Thursday, October 20, 2016

Genealogical Journey: The Last of the Search Stories...But Not the End of the Journey

At this point in the genealogical journey, I had found living descendants from three out of four of my great-grandfather's siblings.  Great-grandpa's youngest brother, Old Uncle George, had no descendants.  The last sibling left to research was Great-grandpa Charles' oldest brother, Timothy D. Sullivan (1849-1907).  Cousin Bill's wife, Paula, found his headstone in St. Peter's Cemetery not far from our family plot.  Actually, Timothy found her, as she almost tripped over the headstone. Unfortunately, the cemetery had no further information about the plot.

Grave stone of Timothy Sullivan in St. Peter's Cemetery.  Photo:  Bill Sullivan

Through research, I was able to learn that Timothy D. Sullivan had two sons.  One was named Charles and the other was named George, probably after their uncles, Charles, my great-grandfather and the aforementioned Old Uncle George.  The Sullivan brothers followed a pattern of naming their sons after each other.  This made my search both difficult and easy at the same time.  When Cousin Bill gave me Cousin Dorothy's interview notes from Great-aunt Margaret, I learned that this Charles Sullivan died of meningitis that "he brought back from the Spanish-American War."  I continued to search Staten Island directories and census schedules to find that Timothy's other son, George, had married a woman named Pauline.  He and Pauline had two sons, George Preston and Charles Trenchard.  The naming pattern for George and Charles continued.  George and Charles were first referred to as "Preston" and "Trenchard" on census forms and in Cousin Bill's Dad's family tree notes. It took me some time to figure this out as "Preston" and "Trenchard" disappeared from records and "George" and "Charles" reappeared.  So much for leveraging the name "Trenchard"!   Cousin Bill and I both wondered what kind of names Trenchard and Preston were; maybe from their mother Pauline's side of the family?  Did George or Charles had any living descendants?  The trail ran dry for a long

Family history notes listing Preston and Trenchard.  Courtesy of Bill Sullivan
I found that Charles had married a woman named Marjorie Rice in 1936.  The 1940 census listed Charles and Marjory but no children.  I also learned that he worked in the fire department from this census.  Another firefighter in the family!  I was excited when I found his 1944 military record . Then the genealogy road block was put up.  The record said he was separated when he enlisted in the army. Divorce records are sealed for one hundred years in New York, so I wasn't going to get any more information about that.  Time to try another angle.  Through Cousin Bill's help, I was able to contact the New York City Fire Department's personnel office, Through pension records, I was able to learn that Charles Trenchard Sullivan had moved to New Jersey and died on February 3, 1980.  Unfortunately, his death record is not yet old enough to be considered a historical document and only "close relatives" were allowed to view a copy of it.  ( Four more years of waiting for me; of course I already have the form filled out.)  Three years of research and that was the result for Charles Trenchard Sullivan (1909-1980).  Final resting place and descendants unknown as no obituary has been found.

More time passed without finding any other information on George Preston Sullivan.  Then on one of my Thursday night visits to the Family History Library, I entered variations of his name into the database.  A listing came up from Find A Grave.  I found myself looking at a photograph of a grave for a "George P. Sullivan" in Deerfield Beach, Florida.  The inscription indicated that he was from New York, served in the Navy and it gave his birth and death dates.  I used that information to locate an obituary where I learned this was indeed the George Sullivan I was looking for:  born in Staten Island, had a brother named Charles, a wife named Stephanie and a son named James T. Sullivan!  I didn't have any luck finding James T, Sullivan with this information, but I was able to find an obituary on his mother, Stephanie Sullivan, who died nine years later in 1979.  It said her son James was living in New Port Richie, Florida at the time of her death.  I had a feeling that James was living on the West Coast of Florida and this confirmed it.  It should be easy to find him now, right?  I started calling men named James Sullivan in the New Port Richie area.  One phone number was for a window washing business but the number was disconnected.  A flurry of other phone calls yielded the wrong James Sullivan.  In October of 2015, I was desperately phoning men named James Sullivan while waiting in a Florida airport, hoping to connect with him while still in the state.  I boarded the airplane home without that happening.  I was left with sending good old fashioned letters to men named James Sullivan without listed phone numbers.  I received no response from those letters when they weren't returned to me.  I even sent letters to his parents cemeteries to give to him in case he ever showed up there.   I called first cousins on his mother's side of the family whose names I had traced from her obituary.   Other than telling me that George was also a firefighter, they knew nothing of James' whereabouts.  My James T, Sullivan was off the grid.  Or I was losing my research skills.  Would this be yet another unfinished project in my life?  At this point,
it seemed so.

