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.”


  1. I guess city directories operated differently. My ancestor in Portsmouth, Virginia is entered "Julia (wid Stephen) Slade." I wonder if Mrs. Thomas Sullivan was "Julia (wid Thomas) Sullivan."

    1. It would have been helpful if this Denver directory company had used that format, Wendy. Unfortunately, they didn't, so I can only surmise that the Mrs. Thomas at the same address as the widow Julia are one and the same--and connected to the Thomas of the previous address from 1899.

      Granted, being the obtuse soul that I often can be, I'd much prefer having it all spelled out for me like the Virginians seem to do.

  2. I think a Clerk was something more than a "secretary" back in the day. Leonard H. Flanders was listed as a Clerk too - and he (co-)owned the place.

    Flanders started out as a boot and shoe salesman - then partnered with Wixson to run the Flanders and Wixson Dry Good Store. In 1893, they went bankrupt, but in 1894, Flanders partnered with Micheal J. McNamara to open the Denver Dry Good Store - this store was later part of May's -- if I recall correctly, one of your other relatives worked for Mays too.

    1. Ah yes, the other May's Department store connection:


    2. Interesting--and totally unexpected--connection, Iggy! You have not only phenomenal search capabilities but an impressive memory!

      Thanks for finding the background history on Mr. Flanders and his company. It is amazing what can be found online to give us a more well-rounded presentation of our ancestors' history.

    3. Interestingly enough, co-owner Elmer A. Wixson is also listed as a "Clerk".

      http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=LAH18930721.2.6 has an LA Times story on Denver's Dry Good Stores during the panic of 1893.

  3. I bet you're exhausted. Great post! :)

    1. ...and everyone else reading along with me ;)

      Thanks for stopping by and joining the conversation, Andrea!

  4. The May D & F folks also got their start in Leadville during the gold and silver rush days, where you (and I) had a number of our relatives keeping the town alive in the 1890's through turn of the century. Your families probably (unknowingly) crossed paths and shared tables, drinks & cards as well.


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