#52Ancestors: Foster Brother & Sister-in-Law Verne and Edna Buckley Taught My Orphaned Grandfather How to Love

Mike Flanagan With Vern Buckley Family
My grandfather (top row, far right) with Uncle Verne and Aunt Edna Buckley, and their four daughters.

My 7th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” family history blogging challenge for 2015.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

Amy’s 2015 version of this challenge focuses on a different theme each week.

The theme for Week 7 is – Love: Which ancestor do you love to research? Which ancestor do you feel especially close to? Which ancestor seemed to have a lot of love?

My 7th ancestors are Joseph Laverne “Verne” Buckley (1909-1986) and Edna G. (Murphy) Buckley (1911-2008). Verne and Edna were my foster grand uncle and grand aunt, Uncle Verne being the oldest foster sibling of my grandfather Michael “Mike” John Flanagan (1927-1997). Aunt Edna was Verne’s wife.

Michael was my maternal grandfather. To me, he was and always will be simply Grandpa. The only Grandpa I really ever knew. A Grandpa who doted on his grandchildren and great grandchildren. For whom, granddaughters in particular could do no wrong. He has been gone almost 20 years, and yet I still think about him daily. Every child needs this kind of Grandpa.

He is the reason I became a genealogist.

Orphaned As a Baby

I have written quite a number of posts about Grandpa, as I desperately try to piece together the story of his childhood and of his parents.

Mike was first orphaned when his dad died of tuberculosis in 1928, while Mike was just an infant (1-1/2 years old, 2 days before his second Christmas). He was orphaned again at just 3 years old, when his mother too succumbed to tuberculosis in 1930.

Grandpa was the youngest of five minor-age boys who were all sent to a Buffalo, New York orphanage after their father died, since their mom was already too sick to care for them. After their mom died, the boys were split up, never again to all reunite. An older barely-adult-age half sister (full sister to the oldest boys) tried to get custody of all five brothers. Her ancestors have told me the court would not give such a young woman custody of all the boys, particularly the boys who were not her full siblings. Her ancestors also tell me that this sister carried that guilt and grief her entire life.

Hard Foster Family Life

Grandpa and his next oldest brother Patrick (2 years older), as well as possibly the middle brother Harry (7 years older than Grandpa) — the records and passed-down family memories are very unclear on this — were fostered out to Thomas Buckley while Grandpa was still in his toddler years. Thomas “Pa” Buckley and his wife Mary “Ma” owned and lived on a farm in nearby Collins, Erie County, New York, and already had many children of their own. Grandpa would tell his own children that the Buckleys did not originally want him, because he was too young to work the farm. But the older brothers insisted. So Mike too entered the custody of Ma and Pa Buckley.

Thomas Buckley Family
Ma and Pa Buckley, with their family. Not sure if these are all children, or if it includes children-in-law too. I think that is Uncle Verne on the far left.

According to Grandpa, life with the Buckleys was not easy or particularly enjoyable for the Flanagan brothers. Grandpa would tell his children and grandchildren that he never felt Ma and Pa Buckley loved any of them, that most of the Buckley boys were mean to them, and that this meanness turned abusive. The older Flanagan brothers ran away. Grandpa was too young to take with them, so he was separated from the last of his brothers.

I know that many of the Buckley grandchildren and great grandchildren are living, so I apologize if any of them read this and feel hurt or anger about this telling of the foster family’s story. I also know there are two sides to every story. But I am telling Grandpa’s story, and he never wavered from this perception of his life with Thomas and Mary Buckley.

Foster parents Thomas and Mary Buckley never attempted to adopt my grandpa, and (according to Grandpa) made it very clear that he was not one of their children. Grandpa used to tell my mom that Thomas Buckley finally offered to adopt him when he was 17 years old and wanted to join the Navy. But that Grandpa figured there was no point to it that late in life. I have a Letter of Guardianship from the Surrogate Court of Erie County, New York, dated May 31, 1944 that grants legal guardianship of my 17 year old grandfather to his longtime foster father Thomas Buckley. I am not sure why the legal foster care arrangement did not already award legal guardianship, but apparently Grandpa needed a legal guardian, and that guardian’s approval, in order to join the Navy as a minor (see: 17 Years Old Orphaned Michael John Flanagan Enlists 9 Days After D-Day).

