Sunday, August 31, 2014

Being “More Irish Than the Irish”

As I pursue the history of the counties of Ireland from which our family’s ancestors originated, I become more and more plagued with a question: just who were those original Irish, anyhow?

I’ve wanted to prepare myself, as best I can, for our genealogical research trip to Ireland in October, and have systematically been reviewing what can be found on the history of the Irish counties of Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Mayo. In addition, I’ve been researching the historic roots of the surnames of particular interest to our family: Falvey, Flannery, Flanagan, Kelly, Molloy, Stevens and Tully.

While I haven’t gotten far into this process, it has resulted in a few observations. One, of course, is that every name in Irish history—no matter how obscure to this innocent bystander—seems to be prefaced by the adjective, “famous.” If not, the term substituting for that would be, “infamous.” “Legendary,” “noble,” and “chief” feature prominently on that list as well.

A closely related observation is that the Irish history seems to have been full of turmoil. If you, as a non-Irish reader, had assumed the main stage in this conflict would have been between the native Irish and their English aggressors, think again. That was only part of the story.

And yet, who were those original Irish? It becomes harder and harder for me to determine. (I’m certainly not willing to pursue an advanced degree in the subject, so perhaps when my anthropology-studying college student achieves her ultimate goal, she can enlighten me on the murky pre-dawn-of-history origins of the “Irish race.”) As I push back through the centuries of war, bloodshed, political intrigue and double-crossing, I keep striking the perpetrators off my list. No, not the British. Not the Normans: they were the very ones for which that phrase, "More Irish than the Irish," was once coined. Besides, they came after the Danes, who came after those other Norse invaders. With a sequence like this, I begin to wonder, “And who came before them?”

Since I have a solid address for our pre-1850 Molloy and Flanagan families in the southeastern portion of County Limerick, I took a look at the history of both the county and city of Limerick. Just as castles elsewhere on the island revealed the turmoil inherent in regional history in other parts of Ireland, the strongholds of Limerick told the same story, taking me from the Uí Fidgenti of the fourth century through traces of the last vestiges of one sept around the barony of Upper Connello—the very location in which the deserted Ann Flanagan Molloy had been addressed by the letter from her suddenly-emigrating husband.

The Uí Fidgenti were undoubtedly not the first in the region that we now know as County Limerick. Likewise, they were not the last to arrive there as invaders. Various factions of Vikings whose struggles besieged the area gradually gave way to invading Normans. With the point often being made that the Normans so adopted Irish customs as to be known as “more Irish than the Irish,” I begin wondering to which, of all these foreigners encroaching upon the Irish island, my husband owes his “Irish” heritage. After all this history, was he even Irish, at all?

A little detour into the world of genetic genealogy added one detail to bolster that speculation: my husband’s Y-DNA test returned, offering the possibility that his roots included some Viking origins. Does a Viking ancestor claiming turf upon the shores of Ireland make one Irish? Or Norse? Or do we simply succumb to the obvious result of having been awash in centuries of the history of foreign conquest, and claim for his ethnic heritage, American?

Above, right: Historical map of the island of Ireland in 1450, designating the areas held by native Irish versus Anglo-Irish lords or the English king; map released into the public domain by its creator, Wesley Johnston; courtesy Wikipedia.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Yeah, Yeah, Another “Great Chief”

Could it be that the Irish all descend from Niall of the Nine Hostages just as everyone is supposed to be descended from Adam?

In researching the history of the surname Molloy—and all the requisite spelling variations I must keep in mind as well—it doesn’t appear there are many helpful clues emerging. The original Irish name was evidently Ó Maolmhuaidh, and the breakdown goes as follows:
            Maolmhuadh: Proud Chieftain or Great Chief
            Maol: Chieftain
            Muadh: Noble, grand, or big.

Of course, that is the explanation for just one of “a number of distinct Irish names” which eventually were anglicized to become Molloy. Or Malloy. Or…well, you get the idea.

The surname’s purported history makes for a great story. Coming from the southern branch of the large Uí Neill, claiming descent from—yes, you guessed it—Niall of the Nine Hostages, the family was part of a powerful group prominent up through the English “administration” of Ireland. Reviewing the map of medieval Ireland, it’s easy to see the family’s stomping ground would be around County Offaly.

On the other hand, the surname Molloy could have come from a second family, known as Ó Maoil Aodha—“descendant of the devotee of Aodh.” These people claimed the area around County Roscommon and the eastern portion of County Galway. Aodh was apparently known as a saint, and the “maol” root of the name may have referred to the tonsure of the early Irish monks. At any rate, if you are not familiar with what a tonsure is, a clue might be the meaning that has been handed down through the ages: bald.

I assure you, from what I know of current members of this branch of the family, “bald” was not a feature shared with the holders of this surname’s origin.

Then again, perhaps our Molloys came from a third group. Originally called Ó Maolmhaodhóg (try saying that one fast, three times), the name meant “descendant of the devotee of Maodhóg.” Yes, another saint. However, I noticed that name had also been anglicized as Mulvogue—a far cry from Molloy—and traces its roots to the region around Ulster.

With these various regions and counties of Ireland, I became concerned about locating just which county, specifically, from which our Stephen Molloy might have originated. After all, he wasn’t showing up in the County Limerick townland where he had sent that last-minute letter to his wife. It was not helpful to notice the list, in the “Irish Ancestors” section of The Irish Times, indicating each of the counties in which the surname—and its many variants—had appeared. Bottom line: there were no Molloys listed from County Limerick. Nor—just in case he had decided to jump the county line—in County Cork. The closest possibility for a Molloy at the time of the Griffith’s Valuation—just about the time Stephen Molloy fled the country—was in County Tipperary or County Waterford.

Just as Stephen Molloy found it compelling to flee his homeland in 1849 for a city an ocean journey’s distance, he may have, in like manner, arrived a few years earlier in whatever town the family of Ann Flanagan claimed. And, having gained her hand in marriage, once again moved on.

Not very noble of him, despite the surname he carried. Of course, there might have been another side to his story, but it’s one we’ll likely never learn.

Above: James Brenan, "On the Way to Market," oil on canvas; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Bogged Down

“Here,” my friend Sylvia announced, tossing a copy of a slim tour guide on the table where we were meeting for coffee. “You’re going to Ireland; you can use this.” She had found the book at a second-hand store and thought immediately of me. After all, it’s no secret I’ve been preparing for this research trip to Ireland for months.

The book was the 1995 version of the Alfred A. Knopf  travel guide, Ireland. Crammed full of more detail than you’d ever want to know about the country, as a used book, it was understandably outdated. But hey, Ireland’s been around a long time. Things couldn’t have changed that much. At least, not the old things.

The book was so full of details, in fact, that the print was hard for me to read without a stronger pair of glasses. I resolved to read it later, tucking it away amidst profuse expressions of gratitude.

And promptly forgot about it.

While my current course of preparation calls for my review of surname histories and meanings, along with delving into the history and details of each county in Ireland we’ll be visiting, my method inevitably had to hit a snag.

