Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Who was Joanne Condon?

My mom's family lines were French-Canadian from her dad and Irish from her mom.  Her mother's name was Catherine Flynn; she was always referred to as Katie Flynn even after her marriage to Ambrose Perusse.  I knew as a kid that mom's grandfather was John Joseph Flynn and his wife Maria (pronounced Ma-RI-a) Nash but knew little more than that.  I knew about my grandmother and her sister Mary and I had heard my mother talk about an uncle Joe.   The City Directories for Lynn were the first documents I used to try to find more information and I was able to create a time-line of residences for John Joseph Flynn, morocco dresser, immigrant from Ireland.  I guessed at the marriage date and was happy when (back in the day) the city clerk handed me the ledger for 1885 and I happily examined the pages to discover the correct entry. 

I spent an entire Saturday at the Public Library once looking at microfilms of birth and death records and was able to figure out that John Joseph and Maria had more children than I thought.  Three survived to adulthood but Maria had at least 10 pregnancies from 1885 to 1902 when she died from complications from a stillborn birth.  She was 42.  I realized then that this story was going to be sad and complicated and probably the reason why I'd never heard much of anything of this family. 

I spent some Saturdays just reading the local papers for the span of time of Maria's married life.  The Police Blotter was revealing and I discovered John Joseph had lead a difficult life and spent several sessions in the local jail and at the Poor Farm.  More unhappiness in this family.  One of the archivists at the Massachusetts State Archives unearthed some of the records for me and provided me with photocopies of the "day book" which recorded when inmates wrote or received letters.  John Joseph became seriously ill while at the Poor Farm in 1910 and was transferred to the hospital where six months later he died of exhaustion -- he was 47 years old.   Medical records in Massachusetts are redacted forever but I could have petitioned a judge for access if it weren't for the fact that the archivist assured me that there weren't any medical records.  Too bad since I'd like to have a complete family medical history. 

John Joseph's brother must have been informed of his illness about a month before he died which lines up with a day in October 1910 when Patrick purchased a large burial plot at St Joseph Cemetery in Lynn, Mass.  John Joseph was the first interred (1910).  Patrick Flynn died in 1940 without children so a few years ago I read the documents in his probate docket record hoping to find some evidence of who inherited the plot at St Joseph Cemetery.  There were the typical procedural documents in the probate packet but there was so much more which took some time to digest.  Since Patrick was married I supposed that his wife Catherine (Carew) Flynn would inherit everything but his heirs-at-law included his sister Catherine (Flynn) Hayes and the three surviving children of  my great-grandfather John Joseph: my grandmother Katie Flynn, her sister Mary (Flynn) Burke, and brother John Joseph Flynn II.  In this list was this mysterious stranger... another inheritor.....Joanne Condon, Patrick's half-sister. 

Who was this?  Unfortunately, there wasn't one more jot of information about Joanne Condon in any of the other documents in the packet other than the assertion that she lived in Cambridge, Mass.  I have been looking for her for a long, long time.  Census records, Directories, Sacramental Records at the Catholic Archives, the extracted IGI, Irish records, published family trees have been mined for any piece of information.   I've managed to find lots of interesting stuff about the Carews and allied families and my grandmother and her brother but nothing substantial on Joanne Condon.  I don't even know how she was Patrick's half-sister .... obviously a parent remarried but which parent and was Condon her birth name or married name?  Was she born in the States or in Ireland or somewhere else?  Did her parents immigrate?  I don't know her birthday, deathday, or if she was married.  I can't assign her one thing a genealogist needs to know.

I've let some time pass since I looked at this material....I think you have to do that with the brickwalls -- you have to be patient and re-charge your interest.  Let it rest and maybe someone somewhere will add to a database or transcribe one more record so you can dig into fresh information with renewed energy and interest.  I've also learned to get the story out to other researchers which is a new addition to my toolkit.  The story might be sad and revealing or a bit uncomfortable but it might spark some recognition in a long-lost cousin. 

So yesterday, I returned to the Probate Registry and browsed each index book from 1885 to 1960 searching for a woman named Joanne Condon.  Found one.  Ordered the packet.  Waiting.


  1. Peg, so so intriguing. I hope the probate packet has something of substance to go on. And thank you for writing this blog!

    I often think about our great-grandparents John Joseph and Maria(h), and how painful their story must be. And I'm grateful that somehow our grandmother Katie valued education as the way up and out of all that drama...

    1. I hope so too. But if the probate packet isn't "our" Joanne Condon there are always more ship lists!