Saturday, November 22, 2014

Meanwhile, Back in the Real World…

While the shift to a virtual world of genealogical research is in full bloom, there still is a world back home that hasn’t yet withered on the vine. It’s the local genealogical society—the place where real people get together with others from their neighborhoods to share their enthusiasm for their latest research discoveries.

I still engage in that old style of genealogical connection, despite social analysis salvos like those found in books like Bowling Alone—or whatever may be said nowadays regarding those “dying” traditions of face-to-face interactions. And—you knew I’d be headed in this direction—it is exactly this week’s local Society meeting that I want to discuss now.

Thursday night, we had one of those meetings which got everyone talking. It zeroed in on one person’s experience, but it could have been an example of what the rest of us could be doing: writing our family’s stories. We have all done the research—often, decades of labor over multiple ancestral lines. But how do we share it?

If you have been following along here on A Family Tapestry, you know I’m a fanatic of Telling the Story. Well, I go beyond just that. I actually collect every example I can find of others who have gotten past the thought of it, and actually put pen to paper—or fingers to keyboard—and put in visible form the narrative hiding behind the research notes. If you are reading here, and are one of those people who actually have accomplished that objective, I have likely bought your book. (Unless, of course, your name is Colleen Brown Pasquale—but I promise, Colleen, your book is on my Christmas wish list!)

My purpose in delving into this sort of collection so deeply is that I want to examine how each author has chosen to unwind the yarn of her life—how to tell that story in a way that is meaningful, even to strangers. I’m not engaging in this study merely for altruistic reasons, of course. My hope is that I will someday do the same: publish a book of our family’s stories. I certainly have plenty of material to do so: everything from the World War II fallout in the life of my father-in-law, Frank Stevens, to the life-changing tragedy that robbed Samuel Bean of both his sight and hearing.

You can imagine how excited I was to learn that yet another such book was recently published—on August 12, 2014, to be exact. And the author happens to live less than an hour’s drive from my home. Not only that, but I had already met her when she was so gracious to allow our county Society’s fledgling writers’ special interest group to visit the one she conducted for a neighboring county’s genealogical society—just to see how to get things started for our own group.

Everything eventually came together to see that very same author become our speaker at this week’s Society meeting. We were treated to an artistically-crafted presentation on how Deborah Conner Mascot came to write the Mariani family’s history as pioneer settlers in the city of San Francisco, and how the author’s own family story eventually intertwined with that of the Marianis—including one Mariani descendant whose hundredth birthday was commemorated by the launching of this book.

With poignant memories infused in everything from the recipes tucked away in the book’s pages to childhood photographs of family visits, Vera’s Chicken Wings and Peas blends the universe of a well-to-do San Francisco family with the homespun life of a different family living on the Marianis' summer-hideaway ranch in the south peninsula Portola Valley. If you are like me, and enjoy seeing how others craft the stories they tell about their family history, you will enjoy seeing life through the eyes of author Debbie Mascot in her latest book. Better yet, if you live in the Bay Area and belong to a genealogical society there, don’t miss the chance to have Debbie share her story live with your group!

I am always touched to see the result of turning the struggles and victories of near-anonymous family members into stories that can be shared and passed down through the generations. We all can be “biographers of insignificant lives.” No matter how small, those lives—of our own family members—are full of hard lessons to be learned, wry observations on the nature of life, even humorous self-reflection. Sometimes, those lives bump up against history and may even share their own fleeting fifteen minutes of fame. But no one will remember those tales unless we take the time to preserve what we’ve learned and transform it into something that can be passed along to future generations.

I’m grateful for all the examples of other people like you and me who have accomplished exactly that. And Debbie Mascot’s book can proudly take her place among the others in achieving that goal—both for the Mariani family, and for her own.

Friday, November 21, 2014

More to Love About Crowdsourcing

The genealogy community is made up of a very giving bunch of people. We’ve seen that all along—even back during those days when researchers used to submit queries for publication in real newsletters and journals. You know, the ones we used to print on paper.

As the genealogy community migrates to more digital means of both research and communication, our altruistic tendencies have made that transition as well. We’ve seen peers on genealogical forums helping each other with questions as basic as where to access local records, or as complex as isolating which child belongs to which multiple-great grandmother—and fingering which last will and testament said so. I know I’ve benefited from that kind of help; I’m sure you have, also.

