Wednesday, September 16, 2020

"A Great Expert in This Line"


Our Irish immigrant ancestors may have arrived on America's eastern shores, penniless and starving, but that didn't keep them from employing a native cleverness to advance their cause in the years ahead. And that may be a fortunate thing for those of us researching our roots, for the successful sometimes garner more public attention than the merely destitute.

As for our Sullivans in Detroit, any detail which could serve to connect them with their specific homeland—wherever it might have been in County Kerry—has escaped our notice. So far. But the glimmer of a hint that some of Timothy and Mary Sullivan's sons rose above their humble beginnings has me hoping for a breakthrough with a different resource: newspapers.

While the newspaper-issued obituaries and memorials of past centuries sometimes lacked for the specific details a genealogist seeks, they did, however, sometimes provide a more colorful portrait of the deceased. Perhaps as a last resort, let's look at what can be found about that Sullivan family we've been researching in Detroit, Michigan.

My first discovery of the possibility that the Sullivan sons might have achieved some success was when I found the first notice of Timothy Sullivan's fifth-born son's passing. Jeremiah, born about four years after the Sullivan family arrived in Michigan, had been the next to youngest child in the family—until baby brother Peter died as a young boy.

Jeremiah appeared in his family's household as a four year old in 1860 and, predictably, as a fourteen year old in 1870. Long before the 1880 census, though, Jeremiah and his entire family was faced with the loss of their father, as according to his will, Timothy died on September 3, 1871.

Perhaps it was such a start in adulthood that Jeremiah received from his apparently successful farming father that could explain my next encounter with Jeremiah: a notice of his own passing. It was a modest insertion in the death notices in The Detroit Free Press on Thursday, May 10, 1923, that provided a clue that Jeremiah had met with quite a bit of success in the years since his father's passing.

SULLIVAN—May 3rd, at his winter home, Sawtelle, California: Jeremiah, beloved husband of Myrtle Sullivan, son of the late Timothy and Mary Sullivan, dear brother of Timothy Sullivan, Mrs. John Gleason and the late Cornelius and James Sullivan. Funeral Friday morning from his residence....

While the listing of family members might have sufficed some researchers, one word caught my eye: "his winter home." Despite living in California myself, I had no clue where Sawtelle was, and had to attend first to my insatiable curiosity. That taken care of, the next order of research business was to learn something more about this Jeremiah. What had he devoted his life to that provided the liberty to maintain a second home more than two thousand miles from his main residence?

Further searching didn't reveal much, though I did encounter a black and white version of his likeness in a news article in that same day's edition of the newspaper. Under the heading, "Packer who Died in West, Buried Here," the only additional details provided were the accolades heaped upon the recently departed: "one of the pioneers in the meat packing industry in Michigan," and that he was associated with the Sullivan Packing company "since its incorporation."

The next day, under the "Market Notes" section of the paper, a long article reviewed Jeremiah Sullivan's business accomplishments, including that he was in "the live stock business," specializing in buying hogs from various midwestern cities and shipping to Buffalo. According to the notes in The Detroit Free Press, he was "a great expert in this line" and "one of the best known men in the live stock business in the state of Michigan."

He had worked in partnership with his brother James—husband of the Falvey connection I'm tracing—but the news mentioned that that partnership had been dissolved at the time of James' passing.

Thus, while this series of newspaper articles on Jeremiah Sullivan didn't wax as poetic as I might have hoped, when it came to the opportunity to say where his parents originated (as some other such obituaries have done in this time period), it did direct me to look one step further: to any news reporting for the other partner in this Sullivan family business, Jeremiah's older brother James.    


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