That snag came the other evening, when I was ambushed by this overwhelming sense of exhaustion. That inexplicable feeling didn’t go away with a fresh morning’s arrival. I was doomed to lose a day: sick. When my characteristic nervous energy collided with a rather dysfunctional malaise and I found myself doing uncharacteristic, mindless tasks like dusting individual slats of the venetian blinds, I knew it was time to surrender. I grabbed a few books and hit the sack.

In a fevered stupor, I flipped through the pages of the Ireland volume Sylvia had given me. Now, you have to understand, this is not your usual type of travel book. It is a small volume, yes, but it is crammed with everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-Ireland, and then some.

So, before I got to the cities—or even the requisite castles—I found myself flipping through pages on the flora and fauna of the countryside, the bountiful fish in the rivers and lakes, the prehistoric stage-setting of the ice age. This book really knew how to take you through it all, starting on the ground floor. Yep, the dirt.

I was reading about the dirt of Ireland.

It was the bogs the book was talking about: how the peat came to be, how it was ever changing, based on the wet-and-wetter climate shifts. The book delved into the details of the bogs, their preservative powers, their characteristics, their uses. Cutting the peat. Stacking the peat. Burning the peat. Even using the peat as a break for flood waters coming down those lush, picturesque hills.

Out of my stupor, I suddenly realized: wait! This sounds familiar!

You see, five thousand miles away from Ireland, we have peat, too. Lots of it. Just to the west of us, in northern California, we have a whole river system carved out of peat: the San Joaquin Delta region. It’s been cut and stacked for levees to protect from flooding. It’s been farmed. It’s even burned—a phenomenon described to me upon my arrival in California as a student, years ago. I've seen it, myself. Yes, this dirt can burn.

While it’s unlikely I’ll be touring any peat bogs in Ireland next month, I suddenly feel an affinity for this place so far from home. I can relate.

And when my Irish-archaeology-pursuing daughter, the college student away in Ireland, starts chattering about the latest discovery of ancient remains unearthed from the peat, it won’t feel quite so foreign any more.

While I’ll soon be up to getting back to my research—and my latest sequence of examining the local history of those Irish counties—after this feverish interlude, I won’t be looking at it with the same eyes. Somehow, that far away Ireland won’t be examined so much for what is different about it, but for what they and I hold in common.

There might be a lot more of that than I had supposed.

 Above: Line drawing of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta from "Chart of the Sacramento River from Suisun City to the American River by Cadwalader Ringgold, 1850," originally captioned, "Mark for entering the second section of the Middle Fork of the Sacramento River;" courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Of Kings, Crooks and Commoners

Why is it that the history of the origin of any given surname seems to begin with an illustrious warrior or powerful king? Apparently, Flanagan—one of the surnames in my husband’s genealogy—had such a glorious genesis. Said to originally be “Ó Flannagáin,” the name meant male “descendant of the ruddy one.” The name—originally a popular given name—was taken from the old Irish root, “Flann,” signifying red or ruddy. Of course, experts cannot decide whether that “Flann” referred to red hair or a ruddy complexion. Let me assure you, no one in my husband’s family has either the hair or the skin tone to match those descriptions.

There are some glorious legends claiming that the head of the Flanagan clan—or sept, as it is sometimes labeled—was “of the same stock as the royal Connors” line. On the other hand, some sources state that there may have been three separate, unrelated, clans by that same name in Ireland. Considering that the Flanagan septs were said to be located in counties Roscommon, Fermanagh, Monaghan and Offaly, it is easy to see the name would be widespread across Ireland.

No, wait: did that range include counties Waterford and Westmeath? Wait! Forget Monaghan?

Will somebody please make up his mind?!

Even better, according to some, those Flanagan forebears in Fermanagh claimed descent from the famed—and prolificNiall of the Nine Hostages. Perhaps that is why that Flanagan name is so widely distributed.

By the time the Flanagan surname arrived to contribute to the gene pool from which my husband sprang, there seemed to be nothing illustrious about it: our Flanagans were commoners—with possibly a criminal thrown in for good measure (note the William Flanagan tried in County Cork on the fourth listing in this database; no guarantee that he was ours; just a family tradition). And they shared that plain destiny with many others; Flanagan had become the sixty-ninth most frequent surname in Ireland, and quite widespread in the other nations to which the famine-stricken Irish had fled.

For those of us wishing to retrace the steps of our Flanagan forebears, that widespread territory claimed by those original septs makes the search just a tad bit more challenging.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Having Fought and Conquered

Not far from our Kelly and Falvey ancestral connections in County Kerry lived two additional great-great grandparents in my husband’s family: Ann Flanagan Malloy and Stephen Malloy—he of the mysterious letter and unannounced flight from his homeland in 1849.

Having saved a copy of a copy of that old family treasure, I was feeling pretty smug about my abilities to pinpoint Stephen Malloy in the Griffith’s Valuation. After all, the address on the letter’s envelope brings me virtually to their hundred sixty five year old doorstep. How hard could this be?

Having worked hard, visit after visit with Uncle Ed, the family’s keeper of the ancestral details, I felt pretty good about all the material I had compiled, and I was certain this preparation would pay off handsomely, once we land in Ireland in a month.

Once I actually sat down to find any proof of that location in Griffith’s Valuation, however, I felt as if the motto of the ancient Flanagan sept had turned to mock me. Certavi et vici—“I have fought and conquered”—might have been how I felt going into this round of research, but it certainly wasn’t the way I saw myself afterwards.

Researching Flanagan as a surname in the United States had been a challenge. As I worked my way backwards in time from the family’s location in twentieth century Chicago, I had to be careful to include all possible spelling variations of the name. Not only did I research Flanagan, but I included Flanigan and Flanegan—as well as the same permutations tacked onto a version of the name including two n’s: Flannigan and Flannagan. Put that together with such typical—and, unfortunately, common—Irish given names as William and Edward, and it did, indeed, take on the sense of a struggle.

I had managed to work my way backward to two tenuous connections with the Old Country: the family’s oral tradition that, before his arrival in Chicago around 1860, William Flanagan had been sent, on account of a petty crime, to Australia; and the family story of his sister Ann’s desperate journey to Boston, seeking her missing husband, Stephen Malloy. As doubtful as I’ve learned to be about family traditions, I felt I had conquered that doubt, with letter in hand, once I gleaned the address where it had been sent in County Limerick.

An additional hint on William’s own headstone had clinched it: stating he was from Parish “Ballygran” in County Limerick, the details dovetailed nicely with the letter’s address.

But when I tried locating any proof of that residency in the Griffith’s Valuation, I was defeated. First, there was no “Parish Ballygran”—nor any such parish with the correct spelling, Ballyagran. That is the name of a Catholic parish, not a civil parish.

