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.    

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