Monday, September 22, 2014

Not Just Like Me

Sometimes—even when we are researching our genealogy—we have to take a step back and examine our assumptions to see whether they are standing in the way of our research progress.

While I have been obsessively focused on our upcoming research journey to Ireland, that is not, in fact, the only issue consuming my attention in my every waking hour. I have been rather busy, it turns out, with other activities.

Amend that comment about obsession: other, ahem, genealogy activities.

In the course of this past week, I coordinated the program for our local genealogical society, spoke as a representative of our society’s board at a gala public event, and taught a beginners’ genealogy class at a local mini-conference.

It’s what happened at that first event—the genealogical society meeting—that sparked the thoughts I want to discuss today. You see, as vice president of that organization, I have the responsibility of arranging speakers for each meeting and planning the educational choices for the programs. Last week, as our meeting was about to begin, I went to close the doors to the meeting room when a young man stepped in the doorway and asked me the kind of question we normally love to hear:
“Is this where you can tell me how to get started on my family tree?”

At any other time, the answer would be an almost overzealous “Yes.” Inviting the unsuspecting novice in, I would fight hard to maintain my composure so as not to appear too similar to the spider addressing the fly. But this time, I almost found myself taking a good look at the man, then turning around to take in a sweeping view of the audience assembled there, awaiting the beginning of the program. The thoughts flying through my mind at that point almost sucked the words right out of my mouth.

You see, that night, our featured speaker was a local author and researcher addressing the subject of a historic cemetery in our county, and the personal histories she had gleaned from the mere inscriptions found on the now-crumbling gravestones. The time frame began in the 1850s and stretched through the rest of the century. That century.

The eager young man speaking to me, however, couldn’t have been farther from the average demographics of that assembled group—nor could he have been ready yet to benefit from century-old cemetery research findings.

Nor was the format for the evening’s program the type that would assist him. This would not be a how-to full of beginners’ tips. The meeting was about to become a time-traveling yarn about the founding of a now-vanished pioneer California town and the people who shaped its history. While many of our long-standing members who focus on preservation of cemetery records would thrive on such a topic, the meeting would have done nothing for our novice visitor.

As the fly in him began shrinking away from the doorway, the spider in me was grasping for any way to entice him to follow that spark of passion for uncovering his roots. I didn’t want to snuff out that spark by inviting him in, but neither did I want to snuff it out by sending him away.

There was, however, more to this story. It was not only a tale of a sole young person in a sea of retirees. There was also another difference. For those of you aware of my enthusiastic advocacy for methods and organizations—like The NextGen Genealogy Network—seeking to encourage younger generations to explore their roots, you know the issue of age would not be what was beguiling my introspective side.

Let’s just put it this way: while I can safely say ninety nine percent of my ancestral roots would hail from European origins, that was not the case with my young interloper. Whether he claimed ancestry from African, Asian, Native American, Pacific Islander or other background is fairly immaterial to my point, although in his case, his would be the first category. My point is, rather, this: when we take a long, hard look at the members peopling our genealogical societies, they often appear to be people who are “just like me.”

And “me,” for the most part, seems to be descendants of European immigrants.

Granted, just engaging a speaker who can address these other family origins is a start—but it isn’t enough to meet the continuing research needs of those others who aren’t, after all, “just like me.” We need ways to draw people in who have these research interests, to provide them with resources and support to continue their trek toward finding their own family history’s answers.

Actually, there are such resources, but we seldom find them in the aggregate, so they seem harder to grasp in that instant in which we struggle for our reply. That’s why, when I set up our society’s Twitter account, I began a list-building project to share the Twitter handles of groups which focus on a wide variety of genealogical research interests. That’s why, if you scour the genea-bloggers community, you find there are bloggers speaking to such subjects. Some of you are yourselves bloggers who specialize in such areas.

Because I teach research workshops for beginners, I know of some of these resources, but it occurred to me it is time to make a list and share it online, as well as with our local group. Of course, there is that small matter of a trans-Atlantic research journey standing between me and such a resolution, but once that is accomplished, it is time to share the wealth regarding genealogical resources for all ethnic backgrounds of potential members for our local genealogical societies.

