Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wild About Harry

It isn’t often, in researching family history, when we run into famous—or even noteworthy—individuals whom we can call relatives. When I run across such possibilities, my first reaction is to dismiss such a notion.

In chasing down the children of our Kelly descendant Julia Creahan Sullivan, that is exactly what I thought to do when I encountered story after story about a well-liked local semi-professional athlete named Harry Sullivan. I thought surely this wasn’t our Harry.

Just in case, though—it’s hard to walk away from potential resources right at hand, only to find later that they shouldn’t have been discarded—I dutifully transcribed the many articles mentioning this Harry Sullivan’s name. One never knows.

The first mention I found about this Harry Sullivan came up in the January 12, 1913, edition of Denver’s Rocky Mountain News. It was explaining the unusual organization of this man’s sports team. This would be only the first of many commentaries on his athletic ability.
            Harry Sullivan, the popular Five Points athlete, is rounding his men into tip-top shape. “Sully” has a club at 507 Twenty-third street, which is open the year round, and nearly twenty-five boys are working under his direction.
            The Independents, as they are known, don’t make a specialty of any one sport. They go in for all of them. Basketball, soccer, baseball, football, boxing and wrestling are all hobbies of the Five Pointers, and they have an organization which is doing much to develop the boys living in that district.

A little over a year later, Harry popped up again in the Denver Post:
            With the signing of Harry Sullivan, the widely-known short stop the Page Hotel team now have one of the strongest lineups in the city and the bunch of sluggers on that team are bound to dismay many a pitcher around Denver before the season is over.

At the beginning of 1915, Harry Sullivan seemed to be of enough interest to Denver sports fans that even his personal health became part of the public record. Both the Post and the Rocky Mountain News carried stories on January 29. Here’s the take from the Rocky Mountain News:
Harry Sullivan, one of the best known members of the semi-professional baseball circles of the city, as well as one of the most popular, is in St. Luke’s hospital, where he underwent a minor operation Wednesday morning. He is resting well and at his present rate of improvement will be out shortly.

He seemed to have recovered well from his health ailment, for on June 17 of that year, the Rocky Mountain News noted:
Harry Sullivan, the most popular player of the Cottrells, is certainly playing the game of his life, hitting good and running bases great.

The next season, he was back in the newspapers again, with such positive press as “the all-around playing of Harry Sullivan, who lifted out three timely hits and made several great catches at the short field.”

Whether this was the son of the Julia Creahan Sullivan I am seeking, I couldn’t yet tell. There were, after all, some other entries about this Harry Sullivan that made me wonder. Maybe there was more than one Harry Sullivan being mentioned in the Denver newspapers.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Like Mother, Like Son

Sometimes, it takes a monumental effort to get back on track and resume genealogical research. Besides outside catastrophes, there are so many other ways to lose focus on the task at hand.

That task—in case it’s been so long, you’ve also suffered from that amnesia—was to find what became of Kelly descendant and Lafayette, Indiana, native, Julia Creahan Sullivan. We already know she moved to Denver, Colorado, and married a Thomas F. Sullivan there—following which occasion, Thomas disappears before 1900 and the trail goes cold.

About all we know at this point is that there are a lot of people named Thomas Sullivan in Denver. And a lot of people named Julia Sullivan.

Since I wasn’t sure whether the Julia Sullivan I had isolated in the limited Denver-area records available online was the right Julia, I tried working my way down her line of descendants, in hopes of finding a death record showing her maiden name. Wouldn’t you know it, there were no records of her passing available online—with the exception of the hope of a 1930 obituary I’m awaiting for a woman who might be Julia Sullivan—so the next step was to try for records of her children.

Researching the oldest—whom I presume would be Thomas F. Sullivan, Jr.—didn’t work out for the same reason I couldn’t find his namesake father: too many Thomas Sullivans out there in Denver. Trying to find any mention of Julia’s daughters in that era of the Invisible Woman seemed futile. So I thought I’d capitalize on the one remaining son: Harry A. Sullivan.

Since there are relatively few records online for the city and county of Denver—forget that, how about the entire state of Colorado?!—my first move was to scour the online newspaper resources to see what could be found. After all, GenealogyBank does include a selection of newspapers published in Denver up through the early 1920s.

