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 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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