There is nothing quite so disconcerting as deciding to do something new—like joining a genealogical society to help find one’s roots—and stepping through the meeting room door for the first time, only to size up the crowd and realize there is not one soul in there who is “just like me.” America may be a nation of joiners, but we are also a people sensitized to the need for belonging with others with whom we share something in common. If we, as a local organization, fail to provide the resources to help those pioneer first attendees feel their association with us is worth it, will they ever feel the need to come back for a second visit?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Not on the Beaten Path

There comes a point in the intrepid traveler’s life—well, at least in my case—in which that insidious doubt of personal capability overwhelms the confidence that one can find his or her way in the world. In my case, that’s when I succumbed to the siren song of those well-marketed tourists’ guides.

You know those books: the annual issues of brand-name “See Such-and-Such Country” publications.

It started out in a harmless way. A friend passed along a copy of one book. She found it at a used book store and thought of me. A beautiful, glossy handbook, it was full of inspiring photographs and artwork from famous locations in Ireland.

That inspired my husband the other day—since he was on Amazon, anyhow—to take a look at what else might be available. After all, we have to have some idea of what we are going to do, once we land in Dublin.

The books arrived last week—a crazy week, as usual, so I didn’t get a chance to even peek until this weekend. Yes, this weekend in which I’ve been laser-focused on constructing an itinerary for what we will be doing, once we drive to Ballina.

Last night, I thought I’d crack open those shiny pages and see what could be found about my current destination of obsession. I found…absolutely zip. Nada.

Well, that isn’t entirely true. I found two page entries in the index of one book—did I mention it happened to be the only book which actually had an index? (Can you tell, the more ticked I get, the more I tend to use italics?!)

Don’t let those two pages get your hopes up. Remember Ballina boasts a double identity: one in County Mayo—the bigger one more likely to be mentioned—and the smaller one. Guess which one got the bigger mention in the tour book?

The other one—the one I want to know about—got a mention of one line’s length on the page.


Well, let me reconsider that. After all, I’m not really traveling to Ireland to do the tourist routine. I’m looking for a very different pot of gold at the end of this rainbow. Maybe I’m even looking for a different rainbow. And for different rainbows, you have to look in different places.

My digital visit to the County Clare website, yesterday, inspired me to see what I could find in County Tipperary. Remember the GenMaps page I found? If, on that program, you clicked the choice for townlands, you could see the overlay of the borders on the map of the county. You could also click the choice for surnames from Griffith’s Valuation, which would then be superimposed on the same map.

I want that for County Tipperary.

Search as I might, though, I could find no results for such a treasure. County Clare, it appears, has a cutting edge institution, as libraries go. Oh, if only they were on the other side of the Shannon.

Of course, there is a County Tipperary library system. But, coming from a heritage of a bifurcated land mass—historically divided into the “North Riding” and “South Riding” jurisdictions—their town centers are spread throughout a sizeable county. And, of course, their branch libraries appear to be nowhere near Ballina—which is why I am fervently hoping the Ballina folks consider their local library to be the one across the river in Killaloe, oh please, oh please. That way, perhaps that County Clare library would have holdings including the local history and genealogy of this northern outpost of their neighboring county.

Thanks to Google, my searching yielded other local resources—though some of them turn out to be via the usual suspects and/or include some sorrowfully outdated links.

I found this Google Books link to provide a helpful list of local resources.

The County Tipperary library’s website seems to have some promising links. I am guessing the closest branch to Ballina would be the one in Nenagh. Apparently, the term I am looking for—the way the Irish put it, at least—would be “Local Studies.” The library provides a list of links for this, although frustratingly, the list includes contact information for national resources (not very local of them, now, is it?) or pay-for-service sites like the heritage centers. Apparently, there has also been a book published which (I guess) serves as a finding aid for local materials covering a wide range of topics having to do with Tipperary; the library website gives a further description. Of course, I cannot tell from the site whether the limited-edition volume is still available for sale. It might be a useful item to pick up while we are over there. However, the one item I wish I could find—a GenMaps feature for County Tipperary like the one I found yesterday for County Clare—is nowhere to be found on the Tipperary library’s website.