Scrambling to a forum populated by people understanding the specifics of how the Irish historically addressed their letters, I learned that the Catholic parish likely spanned the county border, and also took in more than one civil parish. Thankfully, on the website I had been using to search the property survey, there was a way to search by place name. Using that option, I found confirmation that the civil parish was called Corcomohide, and that Ballyagran was considered a village within the borders of that civil parish.

The best part of utilizing that search option was that the next step offered to show the complete listing for the village of Ballyagran.

The bad news was that there was neither Flanagan nor Malloy in the listings—no matter how the surnames were spelled.

Where were they? A person couldn’t have gotten more close to pinpointed detail on their residence than that letter from Stephen to Anna. While I noticed a few entries listed as “vacant,” I hardly could take comfort in finding those. There were no other details to go by in those “vacant” listings. But that did bring up a point.

The property survey known as Griffith’s Valuation generally comes with a set of dates: 1847-1864. Seeing those dates may put a researcher in mind of serial processes, such as the United States census, repeated every ten years. Thus, just like there is an 1870 census and then an 1880 census, one might reason that the Irish property survey was repeated periodically as well.

That is not exactly the case. Apparently, Sir Richard Griffith was appointed Commissioner of Valuation by the British in 1827, but did not begin his duties in Ireland until the requisite maps specified by legislation for his task were made available in 1830. Then, in the process of completing two separate valuation surveys, he began with the townlands survey, which was completed in the 1840s. Only at the completion of that first survey did he begin a second, more extensive "tenement" survey.

The question, then, becomes: when was the valuation completed for the specific county and parish in which our Stephen and Ann Flanagan Malloy resided? According to a chart provided by Wikipedia, County Limerick’s valuation was completed 29 June of 1853. However, checking the site from which I obtained the actual data for the Corcomohide parish, opening up the detail window shows the publication date listed as 1852.

While it would have been helpful to know the exact date for completion of the survey in the specific areas of interest, why squabble over details? I need to keep in mind that Stephen Malloy left Ireland for Boston in 1849. While I can’t be certain when his wife left home in her unsuccessful quest to find Stephen, there is a good possibility that she was no longer in Ireland by the time of the valuation. Or, perhaps, she was one of the Anne Malloys listed in other parishes in County Limerick, having had to give up the property where she was living at the time of Stephen’s abrupt departure. There is no way of telling from the scant genealogical data that can be gleaned from Griffith’s Valuation.

It is aggravating, indeed, to find yourself caught in that sliver of time in which all available search tools will not suffice your own particular research need. In the Flanagan and Malloy case, though, I still can hope to find a marriage record in any remaining parish documents, or possibly a baptismal record for their infant daughter Catherine. If nothing else, I can at least hope for a good Irish map to steer me to the back roads of Ballyagran. In barely a month, I may just be walking down that very path.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Trouble With Family Traditions

In tracing one’s genealogy, inevitably there comes along some kind relative who, well-meaning, wishes to interject in the data stream the fondly-held traditions of the family’s origin. What to do with these offerings? Sometimes, they are preposterous—or at best, entirely unsupported by documentation. Occasionally, though—and just enough to make this a touchy judgment call on the part of the dutiful researcher—these stories turn out to be entirely true.

In the case of my husband’s roots, it turns out there are two distinct Kelly lines firmly ensconced in the record about four and five generations back. One line—that of John Kelly who married Johanna Falvey and raised several children in County Kerry, Ireland, before their immigration to the American state of Indiana in the late 1860s—we have obviously traced back to that County Kerry origin.

But the other Kelly family? Anybody’s guess. There is no real way to know for sure, and the history of the surname doesn’t offer any solid leads.

The trick comes when negotiating the family’s oral tradition. And in our case, for this specific Kelly surname, of course we happen to have one.

It was Uncle Ed, keeper of the Stevens family records for the previous generation, who shared with me what he knew. Granted, in many cases, he provided solid documentation and a wealth of correlating material to support his data. When it came to the Kelly family—or, actually, families—his assertions weren’t as substantially upheld.

If you have been reading along at A Family Tapestry for, oh, about three years, you may recall the sense of confusion that overcame Uncle Ed when he realized there were actually two Catherine Kellys in our family history. One of them came from the family of the John and Johanna Kelly we’ve recently been discussing. The other came from…well, from…okay, no one’s ever been able to tell. But the family does have a story.

That was the Catherine Kelly who came from the Lafayette, Indiana, family for whom I recently uncovered an entire new branch of Kellys. That’s why I was so feverishly pursuing Julia Creahan Sullivan in Colorado, and businessman Charles A. Creahan who got his start in the Chicago area. They, along with the other descendants of James and Mary Kelly who lived and died, mostly, in Lafayette, belong to this same mystery branch of the Kelly clan.

Or clans.

Searching the history of the Kelly surname apparently doesn’t provide any leads, either. At, the claim is that Kelly is Ireland’s most common surname, and the more than eight million documents they have scanned which include that surname might make one think so. However, according to The Irish Times—which, incidentally, ought to know—Kelly, along with O’Kelly, is a surname which is “almost as numerous in Ireland as Murphy.” Although that may signify that we try harder, that means we Kellys are actually number two.

The trick is that the Kelly surname can be found all over Ireland. Not only that, the surname makes a fair showing, also, in Scotland and England. An anglicized form of the Gaelic Ó Ceallaigh—meaning descendant of Ceallaigh—the surname was originally a widespread given name. What the name means is also subject to contention. It may mean “white-headed.”

Or “bright headed.”

Or “troublesome.”

Or “contentious.”

Or “strife.”

Or—for those on an entirely opposite tack—“frequenting churches.”

I suppose, if one were troublesome and contentious, there might be a call for frequent repentant trips back to the church house.

The prevalence of the surname is likely the impetus for the many books and publications tracing the line. But which one would be the right Kellys for me? Even the geographic distribution of the name in Ireland is of little help: “O’Kelly’s Country” takes in part of Counties Galway and Roscommon, but those are not the only counties in which Kellys may be found. The widespread prevalence of the surname is attested to in this Irish Times listing of Kelly households by county, based on the Griffith’s Valuation. Kellys were everywhere.

But where were ours? Despite searching through every document I could find for those Lafayette Kelly immigrants, I had turned up no clues.

Except one detail: a story from Uncle Ed. As confused as he was about which Catherine Kelly was which, he did remember that “she” came from Dublin. But that was only a story, passed down through the generations.

What do you make of such stories? In Uncle Ed’s case, he had everything else pretty much spot on, but of course, I was able to go on and obtain evidence to confirm all those details. In this case, I have found no way to do so.

And what about those generalizations people make—you know, the kind where people pick a well-known location to substitute for the humble farm town of their origin, since nobody this far away would know about that insignificant place anyhow. Did Catherine Kelly and her family come from Dublin? Or was that the big city nearest their home? Or worse, maybe just the port out of which they sailed for the new land?

While learning about the origin of surnames and the history of originating homelands may be helpful in gaining a broader understanding of our ancestors’ roots, in a case as generic—and unsupported—as this, I may never uncover evidence to confirm such a family tale.

