Saturday, April 24, 2010

Uncle Will

Perhaps Uncle Will settled in Harrisburg and Thomas Fitzgerald (John D.'s father) followed him there, fell in love with Utah and settled in Price (where John D. was born
In June of 2003 a poster named SkeptiJess wrote a synopsis on the background of  The Great Brain series.  One of our followers Rubin sent the link to me.  It is where the Tena/Minnie question came from.  The quote I opened this post with is a portion of SkeptiJess's process.  He made a pretty good guess.  From his research he attrirbuted Adenville to the Leeds/Silver Reef ghost towns.  And he has a strong supporting argument for those towns based on flood data.

The Big Question is Uncle Will - who was he, where did he live, and why did he not make the children's books?
William James Fitzgerald was born September 5, 1856....He was born in Rummerfield, PA but spent most of his early days at Homets Ferry.  Later he moved to Herrick Township where her resided for 43 years.  He lived for years in Towanda and then went to Milan, PA and owned the farm now known as the North Branch Antique Store.  He owned this farm until his death.

Eventually William would marry Ellen Sullivan.  Together they would have six children.  This William is a far cry from the beloved Uncle Will of the books. Of all the adjustments I had to make, this was the hardest.  I had loved Uncle Will tremendously.  I couldn't imagine him being a nice Pennsylvania farmer.  If I had it hard, the Pennsylvania side of the family had it harder.

One of my golden finds, was a genealogist/historian from Bradford County Pennsylvania, his name was Henry Farley.  Over the months of correspondence and phone calls, I learned that Mr. Farley was a Fitzgerald relative.  I sent him a copy of Papa Married a Mormon.  One day he left a message on my answering machine, "Nothing about the Pennsylvania Fitzgerald's is correct."  I immediately phoned back.

We had a fantastic conversation.  Mr. Farley explained the picture mix up with Aunt Cathie in the books and some other obvious details.  He then went on to explain that he wouldn't be sharing the book with anyone and was greatful for the recent passing of his Aunt Loretta.  Loretta had been the diligent keeper of the family histories and Mr. Farley was sure, "She would be rolling in her grave" if she'd read the story.  As we hung up the phone I finally had the epiphany I needed to have to understand John's work.

A few month later John's legal affidavit arrived.  Next to the name of Will D. Fitzgerald it reads -
 "Character based partly on fiction and partly on lives (of) my Uncle Will Boyle, dead, my uncle Tom Murphy, dead and my father's partner, Lee Warf, dead. "
Uncle Will was a wonderful creation, representing the many facets of saloon owners in Price in it's early years.

A strange and unexplainable side note.
Sometime later I acquired the few letters and galley proofs of The Great Brain books.  Among the letters was a question from the publisher about screen doors.  John's answer was,
Screen doors.  My father's home was built in 1884 and had a screen door on the kitchen. My uncle Will's home was built in the 1870's and had a screen door on the kitchen. (italics added).
I still don't know what to make of it.  Did John visit Uncle Will in Pennsylvania at some point?  Was there a photograph or tin-type of Uncle Will's house?  Or did Uncle Will not reside in Pennsylvania the whole time, could he have migrated west, for a short while, with some of the other family members?  I just don't know.  Pennsylvania records have him there forever.  But there is the background of Uncle Will - both of them.


  1. Hi Carrie,

    My name is Patty Boyle Gardner. I came across your blog spot looking up information on my Dad's (John Patrick Boyle) old farmhouse in Wylausing, PA. My Dad's mother, Isabelle Foley Boyle, was a first cousin to John D. Fitzgerald. Her mother's name was Anna Fitzgerald. My father died when I was quite young, but I do know we had an first edition of "Papa Married a Mormon" that was signed by John to his cousin Isabelle. As a middle school child I found John's children's books in our school library and read every one. I was told (family lore) that Uncle Will did go out west, but rather than dying from a gun fight, he fell off a second floor porch of a bar due to being drunk.:)

  2. Hi Patty - I just found this post today. I don't get back to this blog very often. Thanks for the family lore connection. There was an Uncle who died from asthma or related illness. He did fall out of a hotel balcony. Four stories up. I don't know anything more. This is a year late I hope it finds you. Thanks for adding it.