Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Importance of Telling the Story

It’s time to take another process break—to see where we’ve been and where that leaves us. We just completed telling the story behind finding a slip of newsprint that reported the reading of a deceased priest’s will. The priest’s name was Flannigan—not Flanagan as my husband’s family would have spelled the name. Since this is a blog of stories related to my family’s history, why tell the story of an unrelated surname? And of a man who obviously wouldn’t even have had descendants?

I do have some reasons. First, there was the hope of discovering a link between that family and ours. Spelling seemed to be such a fluid commodity in previous centuries—the 1800s being no exception—and there was always that hope that this was a matter of such negligence.

There was a further reason related to this case of possible misspelling: the tendency of Irish families—well, at least this one—to remain clustered as they immigrated. Our Flanagan family overcame the odds of a separation as far as East is from West: William Flanagan evidently was sent, against his will, from his homeland in County Limerick in Ireland to a penal colony in Australia; his sister Anna pursued, unsuccessfully, a missing husband across the Atlantic to Boston in the United States. Somehow, Anna found her way from Boston harbor to Chicago, and her brother William managed to return from Australia not to Ireland but to Anna’s new home base in Chicago.

What brought them both to Chicago?

What brought them to the specific parish of another Flannigan?

Why did Anna’s daughter keep that newspaper clipping of Father Flannigan’s passing? Was it just sentimentality over a beloved church leader? Or did that clipping have additional meaning to her?

Why did Anna’s daughter pass that clipping along to her daughter—Anna’s granddaughter, Agnes Tully Stevens? Why did that granddaughter keep that clipping until the time of her own death nearly eighty years after Father P. M. Flannigan’s passing?

None of these people were named in Patrick Flannigan’s will. Pursuing the family records revealed no immediate relationship between Patrick and William or Anna. If there were to be any connection found, it would most likely be between William and Anna and Patrick’s father, James Flannigan, who would have been born at about the same time as they. And at this point, that research would have to be pursued through Irish records, not American. Perhaps that day will come, but not in the immediate future. The issue will have to remain unsettled for the current time.

So why tell the story?

Because every person has a story that needs to be told—that needs to be remembered. Further, while all of us who have children will someday have someone who can remember us, those who have chosen to serve in different venues than in their own family have no immediate parties to share their legacy. If anyone is to remember them, it is those whom they have benefited—the parish or the overarching church organization. And yet, in the pressing swirl of needs served through those organizations’ current mission, those past stories sometimes drift, untold, to the sidelines. Those of us rushing on the path of today’s timeline will pass those stories by—unless we take the time to set today’s duties aside to pursue the gold in these bypassed lines.

So I intend, whenever I find these wisps of stories—even when they seem, for my own research purposes to be dead ends—to take up the thread and see where it leads. It may, at some iteration in the past, weave back into my tapestry. Or it may not. But in the meantime, I’m enriched by the depth of knowing someone’s conviction, seeing the hardships endured and the perseverance displayed. Seeing such character qualities in action can hardly detract from my goal of examining the human nature—and the stories that nature produces—involved in the development of who my ancestors became. And understanding, eventually, how that has shaped me and those with me in my family’s current generation.


  1. What a wonderful journey this has been. I cannot thank you enough for delving into this information about Patrick Flannigan. I have learned so much about my ancestors along the way. As you know, I was adamant that there were no other living descendants of James Flannigan besides my family...but with your help I found distant cousins and made a wonderful connection. I so appreciate your effort in this sometimes tedious research. You have been a true inspiration and have given me such valuable information for my own "family tapestry." As our families crossed in the past, so we do today with our new friendship Jackie! And all that infomation stemmed fom the little frayed and torn newspaper clipping and your diligent research. This entire section on Patrick became a priceless treasure for me and my family!

    1. I am so honored to be a small part of your research on your family history! It has been such a delight to work together on this. Thank you so much for sharing your family's photographs so I could use them on this series. And thanks so much for keeping me posted as your research progressed and as you were able to contact your new-found relatives. This is the best part of genealogy research, in my estimation, and I'm glad, on your behalf, for all that transpired during the time of this series.

      And I'm awed to think that this all came about because one woman decided not to declutter, but kept some treasures of remembrance for all those years. The news clipping that Agnes Tully Stevens kept, regarding Father Flannigan, has not yet been posted on any online newspaper archives services. And yet it was the one piece--the only piece--of data that allowed us to connect him with the story of the rest of his family.

  2. This has been a fascinating story Jacqi. Nicely put about telling a story that needs to be told. Personal history is still history. Passing this down adds to the understanding of what others in those areas may have experienced at the same time.

    1. Thanks so much, Patrick, for your note. Telling these stories is indeed one of my it must be for you, too, judging by many of the posts I've read in your own blog!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...