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Brick Wall Busted!

Going through a large tin box in my mother's desk I found dozens of photos and some envelopes addressed in unfamiliar handwriting. One was labeled "Birth Certificates and Deed." Hot dog! I opened it up to find not Birth Certificates, but Baptism Certificates of my grandaunts and granduncles from the 1890's! They included the Baptism Sponsors' names, of which I was only sure of one identity. Family, friends and neighbors would need to be researched.

I unfolded the other document and it was a handwritten "copy" of an oil rights lease, signed in 1880. The landowners were Martin and Anna Flanigan. The document was witnessed by Patrick and Hugh Flanigan. My great grandmother's maiden name was Anna Flanigan, but she was already married in 1880. One of her sons, my grandfather, had the first name Martin, and I have not been able to find an ancestor to trace that name back to. And who were Patrick and Hugh?

Off to the Warren County, PA census records to find these new Flanigans, and there the four were in the same household in 1880! Then checking 1870, I found Hugh, Patrick, and their 4 older siblings, including an Anna, born in the right year to be my future great grandmother!

Researching further, I found that I could match the Baptism sponsors of my grandaunts and granduncles to the children of Martin and Anna Flanigan as seen in the 1870 & 1880 censuses. Neither Martin nor Anna Flanigan could read or write in 1880, but Hugh and Patrick could to witness that oil lease agreement.

Martin Flanigan can be found on the 1850 census for Sullivan County, NY as a single "tannery beam man." I cannot find him in the 1860 census yet. Their first enumerated child, Marie/Maria was born in 1853 in NY, and they moved to PA by 1860 as Hugh was born in PA. Martin was still employed in a tannery there.

One of the sponsors has the last name of Carlow, which was the surname of my great grandfather's first wife. This added more to my confidence in the fact that these were my people.

The tin box also included correspondence from and to the oil company about the royalty payments on the oil lease from my Granduncle Eddy and Grandaunt Loretta on behalf of their mother, Anna, and then themselves as her heirs.

In looking for church records for St. Joseph's Church, I found a photograph of the inside of the church in December 1889, with the priest who signed some of the Baptism certificates giving a sermon! Courtesy of the CHRC* of Philadelphia which has more documents and photos of American Catholic history at their website.

St Joseph's Warren, PA Dec 1889 interior

"Photograph of interior of St. Joseph's Church, Warren, Pa., with rector, Rev. M. A. De La Roque giving sermon during mass. Inscribed below photograph in pencil: 'Rev. M. A. De La Roque, Rector, deceased Sep. 27, 1893. School children of parish school. Rev. F. J. Clark, Assistant, deceased April 21, 1891.' Photographer unknown."

What a Christmas gift! To see what the church my ancestors attended, got baptized in, and probably got married in, looked like decorated for the season. It looks like fir trees on the right side of the altar, doesn't it?

I have been looking for this information for over 20 years. If only mom had remembered this box and its contents having been stashed away since the 1970's!

Much more research to be done on Martin Flanigan and his wife Anna. Other internet trees list his wife as "Ann Pryor" born in Ireland to Irish parents, and Pryor is not a common Irish name. Another challenge accepted Genealogy gods!

Take advantage of upcoming family gatherings and phone calls to learn about your ancestors. Is there a big tin box in the attic loaded with photos and letters? Ask, look, and ask more questions of your living sources. Write the names of identified people on the back of the photos. You'll thank me later.

My best wishes to you and yours for a Great Holiday and Happy, Healthy New Year full of genealogy serendipity, busted brick walls, and discoveries.


Leslie Ryan

No compensation received for any recommendations or referrals. No copyright infringement is intended.

*The Catholic Historical Research Center (CHRC) of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was created in 1989 to collect, preserve, and make available to the public the historical sources illuminating the history, culture, and growth of Catholicism in the United States. Our collections include records that document the history of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, as well as the collections of the American Catholic Historical Society, the oldest Catholic historical society in the country.


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