Obituary of George P. Sullivan where I discovered he had a son.

Obituary of Stephanie Sullivan mentioning James again and her family members.  

The year on the calendar changed to 2016.  Several months in, I received a call from an unknown number in Florida.  I answered it.  It was James T. Sullivan!  He had received one of the letters I sent out to men named James Sullivan without listed phone numbers.  I asked a few more qualifying questions like his mother's middle name and his father's occupation.  He was the James T, Sullivan I was looking for!  After apologizing for not calling sooner, he said, "You know I am adopted right?"  I did not.

We had many phone conversations during the year.  He still speaks with a trace of his Staten Island accent.  Like many people today, he had disconnected his home phone and only used a cellular phone. He did have a window washing business in New Port Richie when he lived there.  He now resides in Hernando County Florida where I sent one of my letters.  He had photos of his father and his uncle in their firefighter uniforms as well as his father's fire department ring.  He promised to mail me copies of the photos. He never did.  In September of 2016, while visiting my parents in Florida, my dad and I met him for lunch where he gave me the photos in person.  I finally had faces for George Preston Sullivan and Charles Trenchard Sullivan...and the pleasure of meeting my third cousin James T. Sullivan.

George Sullivan at Ladder Company 21 in Manhattan, late 1940's.  Courtesy of James T. Sullivan
George Preston (l) and Charles Trenchard (r) Sullivan.  1940's. From the private collection of James T. Sullivan

Left to Right:  James T. Sullivan, me and  Dad. Florida, September 2016

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Genealogical Journey: Timothy and Mary Sullivan

The exasperating part of this genealogical journey was knowing that records exist but not having access to them.  Contrary to popular belief, not everything is available online, free of charge.  Such was the case with some pre-1850 Catholic Church records in Ireland.  They were free, on microfilm, but located in Dublin.  So I was frustrated about not being able to "look in that box."  In essence, I was back where I started: stuck at the name of my great-great-grandfather, Denis Sullivan without being able to obtain a generation beyond him.  (Surprisingly, I had previously learned the names of his wife's parents from her death certificate.  Irish, maternal, pre-1850 names are harder to find as explained in the previous blog post titled Charles and Helena O'Regan.)  I could not definitively locate a death certificate for Denis.  According to the records at St. Peter's Cemetery in Staten Island, he is not buried in the plot along with his wife or son's family.  I am still at a loss as to when and where he died.  This all could have been solved long ago if only Denis' parents were listed on his marriage record in Ireland!  But it was left blank, just like his wife's.  Denis' brother Jeremiah's death certificate has also not been located. Cousin Ed has a theory that Denis is buried along with Jeremiah and his family. Exact location unknown but probably in St. Peter's Cemetery in Staten Island, NY.  

Then another genealogy miracle happened!  The Catholic Parish Registers of the National Library of Ireland were put online--for free.  I danced an Irish jig.  They were not indexed so I had hours of happiness in front of me.  My strategy was to look through baptismal records in the Parish of Schull East in County Cork, Ireland.  I knew that Denis and Jeremiah Sullivan were brothers. 

Cousin Dorothy's interview notes with Great Aunt Margaret where we deduce Jeremiah and Denis were brothers.   

Because of Irish naming traditions, I felt that their father was named Timothy.  Both Denis and Jeremiah named their first sons Timothy, possibly after their father.  I looked for records for both of those names hoping to find a matching set of parents between 1800 and 1816.  I was never sure of Jeremiah's age because of the differences listed on census forms.  Records on Denis had him being born within a span of five years ( 1813-1818) so it was hard to determine his exact age as well.

I began searching the Catholic Parish Records. I took notes and indicated where I left off so as not to repeat the tedious task of reading 19th century handwriting. While my Mom watched TV, hour after hour I scoured the newly released records during my visit to Florida.  When yet another TV show was about to begin, my mother turned to me and said," Michele, you are probably related to everyone in West Cork."

I found baptismal records for both Denis and Jeremiah with matching parents.  Jeremiah was older and Denis was within that five year time frame of the other records.  These were baptismal records, not birth, so there could have been a delay in having that sacrament recorded.  Reasons included: health, weather, and holidays.  I believe the names of my great-great-great-grandparents on the Sullivan side were Timothy Sullivan and Mary Jones.  Another brick wall down!