Just as I had found for Julia, however, I now discovered for young Harry. While you may share my misconception that Harry is not a common given name, that misconception will be quickly disabused by the pages upon pages of hits for that simple search at GenealogyBank. There are, apparently, even more Harry Sullivans in 1900s Denver than there were Julia Sullivans.

From the third page of the Denver News exactly one hundred twenty two years ago, I discovered Harry was the victim of a crime of passion:
            Harry Sullivan, the victim of Peter Augusta’s vengeful knife, is still alive, but still has no more chance of life than was at first reported in The News. The man’s wonderful strength and vitality alone keep him alive.
            The Italian still preserves an impenetrable silence in regard to the affair.

And soon after—on May 12, 1895, presumably in the course of the court case addressing the issue—the same paper revealed just why that occurred.
            Peter Augusta’s crime…had a motive. The Italian discovered that the woman with whom he was living had Harry Sullivan for a lover. Finding him in the house, using the stiletto, he killed in cold blood the rival in the affections of the woman….

Considering our Harry Sullivan had his name listed in the subsequent census, I quickly eliminated that possibility. Still, you can see what I mean about losing focus.

Nearly fifteen years later, the Denver Post carried another quirky Harry Sullivan story. This February 19, 1910, entry—headlined, “Deserter Commits Suicide in Saloon”—provided a curious divertissement, too, in the form of a letter written by the man, himself. This, as you will see, proved to be yet another false lead.
I am tired of living. After I am gone please put my picture in the paper. I am a deserter out of the army. My right name is Lyle Commers of Louisville, Ky. I have a mother and five sisters in my home town. Goodby. (Signed) HARRY SULLIVAN
P.S.—Don’t forget to put my picture in the paper.

Apparently, the Denver Post editors didn’t see fit to include that photograph.

By the time I reached this May 26, 1911, entry in the Rocky Mountain News, I was fairly jaded when it came to such false leads. Who knows if this might be the right Harry Sullivan?
            Leah J. Sullivan has applied for a divorce from Harry A. Sullivan, charging non-support. They were married January 13, 1910.

Leah, by the way, was apparently the former Leah J. Weidensaul, whose entry in one of the few Colorado indices available online led me to another document revealing that this was for sure not the Harry A. Sullivan I was interested in. Why? Harry and Leah’s 1910 census entry revealed he was born in New York—not the Colorado native our homeboy Harry was.

It’s said that forewarned is forearmed, and at this point in researching Harry Sullivan, I realized that he, just like his mother, was one of many bearing the same name—sometimes down to the very initial of the middle name.

About this time, I also began seeing a spate of sports announcements about a phenomenal player by the name of Harry Sullivan. With these other false leads now under my belt, I was prepared to ignore everything I was finding and just focus on wedding and funeral announcements. By then, in my search, I was only up to the time period of the Great War, likely far before any obituary might appear for young Harry. If it weren’t for a sweet homecoming story in a Denver paper in early 1919, I wouldn’t have found the clue to—possibly—help connect the dots.

Monday, July 21, 2014

So, Ask!

Apparently, I triggered a volley of disgruntled responses with yesterday’s post. Of course, I could chalk that up to the inattentiveness of my senior editor—who, it was pointed out, also neglected to insert the phrase “devastatingly handsome” before the entry about the “fun-loving emcee.” Perhaps, it would have been a wiser course to simply have added quote marks around the title, “Three Things You Might Not Know About Me,” implying by those quotes the name of an as-yet unrevealed creation, rather than the promise of an action to be taken by the author. Especially an action for which some of you have expressed your expectation of fulfillment.

I am so puzzled by that revelation. I mean, here I sit, an unassuming genealogy blogger, writing my heart out, day by day. Believing in the natural process of osmosis, I figure there is much to be learned by reading between the lines. Inference is a handy skill to cultivate.

Besides, what’s there to know? I may seem to be The Intrepid Introvert, but the reality of it all is more like “Fuddy Duddy” than Fantastic. Not even close to Mysterious. Definitely not Outrageous.