But until then, neither can I say I hold substantiation to disprove the story, either.

Until I find the good fortune of locating further documentation, let’s just stick with Uncle Ed and say we have some Kellys from Dublin in our roots. After all, there certainly were enough of them present in Dublin to warrant that conjecture.

Above right: Map of Gaelic Ireland, circa 900 A.D., showing "overkingdoms" and principle Viking towns; courtesy Wikipedia; released into the public domain by the map's creator, Wikimedia Commons volunteer Erakis

Monday, August 25, 2014

Castle Means Crises

There is an odd phenomenon surrounding the perception of castles. Likely, we owe it to the fairy tale existence of our opulent times, in which we prefer to believe everyone lives happily ever after, all life long. Castles, however—at least the real ones, not the ones played on TV—were designed as military strongholds, complete with gates, towers, and structures meant to fortify inner chambers. And these devices were not built for mere romantic notions; they were called to use many times during defensive crises.

Right in the midst of County Kerry, Ireland—the very place we’re examining as we consider our ancestral heritage of the Kelly and Falvey families from that location—there were a number of castles. And, apparently, the crises to accompany their use.

Taking time to gain perspective on the history and geography of County Kerry, in preparation for our trip there, gives context to the family history I’m trying to absorb through years of genealogical research. While there is no way I can reach back to the ancient people and times of County Kerry’s earliest days, it’s informative to gain that general perspective.

Apparently, the pre-Gaelic people living in this southwest tip of Ireland themselves invaded the area in early historical times. These invaders were known as the “People of Ciar.” Ciar was the legendary founder of the original tribe—himself son of a legendary king of Ulster—and the anglicized version of his name provides the source for the name of this county: Kerry. Ciar, incidentally, meant black or dark brown in old Irish, and is still used as a word in modern Irish to signify someone with a dark complexion.

For whatever reason, County Kerry has come to be called “The Kingdom,” though it certainly has seen many changes in its geopolitical standing from century to century. Through the years, the history of County Kerry was tumultuous enough to warrant the use of such fortifications as Ross Castle—one which, though embattled since its fifteenth century establishment, is still standing today.

More pertinent to our own family’s history there—at least as far back as I’ve been able to push my research—waves of rebellions and wars devastated the area, once home to both fertile valley farmland as well as the highest mountains on the island. Native lands confiscated from original clans were transferred to ownership by “planters”—English settlers moved into the county.

Over the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the gradual impoverishment of the area saw conversion to poor tenant farmers who increasingly became reliant on their potato crop—that recipe for national disaster we now see so clearly in retrospect. County Kerry was so hard hit by the Great Famine, and the great flow of emigration began—a stream of exiting people which continued through “recent times.”

What is interesting about the details of this emigration is that the Kelly family—that of John Kelly, his wife Johanna Falvey Kelly, and their several children—didn’t leave their home during this initial phase of the Great Famine. Nor did they wait until the impetus of the Land War of the 1870s and 1880s. They somehow decided to make their move just before that latter trouble. Why did they choose to leave at the time they did? They had made it through the worst of the famine. What had provoked them to make such a choice to leave? Perhaps it was the dynamics underlying the instigation of that troubled time, in which tenant farmers became strident about receiving more reasonable terms from their landlords.

The land John Kelly farmed was in the civil parish of Molahiffe, which, according to one map, seems to have been situated roughly in the middle of the county. The particular townland in which John Kelly was tenant farmer was named Lisheennacannina—a word sounding as magical as our modern concept of castles. This townland, one of nearly three thousand in the county and comprised of 366 acres, was situated at the southern tip of the parish of Molahiffe (number 32 on this map).

There were, of course, many woes more that the county residents experienced in the years after our Kelly family left home. The twentieth century brought with it a war of independence, and then a civil war. The bitterness of these conflicts seemed centered within the boundaries of this particular county at times—even times after the calling of a truce to hostilities.

The peaceful ambience of such famed natural beauty as that of the Lakes of Killarney—Johanna Falvey Kelly’s reputed place of origin—belies the turmoil of County Kerry’s history. While I have no way of knowing why John and Johanna Kelly chose to remove their family from their homeland in the midst of such a history, there surely had to be some compelling reason for their choice.

Photograph: Ross Castle in Killarney, County Kerry, in Ireland, circa 1890; from Library of Congress via Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Reading Up on It All

In doing genealogical research, we often focus on the pertinent details of a person’s life—what was his name, when was he born, who did he marry, when did he die—and then move on to a chain of further inquiries, namely, who were his parents, what were their names, when were they born, when did they marry. This endless chain of inquiries would be repeated without end, except for the infamous brick walls that keep us moving backwards in time, ad infinitum.

Somehow, within that endless cycle, we need to be able to lift our researching noses off that grindstone and take a look around at our historic surroundings. It helps to know something about the context of the times in which each set of ancestors lived. Or take in the view from their perspective—find out something about their home town, their neighborhood, where they attended school, where they worked.

While it’s unlikely I’ll find any newly-discovered ancestors before our trip to the homelands of our Irish ancestors, this remaining month before taking off can serve handily as an opportunity to seek that enrichment of understanding. And I’m game to do it.

It occurred to me that this would be a great time to get to know more about the local history of each of the counties of Ireland in which our ancestors lived, and to uncover any history of each particular surname I’ve been researching. I’ll review them, one by one, and share what I’ve discovered so far. And since we’ve just been discussing the Falvey surname, I’ll pick up with that specific name today, following up each day with another.

Falvey was the maiden name of my husband’s second great grandmother, who emigrated from County Kerry to Fort Wayne in the American state of Indiana. While Johanna Falvey had already married John Kelly in Ireland, she had left a number of references to her family name, and to her origin—as one obituary put it—near “the Lakes of Killarney.” Then, too, she and her husband were the last of all my husband’s ancestors to immigrate to the United States, arriving in their New World sometime between the 1867 birth of one daughter in Ireland and the 1869 arrival of one of their sons in Indiana.

There isn’t much that can be found on the surname Falvey. I had thought, when I first ran across a record showing Johanna’s maiden name, that it must have been a rare name, indeed—a good omen, I guessed, hoping that that would mean relatively easy searching progress for me.

Once I started looking in Ireland, though, I discovered that surname was better known there. That certainly dashed my hopes that combining that “rare” surname with one so common as her husband’s—Kelly—might moderate the outcome and allow me to find some significant leads.

Depending on where you look for history of Irish surnames, you will find the origin and meaning of the name Falvey to be represented differently. The surname page on claims Falvey is the “reduced Anglicized form of Gaelic Ó Fáilbhe ‘descendant of Fáilbhe,’ a byname meaning ‘lively.’”

The Wikipedia entry has much more to say than that, stating that Fáilbhe means “lively, pleasant, sprightly, merry, cheerful.” Or, the explanation continues, another unnamed historian held it to mean “joker.” If any of that can be claimed to be genetic, I can see where both Frank Stevens—as you’ve seen in his many letters home during the World War II era—and his son (my husband) received their wit and good humor.

