#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 Grandfather Patrick Thomas Flanagan Dies of TB Two Days Before Christmas 1928

Flanagan Brothers GRCOH Family Sheet
Family card from the German Roman Catholic Orphan Home in Buffalo, noting Patrick’s date of death. Click for a larger view. Family files, provided by Catholic Charities of Buffalo, New York.

My 51st 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 51st ancestor is my great grandfather Patrick Thomas Flanagan (abt. 1897-1928). I have written about Patrick in the past, but not as part of the 52 Ancestors project. I have selected him for this week because he remains one of my major research brickwalls. Also because of timing.

Patrick allegedly died from tuberculosis just two days before Christmas 1928. Leaving behind wife Sarah Kennedy (1898-1930) who would die one and a half years later of the same disease, as well as three stepchildren (ages 18, 12, and 11), two older children from a previous marriage, and three younger children from wife Sarah (ages 8, 3, and 1-1/2). My grandfather Michael John Flanagan (1927-1997) was the baby, who at just 1-1/2 years old never got to know his father.

The family was extremely poor, so I cannot imagine that there was ever much in the way of gifts or fancy meals at Christmas time in the Flanagan household. But it breaks my heart to know that these children lost their father/stepfather and Sarah lost her husband right before Christmas. After watching him grow increasingly ill from TB. Sarah kept home, so she (and Patrick knowing the seriousness of his illness) had to be frantically worried about how she would provide financially for her children after Patrick’s death. Sarah died in June 1930 from the same illness, so it is very likely she contracted it from her husband, probably while caring for him.

Sarah’s fears were justified. By 1930, possibly even as early as 1929, the minor age children had to be committed to an orphanage because Sarah was too ill to care for them. The children would lead hard unhappy lives in foster care, getting split up and losing touch with each other. Patrick had an older brother and a sister who lived nearby in Buffalo. The parents of both Patrick and Sarah still lived back in their hometown in Ohio. But none of these families were well off and had lots of other mouths to house, clothe, and feed. So Patrick and Sarah’s children grew up alone, without family. This Christmas of 1928 was the last Christmas the family would ever spend together.

My grandfather lived the the rest of his life trying to heal this hurt by growing a big family of his own and showering his children and grandchildren with affection and love. He made us each feel like the most wanted loved child on earth. It breaks my heart to know that he never experienced anything close to this feeling himself.

I say that Patrick Thomas allegedly died in 1928 of tuberculosis. This is because I have no real proof of his date or cause of death. I have been unsuccessful in obtaining a death certificate from Erie County or the city of Buffalo, or in finding one at the Family History Library. There is no obituary. And I cannot even locate his burial site. Patrick does not appear to be buried with his wife Sarah or with his older brother Michael, both buried in Buffalo. The only record I have of Patrick’s death is from the orphan records I obtained for the children from the German Roman Catholic Orphan Home in Buffalo. The orphan records note that Patrick died on 23 December 1928 from tuberculosis.

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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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1940 Census Stories: Michael John Flanagan, Orphaned And Alone Again At 12 Years Old

1940 US Census, courtesy of Ancestry.com. Click on the image to view a larger copy.

Work at my day job and some personal web development projects in my spare time have kept me away from genealogy work for a couple of months. But, when I read in the news that Ancestry.com just published its index today for New York state 1940 US Census records, I had to hop online and search for my grandfather — Michael John Flanagan — by name.

And there he was. Listed on Enumeration District 15-61, Sheet No. 5 B, for Collins Township, New York, on April 25, 1940. Right on line 56. Living in the Buckley home, listed as a lodger, at the farm on Lennox Road.

Thomas “Pa” and Mary “Ma” Buckley, my grandfather’s foster parents.

I already knew that my grandfather was fostered out from the orphan home to the Buckley family as a young child. Grandpa told us many stories about his Buckley foster family, and he deeply loved his older foster brother Uncle Verne and sister-in-law Aunt Edna (whom I met as a baby and young child). Verne and Edna are listed in the adjacent home, with their 7 month old daughter Edna “Edo”. Verne and Edna were really more like parents to my grandpa than a brother and sister-in-law…but that’s another story.

My joy at finding Grandpa on the census is mixed with much sadness though.

Despite living with the Buckleys since he was a toddler, whichever family member spoke to the Census worker (most likely, Mary “Ma” Buckley) referred to my grandfather simply as a “lodger” — not a son or brother, not a foster son or foster brother, not even a ward. A “lodger”. Like young Michael lived there by choice, temporarily. The Buckleys never adopted my grandfather. He remained an orphan his entire life, and he never really had any sense of family until he married my grandmother and had children of their own.

