#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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