becoming citizens on April 6, 1892.
On the passport application, Will Crago declared his
permanent residence to be Duluth,
Minnesota. He reported himself to
be a mining engineer, and listed his intended destinations to be the Union of
South Africa, en route to “Congo Belge Africa.” The accompanying letter from
his potential employer, as we saw yesterday, explained that his services were needed
to consult on the use of specific American-made equipment for an international
company engaged in “supplying copper to Ministry of Munitions of the British
I don’t know how tedious the governmental bureaucratic red
tape was during the year of 1917, but Will’s application, filed November 24, indicated
his intent to depart New York
by the “latter part of December, 1917,” about a month away. Perhaps that
explains the inclusion of the officious documentation by the intermediaries for
the Union Miniere du Haut Katanga.
There is, of course, more to the explanation than that.
Taking a look at the date—as well as the broad clue dropped by the mining
company regarding the “Ministry of Munitions”—reminds us of the bigger picture
of world events at the time. Though seemingly disorganized in its readiness to
do so, the United States
had finally declared its intention to enter the foray of the Great War barely
seven months earlier, on April 6, 1917. William Crago’s presence at the remote
site of these copper mines essentially assisted the war effort through the British
government’s contract with this mining organization. It was in someone’s
interest to see that the State Department of the United States understood how to cut
through any potential red tape in the process.
Photograph: The ss City of Berlin, circa 1898; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Having already found mentions in old documents regarding
William H. Crago’s professional forays into remote locations of Africa and
Asia, I wasn’t surprised, a day or so ago, to run across an announcement, in a
professional journal, of his pending journey to Manchuria. The Google search
pulled up the lead to the report, naming Will Crago and a number of his
colleagues, as they prepared to head west from their office to their next step
in the journey—a Pacific coast port.
Unfortunately, I didn’t save the link. Silly me. Google didn’t
recapture that citation the next time I searched.
All is not lost, however, when there is access to
collections like those at Ancestry.com. (And no, I didn’t get paid—nor swayed—to
say that; I just use a number of services to achieve my research goals.) I
managed to find a number of travel references linked to this William H. Crago.
I was pleased, however, to uncover this urgent petition in
the form of a letter attached to Will Crago’s passport application preceding
his trip to Africa. While it does seem to
employ an unusually pleading tone, the letter provides some useful background
information on the reason for Will’s participation in this particular venture
in what was then the Belgian Congo.
Honorable Secretary of
United States of America,
Washington, D. C.
This is to certify that Union
Miniere du Haut Katanga, desires to send Mr. W. H. Crago, an American citizen
of Duluth, Minnesota, to its mines in the Katanga province of the Congo Belge,
Africa, as mining engineer in charge of the Special Exploration Work being done
by the Company with diamond drills furnished by the Sullivan Machinery Company,
an American firm, in Chicago, Illinois.
The Union Miniere du Haut Katanga is
an Anglo-Belgian Mining & Smelting Company, at present supplying copper to
Ministry of Munitions of the British Government. The services of an American
mining engineer familiar with the Sullivan equipment is necessary to the
Company in order to maintain and to increase its production.
The address of the Union Miniere du
Haut Katanga is Room 1227 –
42 Broadway, New York City
and Friars House, New Broad Street, London,
the African address is, Elisabethville, Katanga, Congo
Belge, via Cape Town.
Robert M. Johnson
Supt. Of Mines
Miniere du Haut Katanga
References: Bucyrus Company, South Milwaukee, Wis.
What does one say to a Kiwanis Club which has extended an
invitation to address their luncheon meeting? Apparently, if one is a
world-traveled mining engineer speaking to a local group of businessmen at the base of Pike’s Peak, enough to warrant a
lengthy newspaper article recapping the entire presentation.
Will Crago seems to have just the right touch at bringing
his narrative alive for the folks back home, according to a report in the Colorado Springs Gazette on December 22,
1921. Armed with just enough of that generation’s version of Power Point bells
and whistles, he cavalierly tosses those colored maps to the side except for
the occasional reference. After all, he wasn’t here for a live version of a
documentary. His purpose was—and here he evidently succeeded—to give “an
unusually interesting talk.”
