Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Taking an Inventory of
Some Cold, Hard Facts

In reconstructing the file of my supposed Flanagan descendant—Johanna, wife of John Lee of Chicago—I need to start with what I know. That means show and tell time for Exhibit A of the genealogist’s tool box: federal census records.

While I know that Johanna was born a Flanagan in Ireland—most likely somewhere in or near Parish Ballyagran in County Limerick, the declared home of her uncle William Flanagan—I cannot find her anywhere before the 1880 census.

By that time, thirty one year old Johanna was married to John Lee, and was the mother of three sons: William, George and John. The youngest, John, happened to be just a baby then, and the 1880 census allowed for such infants’ birth months to be documented in the column following their age. However, what looks like an entry that reads “June” does not compute with the fractional age given by the enumerator: 7/12. Counting backwards from the date the census record was taken, June 3, would yield a birth month preceding November 3, 1879—much closer, as we’ll find, to young John’s actual date of birth on October 24, 1879.

By the time of the next census—and we pause here to again mourn the loss of the 1890 record—there were changes in the Lee household. While in 1880, the family lived in a house on Fourteenth Street in Chicago, by the time of the 1900 census, they now lived in South Town district on Lowe Avenue.

Greater than that change is the situation Johanna found herself in: now fifty one years of age, she was a widow, head of a household comprised of four sons and three daughters. The oldest, William, was now twenty four. Joining the family after then-baby John was now-eighteen year old Lillie, seventeen year old Edward, fourteen year old Deborah, and twelve year old Mary.

I learned from this census that Johanna had been the mother of ten children in all, of which only these seven now remained. The census gave the year of immigration for Johanna as 1868. Though she was listed as unemployed in the census, all but her two youngest daughters—still in school—and her son John were engaged in occupational endeavors for most of the previous year. Perhaps that was how the family was able to keep up on the mortgage for their home.

What had become of Johanna’s husband, I have yet to discover. Searching for someone with a name like John Lee in Chicago can be a tricky feat. All I can figure at this point is that his date of death—if, indeed, that is what actually befell the man before this census was taken—could be no sooner than mid-summer of 1887. And no, it isn’t as easy as inquiring at the cemetery in which Johanna was buried—that family plot actually belonged to her uncle William Flanagan, and included no record of anyone else by the surname Lee.

This was the last census record in which Johanna appeared. As we saw yesterday, Johanna herself passed away on June 11, 1909—too soon to gain any record-keeping perks from the otherwise thoroughly modern Cook County bureaucrats. Thanks to City of Chicago birth records for John and Johanna Lee's children, though, we are able to glean confirmation of Johanna’s maiden name, which we will review tomorrow.


  1. Looking at the enumerator's handwriting, I'm wondering if you have searched for John Lee as John SEE or any other totally unrelated name. My husband's grandmother was a See, and I have found her family indexed as Lee from time to time.

    1. You're right, Wendy, I have seen this family sometimes indexed as See. How frustrating for you to have to look for Lees when you want to see Sees!

      Speaking of Sees, your husband wouldn't have any connection to the Sees of See's Chocolates, would he? That would be a chocoholic genealogist's dream come true...

  2. "we pause here to again mourn the loss of the 1890 record"

    I definitely paused too, to mourn. This missing census is a frustrating gap to many.

    1. The only thing that has begun to make it more bearable is the increased general access to city directories from that time period--a more likely hit if, of course, the person you are seeking happens to be an employed male.

  3. Didn't some of the States do a Census in 1895? Minnesota did.

    1. Good point, Far Side. Yes, those states that conducted their own census in 1895 would help bridge that research gap. Depending on which style of information-gathering the state chose to employ, your state's mid-decade census will be helpful--or not so helpful.

      For instance, New York State chose to list everyone in each household by name. Some other states, however, chose a format reminiscent of the pre-1850 federal census format: listing only heads of household by name, and the rest by age-segregated count only.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...