Granted, I don’t mind writing the stories of ancestors who could be labeled as fantastic—or even mysterious or outrageous—but when it comes to writing about, well, me, it seems to lack that same verve. I know some bloggers see it differently, and are quite willing to fling their virtual selves across the blogosphere with abandon. Thankfully, others approach the task with a modest grace (and even a welcome touch of humor), like How Did I Get Here’s Andrea Kelleher, who has chosen to participate in the “Book of Me” meme initiated by Julie Goucher of Angler’s Rest.

I’ve never been one for taking up my keyboard and following memes. I’ve got too much else to write about. I sometimes find myself in a dither over the thought that, if I don’t “get this all down on paper,” all that research will somehow be lost to subsequent generations. That would be such a horrible crime.

But since you brought it up…what three things would it be that you, as reader, are seeking? If there are three questions you are just dying to ask, well, ask on! If not, then fine. Suffice it to say there are many more than three things you might not know about me—as I might not know about you, either.

If we were ever to meet, face to face, we’d discover we know very little about each other. On the other hand, if you have been stopping by A Family Tapestry on a regular basis (as I have at your blog as well), in that hypothetical face-to-face meet-up, we might discover there is quite a bit we do already know about each other. Digital life can be such an enigma.

All the more reason to someday find a way to connect.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Three Things You Might Not Know About Me

At the close of our genealogical society’s Spring meeting season—like many other societies, ours takes a seasonal break during the summer months—we typically host a potluck dinner. This is an informal time without speaker or business agenda. We like to use this final month of the season for a no-requirements social event.

Usually, we take this occasion to allow informal sharing in the style of “Bring Your Ancestor to Dinner” or similarly-titled event, when in round-robin fashion, each member takes a moment to talk about a favorite genealogical find of the past year. In this show-and-tell time, we’ve learned a wide variety of details about our local history and the residents who made it happen.

This year, our society wanted to add a different activity. While “Bring Your Ancestor to Dinner” helps us learn what each member has been researching for the past year, we still don’t know very much about each other. Our president, Sheri Fenley, got that revelation one day while chatting with fellow D.A.R. members. Some of the ladies—regulars at the city’s symphony concerts—mentioned their surprise at seeing one of the gentlemen from the genealogical society at the latest concert. He didn’t seem like the type to fancy classical music.

From that observation, Sheri realized there might be a lot of other assumptions each of us makes about those with whom we share only the briefest of times in our monthly society meetings. That’s when she came up with the idea for a game to launch at the annual potluck dinner.

The game was simple: each member planning to attend the potluck was asked to submit, in advance, a list of three personal details that others might not know. The list was emailed to one board member, sworn to secrecy, who would assemble the game.

Drawing up an answer key—in which each fact was carefully linked to the correct person—the facts were then separated from the answers and scrambled, to be read aloud by the event’s emcee. Each person attending the dinner was given an answer sheet with each numbered blank line provided for filling in the response. The names of all participants were printed on the reverse of the page, to help players remember everyone else’s name.

Then, our fun-loving emcee stood up and read the clues, one at a time. Participants were given time to fill in the answer after each clue. The goal: to obtain the highest number of correct matches between clues and the society members who claimed them. There would be prizes.

And oh, what clues they got. One woman had played her violin at the World’s Fair. One had learned to double clutch a truck at the age of seven. One was born in a lumber camp; another in the midst of New York City. Two had climbed to the top of Mount Whitney. There were tap dancers, cheerleaders, Girl Scouts, gardeners, crafters. They confessed their hometown love of five cent cupcakes from the downtown Woolworth's store, or escapades like rappelling off three story buildings. Some shared their travel experiences—to South America, Europe, and even to “The Center of the World”—and some divulged their childhood nicknames.

When the game was up and the right answers revealed, the amazement exploded into a volley of conversation. Each comment usually began with, “I didn’t know you….”

It’s funny how we can go regularly to meetings, sitting next to the same people every month, and yet never know much more about them than their names and the mutual passion we share over genealogy. Without detracting from our mission of supporting genealogical research—and in the guise of something as fun as a simple game—we got to learn “Three Things You Might Not Know About Me” and do a little community-building for our own organization at the same time.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

That Common Bond of Place

It was slightly unsettling, spending a day perusing the thousands of entries placed in the “Information Wanted” classified section of the Boston Pilot. While the anchor of each brief plea was the parish and county from which each missing person originated in Ireland, the remainder of the text demonstrated the complete loss of that sense of home. The missing persons were often characterized by the itinerary of towns from which they were last known to have been. The Irish were seen in steamers from Nova Scotia to New Orleans, on their way across the continent to California or the northwest, and at every point in between. They rarely seemed to stay in one place long enough for desperate relatives’ letters to catch up with them.

