Saturday, May 30, 2015

Reconstructing Branches

When parents introduce their young children to someone called “Aunt,” does that always mean the woman is a sibling to either Mom or Dad?

We all know that is sometimes not the case. The handy convention of having children demonstrate respect for family friends by dubbing them as aunts and uncles is a widespread tradition, at least in American circles.

It would be too far a stretch to expand that device to the point of assuming that the children of such an "aunt" or "uncle" would then be considered cousins. But, in going with the “Aunt” and “Uncle” custom, could it be possible that a family might have insisted on such an informal designation?

That was my dilemma, almost three years ago, as I sifted through the piles of papers rescued from Agnes Tully Stevens’ files. I had found a photograph and ordination invitation in Agnes' keepsakes, labeled by her daughter, “my cousin.”

The name, though, was one that hadn’t—yet—shown up in my genealogical searches. I had no idea how this man—Father John Bernard Davidson—connected to the Tully family.

It took quite a while to reconstruct Father Davidson’s own family tree—perhaps, if you’ve been reading at A Family Tapestry for that long, you may recall seeing the explanation in the two part series here and here. I was able to put together a chart of the two generations preceding him, leading up to the very Michael Tully who had appeared on the same page in the Canadian 1861 census in Paris, Ontario, as our Tully family’s progenitor, Denis Tully.

If, I reasoned, Agnes’ daughter knew to label the photograph of Father John Davidson as “my cousin,” this must not have been an example of that friendly convention. I felt somewhat confident that this was family, not just good friend.

But I lacked any final documentation. After all, 1860s Canada was not the best place to send for birth documentation. The Catholic Church there in Paris, Ontario, had barely been established. They were having trouble identifying the people buried in their graveyard at that time, let alone preserving that decade’s baptismal records.

Fast forward to my angst, this week, over discovering that I never actually entered that family line in my database. Of course I didn’t: I couldn’t locate any documentation that Michael was son of Denis and Margaret Flannery Tully. All I had were family notes—the two handwritten entries on material saved from John Bernard Davidson’s ordination being among other such discoveries—stating that relationship as fact.

So, do I save this? Or not? Evidently, I had chosen the more cautious route, the last time I visited this dilemma. And then turned back, seeking my notes documenting the discovery, only to find I couldn’t locate them. I sure don’t want to repeat that again.

There is a second aspect to this story that compels me to revisit it. Remember my mention, regarding DNA test results, about lack of any device to separate my husband’s paternally-linked results from those of his mother’s line? It occurred to me that I needed to seek a willing family participant whose test results could serve to delineate which, among the autosomal results, were from his mother’s side, and which from his father’s line.

I now realize I may already have such a device. And if not, I’m close enough to a willing subject to quickly grant that wish. You see, by plugging in the data from that Davidson branch into my Tully database—notwithstanding lack of a specific document stating the connection between patriarch Denis Tully and his son Michael—I now can reap several additional surnames to look for in my results. And, recalling that I’ve already met two distant cousins from that line, I may also find that they are willing to pursue DNA testing—if they haven’t already done so.

So—though I still can’t shake that hesitancy to add a name without a bona fide document—I’ve bit the bullet and added this entire line to my Tully tree. Beginning with the Michael Tully who appeared in the 1861 Canadian census for Paris, Ontario, I’ve traced everyone from his firstborn son—named, significantly, Denis, just like any Irish son of Denis would have done for his firstborn son—on down to Father John Bernard Davidson. Armed with the names of several more cousins—including married names for the female descendants—I now have much more to work with.

Perhaps this will yield some handy tools in further evaluating our DNA test results. It would be nice to witness some progress on this attempt. If nothing else, lacking that one key document, perhaps the DNA will confirm my hunch.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Losing a Piece of My Mind

It’s reroofing time at the Stevens household. Thus, it might be appropriate to say I’m losing my peace of mind. However, that is not what I wish to focus on, today. I’m much more frustrated over a discovery made last night—too late to do anything about it other than to stew over what is missing.

The aggravation comes from a widespread genealogical bugaboo, and the avoidance behavior it engenders. The bugaboo is about indiscriminate, wholesale copying of other people’s family trees posted on online sites like The corollary avoidance behavior—at least in the minds of those prone to practicing proactive prevention techniques—is to never put anything online about one’s genealogical connections that might in any way possible not be perfectly correct.