He peppered the discussion of his topic with references targeted to connect the
foreign with the familiar:
Mr. Crago told of his
African experiences while with a copper mining company in the Belgian Congo,
stressing the fact that the equatorial forests of that region comprised today
“the darkest Africa” referred to in so many
novels and historical books.
While piquing the interest of would-be big game hunters
among his listeners—mentioning, for instance, that licensing fees meant hunting
elephants for ivory “didn’t pay”—Mr. Crago could also insert a twist of dry
humor into his observations of hunting. For those not interested in hunting
those elephants, he
remarked on the
prevalence of “small game,” meaning everything from tste flies, which produce
sleeping sickness, to jigger fleas and other crawling and flying insects.
And, of course, there was the obligatory comment on the red
All creatures flee
before the red ant…[I] had seen them with a mile and a half front. There is no
stopping them and human beings and animals leave when they advance.
I can just imagine him delivering this line with a wry
White men have not
been able to live in the equatorial forests…but if they discover gold or copper
there, they probably will be able to live in the thickest jungles.
So what is this white man’s take on the totality of his
observations in the heart of “darkest Africa”?
“There is lots of
whisky in Africa and very few barber shops.”
Photograph: Map of Belgian Congo by cartographer Leon de Moor, published by J.Lebègue and Company, Brussels, Belgium, in 1896. Notice the inset, bottom right, of Katanga. Courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
While William H. Crago is conspicuously missing from the Colorado Springs
household for the 1920 census, he is not the “absent father” that might be
conjured up by today’s mindset. The family, sporting a live-in maid, was
obviously not hurting too badly at the time—at least as far as material
considerations might lead one to believe.
That benefit was most likely owing to the reputation the man
had built up over the years owing to his professional accomplishments. A Google
Books find from the March 19, 1921, edition of the Engineering and Mining Journal includes a short explanation under
the appropriate column title, “Men You Should Know About.”
W. H. Crago, in charge
of mining engineering and exploration for the Union Minière du Haut Katanga, is visiting in Duluth, Minn., after an absence of three years in the
Belgian Congo, Africa. Mr. Crago was formerly
assistant to John Uno Sebenius, general mining engineer for the Oliver Iron
I’m unsure of what drew William Crago back to Duluth in 1921—business obligations, perhaps?—because his
family, at that time, resided not there, but in Colorado Springs.
By September of that year, he does find time to squeeze in a
visit with his wife and children, as we can surmise from a mention in the Colorado Springs Gazette on the
One of the most
distinguished engineers in the United
States is here for a brief visit. He is
William H. Crago who has just returned from an extensive trip thru the coal
fields of northern Manchuria in the interests
of the Manchurian railroad system. With Mrs. Crago, he is staying at 509 North Tejon street.
Strangely enough, that 509 North Tejon Street address is not the
one given for the family in the 1920 census. Perhaps they have moved.
Hopefully, they have already settled in at their new location, for this visit,
the newspaper assures us, will be brief. With duties completed both in the iron
and copper mines of the then-Belgian Congo
and the coal fields of northern Manchuria, who
knows what adventure will come calling next. The man is evidently in demand.
But, no, it appears: by December 21 of that same year, the Colorado Springs Gazette announces that
Mr. Will Crago—Just Back From Belgian Congo—will be speaking the next day at
the Kiwanis luncheon meeting. His topic: his time spent in the Belgian Congo.
Will Crago, engineer,
who has recently returned from two years in the Belgian Congo, with the British
East Africa company, and now engaged in equally interesting work in Manchuria,
will be the principal speaker at the regular meeting of the Kiwanis club at
12:30 o’clock today at the Elks home. Mr. Crago will speak on “My African
So that “brief” stay in the Springs that began in September
was either interrupted by other whirlwind professional tours of duty, including
that three—no, make that two—years' effort in Africa,
or William H. Crago actually got a breather to stay home with his family for a