Top record for the baptism of Jeremiah Sullivan., Bottom record for Denis Sullivan.  Both show the parents listed as Timothy Sullivan and Mary Jones
Relationship Summary
Lagoy, Michele Ann's great great great grandfather is Sullivan, Timothy?
Sullivan, Timothy?
Sullivan, Denis
1815 - 1880
Sullivan, Charles Joseph
1856 - 1902
Sullivan, Mary Bernadette
1896 - 1964
Lagoy, William Paul, Jr
Lagoy, Michele Ann

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Genealogical Journey: Charles and Helena O'Regan

Relationship Summary
Lagoy, Michele Ann's great great grandmother is Sullivan, Elizabeth Regan 
Sullivan, Elizabeth Regan
1830 - 1899
Sullivan, Charles Joseph
1856 - 1902
Sullivan, Mary Bernadette
1896 - 1964
Lagoy, William Paul, Jr
Lagoy, Michele Ann

Details:Lagoy, Michele Ann's father's mother's father's mother is Sullivan, Elizabeth Regan

Names: Lagoy, Michele Ann father Lagoy, William Paul, Jr mother Sullivan, Mary Bernadettefather Sullivan, Charles Joseph mother Sullivan, Elizabeth Regan

A presenter of an Academy Award could not have had as much anticipation as I did when I opened the envelope from the New York City Municipal Archives.  It contained my great-great-grandmother's death certificate.  I suspected that names for Elizabeth Sullivan's parents would be listed and accurate.  She, her husband Denis, and their children, including my great-grandfather, Charles, returned to Ireland for eleven years (1857-1868).  During that time,  I believed they learned the names of their grandparents, or even met them.   That information was provided on their mother's death certificate.  Elizabeth's father was listed as Charles O'Reagan.  It would seem that my great-grandfather Charles, was named after his maternal grandfather.  That made sense.  Elizabeth's mother's name was listed as Lena Cornwall.  And shock of shocks, it said she was born in Nova Scotia!  It would seem that Drew's grandmother, Helena, was named after her maternal grandmother. Again, that made sense.  It seemed that I had found the names of my three times great-grandparents--on an Irish maternal line, most difficult to research but I did break through the brick wall.

The envelope please!  Envelope containing the death certificate of my great-great-grandmother.
Death certificate for Elizabeth O'Sullivan listing her parents.  

The name Charles O'Regan gave me too many hits on the Ancestry and Family Search websites.  I couldn't definitively say which one was my ancestor.  The name Lena Cornwall was another matter.  I received one hit immediately on Ancestry.  It was for an Anglican church transcript in Acadie, Nova Scotia, Canada.  Helena Sophia Cornwall was baptized in 1792.  I went through great pains to find the rare book cited as the source, Gravestones of Acadie , written in 1929.  The online booksellers at the time of my discovery had it listed for hundreds of dollars.  For that price, I would rather go to Canada myself.  Luckily, I was able to borrow the book from the World Catalog System which accesses universities as well as public libraries.  There was only one copy available in all of San Diego County.  It was a short term loan with a HUGE penalty for returning it late.  I also had to leave the note attached to the book that said I had to hand it to a librarian, not leave it in a drop box.  I guarded that book with my life.  Unfortunately, the book gave no further information about Helena Sophia Cornwall.  I was sure her story was an interesting one; how did someone born in Canada end up in Ireland?  I set out to connect her to Charles O'Regan in Ireland.

Because of the difficulty in researching Irish ancestors prior to 1850, I was left with seeking private family trees. ( For a complete explanation, go to by Claire Santry.)  I had to join as many online genealogy groups that I could in hopes of finding out more. One of my Facebook genealogy groups yielded assistance.  Once again, the kindness of strangers prevailed. Frank started a genealogy group that meets once a month in West County Cork, Ireland.  I obviously couldn't attend the meetings living in San Diego, but my questions and information were presented to the group whose goal is to help each other with West Cork genealogy.    Here is an edited email exchange between Frank and me that put Charles and Helena O'Regan together:

Hi Michele,

There is a listing and photos of known graves at Aughadown Upper and Lower Graveyards at
This graveyard is located approx half way to Ballydehob and is immediately beside the Ilen River. I hope this of use to you but I fear not.

Le chéile, is féidir linn (Together, We Can)
Kind regards,
Mayor, Skibbereen Town Council 2011 -  2012
Strategic Policy. Environment & Emergency Dept Cork Co. Council 2009 - 2014
Founding Chairman, WestCork SOS Ambulance Campaign
Founding Chairman, RIPPLE Skibbereen. (Retd)