Perhaps the experience, for me, was unsettling precisely because I need a sense of Place—a connection to my surroundings, an affinity with the details of those surroundings. In a way, the place where I stay, in part, makes the person I am. I am not just linked to that place, I am also created and shaped by that place.

Place is an entity that not only shapes me, but connects me to the others who are likewise being shaped by their place. We gain something in common by sharing that same Place.

When I think of Place and its role in shaping the many ancestors whose contributions to my family also, in part, make me who I am, I realize what a special role Place plays in genealogical studies.

I think of the abiding presence of a place like Perry County, Ohio, to my mother-in-law’s forebears—Catholic Alsatian refugees eventually finding their way to the interior of what was then a newly-formed state, recently converted from its designation as Northwest Territory. The many branches of her family stayed in that same county for nearly one hundred fifty years.

I think of the molding influence of a place like Prussia—that monolithic governmental machine from which my father’s grandparents and mother escaped, a place so rigid and forbidding, its refugees still clung to the fear it engendered for two full generations after being freed from its clutches. The silence that Place instilled in those it birthed was invincible—I still struggle to unlock that family’s secrets.

I think of the strong sense of family—through “no matter what”—fostered by the essence of Place in the Irish-American south side of nineteenth century Chicago, as so clearly modeled in the supportive role played by the Tully and Stevens families there. The community values, anchored by the Church, became the umbrella sheltering those transplanted families from urban forces which elsewhere seemed to tear families apart. What was there about the Place of Chicago that enabled these Irish to thrive, when the rest of the diaspora—at least as portrayed in The Search for Missing Friends—seemed to disintegrate and disappear?

Perhaps the one danger the Irish faced in leaving their homeland was that very loss of home—of Place. Whatever essence they left behind in their forced march away, it could only be retrieved when in the collective, the refugees from that homeland reassembled to recreate their sense of Place within the borders of a new land.

That is not an experience exclusive to the immigrant Irish, of course—the many Chinatowns, Little Italys, and even Little Saigons are testament to that. But for those descendants of the wandering Irish, it is quite possible those dynamics will also work in reverse: because of the lasting bond forged by a sense of Place, a trip to Ireland may indeed seem to be a journey in which we are returning home.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Mourning: a Sense of Community

It was late Wednesday when I wrapped up my day-long research trip and returned home just before midnight. I wasn’t in the door more than five minutes when my family accosted me with the day’s news: a crime of unimaginable violence had unfolded right in our own city—along streets I drive on a daily basis—and in the space of an hour brought us as a community to a place we’d never been, never wanted to be, before.

Incredibly, only three people lost their lives in the hail of bullets showered by the roadside of an unassuming suburban neighborhood.

Though the one innocent victim—a woman taken hostage during a bank robbery gone bad—is no one I know (well, she’s become the ubiquitous “friend of a friend”), I feel violated. Though the horror didn’t happen to me, in an inexplicable way, it did.

The same crime that was perpetrated on her—and on the other two (surviving) hostages dragged from their place of employment—has happened to me. And to my neighbors. And to everyone in this city.

If you perceive the message this event is telling you, that same crime is happening to you, too.

Those of us who research family history also, by definition, align ourselves to a sense of family. We have an affinity to kinship. Whether by the nature of our DNA or the nurture of familial considerations, in our families we share a common bond.

While it is not as widely acknowledged, there is a bond one step beyond family. It is that of Community: a sense of belonging to something larger than just our own family. Community brings us that feeling of “We’re all in this together.” Community brings with it a sense of shared responsibilities—we support each other’s rights to co-exist peacefully—as well as a respect that enables us to not only work together but also value life together.

When an act so egregious in its disregard for human life is paraded out in the presence of an entire community, it is an act directed toward not just the one whose life was arbitrarily taken, but to every member of that injured community.