Covering Up the Pain

Throughout my childhood, Grandpa would share humorous stories over and over about the Buckley boys that would always make us laugh. He often shared these same stories with his children. I used to run to Mom telling her what a fun funny childhood Grandpa must have had. When I was old enough to understand, Mom explained to me that Grandpa’s childhood was NOT fun or funny. That these stories which made us laugh so hard were his way of dealing with the hurt and pain he still carried from those foster years. She told me the truth about what he experienced.

I was floored the fist time I learned this. Grandpa was so full of love and joy, and such a big emotional softie who could not bear to disappoint his grandchildren by ever saying “no” to anything. Aside from the times he experienced severe physical pain from a bad back and heart attacks, I always remember Grandpa smiling and laughing. He was one of those people that everyone wanted to be around. He lived for practical jokes and making people laugh. Nothing made him happier than to have his grandkids all piled on his lap.

How could that be, from someone who suffered so much tragedy, hurt, and abuse?

Because of Uncle Verne and Aunt Edna Buckley.

Surrogate Parents & Family

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that Verne Buckley was the oldest child of Thomas and Mary Buckley, and that Verne was married to Edna (Murphy) Buckley. Verne was 18 years older than his baby foster brother, my grandfather, and his wife Edna was 16 years older — old enough to be more like parents to Grandpa. Verne and Edna lived in their own separate little home on the Buckley family farm. Since they didn’t yet have children of their own, and Grandpa was too young to be of any real help on the farm, Grandpa spent a lot of time in their home. They took him in and treated him like their own son. What love and affection my grandfather received growing up at all was from Uncle Verne and Aunt Edna, and their four girls. Once they started having children of their own — all daughters — the girls in turn doted upon Grandpa.

When Michael married my grandmother Elsie Charlotte Hayes in 1946, he listed Edna (Murphy) Buckley as his mother on the marriage record. He had no other mother. Edna was it.

Flanagan Hayes Marriage Certificate
Marriage certificate for my grandparents, Michael Flanagan and Elsie Hayes, 1946. At 19 years old, Michael was still uncertain of the names of his parents. He incorrectly identifies his father as Michael Flanagan (it was Patrick). He lists Edna (Murphy) Buckley — his foster sister-in-law — as his mother (it was Sarah Kennedy). Click the image for a larger view.

I always heard my grandparents, mom, and aunts and uncle refer to Verne and Edna Buckley as UNCLE Verne and AUNT Edna. It wasn’t until I was older that I would learn they did not have a biological or even a legal relationship to my grandfather. But “family” cannot be defined by biology or by legal status. Verne, Edna, and their girls were Grandpa’s entire sense of family, they were his ONLY sense of family.

I met Uncle Verne, Aunt Edna, and some of their girls as a child. It was a BIG BIG deal when they would come out to California and visit. Grandpa would just exude light and love when he talked about Uncle Verne and Aunt Edna. So did Grandma… she knew what her husband had experienced as a child. One of the girls and I corresponded often after Grandpa died, when I first started on my genealogy, and she always talked about how much they all loved and missed “Uncle Mike”. Aunt Edna and I corresponded by mail late in her life after Grandpa died, before Alzheimer’s and old age stole her from us at 97 years of age. She would share touching stories about Grandpa. I felt such a profound sense of loss when the last persona alive who knew my grandfather as a child died. I regret not flying out to New York to talk to her in person.

My mom’s brother still keeps in touch with some of the Buckley girls. There is so much love between our extended families. To Mom and her siblings, these are their cousins…. their father’s family.

Michael Flanagan Buckley Kids
Michael Flanagan with some of his Buckley foster nieces and a nephew. This was likely taken when Michael was 17, when he joined the Navy and entered service in WWII.

I posted a while back about the hurt my Grandpa experienced growing up in his Buckley foster home, and my Mom’s brother was quick to comment on my blog that this was not the case when it came to Verne and Edna Buckley, and their girls. So I felt compelled to call attention to these wonderful loving people, and what they have meant to my grandfather and to our own family.

God bless Verne, Edna, and their daughters. For they took in a scared toddler who lost everything and everyone, and they showered him with love. They taught him love. They sustained him through very difficult years. They provided him with a sense of family. Michael John Flanagan SHOULD have grown up hard-hearted. He should NOT have known how to be a loving husband, a loving father, a loving grandfather, and a loving great grandfather. Family was EVERYTHING to Grandpa. A man who should not have understood the warmth, joy, and comfort of family.

