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.  

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