There are some who feel that Community is dead—that people are too isolated, too absorbed with “self” to care about any broader assembly of those neighbors with that common bond of place. But Community is not a thing of the past. It is a sense that still can revive when we acknowledge what befalls others in our vicinity as happening to us, too.

While I customarily reserve this space for daily observations about the micro-history of my own family’s stories, what our city has just gone through has knocked the words out of me. I’m sure you’ll understand—if you wonder what I’m referring to, perhaps some links will spare me from explaining the horrendous details. Our city’s newspaper has covered the event (including a photo-documentary), as has a publication in a neighboring city to the south. I’m sure other news agencies have weighed in with their own commentary. There certainly were enough of them represented at yesterday’s press conference.

What happened to those misfortunate others in our city on Wednesday has happened to all of us here, too. As we feel one family’s loss becoming our own, we revive that languishing sense of Community. Hopefully, though through tragedy, we may restore that sense of Community to its potential as an effective force for good.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Desperately Seeking

Yesterday, I spent the entire day, sequestered in a genealogy library in a town two hours’ drive from home. It was a long day, indeed, for me and a research buddy—who is driven and task-oriented, I might add.

The reason we headed to that specific library was that the facility boasted a sizeable collection of books on Irish genealogy. If you haven’t noticed, that’s my own task-driven obsession of late.

Since I was there, and since the library had it, I took the opportunity to get my hands on the real, multi-volume bound collection of The Search for Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements in the Boston PILOT. The Pilot, if you weren’t up on this aspect of Irish immigration research, was the newspaper in Boston which, for the eighty five year span from 1831 to 1916, published classified ads placed by those seeking their Irish sons, daughters, husbands, wives, siblings or, in some cases, actual friends who had not been heard from since leaving their homeland. The value of the volumes, originally published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society (but now available in searchable form online at as well as through Boston College), is in the fact that each name listed came with a complete description of the person’s origin in Ireland, latest known whereabouts, and often the names of relatives.

Of course, my eye was attuned to any mention of specific members of our own family’s tree, like James Kelly, our ancestor who arrived in Lafayette, Indiana, some time in the 1840s. Here’s one 1852 example of an entry seeking a James Kelly—though unfortunately not ours:
Of James Kelly, from Youghal, parish Youghal, co. Cork, who left home about 5 yrs. ago, landed in Boston & went to New Hampshire—not heard from since. His wife, Catherine Kelly, otherwise O’brien, and child, is in this country and would be glad to hear of his whereabouts.

I imagine they would.

Some of the details included in these classified posts painted quite the picture, as did this father’s submission in 1851:
Of James Kelly, who left his parents in Yanticville, on Sunday 31st August last. He is about 16 years old—stout build, black hair, wore black cloth pants, Alpacca sack coat, glazed silk cap. Any information of him will be thankfully received by his father, John Kelly, Yanticville, Connecticut.

Looking through the listings can tend to give a skewed view of the life of Irish immigrants in the 1800s. Some postings seemed to border on the melodramatic, or even hysterical. Under each day’s heading, “Information Wanted,” would be the entries of those desperately seeking any news of those missing.

One plea directed anyone with knowledge of missing siblings Edward, Catherine and Lucy Hayes to “Please address their afflicted and disconsolate mother, Mary Hayes,” carefully noting a reply address, should those three wayward children have forgotten their own home address.

Another entry, seeking James Smith of parish Ballybeacon in County Tipperary, pleaded, “Please address his sister Ellen, (who is impatiently awaiting an answer).”

There were comments about missing siblings who were “a little insane,” as well as exhortations that named individuals’ responses would be “of an advantage” to them. (Reading some comments like those, I couldn’t help think of a mustachioed Snidely Whiplash holding sister Nell hostage, while intoning those lines as bait for the unsuspecting absent brother.)

After having spent time thumbing through the entries, I realized the books were leaving me with the surely misrepresented impression that there were Irish immigrants flying hither and yon, all over both the United States and Canada, as well as beyond the South Pacific to Australia and New Zealand, leaving in their trail those bewailing their inattentiveness to the ones left back at home.

Sadly—or, no, on the other hand, perhaps it’s just as well—none of our Irish ancestors seemed to be listed among those being sought by family and friends back home, leaving me, one hundred sixty or more years later, to be still desperately seeking those ancestors, myself.
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