Except for Verne and Edna Buckley.

Legacy of Love

As I have grown older, I have increasingly grown more amazed at how my grandfather was able to become such a family-focused, big-hearted, emotional softie, laughter-filled man. When he couldn’t possibly have had a single memory of his parents, of them holding him, kissing him, or loving him. When he was torn away from his sister and brothers. When he suffered so much hurt and abuse as  child. When he grew up knowing that his guardians never loved him enough to want to make him a permanent legal part of their family.

Grandpa was able to overcome this.

Because of Verne and Edna Buckley.

They loved him, they wanted him, they cherished him and his own growing family.

They taught him love.

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#52Ancestors: Great Grandmother Sarah Kennedy, a Tough Woman to Research

Kennedy Sarah Headstone
Buffalo Cemetery, Cheektowaga, Erie County, New York. Lot 3, Section F, Grave 1.

My 3rd entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” family history blogging challenge for 2015.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

Amy’s 2015 version of this challenge focuses on a different theme each week.

The theme for Week 3, Tough woman — Who is a tough, strong woman in your family tree? Or what woman has been tough to research?

Sarah Kennedy Prayer Card
Prayer card for Sarah Kennedy Flanagan.

My 3rd ancestor is my great grandmother, Sarah Kennedy (abt. 1898-1930), and she has been one of the toughest people for me to research.

The main reason Sarah is so difficult to research is that my grandfather Michael John Flanagan (1927-1997), her youngest child, never knew his mom. Sarah died of tuberculosis in 1930, orphaning him at 3 years old. Her husband, my grandfather’s dad, Patrick Thomas Flanagan (abt. 1897-1928) died of the same disease just 1-1/2 years earlier. Two months before her death, Sarah had become so ill that Grandpa and his four older brothers had to be committed to an orphanage, the German Roman Catholic Orphan Home in Buffalo, New York. After the boys’s brief stay at the GRCOH, they were split up, with Grandpa never really knowing his brothers well– except for one who reunited with him much later in life.

Records Challenges

Aside from Grandpa not knowing his mother, the biggest difficult in researching Sarah has been my failure to locate records for her, and inconsistencies in the records I have found for her.

  • I have not been able to get a death certificate for her from Erie County, New York. She died in the city of Buffalo.
  • I have not been able to confirm her birth year or location, or obtain a birth or christening record for her. While most other records indicate that Sarah was born in Cumberland, Allegany County, Maryland, the GRCOH records state she was born in Hyman, Pennsylvania — a locality I cannot even find. The census, death, and marriage records I have for Sarah even list conflicting birth years.
  • Sarah was not truthful on her marriage record to my great grandfather about a previous marriage. She indicated none, despite marrying first husband Frank Ward 12 years prior.
  • No other family — of Sarah’s, or of her husband’s — appear to be buried in the same cemetery as her. Someone paid to bury her in the Buffalo Cemetery (this was not an indigent cemetery or grave). The current cemetery operators confirmed Sarah’s site and service were paid for, but they don’t have a record of who paid, and they don’t have a record of any other family buried there.

No Other Researchers

Often I can use clues provided by other family members or even from strangers researching the same person or family to help break through my own genealogy ruts. But these stepping stones just aren’t available for Sarah.

  • None of my grandfather’s siblings are living, and few of his siblings had children of which I am aware. Because the siblings were split up and became lost to teach other, I don’t even really know which of his siblings had children and might still have living descendants.
    • The brother that Grandpa reunited with late in life has some living children, but my branch no longer knows how to contact them.
    • Grandpa’s half sister (who was of adult age when their mother died) does have descendants living, with whom I am in contact on Facebook, but they don’t have any info on Sarah.
  • I have not identified a single other descendant of Sarah who is on Ancestry Member Trees or other genealogy forums. I see her name pop up on some other public trees, but in just a brief reference as a collateral family member– no one has any real facts and records for her, or seems to be actively researching my Sarah. Just me.

Next Steps

Other than finding birth records for her three oldest children (Wards, half-siblings of my grandfather), I didn’t have any Sarah breakthroughs during my research trip last year to the Family History Library. I go again next month, so I will keep looking.