So it was quite rewarding to become part of that experience once again, the other day, when Kat shared what she had discovered about online resources in Detroit for Catholic cemeteries there. Of course, I had a heyday reveling in that discovery, myself.

But the story didn’t stop there. The next logical step was to share the good news in a meaningful, practical manner, and Iggy was just the one to do it. As a Find A Grave volunteer, he figured it would be helpful to others to create a memorial for the Barkleys in Detroit, these newly-found possible Flannery descendants—even though they are not part of his own family lines—and deftly added several entries on Find A Grave.

It is all like a big chain reaction: one person helps another, who in turn helps others. As others pass the details along, we collectively make more information available to a wider circle of researchers. Sometimes, we use the organizations and structures that are already there for the using—websites like Find a Grave and online forums like Rootsweb—and sometimes, we create our own ways and places to share the information.

No matter how we do it, we are participating in one aspect of genealogical research that creates such a powerful resource: we are giving back to the community as well as benefiting from it. We are passing along the discoveries that we found useful in the hopes that others will find them just as helpful in their own research.

In the process, we amplify what is available for genealogical pursuits. In many cases, the work is done by—or through—organization. Sometimes the work is contributed through concerted effort—like the War of 1812 pension records preservation work—and sometimes the work is done by members working together from one group, like a local genealogical society. Many times, though, it is the handiwork of individuals, contributing what they can to wikis or blogs or other means of online communication.

The strength of that will to give back is what fuels the genealogical community’s viable impetus. Sure, there has been a rise in large commercial entities, willing to provide the giant machine of digitization that has brought all of us great research resources—for a price. But there is still a place for that lone individual who is willing to realize: I have what you need. Here: I’m willing to share. Much as the field of astronomy has benefited from “citizen scientists,” the world of genealogy has come a long way, thanks to this interactive ability to respond to others in our online universe of researchers with that mutual quest for ancestors.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Like Romping in
a Newly-Found Playground

So I hissed and moaned about something. Again. I was having trouble navigating the genealogical research waters in new territory: Detroit, Michigan. Not that I haven’t been thumbing through the files there before. It’s just that all our family lines have been there and soon passed along to greener pastures.

Maybe Detroit is turning out to be a stop along the Irish immigrant highway—that detour to the New World that requires the weary traveler to pass through Canada before arriving at the final destination in the land of the free. It turned out to be true for another branch of our Tully line—Michael and Margaret and children, who moved from Paris, Ontario, through Detroit to their final stop in Chicago. We traced them along that route before.

This time, though, I was looking for a different Michael Tully—son of John and Catherine. And, since I stumbled across them, I’m also searching for another Michael who might turn out to be family—part of the Edmund Flannery family, also from Paris, Ontario.

I couldn’t find what became of them after their arrival in Detroit. They were there for the 1870 census. And the 1880 census. And then—what? I couldn’t find any trace of them.

Normally, my first recourse in this dilemma would be to look them up on Find A Grave. Even though Detroit is a sizeable place, I could be fairly certain that they would only show up in a Catholic cemetery. But which one? Turns out there were more than one Catholic cemetery. And none produced the results I hoped for on Find A Grave.

My next stop would be to look up the cemetery listing on Find A Grave to get more information on each specific cemetery. After that, I’d usually Google each cemetery name to find its website address—then pull up the site and hope it included search capabilities so I could look up specific burials. The self-serve approach is always appreciated. But seldom available.

After my recent attempt at that same pattern when researching descendants on our Kelly line in Denver, though, I made one discovery: sometimes urban areas spread out to include so much of the county that burial locations have to be moved to a neighboring county. Thus, in Denver, the Catholic cemetery which contained the remains of our Kelly relatives was actually in a different county—which, unbeknownst to me at the time, gave me no search results, a frustrating experience.

Perhaps, I thought, the same thing was happening to me in Detroit. I certainly wasn’t getting any promising hits for all my searching.

The moral of this story—and I’ll say this up front so it won’t get lost in any more verbiage—is to never make assumptions that a search won’t work. Just do the search. Do it! All of it. All the possibilities. And then some.

