Thursday, September 30, 2021

Closing the Cover on
Lee, Flanagan, and Malloy


It's the close of another month. How quickly they fly. This month, my task was to find out what I could on one secretive ancestor of my father-in-law: his great-grandfather Stephen Malloy.

While the disappearing Stephen Malloy gave me the slip yet again, it wasn't for attempts to track him through his wife's Flanagan line, or even through a Flanagan niece and her marriage into a Lee family in Chicago, all with roots back in County Limerick, Ireland.

The idea with my "Twelve Most Wanted" project each year is to select one ancestor per month to research—actually, more like filling in the blanks where previous work had left off. The hope is, in the span of a month's research, to answer one specific question. In September's case, my hope was to discover just where Stephen Malloy came from in Ireland—specifically, who his parents might have been.

All that eluded me just as mysteriously as the man himself disappeared after his arrival in Boston in 1849. I am still left with nothing more than a copy of the letter he sent to his wife that year, before boarding the boat taking him away from his home in Ireland.

There are, of course, tasks yet to accomplish. For each of the surnames, now that the records are digitized and available online, I can search through the baptismal entries to find possible siblings (standing in as godparents) in the home parish of Ballyagran. Likewise, on the Chicago side of the search, I can look for church records—if they are still in existence—for more recent events, such as Johanna Flanagan's marriage to John Lee, or the original baptismal record for each of the Lee children. Sometimes, for those born in one location but requesting sacraments in a far distant parish, the priest may make a note documenting the reply from the originating church. Notes such as that may be my only hope to see now-lost records preserved, at least in transcribed form.

There were, however, benefits in attempting to knock down this brick wall. Prime among them was the gleaning from reviewing old documents. Details missed in the first pass took on a different meaning the second time around. Others, though, just added to the confusion—like the detail from William Flanagan's own death record claiming that his arrival in Chicago was in 1875, when I was certain I had located him and his sister Anna Malloy in the 1860 census

In the very years of such deprivation and death in Ireland, Catherine Malloy and her cousin Johanna Flanagan were born. Is it any wonder that there was a gap in the records kept by the priest in their home parish in Ballyagran? We sometimes lose sight, in our laser-focused quest to document our family's history, of the dire conditions our ancestors endured in that little dash between the dates of their life's trajectory.

Though I will again—some day—revisit this quandary, tomorrow begins another month. For this final quarter of the year, I will switch my research focus from my father-in-law's remaining research puzzles to tackle yet another set of problems. This time, we'll work on the questions lingering about my own father's mystery ancestors. These unanswered questions, all the legacy of a migrating couple determined never to let anyone know of their Polish roots, are beginning to unravel with the increasing accessibility of records worldwide. We owe a great debt of gratitude to those genealogy aficionados residing in other countries who, inspired by the same research zeal which motivates us, have found ways to make available for all their own nation's archived records.

Above: The 1893 Cook County, Illinois, physician's certificate of death for Irish immigrant William Flanagan, who died in Chicago on August 14 at eighty years of age.


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Reaching Back to Old File Folders


How does one manage to conflate the genealogical records obtained over a lifetime of research with those instantaneously obtained with the click of a mouse? How do we shift those piles of analog paperwork to the streamlined world of the digital?

Having to pull up details I obtained through hands-on research twenty, thirty, or more years ago—which were never added to the online world—can be a challenge, if a system to combine the two sets of records was not set up. In the case of our Johanna Flanagan Lee and her unnamed father, she unfortunately falls within that camp. Going through my old Flanagan and Lee file folders—and I do mean literal file folders, not those cute little icons online—they contained several now-familiar details, but alas, not the two notes I had written concerning one person: a man named Edward Flanagan.

Among my many research routines, decades ago, was to call the cemetery in which any ancestor had been buried. The purpose was straightforward. I wanted to verify—especially before the advent of Find A Grave—that my ancestor was indeed buried in that cemetery. Further, I'd use the same phone call to obtain the location of the specific burial plot.

More than that, though, was my hope to sweet-talk the person on the other end of the line to provide me with a list of everyone else who was buried in that family plot. Especially for burials in the 1800s, often the ancestor I'd be researching would actually be buried with others in what was called a family plot. While the assumption that everyone else buried in that plot would strictly be family members was not guaranteed to always be so, oftentimes it would be the case.

Regarding our William Flanagan, that kind of question did indeed provide helpful information. For one thing, that was also, apparently, where our Joanna Flanagan Lee was buried. But in addition to the listing of her name in that family plot, there was another Flanagan included. This man's name was Edward Flanagan.

Finding information on Edward was not easy. Back then, pre-Internet, I failed to locate much information at all, other than his name and significant dates of birth and death. The assumption, of course, was that Edward had found himself at that location specifically because he belonged to that family—same as William and Johanna. But how was he connected?

The thought was that Edward could easily fulfill the role of father to Johanna—but how often do we find that the easy "answers" do not end up being the real answers? Edward could have been a cousin, perhaps. Or a distant relative. 

Further, just as was the case with Johanna, Edward had no headstone to mark his burial. All I had to go on was an old cemetery record, passed to me via a long distance phone call decades ago—and now, only a dim memory of the exchange, at that.

However, in this Internet age in which we've all become accustomed to the ease of finding facts once hard to locate, concurrent with this struggle, I was able to reach across an ocean to discover another tantalizing connection: the Griffith's Valuation record for the townland to which Stephen Malloy had sent his letter to his wife Anna Flanagan contained another familiar surname.

Looking through that record for familiar names—looking in vain, it turns out, for other Flanagan households—what should I stumble upon but the surname which, decades later and nearly half a world away, was to become the married surname of our Johanna Flanagan.

The household in question was that of William Lee in the townland of Cappanihane. While I have no way to discover—at this point, if ever—who was attached to that home and family, reaching forward from that County Limerick property in 1848 to an American census record in 1880, I found it an encouraging sign that Johanna and John Lee named their eldest son by that same given name: William.

Come tomorrow, we'll have arrived at the end of another month and thus the time set aside for another family history research goal. While I'm far from achieving what I had hoped—finding the roots for that mysterious letter writer Stephen Malloy—I've located some encouraging hints and at least pinpointed the family's location in County Limerick. Tomorrow will be time to assess what we've found—and what we still lack—and develop some goals for the next time we tackle this research dilemma. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Building the Other Guy's Family Tree


There are a number of tempting possibilities residing in the discovery of the Flanagan DNA match connecting William and Catherine of the Cappananty property in County Limerick through their possible son James and my father-in-law's own Flanagan line. After all, if DNA connects my husband with a descendant of James Flanagan, I'd consider the connection to William and Catherine a strong possibility.

Let's look at the clues pointing us in that direction. The Flanagan property in Cappananty, at the time of Griffith's Valuation, was labeled with William's name. Later, the property register was changed to Catherine's name, and eventually to James—most likely indicating some sort of family relationship.

