Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Looking for the Real
Charles Samuel Sullivan


The trouble with common names is that, even in the same city, an ancestor can have a duplicate. Such was the case I encountered, once I got the clue that the Sullivan brothers—taken in by their spinster aunt at a young age—might have actually immigrated to Toledo, Ohio, along with their parents.

It wasn't hard to discover what their parents' names might have been. Although obituaries during the time of the Sullivan brothers' deaths didn't divulge names of parents, finding online resources for Ohio death certificates was fairly straightforward. Thankfully, it wasn't long before I encountered my answer—well, sort of.

The death certificates I could find noted that the parents' names were Charles and Alice Sullivan. Sometimes, the mother's name was augmented with a middle initial, but aggravatingly enough, it wasn't always the same letter. That, however, was a lesser problem than this other realization: Alice was always listed by her married name, not her maiden name. This, combined with the commonness of the surname, would surely cause some interference when I attempted my next step: tracing the family back to England from their adopted home in Toledo.

I started my search in Ohio with what I did know: brothers John, George, and William claimed a father named Charles. I set out to look for this Charles Sullivan, and soon discovered his full name was actually Charles Samuel Sullivan. A middle name: handy!

It wasn't long until I bumped up against my first roadblock: there were two Charles Samuel Sullivans who had registered for the "old man's" draft during World War II. Now what?

Sure, Sullivan is a fairly common surname. And yeah, I'll grant that there could be more than one Charles Sullivan in town. But two with the same middle name, too? And born within a year or so of each other?

I first found the references to these two men and their registration records at FamilySearch.org, which didn't provide a digitized copy of the actual document, just the names and the dates of birth. I jumped over to Ancestry.com to see if I could find the same records there, which fortunately, I did. I didn't have any example of our Charles Sullivan's signature, so I couldn't compare records for that sort of clue.

Once I looked at each record carefully, I spotted part of the problem. I had done my search looking for a man by that full name, limited to those living in Ohio. One of the cards was apparently completed by someone who wasn't too good at following directions; it contained only a street address without any city given. That Charles Samuel Sullivan could have lived anywhere in the state of Ohio. Later, cross-checking the date of birth with other records on file at Ancestry.com helped me discover just what town should have been added to that record.

There was, however, another detail which the card did provide: a place of birth. Our Charles, of course, should have reported that his birthplace was in England; this mystery Charles turned out to be from Dayton, Ohio.

With that, we can now presume that our Charles Samuel Sullivan was born on May 1, 1882—if, of course, there won't be any other Charles Samuel Sullivans pop up in Toledo.

That, however, doesn't entirely prepare me to jump back to England to peruse records there. I'm still missing one vital detail: the maiden name for Charles' wife Alice. If Charles had moved from England to Ohio, and if his son John's obituary had mentioned that the Sullivan children had moved to their aunt's home upon the death of their mother, then Alice surely would have had a death certificate issued by the state of Ohio, as well.

That is precisely what my next step would be in this search to trace the family back to England—and eventually to Ireland, where the Sullivans originally connected with the Kelly family I've been researching. But before all that, I needed to find Alice Sullivan's death record in Ohio.


  1. I started researching late last night after I found the death record of my 2nd ggrandfather in Michigan in 1867. I then began searching page by page in an unindexed volume until I found his wife. And then I found I had already found her record previously and it was attached to my tree.

    It is going to be a rough year. Virtual kindergarten and second grade has already fried my brain the first week of school.

    1. Looks like you are in for a challenging year, Miss Merry!

  2. My great-grandfather Andrew Johnson immigrated to Wisconsin. He has been impossible to trace so far due to the common name.

    1. You have my sympathies on that one, Sara, considering what a rough go these Sullivans have been. Hopefully, you'll find some clues from among the members of his extended family--siblings in particular. Some people just seemed to disappear into thin air, but there's got to be a trace somewhere.


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