Thankfully, that is not where the story ends. This is where you can see why I am so enthusiastic about the current crowdsourcing aspect of genealogical research. I love that we can share our dilemmas, tell others what stumps us. That’s why I’m a fan of social media—and even those wood-burning clunkers like the genealogy forums of the nineties. We each get the opportunity to share what we know—and at some point, get to reap what we sow with the exchange of information with someone who knows what we need to learn.

Blog readership fits right in the middle of that realm. Do you ever notice how blogs create community? Of the different blogs you read, you’ve surely noticed the continuing conversation that goes on, right below each post. That’s why I like to encourage researchers to share what they’ve found by starting their own blog: eventually (admittedly this takes longer for some people) a distant cousin will find his or her way to your post. If not a cousin, then some kind soul who has something helpful to contribute to the conversation.

That’s why I had that kid-in-candy-shop kind of happy-dance day yesterday: reader Kat passed around the Internet candy from Detroit, and I was bouncing off the walls, merrily looking up every Flannery and Tully connection I could find on this newfound website.

Yeah, if only I had looked farther, myself. If only I had stuck to my usual best intentions. But I didn’t. And I had good reason to—past experience and all. But since I didn’t, I would have missed a great search opportunity if Kat hadn’t mentioned that link to Mount Olivet and the Mount Elliott cemetery association.

I played around with what I could find. I took that site out for a spin. A joy ride. There were plenty of Flannerys listed. Even a few Tullys. And those married daughters I couldn’t find the other day? I zeroed in on the right Mary Lynch (out of several possibilities), and found both Anna Barkley and her husband George.

Don’t think I’ll be doing everything online, though. On my to-do list for today is placing a call to the Mount Olivet cemetery (where the records for Mount Elliott are held). I want to see if any of those Flannerys are buried in what is called a family plot. Hopefully, if the person on the other end of the line is helpful and not too busy, I’ll not only make sure I’ve isolated the correct family grouping, but find out who else is buried in that same plot. Sometimes, there are surprises. At the very least, I will be able to determine that I’ve gotten the Michael Flannery who belongs to Ann, and not someone else. That alone will get me tap dancing in the right direction.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thoughts While Wandering Around

Searching for genealogically-sound connections sometimes seems like, oh, say, being stuck inside a one-man tent that just collapsed on you in the middle of an overnight camping trip. You know you’re in there. You know what’s out there. But for the moment, all you can do is poke around until you find the opening and get yourself out.

I have to remind myself not to despair. It sometimes seems like hit after hit of results seems futile, when all point to false leads. But they don’t always lead to the wrong stuff. I can’t help but remember going through this process once before—starting from that very same Paris neighborhood in Ontario just one decade later—and ending up having a delightful lunch meeting with a new set of distant cousins, back in Chicago. It can happen again. But only if I keep plugging away at it. Even when I think it is useless.

This is me, giving myself a pep talk. I don’t do well with wandering around in circles, poking at possibilities. And that is what it feels like I’m doing.

See, this Michael Flannery I'm seeking is not showing his true colors. I found someone by this same name, back in Paris, Ontario. And then, he’s gone. Gone to Michigan, where I found a similar Michael Flannery? Who knows? It might have been merely coincidence that he lived next door, in Detroit, to someone with the very same name as the brother back in Ontario.

So I wander through his life history—at least the part the census record is willing to divulge. Once every ten years, it gives a researcher like me a snapshot of what was going on in the family life of suspected ancestors. And then, not a peep for the next ten years—if, that is, I can even find the family once again.

In Michael’s case, I couldn’t. Not after 1910. The key, of course, is to stay with the chase up ’til the bitter end. That’s when the genealogist gets the prize: the certificate that announces the name of the subject's father and mother, and where he was born. If, that is, anyone serving as the reporting party remembers to mention it. (Correctly would also be a nice touch.)

I don’t have to worry about that little detail, though, because I can’t even get to the point of finding the death certificate. That’s when I have to fan out even farther, looking for any hints connecting me back to Michael.