On my father-in-law's side of the equation, his great-grandmother Anna Flanagan, who had married the disappearing Stephen Malloy, had only one child: a daughter whom she named Catherine. If during that time period of the late 1840s, Anna's regional custom was to adhere to the old Irish naming pattern, she would normally have named her oldest daughter after her own mother. Anna's daughter being named Catherine would thus point to the possibility that Anna's own mother was named Catherine, as well.

In addition, we know that Anna had a brother William, though we don't know where he fell in his family's birth order. If Anna's brother William were son of another man named William, that would mean the younger was third son of the elder. There was another brother—implied by the arrival in Chicago of Catherine's cousin Johanna Flanagan Lee—but we don't yet know his name.

On the DNA side, the line of descent from James presents challenges, as well. For a start, we need to remember there was a gap in available church records for the Catholic parish of Ballyagran which the Flanagans called their home. There were baptismal records available for James' son James, and for his daughter named Anna. And yet, there are several online trees which indicate a large number of children—most of them without documentation other than attribution to other Ancestry subscribers' trees.

The normal step in such a DNA quandary would be to roll up our sleeves and begin building our match's family tree. Step by step with appropriate documentation, we could paint a clear enough picture of the family constellation—if we could overcome what seem to be an insurmountable lack of records.

Still, there may be another way around this roadblock. Just as I attempted for the Flannery puzzle last month, we could examine those sparse church records to find names of baptismal sponsors, then build out the family connections based on the theory that godparents named were siblings or in-laws of the parents of the child.

We could also attempt to find documentation for the current trees posted on Ancestry. Or directly contact the DNA match to see whether that Flanagan descendant might have been the beneficiary of those coveted family keepsakes. Just as my father-in-law "inherited" his Tully grandfather's baptismal verification letter, someone from the James Flanagan line of descent may have been blessed with some private token of relationship, as well.

No matter how the deed is accomplished, though, it is apparent with some DNA matches that if we want to know more about our family, it falls our lot to be the one to build our own version of someone else's family tree. Whether "quick and dirty" as some DNA enthusiasts like to portray it, or a more carefully documented effort, there are simply times when we need to build that tree for ourselves.

Besides the James Flanagan line, though, there is yet one more possibility that needs our attention before the month is out: the line from the unnamed Flanagan brother who had a Chicago-bound daughter named Johanna.    

Monday, September 27, 2021

The "What If" Strategy Revisited


Sometimes, we stumble upon research possibilities which look good—except for one detail. That detail might be a missing document, or a date which looks like too much of a stretch to be believable. No matter what the research glitch, it leaves a hole in our proof argument demanding to be secured.

While I play around with the possibilities, juggling the facts I can support with the conjectures I cannot, I engage in what I call "what if" strategies. As we enter the final week of grappling with my research project for September, let's rearrange what we've gleaned on my father-in-law's Flanagan family, both in Ireland and in the United States.

We've seen that Anna Flanagan Malloy somehow made her way from her home in or near Ballyagran, County Limerick, to a new residence in Chicago. We know that she was in the neighborhood of Ballyagran in 1849, based on the letter sent to her there from her husband, Stephen Malloy, before his disappearance. We can find Anna with her daughter Catherine and her brother William in the 1860 U.S. census in Chicago. When they left Ireland, or how they arrived in North America, I can't yet tell, but I know each of them remained in Chicago for the rest of their lives.

Record of tenants in the region where Anna was staying when she received that letter from her husband showed only one property attributed to the surname Flanagan: a small house and lot leased to one William Flanagan. Later, that lot's tenant was listed as Catherine—then even later as James Flanagan.

Church records show that there was one James Flanagan in the area whose son by the same name was baptised in 1864. Could that elder James Flanagan be the same as the James Flanagan listed in the Valuation records for 1868? My "what if" conjecture would be: could James Flanagan be son of William and Catherine Flanagan? And could our Anna be James' sister? After all, it would have made sense for Anna, once her husband left, to return to her parents' home, especially if she were a young mother with a one-year-old child to care for.

While we lack a paper trail which could demonstrate—or negate—such a possibility, we do have another type of record at our disposal: autosomal DNA. It turns out that my husband, who is Anna Flanagan Malloy's great-great grandson, has a DNA match with a descendant of a James Flanagan. If the elder James, father in that baptismal record, were brother to our Anna, with this DNA match, we'd be comparing third cousins once removed.

According to, where the match was located, the two Flanagan descendants share a mere seventeen centiMorgans. What are the possibilities for a match at that level of shared genetic material? Consulting the charts at DNA Painter, it is quite possible. Third cousin once removed, for seventeen centiMorgans, occurs in the top tier, according to statistics provided by Leah Larkin at The DNA Geek. In other words, the likelihood of this being a possible connection for a third cousin once removed is twenty three percent.

But what if that isn't the case? After all, there are other possibilities, as well. Even if they were less likely, the connection could have been farther away—say, fourth cousin—or even closer, as in third cousin. The measure of the genetic connection doesn't quite pinpoint the relationship; it just provides us assurance that we're in the right general area.

That, of course, is a start. It confirms that, whoever was the original tenant in that one Flanagan home in the Catholic Ballyagran parish, he was related to our Anna. And whoever his property eventually got passed to was likely one and the same as the James Flanagan whose son's name was preserved in that 1864 baptismal record. Though that isn't a "for sure" thing, it at least gives us license to play that "what if" strategy with a bit more confidence.


Sunday, September 26, 2021

Still Tracing Those Tilsons


Behind the scenes, ever since updated their DNA ethnicity results this month, I've been reconstructing one branch of my maternal Tilson line. The reason? I have a new DNA match who connects to that same Tilson line. As I always do with my DNA matches, I like to show where that person belongs in my tree to confirm the relationship both on paper and genetically.

There's only one catch, however: his posted tree and mine don't seem to match. There are doubtless many reasons for that. Hence the tedium and delay in reaching any documented conclusion.

The problem may lie in the propensity of our ancestors to recycle given names. Specifically, there are too many Thomas Tilsons in the family's history. As far as the paperwork goes, one of us may have zigged when we should have zagged down that branch of the family.

Admittedly, I took a long look at the one published genealogy of the Tilson line, assembled by Mercer V. Tilson in 1911. While I cross check all material I find in books like this by current research tools and resources, I know this book has been considered a dependable source. Though the volume was published well over one hundred years ago and thus not currently in circulation, it is still accessible in searchable format on Internet Archive. For those who have subscriptions to, the Mercer Tilson book is also included in their collection labeled "North America, Family Histories, 1500-2000." Using the sidebar to the right of that search page on Ancestry, that specific volume can be isolated for your search, then the result added right to your tree.

Of course, we can use such nifty search devices only if we are certain of the addition. In this DNA case, each of us has pointed to a different Thomas Tilson. Thus, I'm back to tree building.