And so, well-intentioned little ol’ me decided, in cases in which there was any hint of a shadow of doubt, to not note my genealogical hypotheses in the form of an entry on my online tree.

The drawback was, when it came to a major discovery of an entirely new branch of my husband's Tully tree, neither did I make a note of my suspicions on my computer-based genealogical database program, either. After all, who wants to pass along error?

Somewhere, out in the many boxes I have stored, containing the files of notes made to myself—pending several bona fide versions of confirmation, of course—is a folder labeled Tully. In that folder is my extensive diagram of an entire branch of the Tully family, now missing because I was too hypersensitive about adding it to a tree that—heavens, forbid—might then be seen and copied by someone before I could attach yet another verifying document.

When I first discovered I had withheld the entry from my tree, I nonchalantly thought, “I’ll just pull it up in my Family Tree Maker file.” No problem. Right?

Except that my outrageous habit had followed me there, as well. No sign of that Tully branch resident in my desktop computer files, either.

With that sinking feeling over realization of how many file cabinets and boxes I might have to sift through before finding a set of temporary, hand-written notes, I began mentally bemoaning that personal policy of being so fussy. In the face of a research brick wall, that type of difficulty puts a researcher between a rock and a hard place. I mean, I can post something publicly that turns out to be in error, though I’ve tried my best to ascertain that it was a good fit in the family constellation where I placed it—and then reap the multiplied errors of other users copying and pasting that same hypothesis into their own family trees.

Or, I can just yank the whole project and switch my Ancestry tree to private status. And nobody gets to see it. Which means I lose out on cousin bait.

Meanwhile, slowly dawning on me are two possibilities.

One is that most of what I had discovered about this extra branch of our Tully family was contained, not in written notes, but mental notes—which meant the possibility that, in forgetting it, I was losing a valuable piece of my mind.

The other is that it was highly likely, as I discovered this potential Tully line, I blogged about it.

The second possibility, mercifully, turned out to be so. I did blog about my discovery of another sibling of John Tully and his sister Johanna—the one whose descendant placed that call to me recently, inviting me to revisit this research. You can find my original thoughts on this Tully sibling discovery in a two part post beginning here and followed up here.

Now that I’ve found at least part of my exploration of this possible other Tully brother, I’ve got to plug it in somewhere in my database. I still cringe to think my hypothesis might turn out to be wrong, but I’ve got to have somewhere to hang this hat in the big framework of the family’s history. If nothing else, I certainly don’t want to lose this data again.

Oh, if there were only a way, on these widely-accessible public genealogical databases, to enter the warning in bold red letters,
            Caveat emptor.

Buyer beware! The family tree data you are about to copy may not be entirely correct. You must perform your own due diligence before cutting and pasting this tidbit!

After all, I might discover I made a mistake. Later—after you’ve come and gone. Let the wise genealogical researcher realize that we all—no matter how hypersensitive we are about documentation—are prone to errors.

Besides, I just need a corner of this genealogical world where it’s safe to test drive those hunches.  

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Something in Common

There’s nothing like being contacted by a distant cousin to rev up the search engines on a previously-forsaken line of research pursuit. After exhausting all possibilities for further progress following our research trip to Ireland last fall, I had set aside my work on the Stevens, Tully and related lines long before Christmas. I confess: I prefer progress to head banging on genealogical brick walls.

Now, prompted by a distant cousin’s recent contact, I’m returning to pursue those Irish roots on my husband’s side of the family. It sure would be handy to find a way to corroborate connections via DNA testing. A handy device for that—at least, based on my experience with my own autosomal test results at Family Tree DNA—has been the “In Common With” sorting option on their Family Finder program.

That’s the handy crossed double arrows button on the dashboard at FTDNA that I’ve used when working on my own lines. If you remember, I have a half brother who was willing to test. We share the paternal side of our family. Generally, on my autosomal DNA results, if I want to eliminate results from my maternal side and hone in on my paternal ancestors, I can go to my brother’s entry on my readout and click “In Common With” to eliminate all my maternal matches—and believe me, there are hundreds of them. Poof! Gone with one keystroke.