I am pretty sure that further breakthroughs will have to wait until I have the money and time to visit the localities I have identified for her, so I can search for leads and records in person.

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#52Ancestors: Who are the Parents of Grand Uncle Harry Flanagan?

My 45th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks family history blogging challenge.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

I am still playing catch up, due to being sick so much of this year.

Michael Flanagan Patrick Flanagan Harry Flanagan
My grandfather Michael John Flanagan (center) with two of his brothers. Uncle Pat is on the left. Mom and I think that is Harry on the right. This photo was most likely taken shortly before Grandpa joined the Navy at 17.

My 45th ancestor is my grand uncle Harry J. Flanagan (b. 1920). Harry was my grandfather Michael John Flanagan’s (1927-1997) third oldest brother…or at least from among the brothers that Grandpa knew about (more later on the siblings he never knew).

I never met Harry, and I don’t think my mom or her siblings ever met Uncle Harry. Like Grandpa’s second oldest brother Leonard Ward (b. 1917), I did not even know Harry existed until I found that very first lead about my grandfather’s family history, the 1930 U.S. Census record for their orphanage. Harry too was placed in the German Roman Catholic Orphan Home in Buffalo, New York when the boys’ parents were stricken with tuberculosis and died. Harry was 10 years old when mother Sarah Kennedy (1898- 1930) died from TB and 8 years old when father Patrick Thomas Flanagan (1897-1928) died of it.


Uncle Harry was born 22 April 1920, supposedly in Bellaire (Belmont County), Ohio, where all siblings except baby brother Michael were born. I say supposedly because this is the birth location listed in his orphan records from the German Roman Catholic Orphan Home (GRCOH), and the birth county he identified in his marriage record and his Army enlistment record. Yet Harry is the only one of the Bellaire-born siblings for whom I have no official birth documentation, which means no official documentation telling me the names of his parents.

1930 US Census Flanagan Boys Buffalo
1930 U.S. Census Record, German Roman Catholic Orphan Home. Courtesy of Ancestry.com.
Bellaire Birth Records V1 1909-1920
I found birth records for all of Sarah and Frank Ward’s children when I visited the Family History Library in February…for everyone except Harry. Nor is there a record for a Harry born to Sarah and Patrick Flanagan in 1920.

Although the older boys — Joseph and Leonard — were recorded under the surname Flanagan and as the children of Patrick and Sarah Flanagan on the 1930 US Census and in the GRCOH records, I have confirmed that these two boys (along with older sister Catherine) are the children of Sarah and her first husband Frank J. Ward. I also know that my grandfather Michael and his older brother Patrick Joseph are the children of Sarah and second husband Patrick Thomas Flanagan. Yet, I have no real proof about Harry’s birth or parentage. Although Harry consistently identifies himself as a Flanagan, and the child of Patrick Flanagan and Sarah Kennedy in documentation throughout his life.

To complicate matters, when Harry was born (in 1920), Sarah and Patrick Thomas Flanagan were not yet married. They married five years later in 1925, when Sarah was already 8 months pregnant with their son Patrick Joseph. And a 1920 Bellaire city directory records Sarah still living with her first husband Frank Ward.  I believe Patrick Thomas Flanagan was still married to his first wife at this time too.

So Harry could be the biological child of either of these two sets of first marriages, or the love child of my great grandparents Patrick and Sarah.


Harry J. Flanagan enlisted in the U.S. Army on 12 November 1941 at Fort Hayes, Columbus, Ohio (Army serial number 35037563). He joined as a private, under the warrant officers branch code. Harry had only completed two years of high school (Grandpa never completed high school either), and had worked in civilian life as a semi-skilled miner and mining machine operator. He was described as single with no dependents, 5 feel 9 inches tall, and 152 pounds.

From what I can tell, Harry served in World War II. He was released from service on 28 September 1945.


Harry married Anna M. Sabatino on 15 December 1944, in Belmont County, Ohio. It was a first marriage for both, and Harry was still employed in the U.S. Army. He identified his place of birth as Bellaire, Ohio, and his parents as Patrick Flanagan and Sarah Kennedy. I find no later record of children born to Harry and Anna.

Harry Sabatine Anne - Marriage - 1944 - close up
Marriage record for Harry Flanagan and Anne Sabatine. Source: FamilySearch.org. Click to view a larger image.


