Thursday, June 11, 2009


My name is Scoop M.
I am a hopeful, and hopeless, genealogist.
Because of the adventures I have carving out my history,
I've been blog-free for longer than I realized.
For that I apologize.
Today, I am back, with a vengeance.

As an appeteazer before the main fare, permit me to present two digital images representing my "altar" (;->) ego, Ruth Brannigan. The first is a Ruth Brannigan of Facebook fame. The second Ruth Brannigan, winner of Chatham University's 2006 Graduate School of Education's Alumni Award in Teaching. Feel free to select the author of this blog. The woman on the right in the alum photo is Dr. Helen Faison, Ruth's mentor. Everyone from Pittsburgh during the 50s, 60s and 70s would remember her voice as she announced the snow days for the Pittsburgh City Public School District. All the Catholic schools followed her voice like she was RCA's dog Nipper any time a snow flake appeared. She is still getting it handled as a very current educational leader.

You would think by now I would have been cured of my familial researching ways, but it has only become worse since the advent of home computers and Mr. Gore's internet. Before those two double-wide doorways into research, I was relegated to going on "hit and miss" trips to the National Archives. Yes, I was one of those wacky xerox card carrying folks who wanted prints of microfiche images. I've actually had conversations focusing on the correct pronunciation of microfiche. "Micro-FEE-shhh" versus "micro-FISH" went on for quite a while until we reached a point when it just didn't digitally matter any longer. Now we are more into file size and if we should put it into Adobe before emailing. Who knew we'd come to this.

Nevertheless, there are times I feel like a time traveler and voyeur. Hours crumble in an instant once I start on a particular search for something. There are periods when connecting those dots just doesn't happen with much frequency. Each and every kernel of data is mined as carefully and diligently as if it is a pillar of suicide coal. The phrase "alleged relative" echoes in my mind when I think of how I can substantiate the research I've done before announcing my jeweled finds to anyone.

Recently I have come across two wonderful discoveries:

1. BRANNIGAN BRANCH: Once locating the 1930's U.S. Census, I've managed to find people who are related to "The Brannigans" and that is quite a watershed moment. The only Brannigan's I've ever known are my father's sibling's children and their families. That was it. Very small family tree when you think of it. Michael Brannigan, my grandfather, died in 1942 which was nine years before I reached this planet. We never met any of his relatives aside from his children and their progeny, so this is blockbuster. Well, at least to me.

2. CLAIR/GORDON BRANCH: On my mother's side, we really never knew any of her "blood" relatives either as she was adopted. I've finally been able to attach her biological family to her side of our tree and hope to land some of the lesser limbs in the future. I love Walter and Marie Gordon for not only adopting Mom, but for loving all of us as well. There is more of a story here and I'll cover it in another blog as I'm anticipating a development very soon.


THE BRANNIGAN HOME: (left) circa 1930 with Robert and Morgan posing for holy card pictures and (right) the home more recently in 2009

THE 1930's U.S. CENSUS:
It was a little more than 79 years ago when my grandparent's home at 548 South Graham Street, Pittsburgh 32, PA was visited by census enumerator Frank B. Tipton. Although I certainly don't have any first hand knowledge of that date and time, my dad, Morgan, often told stories in and out of school about those days. It was like warm formula to me (I was bottle fed, so it can't be "mother's milk") when I first saw this treasure. It was the first time I had ever really seen my grandfather's name and information about him in print.

It made me proud reading that in 1930 my grandparents were homeowners. I hasten to add that they could sit in their home and also LISTEN TO THE RADIO. Thank you very much! That was such a big issue back then that it was listed on the census report before, but right next to, the question asking if you lived on a farm. Being in the 7th Ward of Pittsburgh, that was met with a resounding negative response.