When it comes to my husband’s DNA test results, I have no such handy device. While I have confirmed two matches on his maternal side, each of those matches is too far removed from him to whisk away all maternal connections. I need something more all-encompassing before I can achieve anything as sweeping as that. Either I’ll need to talk a very close relative on one side of the family into testing—not, obviously, anyone at the level of sister, though—or at least confirm several matches specific to his paternal side to be able to isolate certain lines within the DNA results.

Granted, there will surely come a time when Family Tree DNA offers another helpful sale on their tests, and I’ll want to snag that opportunity to talk family members into testing. But it would also be handy to find someone who has already tested and is a close enough relationship to help with comparisons.

It does seem tedious, though, to go through these hundreds of matches, shopping for that perfect specimen. The great preponderance of matches we’ve seen already seems to be at the fourth cousin level or beyond—not very helpful in locating the candidate I’m seeking.

All I want—and maybe, in time for Father’s Day, if FTDNA follows suit on its traditional sales pattern—is someone in the family with whom my husband’s paternal line shares something in common. And a willingness to volunteer as participant in this genetic genealogy pursuit.  

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Someone Did Want That Picture

When I first started writing A Family Tapestry, a seasoned blogger popped up out of nowhere and became not only my inspiration but a wonderful mentor, as well. Among her other online properties, one was a blog dedicated to the worthy mission—at least in genealogists’ eyes—to find and rescue abandoned old photographs and reunite them with family members.

While I was infinitely jealous of the fact that she was located in the far northern reaches of our country—in “Minnesnowda,” as she likes to call it—instead of being out and about, scouring the antique shops in the Southern hometowns of my ancestors, I was impressed with what she is accomplishing. To date, she has posted 1,914 rescued photographs on her blog and returned 118 of them to grateful family members.

Perhaps you already recognize, by this description, the accomplishments witnessed on the blog known as Forgotten Old Photos by the near-anonymous blogger who calls herself Far Side of Fifty. Perhaps you, too, have learned a lot about the photographs of the mid to late 1800s and beyond, just by following her daily posts and watching the scramble as readers attempt to identify living family members of her mystery photograph subjects.

Granted, having a subscriber base well over 1700 helps the reunification process—yet another aspect about which I must confess harboring feelings of envy. Sometimes, in struggling over the photographs left behind by my own family’s ancestors, I wish I could just hand the pictures over to Far Side and let her choreograph the magic that occurs on her site with such regularity.

However, I am me, and she is, well, phenomenal. I can only hope to someday achieve a smidgeon of that reunification success rate.

Last night, though, I received a comment on A Family Tapestry that made me perk up and renew that dream of becoming Far Side’s “Mini Me.” The note was concerning a post from June, 2013—about a photograph from the mostly-unlabeled Bean family collection that I never could just bring myself to throw away.

“Someone might want this picture” would be the thought going through my mind, every time I sternly lectured myself on the foolishness of keeping that hopeless collection of faces from my now-long-deceased first husband’s grandfather’s siblings. But I guess I had a soft spot in my heart for the crotchety Aunt Leona and Uncle Bill. And the photographs stayed on in the old box I received them in after their passing, back in the 1980s.

You can imagine how I perked up when this note came through my email inbox:
Hi. This is my grandfather, Leo Walter Harrington from Tonapol.

The message went on to read,
My grandfather went to Stanford and studied law. He was born on October 15th, 1896.

That year—1896—was the same year Bill Bean was born in Redwood City, California, not far from Palo Alto, where the Bean family later lived and in which Stanford University is located. Though I have yet to find out how Bill met Leo Harrington, perhaps now I will have a chance to learn—and, of course, like my inspiration, Far Side of Forgotten Old Photos, to return the photograph of a young Leo Walter Harrington to a family member who might like to have it.

Leo Harrington from Tonapol while attending Stanford University California as law student

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Gearing Up For Team #scgs2015

One week from tomorrow, I’ll be hopping in the car and making the marathon drive down south for my favorite genealogy event of the year: the Southern California Genealogical Society’s Jamboree.

Don’t think that means I’m packing, this far in advance. I tend to do that sort of prep work all in one swoop, the night before heading out.

There is one aspect I am attending to this early, though: planning my networking strategy. After all, one of the virtues of attending conferences in person is meeting people. Otherwise, why endure a six hour road trip? I could just stay home and check out live streaming of key sessions in the comfort of my own living room.