Another local resource I was able to find was the County Tipperary Historical Society. It seems their prime purpose is—or was—to publish an annual journal. I can’t tell if they are still in operation. Their website seems somewhat outdated.

I had to journey way back in time to find another website with links to local resources for County Tipperary. Predictably, it was the ubiquitous GenWeb site, this one specific to County Tipperary. Though the website seems outdated, and contains some broken links, it is packed with a wealth of resources. It provides a page for the specific civil parish in which I had found a Griffith’s Valuation listing for my (hopefully) Denis Tully: Templeachally. Drilling down a bit further, I also was able to find a page on our Tully family’s Tountinna Townland. And, scrolling down past the title of this additional GenWeb page, I found a long list of links referring to other researchers and websites having to do with County Tipperary genealogy.

But still no GenMaps. Which means I’ll need to polish my PhotoShop skills enough to work on graphically overlaying a very old map from the time of Griffith’s Valuation over a modern-day road map, to see if, once we are in Ireland, we can drive by that very location where Denis Tully once eked out a living in rural County Tipperary. If I can discern nothing else, thanks to Google Street View, I can tell things haven’t changed much there, out in that neck of the woods in northern County Tipperary.

Talk about being off the beaten path.

Above: Irish artist Henry Albert Hartland, "On the Moors," 1876 pencil and watercolor inspired by Achill Island in County Mayo; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Finding It in the Stacks

There is a saying that has gone around genealogy circles: when it comes to research, what you find on the Internet is just the tip of the iceberg. That very concept was incorporated into a graphic design on a poster sold by the California Genealogical Society. In fact, I only recently realized that the poster was designed by the daughter of one of this blog’s readers—Lisa Gorrell.

I take that concept to heart—especially now, on the eve of our research trip to Ireland. At least, I hope that maxim will hold true! For libraries will be one of my most depended-upon stops in the various towns and counties of Ireland.

My mind was turned to libraries last night, having just returned from the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the building that houses the main branch of our local library. Our local genealogical society was there to help celebrate those fifty years. And why not? That library has played host to our Society’s meetings, workshops and donated reference collection from the time it opened the doors of that new building fifty years ago.

When I think of the nearly four thousand books our Society has donated to the library over those fifty years, it reminds me that our city is not unusual in that regard. Across the land, there are mid-sized cities (and perhaps even smaller) with genealogical societies which have done the same.

In the aggregate, that adds up to a significant stack of books. Books that someone can reference to find a way around a research brick wall, perhaps. And if we are doing that here in the United States, surely someone is doing the same in other countries as well.

Hopefully, one of those other countries is Ireland. I think of all the local history books, family genealogies, transcriptions of records and documents housed in our own repository. And I earnestly wish for the same to be true of the libraries at my destination. Not just the national library in Dublin. But the small libraries in places like Ballina in County Tipperary, where I have some questions still needing answers.

Wouldn’t it be just the dream outcome to walk into a local library and pull a book down off the shelf that mentions the name of someone in my Tully or Flannery families there?

Since our libraries here have their holdings listed in online catalogs, I thought I’d test the waters on this one. I Googled Ballina, Tipperary and library. Perhaps because Ballina markets itself jointly with its “twin” city across the River Shannon, Killaloe, the best I can hope for is to visit the library at the water’s edge on the other side of the river—and believe me, the Killaloe library does indeed boast waterfront property. It is on the original site of the lock keeper’s house.

While the library is fairly small—it houses holdings of nearly eight thousand volumes—it is, after all, the closest collection to my target town of Ballina. The website is helpful, providing contact information—you know I’ll have questions—and links of interest to a researcher like me. Better yet, the wider county library system has played coordinator to a crowdsourced list of details to make a genealogist happy. Check out this sortable list of local graveyard inscriptions, for instance. Or this page on the Cathedral’s burials. Or, better yet, this “GenMaps” readout—be patient, this one loads s-l-o-w-l-y—which can be manipulated according to selected features listed on the left sidebar.