The Tilson family is of particular interest to me, only because of yet another family to which it links: all the way back to John Alden and Priscilla Mullins of Mayflower heritage. I've been working on documenting my branch of this line for years, and there is still so much work yet to be done. It is mind boggling to think of all the descendants of this Tilson line, let alone the full complement of Alden descendants. And yet, it takes proceeding step by step—adding DNA matches with the proper documentation when available—to reach such a goal.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Family Ditto Marks


To have identical twins in your ancestry is one thing, but to have those twins named almost identically adds to the record-keeping confusion. In the case of Marilyn Sowle Bean's father-in-law, she did have a situation in which the man and his twin had identical names, except for one detail: the order was reversed. One was named Samuel William; the other was named William Samuel.

There was, however, one vast difference between those identical twins. Due to a freak accident during his teen years, Marilyn's father-in-law became both blind and deaf, a story I've written about several years ago.

Now, thanks to the discovery by a local genealogy enthusiast of Marilyn's discarded photos in a local antique store, I've been able to rescue both a photo of the (deceptively) cherubic twins and a picture from the other end of life, labeled simply "Dad Bean."

The portrait, composed by a photographer in the Engle studio in Redwood City, California, was taken just before the turn of the century, judging by the appearance of the twin sons of Leon and Ella Shields Bean, who were born in 1896.

What was interesting about seeing the candid shot at the other end of Samuel Bean's life was that, had it not been labeled on the reverse, I would have thought it was a picture of William Bean. The photo depicted Samuel Bean, amidst a pile of wood, holding a saw. Unless you knew this blind and deaf man was skilled at woodworking, it might have seemed an out-of-place scene. I know differently, because the only item of furniture passed down to me from this family happens to be a parquet wood chess table built and inlaid by Sam Bean. 


Friday, September 24, 2021

The Trail to the Ones Left Behind


When we are able to paint only a partial picture of those relatives left behind by our immigrating ancestors, is there a way to use what we know to find our ancestor's way back home? In the case of Anna Flanagan, wife of the disappearing Stephen Malloy, we at least have the assistance of facts gathered about her brother William.

It was William's impressive stone memorial which informed the world—and, thankfully, my little researching self—that the journey which landed him in a Chicago cemetery began in the Catholic parish of Ballyagran in County Limerick. That minute detail, combined with the address on the letter sent by Stephen Malloy to his wife Anna, pointed us to his humble beginnings in the townland of Cappananty, site of only one property in the 1850s Griffith's Valuation bearing that man's surname.

Whether the William Flanagan of the Valuation was one and the same as the old bachelor of Chicago, I can't yet tell. After all, the man leasing the Irish property could well have been his father. At any rate, the beauty of the Irish property records is that they didn't remain static with the one assessment done by Sir Richard John Griffith. A visit to the Valuation Office in Dublin can reveal the history of the property as it changed hands over the decades—and that was indeed what I was able to do, nearly seven years ago.

Reviewing the notes from that research journey now—review being one way to rediscover the details missed the first time we struggled with this puzzle—I can see the Cappananty property passed from the original entry for a William Flanagan to a woman by the name of Catherine Flanagan by 1855. While that property record, itself, does not tell me which William or Catherine that might have been, it at least identifies some names belonging to that one Flanagan family circle in Cappananty.

Taking that property record forward in time, we again see a change in name for the lessee in the year 1866. In red ink, Catherine Flanagan's name was lined out, and eventually replaced by another name with a note, "68." That name—presumably added by 1868—was another Flanagan. This time, the name was James.

It was interesting to stumble upon that name James in this review. During the past week, frustrated by the gaps in church records for the Ballyagran parish—leaving those gaps precisely placed where baptisms might have occurred for Catherine Malloy and Johanna Flanagan—I decided to search all baptismal and marriage records for the Ballyagran parish, regardless of dates, using John Grenham's website gateway to Find My Past. Not much came up in that search.

Not much, that is, except for one: the baptism of one Jacobus Flanagan in 1864, son of Jacobo and Elizabetha.

Looking at names like those surely prompts the reader to assume that is not English we are reading in that transcription. Sure enough, that is the original Latin of the Catholic baptismal entry. Checking one list providing corresponding English or Irish names for their Latin versions, we see that the son, Jacobus, was more likely named James—same as his father.

Finding a father and son named James Flanagan in 1864 in the Ballyagran parish opens my eyes to a possibility. This James, the elder, could have been the Flanagan named as lessee of the one Flanagan property in the townland of Cappananty which once was attributed to Catherine Flanagan, and before her, a man by the name of William.

Though I can't yet be certain of this, what if Catherine was widow of William, and mother of the elder James? What if that Catherine was also mother of Anna—who named her own firstborn daughter Catherine, in good Irish tradition being the namesake for the child's maternal grandmother? And could the William Flanagan who died in Chicago himself be son of another man named William?

The time frames may be stretched too far for these flights of fancy to be solid possibilities. After all, our William was said to have been born in 1813. If he were indeed son of a man named William, by Irish naming tradition, he would have been the man's third son.

Assuming by that point that the elder William had only three children—in other words, no daughters interspersed in that time frame—and given a spacing between births of two years apiece, it would calculate to a marriage about 1808. If, as was reported to be customary, the elder William, as groom, was twenty two years of age at that date, he would have been born in 1786. Thus, the stretch: if this were the correct person to be our William's father, an 1855 death would have yielded the ripe old age of sixty nine years.

Not that that couldn't have happened—but it provides a detail which suggests we examine alternate connections. But, why connections at all? After all, Flanagan is a fairly common name. Yet, there was one more detail which I needed to consider. There was something else connecting our American Flanagans with the Flanagans of this postage stamp sized property in Cappananty.  

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Johanna's Side of the Saga


When taking the direct route from research question to answer is not possible, there may well be an indirect way to collect clues. That way comes in the form of what genealogists call a collateral line.

I may not have found confirmation of what became of Stephen Malloy, after his abrupt departure from Liverpool for Boston—at least according to the letter he sent his wife Anna, back in County Limerick—but I can trace some of his Flanagan in-laws for possible clues. We've already traced Anna and her daughter Catherine from their 1849 home in Ireland to their residence across the ocean in America, and discovered that another Flanagan family member—Anna's brother William—had joined them in Chicago. In addition to William, there was possibly one other Flanagan sibling who made the journey to America, as well.

So far, I have not been able to determine the name of that Flanagan brother, despite finding reports that he may have been buried in a Flanagan family plot in Chicago's Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery. That detail will reveal itself in good time, I'm sure. But the collateral relative we need to focus on today is a Flanagan brother's daughter by the name of Johanna.