I do not yet have proof that this is the same Harry J. Flanagan, but I find several references to an 8 October 1981 death date for him.

It appears he is buried at All Saints Braddock Catholic Cemetery in Pittsburgh (Allegheny County), Pennsylvania. His wife Anne, who died 30 September 1988, is buried there too.

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#52Ancestors: My 4th Great Grandpa James Darnley Immigrates from Scotland 1865

My 34th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks family history blogging challenge.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

I have fallen way behind in this challenge again due to continued health issues the last few months, but I am trying to catch up by the end of the year.

My 34th ancestor is my fourth great grandfather, James DARNLEY (1832- ). This James Darnley is the father of James Patterson DARNLEY (1856-1908), whose murder I blogged about last week.

Ships List. Caledonia, steerage, 1865. Courtesy of Ancestry.com.
Ships List. Caledonia, steerage, 1865. Courtesy of Ancestry.com.

James Sr., a miner, immigrated to the United States in 1865, along with his 7 year old son James Jr. and his 9 year old daughter Jeanette [Janet]. The family arrived at the Port of New York on 16 October 1865, on board the Caledonia (part of the Anchor shipping line), which embarked from Glasgow, Scotland. They crossed the Atlantic in poor steerage accommodations, sharing space with the ship’s cargo.

No wife for James Sr. or mother for the children accompanied the family on their journey to America. The first wife of James Sr., Anne BODMAN (married in April 1857), was already dead at this time.

Darnley New York Times advertisement
This advertisement in the New York Times ran the very date the family arrived (16 October 1865). It is for the return voyage back to Great Britain, on the Caledonia. The price for steerage passage was $30 U.S. Dollars (I assume, per person). My ancestor and his children traveled steerage from Glasgow, paying in British currency. Source: Newspapers.com.

By the time of the 1870 U.S. Census (enumerated 7 July 1870), James Sr. had remarried — to Margaret METZ (b. 1845) — and settled with their family in Lanaconing, Allegany County, Maryland. Both James Sr. and James Jr. were employed as miners. James and Margaret’s first child, 2 year old Jane, was born by this time.

 Darnley 1870 U.S. Census. Courtesy of Ancestry.com.
1870 U.S. Census. Courtesy of Ancestry.com.

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#52Ancestors: Grand Uncle Patrick Joseph Flanagan Desperately Reunites with My Grandfather

My 30th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks family history blogging challenge.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

I have fallen way behind in this challenge again due to continued health issues the last few months, but I am trying to catch up by the end of the year.

My 30th ancestor is my grand uncle Patrick Joseph FLANAGAN (1925-1981).

Flanagan Patrick Joseph and Wie Mary
Uncle Pat and Aunt Mary, 1970s.

Patrick is the only one of my orphaned grandfather’s siblings I ever met. Despite Uncle Pat dying in my tween years, my memories of him are vague. When I was a child, he lived near my grandpa, Michael John FLANAGAN (1927-1997), in Southern California. I remember Uncle Pat and his children visiting my grandparents’ home on occasion. But, due to my young age, I am sure I never paid much attention to them. The most vivid memory I have of Uncle Pat though is of his death…because Mom would not allow me to attend the funeral. She didn’t think funerals were too appropriate for young kids unless it was their immediate family.

And I definitely remember Grandpa crying…a lot. Grandpa was a huge softie, he cried often. But this was a different type of crying, obvious even to a young tween granddaughter. I learned why once I started wanting to learn about my grandfather’s family history, after Grandpa died. Grandpa was crying over the loss of his brother. But, more significantly, Grandpa was heartbroken over the loss of the only biological family member with whom he ever had a real relationship.

Uncle Pat was Grandpa’s youngest sibling, his immediately older brother. Both boys were born to my great grandparents Patrick Thomas FLANAGAN (1897-1928) and Sarah KENNEDY (1809-1920), and were possibly the only ones in the big sibling group who were the biological children of both Patrick and Sarah. The other siblings were from prior marriages, and the parentage of brother Harry J. Flanagan (1920-1981) remains a mystery. Pat and Mike were orphaned at a very young age, with both parents dead by the time Pat was 5 years old, and my grandfather was 3 years old.

