Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Trail From Michigan to Colorado

John and Mary Flannigan and their family of daughters seem to have left their last trace in Michigan on the paper trail that reflects their move to Colorado.

The first hint I had that a Flannigan brother had moved to Colorado was when I found that newspaper clipping regarding the will of Father Patrick M. Flannigan, pastor of Saint Anne’s Catholic Church in Chicago. There in the article, it mentioned his brother John, living in Leadville. The story was published in 1907.

Finding any proof of that residence in actual records has been difficult. Because the Flannigans were documented in Michigan for the 1880 census, the next census record doesn’t yield us any information until the turn of the century. Unfortunately, taking a look at their possible 1900 census entry for Colorado leaves me with more questions than it answered.

Thankfully, the news article left a specific city name to research in Colorado—Leadville—helping to narrow those parameters. 

And thankfully, happens to provide annual city directories for Leadville from the point of the early 1880s through the first decade of the new century.

This is where the tedium starts. With that blessed penchant for liberality in spelling back in those roarin’ days of silver and gold mining in the Leadville vicinity, I’ve had to have the patience of a saint in matching up several possibilities of surname spelling with that bland given name, John.

I bit the bullet and took an afternoon to slog through that stack of directories. And the result is: nothing conclusive.

Ah, I thought you might have chosen not to hold your breath. A wise choice.

Since John and Mary had Grace, their youngest daughter, in Michigan in 1882, I thought I’d leave them a little space for raising their toddler and getting their household packed and shipped across the plains. So I commenced my Colorado search with the 1884 directory for the City of Leadville.

Results were not promising. While there was an entry for a Mrs. Mary L. Flannagan, residing at 826 East Eighth Street—advertising “laundry”—there was no mention of John. I thought this might not be the likely choice, though amazingly the directory approximated—by that double “n”—our target family’s preferred way of spelling their surname.

And so, I slogged on.

By 1887, there was a likely candidate. A John “Flanigan” was listed at 608 East Seventh Street. More promising was the fact that the directory noted that he was an engineer. Mrs. Mary was there in the directory again, though this time she had slipped over a block to East Ninth, and someone named Thomas was living with her. Not likely our Mary.

The 1888 directory toyed with my mind. There, right away, I spied a “J. Flanagan,” listed as an engineer for “Midland Ry.” Double checking the list on that page for possible other creative spellings, I also noticed a John Flanigan—also an engineer. Double checking the address, the second one was our man from the 1887 directory. Check.

In 1889, the directory shows our man is holding steady: same address, same occupation, same wrong spelling. Mrs. Mary L. Flanigan, whoever she is, shows at that other address. I am not thinking she is ours at this point.

The year 1890 throws me a curve: no John. Not as Flanigan. Not as Flanagan. And most certainly not as Flannigan. Mrs. Mary, whoever she is, has moved to a different address.

John is back, thankfully, by 1891. See, I know the end of the story—well, at least through 1907—and he is supposed to be in Leadville (unless, of course, he hasn’t kept in touch with this brother in Chicago who is about to bequeath him that thousand dollars). But there is a wrinkle in this picture-perfect paper trail: John is at a different address. But he is still listed as an engineer, so I remain content with my findings.

Another address shows up for John the engineer in 1892. And in 1894 (the 1893 directory is not included in the Ancestry set). And in 1895: no John.

By the next directory, at a different address, there is a John Flanagan. With a James Flanagan. And Mrs. Mary. Somehow I think this is not my crowd.

Though the trail for John grows cold in the 1898 directory, there is an unexpected entry that keeps me pursuing: at the residence at 34 South Spruce, a listing for a Miss Nellie Flanigan. That is John’s daughter.

The trail wends farther away by 1899: no John. No Nellie.

Though, surprise again: the 1900 directory shows an entry for Miss Grace Flanigan on 218 West Third Street—John and Mary’s youngest daughter. And indeed, that is where she shows up in the 1900 census, in the household of her newlywed sister Nellie, Mrs. Walter McKay.

The trail has become too precipitous for me, so I ditch the directory search. I skip ahead to my goal, the year 1907, to see what I can find. There, tantalizingly, is an entry for John J. Flanagan at 1111 Poplar, with the notation, “wks at Vienna Steam Laundry.” There with him at the laundry is Mrs. Mary Flanagan.

Could it be?

Above left: engraving of Chestnut Street in Leadville, Colorado, circa 1880, shortly before the Flannigans arrived in town; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. Now that was a nail-biter!

    I wonder if he made the steam at the laundry after retiring from the railroad (or whatever he was "off" doing).

    Being a "railroad buff", I looked to see what the Midland Ry was and where it went. The Colorado Midland Railway started in Colorado Springs, went to Leadville and then points west. It went through a long tunnel at the continental divide (the Hagerman Tunnel named after the owner of the railroad) and after bankrupcy in 1891, it went through the Busk-Ivanhoe Tunnel, 9,394 feet in lenght.

    Perhaps John helped them dig these tunnels with his "mining roots"?

    1. Glad you mentioned the railway link between Leadville and Colorado Springs. This could have connect-the-dots potential. J. J. Hagerman was not only a businessman in the Springs, but before that he had been instrumental in setting up the mines in and around Norway, Michigan, according to the city's historical page on their website. There is no connection that I can find, so far, but I imagine he must have been a persuasive businessman, judging from his bio.

    I found John living with his son Thomas in Denver in 1903. Nope they are not the Flannigans doing the laundry. I know because all the descendants of John HATE doing laundry...but seriously I had a lot of trouble finding John too. This is the only directory I am sure of because John's son was Thomas C. and there they are at the same address! YAY!


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