The Falvey surname is supposedly the same as that called O’Falvey. The Gaelic Ó simply means “descendant of.” If this is so, somewhere in our Falvey roots may have been the early king of Ireland—Conaire—or the rulers of Corcu Duibne, a prehistoric kingdom in what is now County Kerry. I’m not saying those are our roots—I certainly don’t have any such documentation—but that is the legendary connection of the family name. Much like the many people today who claim to trace their heritage to Charlemagne, or to other famous names of bygone centuries, there are likely hundreds of people today who may be the descendants of that originating King of Ireland.

If you are tracing your Falvey line in the United States and abroad, you might be encouraged to know that claims to have well over sixty thousand historical documents containing the surname Falvey. Their name origin page for Falvey includes a map showing the U.S. distribution of the surname for three census enumerations. For the 1880 census, for instance, it appears most immigrant Falveys settled in the Midwest (particularly in Illinois) or the Northeast (the greatest number in either New York or Massachusetts).

While the Ancestry surname distribution map shows various results over the years of United States history, their map of the Falvey name in either England and Wales, or Scotland (the other two choices that may be selected on that page) are obviously of little help.

Moving to a different online resource for maps of worldwide surname distribution, the emigration of the surname Falvey may be traced to several countries. Besides the United States and Canada, the Falvey surname may be located in western Europe as well as Australia and New Zealand. (Unfortunately, the link will only bring you, by default, back to the home page and the term must be re-entered to gain the results again.)

Since I discovered that a Falvey sibling of Johanna had moved to New Zealand, I was interested to see that two regions of the south island have a “high” distribution of the Falvey surname.

As for the distribution of the Falvey surname in Ireland, itself, there is a preponderance of Falveys in the southwest portion of the island. This has held steady since the time of Griffith’s Valuation, with the most Falveys living in County Kerry. Likewise—though two decades beyond our Falveys’ departure from Ireland—births in the 1890s were recorded in the greatest number in the southwest region of Ireland, particularly County Kerry.

All this to say, whether I am ultimately able to claim the Molahiffe civil parish origin of those birth records mentioning a Johanna Falvey Kelly as our own family, taking a walk through County Kerry will bring us back as close as we can get to the likely roots of this branch of our family.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Just One More Look

I couldn’t help myself. Now that I understood what, exactly, the townlands were in Ireland, I wanted to go back and see if I could find anything further on our Kelly family from County Kerry. (Say that fast, three times!)

Yes, I know: a woman’s genealogical research work is never done. I’m going to have to draw the line somewhere, and get packed and ready to go on that trip to Ireland. But I couldn’t help myself. After all, it’s not like I travel to Ireland every year. Unless a particular offspring (who will remain unnamed) chooses to return to Ireland for graduate work, I will likely never be back. If I’m to see the lands these Irish ancestors once walked, I'd better know where I’m going, soon.

Armed with my newfound understanding of the various historic geo-political subdivisions of the Irish countryside, I thought I’d give that Kelly family just one more chance. I had remembered seeing something on about a “Molahiffe” in County Kerry. What would that be? Townland?

I had to go back and look it up. Of course, I’m not entirely sure this would be related to the family of our John Kelly—really, how many John Kellys are out there? We are talking slim chance. But I knew I had found some birth records for children of a John Kelly and Johanna Falvey in County Kerry. Those entries—unfortunately, showing in a mere index, not the original documentation—mentioned this place called Molahiffe.

First, I went back and retrieved the entries on FamilySearch. They both named a daughter, Mary, but one was for 1864 and the other for 1867. As our Kelly family did have a daughter named Mary, likely born in 1867, plus a gap in the family’s birth sequence from the 1862 arrival of older daughter Catherine until that point in 1867, it is possible that the earlier Mary might have been a child who died in infancy.

Each of those FamilySearch records mentioned the birthplace as Molahiffe in County Kerry. I headed for Google to see what I could find about Molahiffe.

According to the “Irish Ancestors” section of The Irish Times, apparently the designation Molahiffe is for a civil parish. Scrolling down on the page there, you can see a map showing the relative location of this parish to all others in County Kerry, as well as lists of townlands and even the most common surnames in Molahiffe in 1852 (hint: neither Kelly nor Falvey are among them).

It turns out Molahiffe has quite a history. The Gaelic Lordship of Molahiffe was created in the fourteenth century. It even comes with a castle. (Yes, our official tour guide is taking note.)

Heading back to old faithful Griffith’s Valuation to see if I could confirm the presence of a John Kelly in Molahiffe, we get a win there, too. Of course, the chances of finding so common a name as that is not surprising, and I keep telling myself there is a strong possibility this is just a coincidentally-named stranger. I resolve to take this question to the Molahiffe forum at Ireland Reaching Out to see if, once again, someone there can guide me in any way of confirming any names of others in that family. Or church records for marriages or baptisms. Or, well, something.

Despite my doubts, I think the parish Molahiffe—and Lisheenacannina, the townland fingered in the Griffith’s Valuation for the John Kelly residence—will still find a place in our itinerary for our trip in October. Family roots present or not, it does, after all, include a castle.

Above: Map of the fourteenth century location of the Gaelic-Irish Lordship of Molahiffe in current-day County Kerry, Ireland; created by Brendan Oisin and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license; courtesy Wikipedia.

Friday, August 22, 2014

An Explanation That Helps

One aspect of genealogical research that has always stumped me—at least, when it comes to untangling our Irish forebears—has been that of the administration of local government. Granted, I understand that Ireland has endured an abused past—that it has suffered the overlaying of a foreign government’s notions upon its own centuries-old culture. Yet it doesn’t help a researcher like me, when struggling to sort out the many governmental terms—townlands, baronies, civil parishes—to hear them dismissed with breezy comments like, “Oh, we don’t use that anymore.” What? A jurisdiction doesn’t “really” count?

Please explain. I somehow need to navigate this governmental lexicon to find my family’s ancestors.

As it so happened, while I dutifully plowed through the John Grenham book (though admittedly an outdated edition), Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, someone did, indeed, oblige my desperate plea. I owe my gratitude to author Grenham for spelling it all out for me succinctly.

Mr. Grenham began by explaining, on page 38 of said outdated second edition, the historic scenario bringing such local governmental terms to the forefront of genealogical research:
Because of the destruction of nineteenth-century [census] returns, surviving land and property records from the period have acquired a somewhat unnatural importance. Two surveys cover the entire country, the Tithe Applotment Books of c. 1823-38 and Griffith’s Valuation, dating from 1848 to 1864.

And thus, you have the explanation of why, yesterday, I felt compelled to return to Griffith’s Valuation—a property record, as the author mentioned—one more time, to double check for any signs of our Tully ancestors in County Tipperary.

As Mr. Grenham, himself, admitted, “Both of these [the Tithe Applotment Books and Griffith’s Valuation] employ administrative divisions which are no longer in widespread use and need some explanation.”