Grandpa (top right), later in life with older foster brother (Verne) and sister-in-law (Edna)  and nieces that he absolutely adored. Verne and Edna and their children showered my Grandpa with love, providing him with his only sense of family as a child and young man.

It also saddens me to see that Grandpa was the only Flanagan boy living with the Buckleys by April 1940. I know through the orphan records, and from family recollections, that at least one or two of Grandapa’s older brothers were also placed into foster care with the Buckleys — including Michael’s brother Patrick, who was just one year older than Grandpa. Yet, Patrick (who would have only been 13) and the other brothers are not listed as part of this household. Family members tell me that the other boys all ran away, numerous times. But, Grandpa was too little to take with them. So, he got left behind.

And this was the start of how Grandpa became separated from his brothers.  And all alone.

I get choked up every time I think about this because my grandfather — a soft-hearted loving prankster of a man who doted on his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren — never quit suffering from the hurt of his childhood. He never knew a sense of family growing up. He never felt wanted as a child.

But, at least Grandpa felt wanted and loved and adored as a husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather..and he died knowing this.

Genealogical Inspirations: That Very First Kind Look-Up Volunteer

This is part of my “Genealogical Inspirations” series highlighting some of my key milestones, to commemorate the release on Monday of the 1940 US Census.

In 2002, I was able to beat down a big brick wall that I’d faced the first year I started researching my own family history — trying to find any clues about my Grandpa Flanagan, who was orphaned as a toddler. And it was thanks to the index of the newly released 1930 US Census, which allowed me to locate my grandfather and his four brothers living in the German Roman Catholic Orphan Home in Buffalo, New York.  But, I was frustrated to learn that the orphanage no longer existed.

When I started posting inquiries on various Ancestry and RootsWeb listservs, everyone replied back telling me not to hold out hope searching for the families of orphans from the pre-World War II period. They said older orphan records were rarely preserved.

But I did hope. So, I contacted the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, who promptly informed me they no longer held the records for that orphanage, that the records had been transferred to Catholic Charities of Buffalo. My next call was to Catholic Charities. I didn’t keep a record of the date of that first call, but I was transferred to a very nice lady who confirmed they did have the orphanage records. She took down the dates and names I had discovered in the census, and told me that they would look through their records, when someone there had the time. She too told me not to get my hopes up, that not all records from the orphanage were intact. She said that they’d mail me copies if they found anything. And when I asked if I could send payment for a look-up fee and photocopies, she told me that wasn’t necessary.

So, I waited. And I tried not to get my hopes up.

But, I kept checking my mailbox.

Then, finally, months later, during a routine look in the mailbox, there it was. A big manila envelope, stuffed about a 1/4 inch thick, from Catholic Charities of Buffalo. I ran into my house, ripped it open, and spent the entire evening pouring over the documents. Lisa Barkley (I knew her name now!), had sent me a big stack of records on all five boys, for the short time they resided at the orphanage.

My letter from Catholic Charities. Click the image to view a bigger copy.

From this stack of orphan records, I was able to finally learn the names of my Grandpa Flanagan’s parents, as well as their dates and causes of death. It opened up a whole new world of hope for me.

I really have no idea if Lisa Barkley was, or still is, an employee, or “just” a volunteer.  But, I am forever grateful for her kind heart and willingness to help.  And I specifically refer to “look-up volunteers” in my blog post title because this incident introduced me to the world (literally, all around the world) of genealogy volunteers who simply want to help. They are willing to spend time (and often money) helping other family historians — searching proprietary databases, visiting physical archives or localities, pursuing leads, taking photos, making and mailing/emailing photocopies — all for never more than maybe the cost of postage or copies. Why? Because they’ve been there. Because they know that they too will someday, yet once again, need the help of another genealogist.

Nearly ten years later, I never cease to tout to others just how reciprocal and helpful the genealogy community is, and I try to serve as a free “look-up volunteer” any opportunity I can.

Flanagan: A Virtual Tour Of The German Roman Catholic Orphan Home In Buffalo, New York

An old sketch of the GRCOH, that I came across a bout a decade ago on the web. I  failed to keep the source citation, but will gladly attribute (or remove, if contested) as soon as I find the source again.

I mentioned in a post last week about the break-through I had, as a novice genealogist back in 2002, when the 1930 US Census was released, which allowed me to strike gold identifying the Buffalo, New York  orphanage my grandfather Michael John Flanagan and his brothers lived in when the US Census was enumerated in April 1930.

That orphanage was the German Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum, also known as the German Roman Catholic Orphan Home. I’m piecing together its history, but thought I’d share a contemporary look back into its past in the meantime — particularly since I hear that the ruins were demolished last year.

