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


  1. August 13, 2015
    Dear James,
    My name is michele Lagoy. Through genealogy research, I found out about your existence. (Your name was listed in your parent's obituaries.)
    I am your third cousin on your father's Sullivan line. Our Great-Grandfather's were brothers. Yours was named Timothy and mine was Charles Sullivan. The family settled on Staten Island.

    I have some information regarding family history I can share with you if you are interested. Also, I have questions for you regarding our genealogy. As your Great-grandfather was the oldest of his siblings, perhaps your family lore is more knowledgeable than mine.

    If this interests you, please contact me so we can talk.
    Michele Lagoy
    email -
    cell 619-831-1798
    Facebook - Michele Lagoy

  2. Michele,

    I want to let you know that your blog is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!