Okay, I feel validated in my confusion. Not only that, but following his explanation, I also feel educated—a feeling I much prefer to confusion. See how Mr. Grenham put it:
The smallest division, the townland, is the one which has proved most enduring. Loosely related to the ancient Gaelic “Bally betagh,” and to other medieval land divisions such as ploughlands and “quarters,” townlands can vary enormously in size, from a single acre or less to several thousand acres. There are more than 64,000 townlands in the country. They were used as the smallest geographical unit in both Tithe Survey and Griffith’s, as well as census returns, and are still in use today. Anything from 5 to 30 townlands may be grouped together to form a civil parish. These are a legacy of the Middle Ages, pre-dating the formation of counties and generally co-extensive with the parishes of the Established Church, the Church of Ireland. They are not to be confused with Catholic parishes, which are usually much larger. In turn, civil parishes are collected together in baronies. Originally related to the tribal divisions, the tuatha of Celtic Ireland, these were multiplied and subdivided over the centuries up to their standardization in the 1500s, so that the current names represent a mixture of Gaelic, Anglo-Norman and English influences. A number of baronies, from 5 in Co. Leitrim to 22 in Co. Cork, then go to make up the modern county.

As if to assure me that those casual observers who sought to provide me relief as I struggled with these concepts in the past were actually correct in their assessment of the situation, the author added this final confirmation:
Baronies and civil parishes are no longer in use as administrative units.

Great. I appreciate knowing that, now. So, today, townlands are still in, but civil parishes and baronies are now out.

Even more, though, I appreciate being able to understand what all those terms were intended to signify in those years back in the mid 1800s when our family was still living in Ireland. I may not be able to speak the lingo like a native, but—at least in the case of their property records—I  now can figure out what those terms mean.

 Artwork: "Meditation," watercolor painting, dated 1889, by Irish artist Mildred Anne Butler; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Putting Together Those Road Trip Details

It’s almost the end of August. I have somewhere to be by the end of September—namely, Ireland. Now that all the research is done—well, all the genealogical searching that's going to be accomplished by then—it’s time to start making those travel arrangements.

While I know—and you do, too, if you have done much genealogical research—that a family tree is never really completed, I do have to draw the line somewhere. After all, tickets need to be purchased. Hotels need reservations. Meetings with people need to be planned.

It looks like it will not only be my husband and I who will make the trip back to the ancestral lands. His sisters will be able to rendezvous with us. Of course, there will be visits to those features of Ireland that no tourist can resist—the Blarney Castle, after all, is a short drive from where our daughter is attending college in Cork. How could we pass up features like that?

Less easy to plan, but no less important, will be those drives to the locales where we have located ancestors. At this point, that means our Tully and Flannery lines in County Tipperary and Malloy and Flanagan in County Limerick—plus, if I get lucky in the next few days, I may be able to confirm a parish in County Kerry for our Kelly and Falvey lines, too.

It occurred to me yesterday that, since discovering the baptismal confirmation letters for both Johanna and John Tully, I hadn’t revisited Griffith’s Valuation for the years before the family’s emigration to Canada. Just to be sure I had the right area, I worried myself into double-checking Griffith’s Valuation listings for Tully against the information I now had from those baptismal notes.

Though one report indicates that the survey wasn’t completed in County Tipperary until 1853—a couple years past our Tully family’s departure—I have been told by others that the report was published closer to 1848, a date more compatible with our family’s timeline. Here’s hoping that the Denis Tully found in the survey is one and the same as our Denis Tully and family.

Just to double check with those more familiar with their records, I touched base with volunteers at the Ireland Reaching Out forum, to see if I could find any more confirmation on locations. For some reason, those terms—civil parish versus church parish, townlands, baronies, poor law unions—do not register in my brain. I couldn’t get my head around these divisions, until reading what I found to be the most sane explanation in the John Grenham book, Tracing Your Irish Ancestors—something I’ll discuss a bit further tomorrow.

It was helpful to connect with the Ireland Reaching Out volunteer, who explained to me that the townland listed in Griffith’s Valuation as Fountinna was likely a typo in the original transcription. The townland is actually Tountinna. The civil parish is Templeachally—yet another worry for me, since I can’t readily find this name when I search in other records. How do these long, unusual names vanish when I’m looking for them?

Thankfully, the volunteer sent me links to historic maps of the area—including the townland of Tountinna. Since I had asked if there were any possibility of seeing, in our times, the church our Tully family once attended, I was excited to see the map sent back in reply. Note there is an old “R. C. Chapel” listed in the town of Ballina, which hopefully I’ll soon be seeing in person. Add that one to our itinerary, for sure.

I was overjoyed to be provided with a map which included the area where Denis Tully likely lived. I am usually a sucker for maps, and can stare at them, transfixed, for hours. (I can get lost in maps. It’s a good thing I never yielded to the temptation to buy that world-map wallpaper I once found in a paint store; otherwise, I'd never get any work done.) It was a delight to lay eyes on the very land where our Tully family once walked.

If I can figure out how to overlay these old maps with current road maps, we will hopefully be able to drive by the land where the Tully family last lived, before making that life-changing decision to leave homeland and look for a better life across the ocean.

 Photograph: Sixty years later and a few towns removed from the home of our Tully ancestors, this is Castle Street in the town of Nenagh in County Tipperary, circa 1910; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Another Postscript on Thomas

As exhaustive searches go, the one for Thomas F. Sullivan in the city directories of nineteenth century Denver certainly put us through our paces. But it wasn’t exhaustive enough for me to wave the white flag and give up. Not just yet. I still wanted to know the exact date of Thomas’ passing and the cause of his death.

I thought—oh, silly me—that perhaps, now armed with both addresses and occupational details, I would be able to isolate our Thomas from the many Thomas Sullivans mentioned in Denver city newspapers. How wrong I was. Despite searching five different specific name entries—Thomas Sullivan, Thomas F. Sullivan, Tom Sullivan, T. F. Sullivan, and even Thos. Sullivan—I failed to locate any obituary or even fleeting mention of the man’s passing.

I did, however, discover that there was a sought-after tenor soloist by name T. F. Sullivan who was often mentioned in Denver newspapers. And legal proceedings by some sue-happy Thomases. And a few rogue Thomases as well, having for their claim to fame a night or so in the local jail. All for the joy of chasing after one of those enigmatic ancestors-by-marriage.

I am now officially exhausted.

I will agree with the Mount Olivet cemetery in which he has been listed and finally lay this particular Thomas F. Sullivan to rest. Perhaps, some day in the future, when online resources are even zippier and more thorough than they are today, I may be tempted to take up the pursuit again. For now, though, I’ll let the few things I’ve discovered about this Thomas—and his wife Julia, our Kelly family descendant—suffice me and my almost-insatiable curiosity.