There is the possibility of uncovering where all his unfortunate children were buried in Detroit, Michigan. As his wife Ann had reported in the 1910 census, she had lost six of them by that point. I did go back and find some more listings online, but they were records from indices, not copies of the actual documents. Of course, the detail I’m seeking is one not included in the transcribers’ instructions: the place of burial. For Michael’s children Catherine in 1870, Maggie in 1883, Hanora and John in that same year and Michael in 1893, I can find references to their deaths. But only one includes a digitized scan of the original document—Catherine’s, from 1870—and that entry does not include any mention of the place of burial. So much for locating the family plot.

What about the two daughters for whom I found married names? Even with these, I’m struggling. I did find daughter Mary’s death record, identifying her married name as Lynch. But the index for this, while telling me of her August 22, 1947, passing, does not provide any record of where she was buried. The other sister—Johanna, who married George A. Barkley in 1911, likely a widower—remains as difficult to locate as Mary.

Even if I forget about that detail, and just try to follow them through the census record, I run into difficulties. For the very next census in 1920, I can’t find a likely candidate for Mary Lynch in Michigan. One turns out to be a single woman living in the household of her brother-in-law. The other, nicknamed Mamie, gives both parents’ place of birth as New York. Wrong.

On the other hand, at least I make some progress in tracing Johanna and her spouse in the 1920 census. They are living with his two sons, George and Russell. Coincidentally, they are living right next door to a fellow by the name of Frank Flannigan.

Suddenly this is starting to sound familiar. I look up to check the street name for their residence, and it is Russell Street in Detroit. Feeling pretty confident about those details, I flip back to the 1910 census for Michael and Ann Flannery. After all, they had had a “boarder” by the name of Frank Flanagan, whom I suspected might be Ann’s brother. And in this census, here we have a case of Michael and Ann’s married daughter and family renting from someone by the same name as that previous boarder. Both on Russell Street.

Coincidental neighbors? Or family? Either way, I’ve got to keep following this trail to build a phantom family tree. Until I can find a link back to our line in Canada—or a way to disprove the whole association—I’ve got to keep searching.

If I want to know the answer, that is…

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tracing Michael

Researching our Tully and Flannery lines from County Tipperary has provided an abundance of descendants to trace. Only sometimes, I’m not sure I’m tracking the right person.

Take Michael Flannery, whom we stumbled upon while chasing after a different Michael—Michael Tully, (possible) son of John and Catherine Flannery Tully. Along with his parents, Michael Tully had left the town where his immigrant parents had settled—Paris, Ontario—and headed for the brighter lights of Detroit, Michigan, just across the Canadian border. Apparently, Michael Flannery—the other Michael’s possible cousin and neighbor in Ontario—had done much the same thing.

The question, at this point, would be whether this Michael Flannery in Detroit was one and the same as the Michael born to Edmund and Margaret Flannery in the parish of Ballina, back in northern County Tipperary. One way to answer that question would be to check for marriage records identifying the groom’s parents’ names, but none could be found online. And I’m not going to make you (to say nothing about me!) wait long enough to send a query by mail system.

Another way to puzzle this one out would be to trace Michael Flannery forward through census records to get a sense of when he might have died, and where. Any death certificate this would lead to would likely also contain information on his parents’ names.

Michael and his wife, Ann, were in the 1870 census for Detroit, Michigan. At the point at which the census enumerator knocked on their door on the second of July, there were just two in the family to report. However, only a short while before that, Michael and Ann had been proud parents of a one year old daughter, Catherine. That was before they lost her on the second of May, that very year, to scarlet fever.

By the time of the 1880 census, the Flannery household had grown to include seven. Besides Michael and Ann, there were five children: daughters Annie, Mary, Margaret and Honora, plus son Francis right in the midst of all those sisters.

The next time I could find Michael and Ann Flannery in the U.S. Census wasn’t until 1910. Still in Detroit, Michigan, the seventy-eight year old Michael included in his family his wife Ann and daughters Anna, Helen and “Loretha.” Also in the household were two boarders, including one who sported the same surname—Flanagan—as Ann had claimed as her maiden name. Mr. Flanagan also happened to be born in Canada, where Michael and Ann had once lived. Add in for good measure that his given name was Frank—same as Ann’s child Francis, the lone son among four sisters—and one suspects this Frank Flanagan was more than just a boarder.