That, however, wouldn’t offer the opportunity to get to know my fellow genealogy enthusiasts—and certainly would not afford me the chance for face time with my favorite geneabloggers. We all spend enough time connecting online, as it is. It’s good to switch things up and go the personal route sometimes. I may be a wallflower, but I’m certainly not a couch potato.

So, when I read that another geneablogger is going to be at Jamboree, I send her a tweet to make initial contact—or an email, if we’re not connected via Twitter. I’ll never forget the time I learned, through a blogger’s post after Jamboree, that we had both been in the same sessions but hadn’t realized it! I don’t want to come away from this four day extravaganza (including DNA Day) without meeting with people I know from blogging and research connections.

Granted, those are online connections. You and I might spend a few virtual minutes together each day—at the very least, tag teaming it—over the posts at A Family Tapestry, but if I were to cross paths with you in real life, it’s quite likely we’d both be oblivious to that fact. Unless, that is, we had some way to be alerted to that detail and to then introduce ourselves.

This is our chance to give each other that heads up.

Besides—okay, you shrinking violets out there, back me up on this!—how many of us are quite handy at walking into a room full of strangers, sticking out our hand at random and shouting, “HI! MY NAME IS….”

Isn’t it so much nicer to discover who the other person is, ahead of time? To make plans to find that person and grab a moment to chat?

I’ll never forget the time I realized I was sitting across the aisle from fellow blogger Melanie Frick: it was after tweeting a comment about the Jamboree session I was attending. I had used that year’s Jamboree hashtag; right away, she saw it. The inevitable follow-up:
            Where are you?

That is how we met. If not that way, I’d likely had never known she was there.

I would much rather meet people that way, than to shoulder my way through an army of strangers in hopes of connecting with someone I’ve never seen in real life. Yeah, I know: shy and retiring. But I have lots of company.

I once went to a place for lunch, a restaurant in the Bay Area whose cheeky menu invited comments—even complaints. “You have a mouth; use it” was their tag line.

Now we’re in the twenty first century. That motto may as well read, “You have a Twitter account; use it.”

At least, I do; it’s @jacqistevens. If you have a Twitter account too, and are planning to attend Jamboree, why not do two things during this week leading up to Jamboree Day One:
  • Send me a tweet saying you’ll be there too, and
  • Use the Twitter hashtag #scgs2015 for all your tweets during Jamboree.

Consider yourself deputized to become a part of Team #scgs2015. In today’s world of social media, anyone can, really. Together, we’ll not only blanket the social media genea-sphere with our take on Jamboree proceedings, but send out a signal that says, “Hey, I’m here, too!”

That way, you and I and everyone else there can connect on a more personal level. After all, if we’re not connecting while we’re all there together, we may as well have taken it all in from the couch-potato hermitage of our own homes.

Monday, May 25, 2015

A Day For Remembering

By the time you read this post, an army of flag-bearers will have blanketed every national cemetery in the country—and a number of grave sites in other cemeteries as well—with the Red, White and Blue in preparation for the Memorial Day weekend remembrances. True, the honorees of this weekend are specifically those who have made their supreme sacrifice in service to their country, and many of us haven’t had to bear the burden of that empty place at our dinner tables, or growing up without the dad or sibling who will never be coming home again.

In our family, it takes a bit of searching through our family tree before we find anyone who would rightfully be remembered on this national holiday. There are some—like my husband’s first cousin once removed, Joseph Edward McGonagle, Staff Sergeant of the 563rd Bomber Squadron 388th Bomber Group, shot down in Europe on March 8, 1944—whom our living relatives personally remember. There are others—such as the Civil War soldiers I’ve uncovered in my most recent project to research my maternal family lines—who have been commemorated since the inception of Decoration Day traditions.

Though today isn’t their day, those surviving family members who have served in the military and those who are veterans of past wars still have my gratitude, as well. Though they may have escaped death during their service, it seems as if many of them returned home with Death strapped to their backpacks. Even those who survived carried the internal scars of what they bore “over there.” As I follow the research trail through the various extended lines of both my husband’s and my own family trees, I can’t help but notice the life spans of many of those veterans, shortened by ten to twenty years from that of their own siblings. No matter which way they returned home, they paid a price for what they endured.