Uncle Pat was the last of the siblings born in Ohio, on 6 June 1925. Bellaire, Ohio, to be exact — the multi-generation Flanagan family hometown since at least 1920, where I still have cousins. Pat was also the last of the siblings to get baptized in the Flanagan family church, St. John’s Catholic Church in Bellaire, on 12 July 1925. A fun bit of family history scandal trivia… my great grandmother Sarah was already pregnant with Uncle Pat when she married my great grandfather on 10 April 1925.

Bellaire St John Church 2014
St. John’s High School (left) and St. John’s Catholic Church (center), 2014. Creative Commons-licensed photo from Flickr user Joanne C. Sullivan.

The family moved to Buffalo, New York sometime between Uncle Pat’s July 1925 christening date, and my grandpa’s birth on 23 May 1927, since Grandpa was born in Buffalo.

After their mother, the last living parent, died in 1930, the boys were all placed in a Buffalo orphanage, and were shortly after placed with the Buckley foster family on a nearby farm. Life was not kind to Grandpa or his brothers on the Buckley farm (with the exception of their relationship with foster brother Vern and his wife Edna). Pat and his older brothers all ran away multiple times, although I am told by my mom and her siblings that Uncle Pat remained the longest at the farm, with my grandfather.

Michael Flanagan Patrick Flanagan Harry Flanagan
Uncle Pat (left), Grandpa (center), and I think their older brother Harry (right). Grandpa looks like he is in his late teens or early 20s here, so this appears to be one of the times the brothers reunited again briefly after the older brothers ran away. Grandpa was left alone at the foster family farm during his teens.

But, eventually, even Uncle Pat fled for good, leaving Grandpa alone (by at least age 12) without any biological family. They lost touch in their teens, with Grandpa joining the Navy at age 17, serving abroad during and after WWII, marrying in California, moving to Michigan for a while, then shortly moving back to Southern California, where he and my grandmother raised their children.

Mom tells me often how desperate she remembers Grandpa was to find his brothers while Mom was growing up. He had heard that his brother Pat moved to the Pittsburg area. So Grandpa started calling every Pat Flanagan he could find listed in Pittsburg. One day, he reached the right one — his brother. According to Mom, the brothers were so overjoyed to find each other again and so desperate to be together again, that shortly after that phone call, Uncle Pat packed up his entire family and moved to Southern California near Grandpa.

So when I saw Grandpa crying so intensely over Uncle Pat’s death in 1981, I understand now that Grandpa was also mourning for the parents he never got to know, and all of the siblings he did not get to grow up with.

Uncle Pat is buried at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, California.

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#52Ancestors: WWI And PFC William James Mara

My 24th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” family history blogging challenge.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

My 24th ancestor is my great grand uncle, William James MARA (1894-1952).  William was the brother of my great grandmother, Viola Elizabeth Maud MARA (1893-1971) and half brother of my great grand uncle Herbert Gerald ALLEN (1889-?). His parents were Anna Sophia ALLEN (1871-?) and Thomas MARA (1858-1916).

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the event that sparked the First World War, the Great War…the War To End All Wars. The war did not officially start until 28 July 1914, and the U.S. did not declare war until 6 April 1917, but I thought I would take advantage of today’s 100th anniversary to talk about my great grand uncle’s service during WWI.

William registered for the draft in Detroit, Michigan. I can’t tell if he registered in 1917 or early 1918 since the date is cut off on the microfilmed record. At the time, William was 22 years old, and employed as a civil engineer for the United Fuel and Supply Company in Detroit. He was single, listed his mother as his nearest living relative, and lived at 75 Herbert in Detroit, Michigan. William was described as Caucasian, of medium height, with light blue eyes and light hair, and no disfigurements.

He registered for the draft despite not being a U.S. citizen. Mara had been born in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, and indicates that he had already filed a declaration of intention to become a citizen.

WWI Draft Registration for William James Mara. Courtesy of Ancestry.com.

An application for a veteran’s headstone filed after his 1952 death by his wife Irene provides information about William Mara’s service in the First World War. He enlisted in the National Army on 5 March 1918, and was assigned serial number 806 804. PFC Mara served in the Medical Department of the Army, at the Base Hospital on Camp Mills, New YorkMara was given an honorable discharge 1 July 1919 as a Private First Class.

Applications for Headstones for U.S. military veterans, 1925-1941. Courtesy Ancestry.com.