Meanwhile, as the date for our upcoming travels to Ireland draw even nearer, it’s back to the books for those final—desperate—touches on my research. If I find nothing else in the Dublin research leg of the journey, I hope to at least gain some direction on exactly where to go to wander the turf of our forefathers. There are, thankfully, still many online resources to tap for these last minute searches on the rest of our Irish surnames.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Doubting Which Thomas

The one aspect of researching this Sullivan branch of our Kelly family tree causing me the most frustration was the proliferation of identical Sullivan names simultaneously sprouting in their Denver hometown. When I tried to determine which Julia Sullivan was the right one, I ran into multiple possibilities—even when I added the “C” for her middle initial. Though I didn’t write about it, searching for daughter Regina Sullivan also produced doubles. So it won’t come as any surprise to you to hear that the head of the family—the mysteriously-disappearing Thomas F. Sullivan—also had company in the named-alike category.

Imagine my glee when, in the wonderful statements written in Denver newspapers upon son Harry A. Sullivan’s passing in 1950, those journalists would see fit to reach far back to the prior century to mention the father Harry likely hadn’t seen for fifty years. Thanks to the Denver Post, we now know:
His father, Thomas Sullivan, came to Denver in the late 1880s and was an executive with the Flanders Dry Goods store, which stood in the present location of Neusteters. Later he was a department head at Denver Dry Goods company.

Calling his father “an early-day Denver merchant,” the Post certainly opened their September 10, 1950, story about the passing of Harry Sullivan with a nice touch, but “merchant” and “executive” may be terms more generous than they are accurate as descriptions of Thomas F. Sullivan. At any rate, the names of the stores—Flanders Dry Goods and Denver Dry Goods companies—can help us negotiate the many listings for Thomas Sullivans in the Denver city directories over the years.

Thanks to reader Intense Guy, who on my behalf had requested photos of a Find A Grave volunteer for the Sullivan headstones, we now know the parameters for our Thomas Sullivan’s life. Born in 1852—either in New Hampshire or Vermont, depending on which census record you believe—Thomas lived until sometime in 1900.

We also know he married Julia Creahan in Denver in 1888, thanks to a blip of a mention in a Denver newspaper.

Other than that, the man represented a blank, as far as the story of his life went. City directories were of no help, as in any given year there would be multiple listings for men by the name of Thomas Sullivan. With this clue as to his employment, however, we now have some help.

Turning to an 1889 directory, published in the year following Thomas and Julia’s wedding, we can find a Thomas Sullivan—note he didn’t use his middle initial—listed as a clerk at the Flanders Dry Goods Company. Despite that label, “clerk,” not “executive,” we likely have the right man. That Flanders hint paid off right away, since the other two Thomas Sullivans—including one specifically listing the name as Thomas F. Sullivan, exactly as our Thomas often listed himself—were employed either as a tailor or at a railroad company. Our Thomas listed his residence on Arapahoe.

Pulling the record from a directory a few years later—the Denver city directory for 1892—we are fortunate that Thomas kept his position at Flanders Dry Goods, for he had changed his address to California Street. This time, he was listed alongside four other Thomas Sullivans, including one Thomas F. Sullivan, and another one who went so far as to spell out his full middle name—Thomas Francis Sullivan, the exact name Thomas had given his own, now three year old, son. The occupational detail helps us keep our eye on the right Thomas.

Another two years later, in 1894, wedged between three other Thomas Sullivans, this time our Thomas chose to list his name, complete with middle initial. It is a good thing we still have the Flanders Dry Goods employer to trace, for in this directory, Thomas was living at a new address on Commercial Place.

By the time the 1896 directory was issued, Denver boasted not four but six Thomas Sullivans, including one Thomas Francis, and two Thomas F. Sullivans. The unfortunate news was that both Thomas F. Sullivans listed for their occupation, “clerk.” Neither lived at Thomas’ old address on Commercial Place. Worse than that, neither clerk was employed at Flanders Dry Goods.

Ah ha! You triumphantly remember: the Denver Post article already told us Thomas went from working at Flanders Dry Goods to employment at a place called Denver Dry Goods Company.

That would be a nice touch here. Unfortunately, though, that is not what the directory revealed. So, we are left trying to decide whether to go with the Thomas F. Sullivan, clerk at "Bradley & McClure," or the Thomas F. Sullivan, clerk at "Schloss Bros." The only option might be to keep pulling city directories until we eliminate the wrong Thomas. After all, we already know our Thomas wouldn’t be working in any Dry Goods store after 1900.

Not as easily done as said, though, for the next city directory I could locate online—you didn’t think I just flew to Denver to complete this ditty, did you?—was again two years later. In the 1898 directory, Denver was apparently back down to five Thomas Sullivans—with two Thomas F. Sullivans remaining—but with only one listed as clerk.

Apparently, Bradley and McClure had undergone a reorganization, for our sole clerk in the 1898 directory was employed by a concern listed as "H. N. Bradley & Co." This Thomas Sullivan was living on Irvington.

Of course, by now, I had to keep going, even though I knew our Thomas F. Sullivan would soon drop out of the race. If the H. N. Bradley & Co. Thomas remained after 1900, I would totally be at a loss to know which one was our Thomas. I couldn’t resist peeking, anyway.

The 1899 city directory showed, among the remaining three Thomas Sullivans, two listed as Thomas F. Sullivan. One was a dyer for the Denver Steam Dye Works. The other was listed as a wagon guard. Could our Thomas have actually died in 1899?

But wait! For some unexplained reason dropping his middle initial—maybe the Thomas F. Sullivan population in Denver had finally shrunk to a more manageable level—there was a listing for a plain old Thomas Sullivan. He was working—you guessed it—as a clerk. But—oh, no!—there was no listing for the company at which he was employed.

Not to worry: unlike the many changing addresses we had witnessed over these past twelve years, this Thomas was still living at Irvington Place, thus giving us at least one shred of information with which to tag him as the right Thomas Sullivan.

By 1900, we were down to just one Thomas F. Sullivan (a tailor not living at the right address), a new Thomas Sullivan (printer) and a listing for a Mrs. Thomas Sullivan, residing on Grant Avenue. There was no sign of either Thomas F. Sullivan working as clerk at the two different dry goods stores, nor any listing for a Sullivan at any of the Sullivans’ last given residence addresses. When we compare the 1900 city directory listing for that Mrs. Thomas Sullivan with that of the 1900 census record, though, we find our familiar Sullivan household was listed at that same Grant Avenue address.

Of course, the missing link was the move from the 1899 Irvington address to the 1900 home on Grant Avenue. It still is possible that the Irvington Thomas moved elsewhere, and I just couldn’t locate him. But as far as exhaustive searches go, well…let’s just say, “I’m exhausted.”

Monday, August 18, 2014

More Good Reports About Harry

In addition to the statement issued by the governor upon Harry A. Sullivan’s passing in 1950, a number of other good reports accompanied this Kelly family descendant’s last remembrance in his hometown Denver newspapers. Some give us a more well-rounded picture of the kind of guy Harry Sullivan really was. Some—and those I’ll share tomorrow—fill in the kind of blanks I had not been able to locate anywhere else.

