Jun 22, 2011

Callahans in Benton County

A while back, I was browsing through a history of Benton county, Minnesota, where many of my ancestors lived. On a listing of county officials from 1912, I ran across the name of W. B. Callahan. It immediately piqued my interest, because that's a surname of my ancestors, and there weren't many Irish in Benton county, let alone Callahans. There were a few Callahans across the Mississippi River in Stearns county, from St Cloud and St Wendel. But since at least 1997, no Callahans have lived in Benton county (or at least none are listed in any telephone or other public directory). I didn't recognize the initials W. B. as one of my relatives, so I copied down the information for further research.

Later, while researching at the Benton County Historical Society, I found his obituary and his mother's death certificate. His parents were recent immigrants from Ireland, so we aren't related. I can trace my Callahan ancestors back to Indiana in the 19th century, and Kentucky in the late-18th century. However, this Callahan led an eventful life. He had been the county sheriff for eight years, a probate judge for 18 years, and fire chief for 35 years. I've since found his signature on several probate records for my relatives. But the most interesting detail to me, is one sentence in the middle of his obituary:
"He also was regarded as the first man to own an automobile in Benton county."1 I suppose back then that was quite a big deal. It was deemed important enough by the newspaper to set apart from the rest of the text and print the whole sentence in boldface. I want my obituary to say I was the first person to own a flying car in my county. But alas, I don't think our Jetsons future will be here anytime soon, at least not during my lifetime.

So why am I posting about an unrelated man who died more than 60 years ago? One of the reasons I started a blog was so relatives searching for information on our ancestors might find my blog, and contact me. I'm more than willing to share what I've found on unrelated people too. Since there were few people with the surname Callahan in central Minnesota, I make copies of everything I find, including some who might not be related. (That wouldn't work for some of the more common German surnames. There are simply too many.) I visited the St Cloud Public Library for a few hours one day and scanned every obituary of possible relatives from microfilm–it was less than 200. A few turned out to be completely unrelated; more were relatives of people who married into my extended family. But the majority of obituaries were indeed relatives.

1. W. B. Callahan obituary, Benton County News, Foley, Minnesota, 10 November 1948.

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