The sad part about this 1910 census report was Ann’s statement that she had been the mother of eleven—only five of whom had survived to that date. Besides their daughter Catherine in 1870, they had also lost a nine year old son, Michael, in 1893. Other than that, no documentation could be found online to substantiate that census report.

The question remains: what became of Michael and Ann in the 1900 census? Did they, like others, perfect that census-season disappearing act?

It may require a stretch of credibility to claim that the Flannerys decided to return to Canada for just that one year, but it turns out there was a Frank Flannery in Ontario—along with parents Michael and Ann—for the 1901 Canadian census. With the ages lining up just right for Frank between his original appearance in the U.S. Census for 1880 and this Canadian one in 1901, it is beginning to look good for this conjecture. Besides, on the very next page, who should show up but a possible member of the extended Tully family—this one named Thomas—to complete the picture. On the down side, though, Michael and Ann had ages reported that were more than ten years younger than what should have been showing for that year. But when you take the international borders out of the equation, you see that Frank's Essex County farm is only one county away from Wayne County, home of the city of Detroit, making this move much more within reason.

Whether the farm of Frank Flannery of Essex County, Ontario, was the place that claimed our Michael and Ann Flannery for the 1901 Canadian Census, they didn’t stay there for long. By the time of the 1910 U.S. census, as we saw, they were back in America.

As for what became of them after that, I’m not sure. I can find no death record online for Michael or Ann in Michigan. Nor can I see any possible matches on Find A Grave. They did have a couple married daughters that I could find—Mary, marrying someone by the name of Lynch, and Johanna, marrying someone named George A. Barkley—who may have taken in either of their aging parents in their last years. Both of these married daughters lived in Michigan, and their households would have shown resident parents for the 1920 census—if either Michael or Ann were still living. I suspect they weren’t. But the search for verification is still on.

Monday, November 17, 2014

From One Michael to Another

While I was in the neighborhood, seeking whatever became of the Michael Tully, son of John and Catherine whom I had found in Detroit, that fruitless search led to yet another Michael who might have been a relative of our Irish immigrant families.

If you recall, I had traced this Tully family from County Tipperary in Ireland, over the Atlantic to a tiny village in Brant County, Ontario, called Paris. Along with John and Catherine Flannery Tully’s family, the same 1852 census page also recorded a Flannery family—which handily also contained a Michael—as well as our direct line, Denis and Margaret Flannery Tully.

Could they have all moved to Detroit together?

I mentioned, the other day, that Michael Tully had seemed to disappear after I located him in the 1880 census. My theory was that, switching tracks and looking on another database, I might find something I couldn’t find at my first research stop. And that’s exactly what happened. I moved from what I had found on Michael Tully in to check what might be available on

This time, I did locate a possible death record for Michael Tully, still in Detroit. Unfortunately, the record is contained in a collection sans photocopies, so the index only included a listing of the father’s surname. It did not include any information on the mother’s maiden name.

Great, I thought: this could be anybody. Of course a man’s father’s surname should be the same as his own! However, I settled down enough to realize that there were other clues fingering our guy:

  • He was born in Canada
  • His year of birth (1853) matched prior census records
  • He was still listed as single

I need more substantiation before I determine that the Michael Tully who died in Detroit on 28 December, 1921, was one and the same as my Michael, son of John and Catherine Flannery Tully. I made a mental note to post a plea on an online genealogical forum for local assistance in obtaining an obituary, since this man’s headstone was not among those millions listed at Find A Grave. And then I moved on to see what else I could find.

Sometimes, I try a search trick in which I leave the main fields blank—you know, that place where we automatically fill in the person’s first and last names—but instead, complete the search box by adding in only the parents’ surnames. That idea didn’t go over so well for our Michael. While it did flush out a Tully woman whose mother’s maiden name was Flannery when I tried it on, it was for someone so far afield of my data possibilities that I discarded it out of hand.

Well, almost. I’ll hang on to that one, just in case. One never knows.

I stumbled upon a refresher post on resources for Michigan death certificates online by Diane Gould Hall on her Michigan Family Trails blog, and tried my hand at trawling through all the Michigan death certs I could find at Just in case Michael’s own parents died earlier than he, I tried poking around GENDIS, Michigan’s Genealogical Death Indexing System, but could find nothing for either John Tully or Catherine Flannery Tully.