If you have a family member whose sacrifice is being commemorated today, you have my highest gratitude. There are no words that could adequately express what that service represents—only a perpetual call to demonstrate our debt through our humble gestures of remembrance.

Above: "The March of Time," 1896 oil on canvas by Henry Sandham, depicting a parade of veterans of the U.S. Civil War during Decoration Day. Courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Splat on the Proverbial Brick Wall

Is there any wiggle room, pressed hard up against the genealogical brick wall? That’s what I’m about to find out. Hopefully, this inquiry will deliver me to the felicitous date when the National Library of Ireland releases its digitized version of Irish Catholic Church records to the virtual world, supplying me with a fresh supply of potential documentation to build my case about my husband's Irish ancestry.

I’m not so sure, though. The current promised release date for the digitization project is July 8. And we haven’t yet escaped the clutches of May. That would make for a pretty long wiggle.

When I last left researching my husband’s Irish family lines, we had concluded a wonderful—yet exhausting—research trip to counties Cork, Tipperary, and Kerry leading up to a week at the books in Dublin. Once home, I had transcribed and muddled over my nearly-illegible notes, taken in utter haste during that three week trip. (Three weeks may seem like a lot for time on the road, but when it comes to searching for genealogical records, it never seems to be enough time.)

That I was bumping into a brick wall of time-restricted availability of records was not lost on me. Not only were we limited by our time in Ireland—those precious few days in that three week period—but we were also confined by the limitations of what was available on Catholic families living in that former realm of the United Kingdom.

It did, indeed, feel as if I had gone “splat” on that brick wall.

It is amazing how one phone call can resurrect hopes. And just one week ago, that is exactly what happened. Now, I’m re-entering the sharing stage with a distant cousin, eager to compare notes on our mutual family’s history. All we have to go on, really, are a few hand-written notes stowed in keepsake boxes passed down through the generations. We may have some of the very few written remembrances of those family members. The wonder is that they corroborate each other.

The person on the other end of the phone last week is the sister of the third cousin who shared baptismal records for Johanna Tully Ryan. Those, if you recall from this old post, aligned with the baptismal note we subsequently found for my husband’s great-grandfather, John Tully. Of course, there are more items to compare, which is what our upcoming project will likely entail.

That is what launched me on a new course of inspection: wondering just how my progress has been going on the autosomal DNA testing for my husband’s family.

Yes (groan), more number crunching in our future. Consider today’s post a baseline report.

When I subscribed to, I decided that, rather than recreate the same family tree I have resident on my desktop program, I would separate out each of our parents’ surnames. Thus, I now have four separate family trees on Ancestry, one representing the family tree of each of our four parents. Comparing them to my husband’s DNA results will be somewhat of a problem, as I don’t have any handy devices—like my half-brother’s DNA results on my side—to separate out the maternal from the paternal. So, while I can track my progress on each tree—Stevens or Flowers on my husband’s side—I can’t separate the count through his DNA results.

With that caveat, here is where we stand at this re-beginning. The Stevens tree, itself, now holds 768 individuals, mostly within the last five generations—including, as I’ve discovered to be helpful when examining autosomal DNA results, as many of the siblings of each generation as possible plus their descendants.

In contrast, my husband’s maternal tree includes 967 people. Perhaps that difference is owing to the fact that, though she assumed her family had “just gotten off the boat” a few generations back, my mother-in-law’s family came to the United States before the beginning of the 1800s. Often, the longer an immigrant was resident in this country, the easier it is to press backward through the generations with viable documentation.

That, perhaps, is why, of my husband’s 462 autosomal DNA test matches, the only two confirmed relationships belong to descendants on his maternal side.

While it will be tempting, now that I’m re-opening the possibilities of revisiting past progress on my husband’s lines, to go back and add more names on that easy-sailing maternal side, I need to maintain my focus on the Stevens side. While the going will be fraught with struggle—after all, I’m no better off, right now, than a bug splat on my windshield after a drive on the freeway—this is what needs to be pursued right now. Who knows what a cooperative cousin may bring to this adventure.

Above: Print of Mitchelstown Castle, County Cork, Ireland, originally published in 1820 in "Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen, in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland." Courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
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