I've discussed Johanna quite a bit in the past, but this month's research goal has taught me the value of reviewing all the information I've already collected. Sometimes, details which previously slipped by unnoticed can later take on significance. Heeding that observation, let's go back to Johanna's story to see whether anything pops up with this review.

I first stumbled upon Johanna's records as we often do in genealogical pursuits: at the end of her life. There in Chicago in 1909—just a bit shy of the revised format for death certificates—was the report of her passing. The scant details revealed that Johanna had been born in Ireland and that her parents were, as well—a no-brainer for those of us researching our Irish immigrant ancestors—but the document didn't happen to mention just who her parents might have been.

It was from a small insertion in the Chicago Tribune the day after her June 11 death that we learn her maiden name, listed in that obituary as Flanigan.

While the obituaries of that time period—at least in Chicago—did not include mention of the deceased's parents' names, we at least can infer that it was Johanna's father, not mother, who was the Flanagan connection, a detail which helps our research process.

Keeping in mind that Johanna's death certificate suggested a date of birth some time in 1850, we realize that she and her cousin Catherine Malloy—eventually Mrs. John Tully—were almost the same age. What is the possibility that Johanna, too, made the journey to America in 1855? While I have yet to find her name featured in passenger records, we do have a couple documents to rely on in estimating her arrival on American shores.

One document, of course, is the death certificate, itself. There, the family's unnamed representative estimated that Johanna had been in Chicago for thirty five years. This yields an arrival date of about 1874—considerably later than the arrival of William Flanagan, his sister Anna, and Anna's daughter Catherine. Yet that is only one report—with a good possibility to be in error. Checking with a second report—this time supposedly provided by Johanna herself in the 1900 census—reveals Johanna had arrived somewhere in the United States in 1868.

Another question which might produce a helpful clue would be: where did Johanna get married? According to that 1900 census report, Johanna had been the mother of ten children, seven of whom were still alive at the time of the enumeration. Yet she reported that, by 1900, she was a widow. It was only when we located the family in the 1880 census that we discover her husband possessed the unfortunately all-too-common name of John Lee.

Finding a marriage record for Johanna and John would be challenging, if they had wed in Ireland, though it might have provided useful information. On the other hand, locating such a record in Chicago might be just as helpful—and more likely to actually be found than such records in Ireland. Yet, all I can find right now is: nothing. The only circumstantial clue is that the Lees' oldest child, William, was born about 1875. If Johanna had arrived in 1868, that surely would point toward a marriage in Chicago.

Could it be possible, then, that the Irish immigrant "Joana Flanagan" working in Chicago as a domestic servant in the Josiah Butler household—according to the 1870 census—was our unmarried Flanagan link? If so, that may indicate that Johanna traveled to America as a single woman, not with any Flanagan relatives—a helpful detail, once we peruse passenger lists.

With these basic parameters in place, let's see what we can find on this one collateral link to our Flanagan line, both in Chicago and across the ocean, back in the family's home in County Limerick. The key, hopefully, is to find names of the rest of that Flanagan family, including—perhaps—some Flanagans who remained in their homeland.  


Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Major Roadblocks, Minor Revisions


Let's admit it: at this point, we are stuck with the puzzle of what became of Stephen Malloy, my father-in-law's great-grandfather. Perhaps, as his 1849 letter to his wife Anna indicated, he did indeed sail from the English port of Liverpool, heading to a new life in Boston. As far as the family knew after that point, the man simply disappeared.

Anna, Stephen's wife, did not let that deter her. She, too, took passage to America, though I don't know how—let alone exactly when and where—she arrived. All I know is that she ended up not in Boston, but in Chicago.

Stephen Malloy's disappearance thus becomes a major roadblock to my research goals. Seeking out further details on how Anna and her daughter arrived in Chicago, however, amounts to minor revisions. And these discoveries are indeed possible, considering the fragments of information we can glean from other records.

For instance, perhaps Anna traveled alone; perhaps she didn't. We can't yet tell. We do know, however, that Anna's young daughter Catherine—her only child—lived with her at the point when we found documentation of them in the 1860 census. Then Anna, along with Catherine, lived in Chicago with Anna's brother, a single man by the name of William Flanagan.

It is there in Chicago that we've pieced together as much of the story of Stephen and Anna as we could find—everything from the scant information on death certificates of that era to family lore explaining what they had heard about the disappearing Stephen Malloy. And while Stephen's story still presents what seems like an impenetrable enigma, it is the smattering of details we can gather on the rest of the family which, in yet another review, may lead us to answers—or at least revisions of our understanding of the story.

Take Anna's brother William. The family's story was that William had been arrested for a minor crime and sentenced by the British authorities to "transportation" to Australia to serve time. It turns out there was a record for one such William Flanagan in 1851. The case was decided in County Cork, not in the location of our Flanagan residence in County Limerick—but keep in mind that Anna's and William's home church parish reached across the county line, close to the main road leading south to the city of Cork.

While William was eventually "discharged"—as I learned during our visit to Ireland several years ago—in reviewing this detail now, I see the date of that decision was May 9, 1855. This date may become helpful to us in pinpointing the family's move to America.

Of course, we must not rely on only one document to build our case here. Keep in mind, I'm not entirely sure this entry in the Irish National Archives database is our William Flanagan. Taking a look at other indicators of the family's date of immigration, though, we find approximate corroboration.

For one thing, Anna's own death certificate bore the report that she had been in the state of Illinois for thirty years from her 1885 death. Granted, that detail was gleaned from someone else's report—an unnamed person, at that—but seeing the added comment on the certificate, "Mother of Mrs. John Tully," one could presume that the reporting party was indeed her daughter, the former Catherine Malloy.

That one document pointed to an arrival date—at least in Illinois—in 1855, aligning with William Flanagan's release from his sentence. Let's look for one more indicator: daughter Catherine's own report of her arrival in the United States. Although the one place where I found it was a document which was horribly overwritten, that 1900 census record also asked the question in a second manner: how many years was she in America? Catherine answered forty-five years, once again pointing to an arrival in 1855.

Having reviewed the documents I already had noted in my records, I can now at least estimate a year for their arrival. Furthermore, rather than the assumption which was held previously by the family—that Anna and Catherine arrived first from Ireland and then, somehow, William joined them from Australia—we can assume the trip may have been made by all three on the same passage.

Additionally, there is a strong possibility that those three Flanagan descendants—William, Anna, and her daughter Catherine—were not the only Flanagans to travel to Chicago. Years ago, I explored another woman who, in some references, was mentioned as a Flanagan related to these others. I had followed her family tree as much as possible in the past, but the work was incomplete due to lack of some records. Revisiting this other Flanagan relative one more time, perhaps we can find some additional connections to explain more of the extended family's saga.

