Genealogy is one of my favorite hobbies!
As a person who grew up knowing nothing about her biological father and family, it is important to me to give my children as much information I can about their family. Plus, it’s just really, really cool to find out the stories of your ancestors, both good and bad. We have a part of every single one of them inside us, making us part of who we are! Alongside following the paper trail, I have also had my DNA tested on several sites and have been able to match up with family members who I knew nothing about!
Genealogy is like a huge, never-ending logic puzzle and it keeps me challenged as I work the puzzle. So I’ll share some stories that I have discovered as I have researched.
Gus grew up in Baltimore, MD until his family moved right over the border into Pennsylvania when he was a teenager. In fact, the huge majority of his ancestors came to Baltimore in the late 1800s as European immigrants and never left the area. Most have stayed within a several mile radius of downtown Baltimore. Compared to my family which is mostly comprised of people who have been in America even before the Revolution, Gus’s family is relatively new to America. That is pretty fascinating to me to know that it is part of my kids’ history.
His ancestor who has been on my mind the most recently is his great-great grandfather, Patrick Branagan. He never knew him, but he vividly remembers his son, William “Pat” Branagan, Gus’s great grandfather. He simply knew him as “Bebop”. Bebop grew up there in downtown Baltimore.
Bebop had a daughter, Patricia Branagan (Nanny), and she later had August John Gephardt, Jr (Gus’s dad). That gives you an idea of that line of Gus’s family. (And isn’t “Patricia Branagan” the most beautiful Irish name ever to say?”)
Nanny had someone in the family who had done some research on the family and we have a very old laser printer printoff of that information. We knew that Bebop’s parents were both born in Ireland and immigrated to the US, where they later met. We knew that Bebop and Nanny had even gone back to Ireland to visit family and we had some names of the actual Catholic churches where family members were baptized, but there were a lot of gaps in the information and most of the people who would know this information had already passed away.
Family lore said that Patrick Branagan had immigrated first to Ellis Island in New York City and then came to Baltimore where he met Ellen Corcoran and married her later. But I couldn’t find records of him until 1910 when he was already married and they had a child….nothing before then. And Maryland is notorious for having horrible records online. You find most of your information by traveling in person to Annapolis and digging.
Last weekend, I came across a 1900 census in Baltimore that had a Patrick Branagan on it living in Sparrow’s Point. For Baltimoreans, they know that is the location of the Bethlehem Steel plant. The census looked odd though. It was a list of hundreds of single guys. At first I thought, “Oh no! He’s in prison!” (I’ve seen this before…lol). But looking closer, I saw that instead of an address listed, these guys were listed as living in “shanties”.
With a Google search, I found that these shanties were roach and rat-infested buildings where poor immigrants and recently freed Southern slaves often came to live while working at Bethlehem Steel. Could this be our Patrick Branagan? I really had no way of proving it, but his birthdate and country of birth matched up.
Because I knew Patrick Branagan’s date of death, I ordered a death certificate, hoping to get more information. Death certificates are usually a wealth of information as they generally give parents’ names, including the mother’s maiden name. His came back with both parents listed as “unknown”. Another dead end.
The next day, I again revisited Nanny’s paperwork on her family tree. Her paperwork said that Patrick Branagan was from Ireland, but family’s names were unknown. That matched up with what I had seen on the death certificate. But I noticed more information in the family files. It said that he may have had a brother named Christopher who had a wife named Nora.
I started searching again and discovered a site with Ellis Island and Castle Garden records. I started searching for a Christopher Branagan this time. There were very few people named that, so I looked at one who matched the time of immigration. What I saw shocked me! There was a Christopher Branagan traveling with Anne Branagan. (With the ages, Anne was likely his mother). The ship manifest listed the passengers, but also asked for more information. This particular ship left Liverpool and then stopped near Dublin (the birthplace of our Branagans), headed to New York city. When asked where they were destined upon arrival to America, Anne and Christopher responded “Baltimore”. Then above that was written “Sparrow’s Point”. Wow!! When asked for the address of the place they were headed, they gave an EXACT address there near the steel plant as well as the names of Patrick and Thomas Branagan! I had just confirmed that the 1900 census was OUR Patrick Branagan and that Christopher was the brother of Patrick and Thomas Branagan!
Following this trail, I found Christopher on later census records married to Honora/Nora, just like our family paperwork said. Upon more digging, I confirmed that Anne was their mother, her maiden name was Reilly, and their father was named Christopher. I found baptism records that gave their exact address in Dublin and am working to confirm that Christopher, their father, likely died in Ireland before they all started immigrating a few at a time.
I’m proud of Gus’s Irish roots and the obvious hard work Patrick Branagan had to do here in America in order to give a good life to his family. Like I mentioned, he married Ellen Corcoran and they had 2 sons and 2 daughters together. We haven’t found a picture of Patrick yet, but we do have a family photo of Ellen and 3 of her children. They all had a happy life in Baltimore and Gus’s Bebop is that handsome one on the left. Isn’t genealogy amazing?!