I tried searching the GENDIS for surname only, to see if anything—anything—would come up. Nothing. Not on Tully. Not on Flannery. Then I left the decedent’s name fields blank and just entered the father’s surname.

Somewhere in the midst of all that poking around, I did flush out a result. It was for a one-year-old child who died of scarlet fever.

Her father’s name was Michael. But the surname was not Tully. It was Flannery.

Wait! Flannery? I have one of those!

And I was off, on a wild search for a Michael Flannery who now lived in Detroit, but at one time—could it have been the same one?—lived in Paris, Ontario in Canada. It could all be a coincidence. But if I could find any pattern of immigration between Paris, Ontario, and Detroit, Michigan, perhaps I could reconstruct these three families whose heads of household at one time were not only neighbors, but likely siblings.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Different Kind of Distant Cousin

When it comes to disappointment over ineffective “cousin bait,” for someone who has been the constant sniveler, I certainly didn’t anticipate the kind of email contact I received this week. I’m always hoping a distant cousin will sit down at his or her computer, type in the magic words—one of my family’s many surnames, of course—and presto! Be led to my blog post about that very ancestor.

Granted, I have been having a few of such responses lately, so for today’s post, I will only own up to “snivel lite.” But you know I’ve always wanted to connect to that dream distant cousin who will have all the answers to my family history questions.

So what should show up in my inbox earlier this week, but a letter informing me that I am definitely someone else’s cousin. Not even a question. It was a fact, apparently demonstrated scientifically. The only thing left for us to do is figure out how to make the connection that bears out that verdict.

With paper trail of ancestors in hand, I could have easily determined relationships back to the early 1800s, at least. The only problem is: the person addressing me is an adoptee.

How do we know we are related? Only by virtue of a DNA test. This particular test is called the mitochondrial DNA test, or mtDNA for short. It traces the maternal line, from child (either male or female) to mother to mother’s mother, and so on, along the maternal line for each generation. ISOGG, the International Society of Genetic Genealogy, explains it this way: the mtDNA molecule—or its specific (but rare) mutation—is passed in a direct female line of descent.

In the case of this new distant cousin, our mtDNA results are an exact match. This, incidentally, only means that whatever mutations I may have received from my mother’s line compare to the exact sequence also received by this new distant cousin. The catch is, as FamilyTreeDNA explains in their Learning Center page on Maternal Lineages:
Your mtDNA exact matches may be recent, but they may also be hundreds or thousands of years in the past.

Suddenly, my bravado over having a genealogical paper trail stretching back, on this specific line, to the early 1800s is retracted. How can anyone’s genealogical prowess stand up to the test of a possible time frame like that?

And so, the genealogy dance begins: poking and prodding, trying to figure out which female ancestor specifically related to someone in my direct maternal line might have been in the right time and place to become this mystery cousin’s birth mother. Or mother of this birth mother. Or maternal grandmother of this birth mother…

You get the picture. We’ve immersed ourselves in this search all week long. In a way, it’s nice to have a partner in the quest to push back the generations, to struggle against the silencing forces that made prior generations’ women nearly invisible.

Yet, there’s another side to a question like this. Though not to as extreme a degree as one story featured recently in Vox, explaining how genetic testing actually became the catalyst that tore one family apart, there is the aura of a witch hunt in the who-done-it aspect. Only this search isn’t for a murder suspect. The winner of this woman-hunt, in past ages, might at best end up wearing a scarlet letter.

And so we progress, my new-found cousin and I, email by email, piecing together facts from documents as we find them, with each discovery moving us one step closer to the revelation. In one way, it’s a joyful process, anticipating the reuniting of two people separated by an entire lifetime. In another way, it’s a process with a conclusion rife with risks.

Whatever the adventure entails, it is a steep learning curve we’re mounting, not only in uncovering documentation as we press backward through as-yet-undiscovered generations, but in familiarizing ourselves with every nuance of what the DNA tests are telling us. There’ll be more testing. And more genealogical research. But depending on how far removed in time we are from our ancestral nexus, we may soon—or may never—learn the answer to this mystery of our common ancestor.
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