These are a series of 2009 video produced by YouTube user DrEggm4n.
This is a 2008 video produced by Damian Tetkowski.
This is a 2007 video produced by Sean Galbraith.
This is a slideshow of exterior photos shot by fixBuffalo between June 10-22, 2005.
 These are interior photos shot by fixBuffalo on October 28, 2005.

Genealogical Inspirations: Busting Down A Brick Wall With The 1930 US Census

The 1930 U.S. Census. Enumeration District 15-173, Sheet No. 2A. Buffalo (Erie) New York. (Source: Ancestry.com)

This post is a part of a “Genealogical Inspirations” series I am writing — sharing my own early personal genealogy milestones — to commemorate the public release of the 1940 U.S. Census on April 2nd.

In my last post, I mentioned how my grandfather, Michael John Flangan, was orphaned at a very young age (never adopted), separated from his brothers, and spent much of his adult life trying to find answers about his family history. Grandpa died in 1997; I didn’t take up family research until 2001.

Because my grandfather knew so little about his family, he didn’t leave behind the documents and clues so many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren benefit from when researching their family history. He also didn’t have a lot of pertinent family stories, names, and places verbally passed down to his children. And my grandmother – who kept the family records — passed away well before Grandpa. None of Michael’s kids knew where a copy of Michael’s birth certificate might be.

All my mother could tell me was that Grandpa was born in Buffalo, and that she thought his father was named John or Patrick (not an unusual first name among Flanagans…needle in a haystack). We knew he had an older brother named Patrick, because Uncle Pat moved out to the Los Angeles area later in life to be near his newly re-found brother Mike.

That was it.

That’s all I had to start with for research leads.

Do a search in any genealogy database for Michael Flanagan, Patrick Flanagan, or John Flanagan in Buffalo, New York, and you’ll see what I was up against.

I vividly remember when the 1930 U.S. Census came out back in April 2002, because I lived and breathed on Ancestry when they first published a digitized indexed version. I’d done the math and realized that the 1930 Census was the first one taken after Grandpa was born. I spent many nights digging through more needles in a haystack — far too many young Michael and Patrick Flanagans in the Buffalo area still. So then I started cross-referencing both Michael (Mike) and Patrick (Pat) in my searches, and reviewing ages for families that had sons with each name, because I knew that Grandpa and Uncle Pat couldn’t be more than maybe 5 or 6 years apart.

This approach definitely helped filter in on a smaller set of results. But, one very odd search result kept coming up near the top of the list every single time I tried it, and I kept dismissing it because the census entry for Michael and Patrick showed their relationship to the head of household as “Inmate”. Inmate? I’d never heard of Grandpa serving time in jail, especially as a child.  I noticed that every name on that particular census sheet was listed as an Inmate. And every single name entered was a minor.

Then it hit me.


I remembered from my History studies that orphans, at this time, were frequently referred to as inmates. So, I scrolled to the top of that particular census sheet where it lists the Institution name (if applicable). And there it was — the German Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum. Every single enumerated individual on this sheet was a resident of an orphanage.

I scrolled back down to the entry for Michael Flanagan (line 34), 3 years and 10 months old. Right underneath was a Patrick Flanagan, 4 years and 9 months old. And when I looked more closely at the family grouping, I noticed three more youth males: Joseph (age 13), Leonard (age 12), and Harry (age 9).

More brothers?

Grandpa had THREE older brothers, in addition to Uncle Pat.

The 1930 US Census listing for Grandpa Mike and his brothers (click the image to view a larger version). Source: Ancestry.com.

I distinctly recall it being past 10:00pm (when Mom used to go to bed), but I called her anyways and woke her up — I knew how much this discovery would mean to her. She immediately started crying when I told her what I’d found — my decision to wake her up had been the right one. Mom, too, was surprised to hear about three more brothers. She said she was never really sure if Grandpa had siblings in addition to Uncle Pat, because Grandpa had so few memories of his early childhood.

While corresponding via email with my mom’s oldest sister a few years later, my aunt told me that she had been aware of the other boys’ names; but she wasn’t sure if they were all full brothers, half-brothers, or step-brothers.

One brick wall busted down.

The 1930 U.S. Census was the very first genealogical document that put me on the right path to tracking down Grandpa’s family history.  It gave me names and ages of my grandfather’s brothers, and it gave me the name and address of his orphanage. That was enough to inspire me to keep digging.

I eagerly and anxiously await the April 2nd release of the 1940 Census so that I can find out where all five boys were living in April 1940, because I do know now that they were no longer all together by that date. So, until the 1940 Census gets fully indexed, I’ll have to focus on the Enumeration Districts for Buffalo, and for the nearby farm town in which my grandfather’s foster family lived.