Tuesday, July 18, 2023

The Reason Behind the Search


Every smart research project begins with a research question, and hopefully evolves into a smart research goal. But that may not be the start of the matter. Behind all those goals may lie a reason for starting in the first place. In the case of my research quest this month—to learn more about Johanna Flanagan Lee's family connections, both in Chicago and in her native County Limerick, Ireland—I do have an underlying reason for this goal: there are more Flanagans out there. I just don't know how they are connected.

Take, for instance, a photograph found in the papers saved by Agnes Tully Stevens, the granddaughter of Anna Flanagan, Johanna's aunt. Inheriting that stack of memorabilia years ago, I've gone through each item in the sometimes vain attempt to attach names to the family tree. But this one—a photograph—had been labeled with that family name, Flanagan. That simple penned entry beguiled me to keep searching.

The photograph was a picture of a man holding a baby. Perhaps from the 1930s or 1940s—there wasn't enough detail to pin the correct time frame—the snapshot was thankfully labeled with another clue to urge me further in the chase: "Coz Will Nellis and Kathy Flanagan."

Flanagan? Who was this? And why was it that the man received the label of cousin instead of baby Flanagan?

When I first encountered this photograph, over ten years ago, I had misread the man's name as Nevis, but it is more likely either Nellis or Nelles. Despite the passing of an entire decade, I've yet to figure out just how ol' Will would be a cousin to the family of that generation. Even if the habit of calling relatives "cousin" despite being, perhaps, once removed or more, was what was involved in this label, surely at some point I would have run into that surname. But I haven't.

For the sake of the baby Flanagan in the picture, though, it seems worth the effort to track down who this "cousin" Will might have been. Besides, how does this Flanagan baby connect to Johanna's own family, if at all? Since I'm still stuck on Johanna Flanagan Lee's roots, perhaps this serves as a timely reminder that even bright shiny objects which seem more likely to be the key to a rabbit trail than a relative may be worth the pursuit. Tomorrow, rabbit trail or not, I'll take the bait and give chase to this one.

Image above: A photograph found in the papers of Agnes Tully Stevens, labeled "Coz Will Nellis + Kathy Flanagan."

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