Above: One possible entry from the Ireland-Australia Transportation Database at the National Archives of Ireland's website indicates a William Flanagan who had been sentenced in County Cork in 1851, but ordered to be discharged in 1855.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The "What If?" Strategy


In the process of searching for our specific ancestor, it is tempting, once finding a reasonable document, to assume that is the proof we are seeking. That's never a foolproof approach, though. There are several reasons why we seek more than one document to confirm the details of an ancestor's life story.

For one thing, we need to consider what I call "name twins." There is a strong possibility—especially given common names of folks living in population centers—that someone else could be given the same name as the ancestor we are researching. A wise alternative is to seek several documents along that person's life trajectory to confirm we are following the same person's history. 

Likewise, keeping track of not only the timeline but the locations where significant life events occurred is important for ensuring we are still researching the same person. Impossible feats of travel, given restrictions of the time period, would be a clue that we have jumped track from our ancestor to someone of the same name but different family.

In the case of my father-in-law's mystery great-grandfather, Stephen Malloy, we have a situation where the family received one report of his demise which might be quite believable—until we begin asking questions about the circumstances.

Questions, as it turns out, are a good device to employ in genealogical research. We always need to consider possible alternative explanations. And in Stephen Malloy's case, there are questions.

One question we had mentioned yesterday: the fact that Stephen's wife Anna chose to remain unmarried for the rest of her life, despite being free as a widow to remarry—indeed, in that day and age, especially with a child to support, that would have been the norm. Was there any doubt about that story that her husband had been killed in Boston?

Another question flows from the very details found in the passenger record of the ship upon which our Stephen was supposed to have been aboard. The age for that man was cited as twenty six, and yet his supposed bride would have been thirty seven that same year—hardly a believable age spread for a couple during that time period.

The least verifiable of my doubts comes from the overarching history of the region which Stephen Malloy left in 1849. Ireland had experienced some civil unrest, both politically and from a sectarian point of view, and Stephen's abrupt and seemingly mysterious defection plays with my own doubts in ways not likely to be substantiated without further evidence. I begin to wonder: why did Stephen Malloy leave home so abruptly? Could it be that he never made it on board the ship in Liverpool? If he were fleeing trouble back home, could he have assumed an alias?

Perhaps my questions might never have found a satisfying answer—except that now, we have search capabilities unparalleled in previous generations. While I can take the tedious route of searching Boston newspapers for crime reports of the murder of one Stephen Malloy, I can also search for alternate explanations by other means as well.

One possible alternate explanation could be that Stephen did make it to Boston and decide to settle there, making a new life for himself. Searching online records did reveal one document which gave me pause to consider these alternate possibilities: a petition for citizenship filed by one Stephen Mulloy in the state of Massachusetts in 1855.

According to the document, this Stephen arrived in Boston on or about the first day of April in 1849, only a few days after the date given on the passenger list for the Anglo American. The document also provided his date of birth and current age: born December 24, 1827, he claimed to be twenty eight when he completed that 1855 document. Thus, he was nearly—but not quite the same—as the age of the Stephen Molloy on the passenger list.

Though the tantalizing detail of the record was that this man, too, was born in County Limerick—location of the home where our Stephen sent his letter to his wife in 1849—his age, being so much younger than his supposed wife Anna, gives me pause to wonder whether this traveler was the same man as our Stephen. Indeed, records of this man in the Massachusetts 1855 state census, where he was boarding with a Reardon family, could lead one to presume he was waiting for his wife's arrival from Ireland—but the subsequent state census in 1865 showed him a married man with two children. Hardly our Stephen Malloy. Or was he?

There are, of course, other possible explanations for our Stephen Malloy's disappearance. Coming here in 1849, of all times, he could possibly have caught gold fever and headed for California. He could, once in this country, have assumed an alias. Either of those scenarios could have reached a climax of finding him shot to death—but even with today's search tools, we might never find the full story.

With that, we have some other search options to explore before the month is out and we turn our attention to other research goals. At this point, the best way to determine next steps is to talk it all out. We'll grapple with the possibilities tomorrow.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Back to Boston


One plus to revisiting our family history research trail over the years is the possibility that additional documents may have been uploaded to digitized collections. This was indeed what I had discovered while grappling with my father-in-law's puzzle concerning his great-grandfather, Stephen Malloy.

Having left his home in Ireland via Liverpool in a hurry, Stephen had written to his wife Anna, telling her that he was bound for Boston. While the name of the sailing vessel matched up with passenger records I've been able to find almost two hundred years later, that was the last confirmation of what had become of him.

Family stories didn't help the research effort. According to the oral tradition passed down by the family, Stephen Malloy had made it to Boston, alright—but some time after his arrival, he was shot and killed.

That's what his descendants had said, repeating the story generation after generation with no proof to substantiate the claim. I decided to look for myself—but that was years ago. Sure enough, I found his name on the right passenger list, arriving in Boston about March 27, 1849. But what about his death? Surely someone would have made an official note of such a crime.

Back at that time, I did stumble upon a possible record. It was, however, only a transcript, as many of the records available for genealogical purposes were at the time. 

The record basically reported the death of one Stephen "Maloy" in Boston during 1850. The date looked reasonable, and since I'd already discovered the numerous spelling varieties used for Stephen's surname, an entry for "Maloy" didn't disturb me too much.

Clicking through on a second tab for the reference, labeled "source," gave me more information on this entry. It provided me with the name of the original document from which this indexed collection had been drawn—helpful information, indeed, if I wished to track down the source for myself to view anything more than a mere, possibly error-laden, transcription.

At the time I first found this entry—this was years ago—all I could do was presume this was the indicator of Stephen Malloy's demise, just as the family had insisted was his fate. Later, fortunately, the document itself was digitized, enabling me to see for myself the full story. In fact, there were several versions of the record made available, from typed transcript back to what appears to be a time-worn original version of the record itself.

Once I was able to view the actual document, I learned that, once again, our Stephen Malloy had thrown me off his track. The entry for the 1850 death was indeed for someone in Boston named Stephen "Maloy," but it was for a babe in arms aged one year and five months—hardly of an age to be husband of Anna Flanagan or father of Catherine Malloy.

The child, son of John and Elizabeth Maloy, was certainly not our Stephen. But what if the family could have been related to Stephen? After all, why did Stephen choose to migrate to Boston? He could, as did many Irish immigrants, have rather chosen the route to New York City—or chosen the more prudent expense of transportation to the British portion of North America, and head for Canada.

That Stephen's wife Anna may not have been entirely convinced of his tragic death was evident in that she, a devout Catholic, remained unmarried for the rest of her seventy three years—or, perhaps, she just never gave up hope that she'd see him again.

I, on the other hand, in revisiting this research puzzle couldn't help but take a look at all the other documents which have more recently been digitized and placed online for our benefit. While this may be a wild and crazy conjecture on my part, I couldn't help but notice that there were other records from the Boston area concerning men of the same name during that time period.

