Friday, July 21, 2023

Lingering Temptations


It seems that the Flanagan family cannot help but tempt me to keep stalking their roots. Just when I'm about to give up on learning any more about Johanna Flanagan's origin, another Flanagan shows up in the family papers. And the temptation beckons again.

Now that I've been reviewing all the papers left by another Flanagan descendant, Agnes Tully Stevens, I'm reminded of a different set of Flanagans whose names showed up in her effects. Several clipped articles on a Sister Mary Mercy may have otherwise evaded notice, but for the mention of the priest who offered her 1912 funeral mass: his name was John J. Flanagan.

Sister Mary Mercy was very likely not born with that as her given name. However, tracing back various records related to her life—and intersecting those details with the family line of the Reverend John J. Flanagan—it appears her birth name was probably Sarah Ellen Flanagan. At least, according to the 1860 census, when she was a four month old infant, she went by the name of Sarah. A decade later, in the same household, the now-ten year old daughter of James and Honora was now labeled as Ellen.

One of many daughters of James and Honora Flanagan, she was raised in Freeport, Illinois. After finding her death certificate while writing about her many years ago, I had long since known she was a Flanagan—but how that Flanagan family connected with ours, I'm still at a loss to say. After all, though she settled in the same Chicago area where Agnes Tully Stevens lived—and was buried in a Catholic cemetery to the north of that same city—her hometown was well over one hundred miles away from the south Chicago neighborhood where Agnes' Flanagan grandmother once lived.

Sister Mary Mercy's nephew, the priest, was also identified as someone from the area near Freeport, serving as pastor in nearby Rockford until his untimely death while traveling the country in 1931. Furthermore, these two weren't the only members of the extended family to dedicate their life to the service of the church. Sister Mary Mercy had two other sisters who joined orders: Jane, who became known as Sister Mary Xavier; and Agnes, eventually taking vows as Sister Mary Evangelist

In hopes that the mysterious Will Nellis might show up connected to this Flanagan family—or at least, the baby Kathy Flanagan whom he held in his arms for the photograph gleaned from Agnes Tully Stevens' collection—I searched through some more thoroughly-researched family trees posted at However, no sign of Will's surname anywhere in those family trees. Nor can I find any likely explanation for any connection. The scenario could have been a random snapshot of a sweet moment shared by two unrelated members of the F.A.N. Club of the extended Flanagan and Tully families of Chicago. 

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