Now that technology and commerce have been addressed, we move into the personal portion of the interview. Michael was a male, white, and 38 years old. As they termed it, his "martial condition" was married at 19 years old. His employment was with "Paper and Cordage Company" in sales. (Sound familiar, Pat?) His citizen status is YES which was not necessarily the case for everyone during that period as naturalization wasn't on the forefront, unless you wanted to vote.

Both Michael and his bride, Mary, list themselves as being born in Pennsylvania following the trend as set by both sets of parents being born there as well. This is the major point of departure. This is where my grandmother started freewheeling with the interview. As I have come to know and verify the following:

(right) Michael at the beach

1. Michael Brannigan was born Michael Grohman, in Germany where they had been attending Lutheran services on Sunday. In 1899 they immigrated to the U.S., entering New York harbor on the German liner, the Kaiser Wilhelm. In order to marry Mary, Michael was baptized at St. John the Baptist (how simply fitting) and taking the surname of his step-father, Frederick Brannigan. This, I am sure, was the insurance policy Miss Mary needed in order to take him home for her father's approval. Mary's dad was none other than James Joseph O'Brien. St. John's is currently a microbrewery call The Church Brew Works.

(right) Catherine Bruce, the youngest of the O'Brien Clan
(left) Mary Gertrude Brannigan, the oldest sister (aka Grieg Gar)

2. My grandmother robbed the cradle. She was a good 2.5 years older than Michael. That didn't phase her in the least. She simply adjusted the numbers. No problem here. If you ever knew Grieg Gar, you clearly understood that life was strictly on her terms. If she liked you and you were any other nationality but Irish, she'd distort your name into something sounding as if it had a shamrock next to it. Robert Gilardi became Bobby Clarity. Nicky Richetti was transformed into Micky Raffety. She was amazing. The more you might try to sway her by repeating the name correctly, the more she'd smile, blatantly ignore you and continue to say it the way she wanted. No stress. No issue. No change.

What is sweet about this 1930's census report is that it is a loving snapshot capturing their entire family. Their daughter, Ruth, was 18 at this point. She wasn't employed and since it was April I am guessing she is still a senior at Divine Providence Academy High School in East Liberty. Her first brother of three, Norman, was 12 years old; Morgan was 9; and Robert was 6. God bless my grandparents.
Every three years another boy to chase. I have a few photos of them at this time in front of the house. Bikes were involved in one. In another they are standing straight like soldiers, yet smiling as if they just heard school was canceled. There are later ones of happy young teenagers dressed to the "9s" and looking like early Hollywood. They were happy and it showed.

I'm certain they had their fair share of heartbreak too as a mere 12 years after this census, Michael died at his own hands exhausted from a raging illness we suspect was stomach cancer.

It is so enriching finding these wonderful people and spending time with them. I try thinking historically in terms of how they lived, how they spent their days, and what drove their decision making. It is a rare pleasure coming to meet them, even if it is forensically.

I love "visiting" with them. Each time I review documents like the 1930 census, I realise something new, such as, their neighbors, Herman and Katharine Blank's 16 year old son Charles was going to be our neighbor when we lived on Morewood Avenue. Charlie Blank's daughter Cathy attended school with me from kindergarten through high school. Charlie's brother, George, was "Uncle George" to the neighborhood. George never worked and received some form of disability pay from injuries suffered during World War II. That always amazed me since he always seemed to do well in everyday tasks as well as competing in horseshoe championships in the Gallagher's back yard. Our parents directed us to be polite to him. Maybe he was suffering from some invisible form of hell from military days or simply existing on the government's dime. Who knows. I just find it uncanny that our families were so intertwined for such a period of time.

Genealogy. It is painstaking, brutal, and mocking when you can't complete the picture. It is also one of the most rewarding endeavors I've done. I really do wish my dad, Morgan, was here to see how I've picked up his sword and carried it forth. He would be right with me filling my head with even more details. As it is, I'll have to settle for the writings he left behind and his research as a springboard.

Look out, Miss Zelda. You're going to have quite a bit of reading at some point so you will know the rich history you have on your "Brannigan" side.

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