While a game of "what if" should never have any part in the final proof argument drawn up at the conclusion of a difficult ancestral search, it certainly doesn't hurt to at least consider other possibilities while we are still in search mode. And there was one possibility in particular which made me think twice.


Note: both search results, shown above in insets, are from, as indicated by the hyperlinked text next to each example shown.     

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Checked Your D N A Updates Lately?


Last Tuesday, I noticed a quick post on Gail Dever's Genealogy à la carte about a recent lack of new DNA matches on Gail quoted Ancestry's Crista Cowan's explanation that Ancestry had "temporarily paused the release of newly processed kits." The reason? Ethnicity updates to be run on September 17. Thus, my subsequent, repeated checking of my DNA kits this past week: impatient waiting to see what has changed.

I'm not usually one to wait with baited breath for ethnicity updates. I understand this is a currently evolving science. I was, however, curious to see how this one change would link with the other side of this genetic genealogy tool which has helped me fill in some blanks in my family tree. After all, my father-in-law still has several unknowns back in Ireland, for instance—to say nothing of my own paternal side's brick walls, with which I'll be grappling for the fall quarter of this research year.

Of course, the more I wrestle with these intractable unknowns, the more I manage to add collateral lines—my one hope for an end run around those resistant research brick walls. Thus, my husband's tree did grow by 152 names in the past two weeks, yielding us a tree now holding 23,551 researched individuals. But there is still such a long way to go. Getting the news that there might be a backlog of new kits about to be released into the DNA match mix was encouraging.

On my own tree, I checked for new matches yesterday, as well, and found yet another to add to my Tilson line. That extended Tilson family is the one which leads me back, through a maternal line, to Mayflower Society eligibility, so I'm keen to keep those records up to date.

But DNA matches require a working knowledge of collateral lines—in other words, the descendants of my direct ancestors' siblings—and my newest Tilson DNA match required me to explore an entirely new branch of that family line. Just with today's pursuit of that DNA connection, I've added fifty three new family names. And yet, despite the total in that tree now reaching 26,229, I've got much more work to do before I can figure out the connection with that one Tilson match.

Some matches take more grunt work to tie down than others, agreed. The tools we gain from each reiteration of ethnicity and related issues combine to make that effort easier, however. Perhaps the newly-added reference panels may not help your cause with this most recent ethnicity update, but that is not all that has changed. Ancestry's use of what they call "a popular network analysis method called community detection" is behind their ability to assemble "genetic communities." 

Combining those updated ethnicity estimates—thanks to the addition of more reference panels—with historical details extracted from family trees linked to AncestryDNA results, all under the timeline of overarching historical details, is what enables Ancestry to connect the dots for us by honing in on the patterns seen in specific communities. The end result is a powerful tool for predicting familial connections.  

Saturday, September 18, 2021

When the Family Gives you Their "Stuff"


When you spend a lifetime devoted to preserving your ancestors' history, you sometimes find yourself becoming the keeper of the family "stuff," as prolific author Denise Levenick calls it. She may call herself—and her occasional blogThe Family Curator, but I was recently reminded of the moniker I had adopted for myself, having gone through much the same process: "biographer of insignificant lives."

And so I have become, blogging about family stories over the past ten years. Somehow in the midst of this process, visiting family in far-flung locations, I've accumulated quite a bit of "stuff." None of it, unfortunately, has been anything like those lovely antique treasures (which somehow made their way to someone else), but let's just call these acquisitions of mine micro-treasures.

Still, I have to come up with a way to sort, organize, and store them. Lately, I've been going through old photographs of these micro-treasures and ran across one item which perhaps only a mother would save. It was a newspaper clipping—one of the sort which sheared off any mention of the name of the publication or even the date. Nice clipping of a relative, but the genealogist in me would have liked to know more.

Glued neatly to the center of a black scrapbook page, here is what I had.

                                          William M'Clellan

William, who is 12 years old, is a son of Mr. and Mrs. R. C. McClellan, 2804 Jefferson street. He was awarded the cup shown here for obtaining the greatest number of safety pledges from citizens in recent safety campaign sponsored by the Tampa Motor club. He is a pupil in 7 A-S, George Washington Junior High school.

Of course, I already knew who the young boy was—my maternal grandmother's baby brother—but I've had other cases of photographs or newspaper clippings where even the name wasn't provided to go along with the picture. Since I knew not only this boy's name, but where he grew up, I decided to put my multiple newspaper subscription services to good use and see if I could relocate the clipping in its original setting, just for the sake of a full reference.

Thanks to, I found the exact article, which had first appeared in the Tampa Morning Tribune on Friday, January 27, 1928, page seven, at the top of column two. I can now mark my copy with the reference, and if my collection of the family "stuff" ever gets passed along to a subsequent member of the family, that lucky inheritor won't have to go through the treasure hunt all over again.

Unless, of course, it's the thrill of the hunt that keeps people like us going. 

Friday, September 17, 2021

Falling Through the Gaps


How big a mug do we need to contain the genealogy crocodile tears we'll cry into our beer today?

It's February 17, 1848, and Anna Flanagan Malloy has just given birth to the daughter who will become her only child. She and her husband Stephen name the child Catherine—presumably, in the old Irish naming tradition, after Anna's own mother.

We already know what happened after that. At some point in the next year, Stephen finds it necessary to run to Liverpool where, on the eve of a subsequent departure, he dictates a hasty letter to his wife, alerting her that his next stop would be across the Atlantic Ocean in a place called Boston. From there, he disappears.

Meanwhile, from our hundred-seventy-plus year vantage point, we discover that, in an oh-no-you-don't-either moment, Anna grabs her daughter and heads to America...only she and Catherine inexplicably end up not in Boston, but another thousand miles further in Chicago.

Surely, we think, there must be a way to muddle through this research puzzle and determine the prior history of both Stephen and Anna. More certainly, we assume we can find some documented trace of baby Catherine, who at least could claim native birth on the Emerald Isle.

Apparently, this is not so. There is one barrier to our research plans. As John Grenham wryly put it in a recent blog post, "Nothing like some birth records to get a good fire going."

Ah, the Irish. Can you blame a starving man for seeing things from a more practical perspective?

In case you haven't yet stumbled upon the work of John Grenham, let's take a moment to consider the man and his efforts on behalf of Irish genealogy. There is a lot to be said of him.

In typical British understatement, for instance, blogger Alistair McGowan reports, "John Grenham is probably Ireland's leading genealogist."


John Grenham is certainly known for his useful guide on Irish genealogy, Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, updated in 2019. Far more than that one publication, he has contributed decades of work on projects as an accredited genealogist in Ireland. Much of his work is now housed on his own website.

Let's take our issue with Anna Flanagan and her daughter Catherine Malloy to the Grenham website to see what we can find. Just looking at some basic charts and graphics will help illuminate our research difficulties.