Camp Mills, located on Long Island, New York, was established in September 1917 to prepare Army units for deployment to Europe. After the war, it served as a demobilization center before becoming part of Mitchell Field in 1919.

Encampment of National Guard soldiers at Camp Mills, New York training for service in World War I. Public domain photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any further information about PFC William James Mara’s activities during the First World War, but it does not sound like he was deployed overseas. I wish I knew what kind of work he did at Camp Mills. He did not have a medical background, but had worked as an engineer. So he most likely was involved in facilities operations, perhaps helping to build some of the permanent structures.

William did receive that veteran’s headstone. He died 24 November 1952, and is buried in Oakview Cemetery in Royal Oak, Michigan.

#52Ancestors: 17 Years Old Orphaned Michael John Flanagan Enlists 9 Days After D-Day

Michael Flanagan US NavyMy 18th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks family history blogging challenge.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

I’m closing the gap at just 4 weeks behind in this series (the challenge is on week 22). I initially blamed my tardiness on being super busy at home, work, and with my volunteer work. However, the extended lapse can be blamed on the recent diagnosis of some critical health issues that had wiped me out for a while (you can read about that on my food blog).

My 18th ancestor is my grandfather Michael John FLANAGAN (1927-1997). I have written about Grandpa quite a bit, but not as part of the 52 Ancestors series. What inspired me to choose and write about him today is today’s marking of the 70th anniversary of D-Day, which has (rightly so!) been all over the news the last couple days. This anniversary got me wondering what my grandfathers were doing on D-Day.

I knew both served in WWII, and in the Pacific theater rather than the European one, but where were they serving on June 6th 1944? According to his Navy records, my Robledo grandpa (more on him later) enlisted 9 months prior to D-Day and was serving somewhere in the Pacific. But my Flanagan grandpa had not yet joined the service.

Michael’s Certification of Military Service shows he enlisted in the U.S. Navy on June 15, 1944 — nine days after D-Day. At the age of 17. Just one month into his 17th year.

What made him join as a minor? Why didn’t he wait until he turned 18? Was he afraid he might miss out on the war after hearing about the D-Day invasion and turning of the tide towards victory? Had he been wanting to join for a while, but just finally jumped all of the legal hurdles to enlist as a minor (with the date being just a coincidence)?

Our family always knew that Michael enlisted as a minor. But, I’ve blogged in the past that Michael was an orphan who lived in an orphanage before growing up as a foster child on a farm in upstate New York. He was never adopted — not even by his longtime foster parents.

The story Mom says Grandpa always told his kids is that he had to get his priest to sign and vouch (lying) that Grandpa, the orphan, was 18 years old, not 17 years old. Who knows if a priest would be willing to lie and do this — it’s possible, if the priest felt this was Grandpa’s best opportunity to get good job skills and make a career and life for himself. Particularly since he had such a rough life as a foster child. But Grandpa was the stereotypical Irish B.S.er who spun all kinds of tales, many of which his kids and grand kids believed into adulthood.

Last November, one of my cousins emailed me a copy of the following document, which was stored at his mother’s house. It’s a Letter of Guardianship from the Surrogate Court of Erie County, New York, dated May 31, 1944. It grants legal guardianship of my 17 year old grandfather to his longtime foster father Thomas Buckley. This made no sense to us. Hadn’t Buckley already been appointed legal guardianship?… I guess not. So why bother when Michael was 17 years old?…Michael would be a legal emancipated adult in a year.

The next month at my family’s annual Tamale Day Christmas party, my Uncle Flanagan brought me what military documents he received when Grandpa died back in 1997. In that packet of documents, we found a photocopy of the above, as well as additional documentation, making it clear that this legal guardianship was pursued so that Buckley could sign to allow Michael to enlist in the Navy as a minor.

The priest story was another tall tale from Grandpa. Not really a surprise.

This whole legal guardianship matter makes me quite sad. At 17 years old! Did Buckley think Grandpa was not worth establishing a legal relationship with until it provided a way to get him out of the house earlier than at 18 years old? Why not adopt him? Or did Grandpa not want Thomas and Ma Buckley to become his legal guardians or parents, preferring to remain a ward of the court?

I will never know the answers to these questions. Or for my initial question of why Grandpa decided to enlist at this time, instead of waiting until he reached 18 years of age.

To learn more about Michael’s military service, please read:

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