Of course, as any eulogy usually does, the reports in both the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News began with the beginning: Harry’s birth in Denver. Only problem was, the date given by both papers is suspect. Granted, both papers were in agreement—they listed his birth date as August 8, 1895, as did his headstone—but taking a look back at evidence produced shortly after that birth date tells a different story. The reporting party for the Sullivan household in the 1900 census—likely his recently-widowed mother, Julia Creahan Sullivan—declared that Harry’s birth occurred in August of 1890. According to his mom, at the time of that census, Harry was nine years of age. Still, if that was his story—and everyone was sticking to it—it’s best I file that fact away for future researching reference.

As far as Harry’s military service went, there were a few tidbits I gleaned from the newspaper articles. One was that his unit was noted in both newspapers as “the famed 157th Infantry.” While I don’t know enough about World War I history to immediately agree with that journalistic assessment, it seems a point worth pursuing further.

The News noted that Harry enlisted in the U.S. Army “when very young.” I imagine lopping off five years from the date of one’s birth might bring on such appearances.

The News went on to observe that Harry “saw action on the Mexican border,” perhaps confirming the very mission for which we had previously read that he had been "at the border" during his time with the National Guard.

The Denver Post article included a list of all the schools Harry Sullivan had attended in his earlier years—a possible wealth of information, should I be able to locate old school yearbooks:
Mr. Sullivan attended Sherman and Logan public schools, St. Joseph’s parochial school, West Denver high school and Regis college.

An interesting addition to the Post article was this explanation of the start of Harry’s work on behalf of veterans as they returned from World War I:
The state veterans post was an unpaid position. Mr. Sullivan was officer manager for the legal firm of Lee, Bryans, Kelly and Stansfield.

The News corrected the name of his firm to include the fourth partner as “Stanfield,” and also added that Harry had previously served as office manager for another—undoubtedly known about town—firm, “Lee Shaw & McCreery.” Perhaps Mr. Lee valued the contributions Harry Sullivan made to his practice and took the manager with him when he made the move—or reorganization?—to the other firm.

The observation that Harry’s position at the state veterans’ post was an unpaid one is telling. We’ve already seen that, at the beginning, Harry had sometimes helped fellow veterans out of their hardships by digging into his own pocket. Apparently, the way he funded such charity was to work two jobs—one paid, one donated.

However he achieved it, Harry was ultimately recognized for his concern by the remembrance of a good friend, whose statement was carried by the Post:
“There never was a more charitable man than Harry Sullivan,” said Joseph H. Leyden, Sullivan’s longtime associate and friend. “His whole life was devoted to taking care of the underdog and under-privileged. Upon his return from World war I, he set up with his own limited funds an employment agency for veterans. An outstanding athlete in his younger days, he remained interested in athletics from the standpoint of young men.”

At Harry’s passing, noted both newspapers, he was living in town with his unmarried sister, Florence. In addition, his other sister—Regina, now listed as “Mrs. Rex McClinton”—survived him. No mention of Harry’s older brother, Thomas, provides us a benchmark for this other sibling’s passing, in hopes of locating yet another obituary.

The most helpful part of the two newspaper articles on Harry’s passing, however, was their mention of Harry’s father. With the few sentences included in the Denver Post article, we can glean enough to help isolate the right Thomas F. Sullivan—for just as we encountered when searching for documents on Harry’s mother Julia, you know, in a city the size of late 1800s Denver, there would be multiple Thomas Sullivans as well.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Governor Makes a Statement

It isn’t often, in researching family members’ life stories, that we run across quotes from their governor in honor of our ancestors. Well, perhaps you do; I haven’t—up until this point. Upon our Kelly descendant Harry A. Sullivan’s passing in 1950, though, two newspaper articles came complete with such a statement.

Harry Sullivan, born and raised in Denver, Colorado, had returned from World War I, determined to be of assistance to his fellow soldiers. As we’ve already seen, he was quite successful in seeing these men placed in suitable jobs upon their return home. From that springboard, he went on to be an organizer for the Colorado state arm of the American Legion—the very work in which he was engaged at the time of his passing on September 9, 1950.

How deeply he had committed himself to this organization begins to reveal itself with the quotes included in the news articles the day after his death, both in the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News on Sunday, September 10, 1950.

The lead statement in the Post covered the basics of his passing:
Harry A. Sullivan, 55, chairman of the state board of veterans affairs and an organizer of the American Legion in Colorado, died early Saturday after becoming ill a few hours before at a Legion meeting.

Their rival, the Rocky Mountain News, explained in further detail:
Mr. Sullivan was stricken while he attended a board of directors meeting of the Leyden-Chiles-Wickersham Post of the American Legion, which he helped found and of which he was past commander. He died an hour after his seizure in Mercy Hospital.

In explaining Harry’s relationship with both the state and national organization of the American Legion, the Rocky Mountain News noted,
In his associations with the American Legion, Mr. Sullivan held many high national posts including the office of national executive committeeman.

The Post clarified that Harry was “Colorado’s first national executive committeeman for the American Legion” and that his role was actually “leading in its organization in this state.”

It was interesting that the Rocky Mountain News chose to insert some details about Harry’s past political involvement. Of course, having to influence law makers as he did in his early years of working with veterans—as we saw when he helped draft legislation for some of the programs that were so sorely needed—he couldn’t help but take on a political role. For one brief instance, if you’ll remember, he did try to secure an elected position in local government—that of city auditor. The News recalled that in their 1950 article:
In 1921 he was a candidate for city auditor but was unsuccessful. This venture into politics was his only move for selective office. However, he remained active in city and state Republican politics.

Interestingly, given Harry’s partisan choice, the man who held the position of governor at the time of Harry’s death—and who issued an appropriately gracious statement regarding his passing—would be from the opposing party. Actually, Walter Walford Johnson, governor of Colorado at the time of Harry’s death, had only served in that capacity since the preceding April. He had originally been elected as Lieutenant Governor, but at the point in his term at which then-governor William Lee Knous happened to be appointed federal district judge in Denver, Lieutenant Governor Walter Johnson assumed the position of governor in his place. While Mr. Johnson did, later in 1950, run for a full term as governor, he was defeated by a Republican, and thus only served a nine month term.

Whether it was for political maneuvering that Walter Johnson sought to have his statement on Harry Sullivan’s death featured in the two Denver newspapers that September, I can’t say—but, politics being politics, it’s telling that I’d entertain such doubts. Regardless of the hidden agenda that might be lurking behind the gracious words—carried in full by the Denver Post—they did signify respect for the dedication of one man intent on seeking the well-being of his fellows.
            “I know the people of Colorado will be as deeply shocked as I am to learn of the passing last night of Harry A. Sullivan, chairman of the state board of veterans affairs of Colorado,” Governor Johnson said in a statement.
            “He devoted his life to every charitable cause and for the interests of veterans, their widows and orphans. Colorado has lost a great citizen and I have therefore ordered the flags of our country and state flown at half-mast.”

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