First, let's see what we can discover about the surname Flanagan. After all, we've already noted that Anna, after her husband's departure, likely resided with some Flanagan family members in County Limerick. At about the same time as Stephen's departure in 1849, though, the surname Flanagan was widespread throughout Ireland, making it difficult to determine whether her roots were indeed in that specific civil parish where she received her husband's letter.

Malloy, on the other hand, was a surname centered in very few population centers. Of course, that is considering only one of many spelling variations; searching for Molloy, for instance, would produce a vastly different picture, covering almost the entire island, with the exception of the southwest region. Again, we find little to help us pinpoint where our elusive Stephen Malloy might have originated.

If we instead focus on finding the baptismal record for their daughter Catherine, as we discussed yesterday, once again we encounter a problem—but not of the same type as the widespread surname distribution we've mentioned above. This time, it is perhaps more akin to the conjecture offered only partially in jest by John Grenham: the availability of baptismal records in the specific Catholic parish where Anna and her daughter resided.

The Grenham site, along with many other resources, offers a date range of record availability by geographic location. Since we already know the Catholic parish where Anna and her baby were living at the time of Stephen's letter, let's take a look at what John Grenham provides for the parish of Ballyagran.

Bottom line: quite a bit...if you aren't looking for a baptismal record any time between August 30 of 1847 and September 22 of 1850.

As it so happens, an Irish child born on February 17, 1848, would likely have been baptised almost immediately, if not within a few days after birth—but, if born in the Catholic parish of Ballyagran, falling exactly within a three-year gap between a significant run of document availability ranging from 1841 through 1880. In other words, confirmation of Catherine's baptism is unfortunately no longer included in the church's records.

And so, we cry in our beer.

Something inside of me struggles to keep up the search. But...but...I sputter...there must be another way around this research dilemma. What about picking up that first trail, the one tracking Stephen Malloy across the Atlantic to Boston? 

Indeed, what revisiting this research brick wall teaches me is that it is useful to retrace our steps over the years. Going back to revisit the Stephen Malloy dilemma this month, after having laid aside the problem for years, did yield some new information—just not what we would have hoped. We'll check that out next week.

Above: Sign on road approaching the village of Ballyagran in County Limerick, Ireland, seen during our visit there in 2014.


Thursday, September 16, 2021

Pivoting Around a Brick Wall


When we are faced with an insurmountable research brick wall, one approach might be to pivot and sidestep the issue, instead of being fixated on one sole route to our answer. Thus, making no progress in finding the origin of my father-in-law's great-grandfather, Stephen Malloy, we'll turn our attention today to his only daughter, Catherine.

Because Catherine was in my father-in-law's direct family line, we know the rest of her story. Born somewhere in Ireland, we know only that by the time she was barely one year of age, her mother was living in County Limerick. That detail we glean only from the fortunate discovery of the envelope of a letter mailed to her mother upon her father's abrupt departure for America.

Catherine and her mother, Anna Flanagan Malloy, eventually immigrated to the United States, as well, but not to the destination her father had indicated when he outlined his own plans. Anna brought her young daughter to Chicago. Whether the choice was made because Anna's brother, William Flanagan, had also moved to that midwest city, I can't tell; all I know is that the mother and daughter both spent the rest of their lives calling that city their home.

From that era of their lives in Chicago, I learned that Catherine married another Irish immigrant named John Tully. The year of their marriage—1870, as suggested by a subsequent census report—may explain why I've been unsuccessful in locating any documentation for that event. Following that event—whenever it occurred—Catherine and John became proud parents of six children: five daughters and one lone son.

Catherine's death in 1922 provided confirmation of both her parents' names and the specifics of her date of birth—17 February 1848—giving us a clearer idea of her age when her mother received the farewell letter from the emigrating Stephen Malloy.

Given that Catherine was actually born in Ireland, and considering that her parents—well, at least her mother—had been Catholic, it would stand to reason that Catherine would show up in baptismal records sometime before her mother's departure in pursuit of her husband. Yet, taking a look at online resources for Irish Catholic baptismal records in the county where Anna lived when she received Stephen's letter, there is no sign of a baptism for daughter Catherine, no matter how I manipulate the spelling of that surname.

The next thought was, if nothing was showing in County Limerick that could match the family we're seeking, could it be possible that Catherine was born elsewhere? After all, there might be a chance that Anna, knowing Stephen was seeking a way to head to America, might have left the home where they, as a married couple, had settled to move back in with family in his absence.

But where would that "elsewhere" have been? Keeping in mind our search task would include seeking several spelling variations for that surname, I looked for baptismal records under "Malloy," then "Molloy," and even "Mulloy." Despite the search engine engaging in some liberal handling of spelling variations as well, not one match came up with the correct set of parent names, no matter where in Ireland the results pointed us.

So where was she? Obviously, Catherine Malloy was born somewhere in Ireland. That I haven't been able to find her—or her mother—in passenger records might have been one issue, but surely there should have been some sort of baptismal record before the mother-daughter duo left their homeland. 

There was, however, yet another problem with which we—as all other researchers of Irish family history—need to contend. We'll cry into our ready beer mugs tomorrow as we examine our research dilemma.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Reframing the Question


If we cannot find the answer to the research question we've posed, why let that stop our progress? Let's try reframing the question.

In the case of Anna Flanagan and her disappearing husband, Stephen Malloy, we've been unable to find him in the townland—or even the civil parish—where he mailed his last message to her. Granted, searching for the surname Malloy can be challenging; in the few documents where I've been able to locate his surname, it has been spelled in just as many different ways.

Indeed, searching for Stephen—or anyone with his surname—could be a challenge. As we've noticed from researching others from this location and time period, spelling could be a flexible skill. That surname could be rendered Malloy, as we've seen in some records once Anna settled in Chicago, or it could have been recorded as Moley, as the letter had been addressed to Stephen's wife. In fact, besides the most common spelling of Molloy—derived from the Irish phrase meaning "proud chieftain"—and Malloy, the name had been anglicized to several other formats, as far ranging as Mulloy is from Miley.

With the number of possible spelling permutations, in order to conduct a reasonable—to say nothing of exhaustive—search would test the patience of even a saint as Irish as Saint Patrick. While I continue to pursue such a quest in the background—genealogy and sausage-making and all—we can attempt to answer our research question by reframing it.

We need to remember that there was a third party in the matter of this letter from a disappearing husband to his wife: Catherine, daughter of Stephen and Anna. Born in Ireland sometime before the date of Stephen's 1849 letter, surely Catherine would have left a paper trail of her own. As the child of Catholic parents, if nothing else, she would have been baptised—possibly even in the parish of Ballyagran of which her uncle William Flanagan was so proud. She, too, would have made the journey across the Atlantic at some point; after all, she ended up in Chicago before the 1860 census.

