Friday, September 18, 2020

A Will, But No Way


If the newspaper reports at the end of life for the two successful Sullivan brothers, James and Jeremiah, neglected the opportunity to wax eloquent about the two self-made men and their Irish heritage, perhaps if we take a step backwards to the generation of their immigrant father, we might glean a bit more information about their heritage.

Timothy Sullivan, according to census records, had been born in Ireland any time between 1807 and 1813. Based on the birth dates of the two Sullivan children bridging the gap between life in County Kerry and life in Michigan, the Sullivan family could have arrived in North America no earlier than 1848, nor later than 1852.

While all those dates are devised from reports in various census records, one thing about Timothy Sullivan was sure: his eldest son, Cornelius, showed up at court in the county of Oakland, Michigan, on behalf of his mother and siblings, to present his father's will on September 9, 1871.

There were no surprises in the listing of names of the interested parties—although, given our difficulties determining Timothy's origin in County Kerry, I halfway hoped there were. Wish as I might for any clues to lead us back home to Ireland, though, this is what we learn about the family in 1871.

Gone was son John, who likely died before the 1870 census, where his name was already missing. In no particular order, the remainder of the family was listed: Timothy's widow Mary, his sons James, Timothy, Jeremiah, and the petitioner, Cornelius; and his daughters Mary and Elizabeth. No mention of any other relatives, though Timothy did specify his wish that $2,000 be set aside by his family for a charitable donation to an unspecified cause.

Cornelius, acting on behalf of his family, was appointed to settle the estate. In the process, it was determined that his father's accounts were not sufficient to satisfy the debts against them, and Cornelius was authorized to sell off his father's various properties in and around Detroit.

By August of the next year—introducing note of a procedure for which I wish we could read between the lines—Cornelius' mother, widow of the deceased Timothy, presented to the court "her written renunciation of the will of her said husband and of her election." That being given on August 31, 1872, and "duly filed," the record drops off with the turn of the page, leaving us to wonder, despite realizing we were not going to glean the details we first had come to find, what turn of events that might have signified.

Another search. Perhaps, another unproductive lead. But one we can't just not follow.


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