Thus, if we are stuck with the question of Stephen Malloy's origin in Ireland, perhaps we can momentarily sidestep him to pinpoint where the family lived before 1849 by searching not for Stephen or his wife Anna, but for records concerning their young daughter Catherine. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Stephen's Side of the Story


How many times do we discover one useful detail about the ancestor we are pursuing, only to find the information isn't quite enough to satisfy all our questions?

Take Stephen Malloy, great-grandfather of my father-in-law. The tantalizing detail about Stephen was that my father-in-law's family actually still had in their possession a letter which he had written to his wife, Anna Flanagan Malloy, on February 20, 1849. The downside was that that letter became the first and last token of his existence which anyone in the family had of the man.

The letter, despite its abysmal handwriting and decrepit condition—chunks of paper missing from what might have been key details in the message—still provided enough clues for a modern-day genealogist to do some fact-checking.

From the surviving details, we can glean such facts as where the letter was written—in Liverpool, not in Ireland—and Stephen's plans. He was immediately to set sail for Boston aboard a ship called the "Anglo-Americanio." Spelling not being the strong suit of the letter's scribe, it would be quite reasonable to assume the ship might rather have been named the Anglo-American. In fact, one vessel bearing that name docked in Boston harbor on March 27, 1849—five weeks after the date on Stephen's letter, a reasonable travel time for that era.

The bonus detail—at least for our research goals—was discovery of someone named Stephen Molloy listed in the passenger records for that ship. According to the scanned record, Stephen was headed from Ireland to the United States at age twenty six. He claimed to be a mason, and was apparently not traveling with any discernible family members.

Despite that serendipitous finding, realizing that Stephen's age in 1849 put his year of birth approximately in 1823 did not sit well with the discovery that, according to Chicago records at the end of her life, his wife Anna was likely born around 1812. In other words, that would make Anna, mother of Stephen's daughter Catherine, eleven years older than her husband—an unlikely scenario, given that time period in Ireland.

Furthermore, looking back at the tax records for the civil parish in County Limerick where Stephen's letter was sent to his wife, while we can find the encouraging sign of one Flanagan residence nearby, there is no mention of anyone by the surname Malloy. Nor Molloy. Nor any other spelling permutation of that name.

Stephen Malloy may have been sailing from Liverpool to Boston on the Anglo-American, but where did he come from before departing for his New World destination?

Above: Header for the scanned passenger listing for the Anglo-American, arriving in Boston from Liverpool on March 27, 1849; image courtesy

Monday, September 13, 2021

Detour to Chicago


While it may be no surprise to discover that one's Irish ancestors ended up in such a place as Chicago, it may seem an abrupt detour, in the process of unfolding the story of Anna Flanagan Malloy, to suddenly be jerked across thousands of miles to consider one William Flanagan living in Chicago. However, in order for you to fully appreciate my joy in finding a William of such a surname in the tiny townland of Cappananty in County Limerick, Ireland, requires us to temporarily zoom forward in our story's timeline.

My first clue that there was anyone named William Flanagan associated with Anna Malloy came in the form of a headstone. Not in Ireland, but in Chicago. An impressive monument for a supposedly single man—and likely a mere immigrant laborer at that—William Flanagan's 1893 memorial directed one's eyes heavenward, but it was what was written on the plaque itself which caught my attention: 

Wm Flanagan
Native of
Parish Ballygran
Co. Limerick Ireland
Aug. 14 1893
80 years.

Other than the omission of one solitary letter—an additional "a" belonging in the Catholic parish name of Ballyagran—William Flanagan's headstone in Chicago was an immensely helpful discovery in pinpointing the place for us to eventually visit during our travels to Ireland. But it also led to other confirmations.

Locating William in the 1860 census meant discovering that he, a single man, lived with a woman—at least according to the barely legible scrawl of the enumerator of that Chicago district—by the name of Ann Mulloy. Better yet, this "Ann" had a daughter with her named Catherine, by then of an age calculated to yield a birth year of 1847, close enough to suit our purposes. All three residents of this household were born in Ireland. 

Though the 1860 census included no explanation of relationship between members of the same residence, I know from research into subsequent years that Ann—Anna—and William were siblings. The verification, itself, was indirect, but sufficient. The 1885 death record for Anna carried the handwritten note that she was "Mother of Mrs. John Tully," the now-grown daughter Catherine who had been left fatherless at her dad's disappearance in 1849. And William Flanagan's own death notice, published in the Chicago Tribune that August 15, 1893, mentioned that same "Mrs. John Tully," daughter of Anna Flanagan Malloy, as "his niece."

Add those together, and we get William as brother of Anna. But the Flanagan siblings were in Chicago, and Anna's original goal was to trace her husband, Stephen Malloy, to his destination in Boston. Why the thousand-mile discrepancy?

We'll need to return to the Flanagans' old home in County Limerick to revisit that question. This time, we'll trace the story from Stephen's side of the puzzle.

Above: Photograph of portion of the headstone for William Flanagan, buried at Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery in Cook County, Illinois, United States.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Of Cars and Memories


Sorting through the photograph collections of long-gone family members can give us an idea about what meant the most to our departed loved ones. While I didn't exactly inherit the pictures kept by Marilyn Sowle Bean—hers became a rescue project only because of the kind tip from another genealogy enthusiast—they augment the perspective I've gained about the Bean family from the photos I did inherit from other members of that extended family.

I've written before about the dealership in Alameda, California, owned in part by Marilyn's father-in-law's twin brother, Bill Bean. Years ago, when I had received his stash of photographs, there were several featuring that particular business enterprise. From examining Bill Bean's collection, I learned that not only did his dealership sell Chryslers, but they originally started with Plymouth and DeSoto. (That little detail I recently found corroborated in this website recounting brief histories of Bay Area car dealerships—scroll down the alphabetical listing to find Bean & Cavanaugh and the note that it became the second of Chrysler's dealerships established in California.)

Bill Bean's business partner was a man known as Lee Cavanaugh, though from Bill's collection of photos, I never saw any labeled with the man's name. Marilyn, on the other hand, with her tenacity about labeling photos, insured with this picture that I'd make not one, but two additional discoveries about that part of the Bean family's story.

The one, of course, was to find a photo which included what looked like a very reluctant participant—but nonetheless was labeled with his name: Lee Cavanaugh. The other was to realize the third man in the grouping, casually sporting a double-breasted business suit—possibly a clue as to his current occupation as salesman for the dealership—was Marilyn's own husband, Earle.

It is almost as if each person's photo collection comes with its own personality. While both family members included photos of the car dealership in their personal collections, the photos each person chose to keep reflected the angle at which they viewed the subject—even a subject as mundane as one's livelihood.

Above: Photograph from the collection of Marilyn Sowle Bean, circa 1951, showing Earle Bean on left, his uncle Bill Bean in center, and Lee Cavanaugh on the right. Likely location is the Bean & Cavanaugh car dealership in Alameda, California.

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