And, of course, like any forward-thinking library, the Killaloe library includes their own blog, which I was delighted to find.

Naturally, I couldn’t help but let my eyes wander over the entries in the listings of burials at the Cathedral just across the river from Ballina. Remember, the actual source of the baptismal verifications received by our Tully family in the 1870s originated from the Cathedral in County Clare, not the actual church the family attended in Ballina. And it wasn’t lost on me that there were a couple Flannerys in the cemetery listing, as well as Tullys. Who knows?

I can’t just satisfy myself with this resource from the next county over—though it is much closer in proximity to Ballina than the town’s own county seat in Tipperary. I’ll be looking to see what can be found online for the County Tipperary library system as well. But once we arrive in Ballina, I wouldn’t discount a trip across that eighteenth century bridge. After all, the bridge was already spanning the river, back when our family lived there.

Above: "On Suffolk Sands," 1887 oil on canvas by Dublin impressionist landscape painter Walter Frederick Osborne; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Then Versus Now

Two weeks from today, we will be in the town of Ballina—Ballina in County Tipperary, that is. With a population just under 2,500 people, it’s understandable why the other Ballina keeps popping up on search results. In comparison, Tipperary’s Ballina is a mere village.

Searching for a place to stay in a location that small would seem to be a challenge. After all, if you were coming to visit my neck of the woods, you would be considering a town somewhere between the size of Linden and Weaverville. Neither of those locations would be places where I’d expect to find both an abundance of Bed and Breakfast accommodations and hotels from which to choose. Thus you see the dilemma I was expecting to face.

When I actually began to delve into my housing search in earnest, I was pleasantly surprised—although, alas, no castles—to find a number of Bed and Breakfast options. Somehow, that seemed like an option that would bring us closer to the land. (Or whatever romantic notion you’d like to substitute as an excuse.)

Getting closer to the land seems to be the goal, here, when it comes to venturing this far north of our Dublin-to-Cork itinerary. After all, the rest of our journey isn’t far removed from those two anchors: just a little bit to the west to County Kerry, and a little to the north to just over the County Cork line in the eastern portion of County Limerick. Somehow, this County Tipperary excursion seems to be an outlier.

But Ballina is the firmest fact I’ve found for the home base of any of our Irish ancestors. I have two Tully baptismal verifications pointing back to Ballina. And an entry in Griffith’s Valuation.

As I look for anything that can be found on the actual townland of our Tully family’s former residence—as well as the site of the original Catholic parish—it becomes quite easy to absorb all extraneous information. Inspired by Iggy’s prompt to discover the actual population of Ballina, I couldn’t help notice all the other details that came up in searches on the town. I’ve taken to reading the community page of the local newspaper, the Tipperary Star, after having stumbled upon it during a search juxtaposing the words “Tully” and “Ballina.” Thanks to seeking out population numbers, I discovered quite a collection of disparate facts about the place, like the fact that there is a greater proportion of professional and managerial workers than the national average, or the detail about the large number of Polish nationals living in Ballina

Apparently, there were enough of such interesting trivia to rank Ballina, a few years back, as the third best place to live in Ireland. (The other Ballina, by way of contrast, made it into the same list as the nineteenth worst place to live.) Their own promotions certainly rank the town as “amongst Ireland’s most picturesque attractions.”

Coming away from such glowing copy, I feel as if our destination would be perfect for the chic weekend getaway. And yet, this is the same turf upon which our ancestors once felt so hopelessly despondent about their future as to risk it all for a perilous and uncertain journey in despicable conditions. I get the feeling that our Tully and Flannery ancestors would not fit in well with the preponderance of well-educated professional and managerial Ballina commuters braving their daily thirty minute drive to their well-respected positions in the nearby urban centers of modern Ireland.

After all, our ancestors last walked on that turf almost one hundred seventy years ago. A lot can change in a span of time that size. Yet, for us to journey back to that same location means for us to carry them in our hearts as we go. Having traced their family’s story back, step by step through each decade, to arrive at that point at the beginning of the Great Hunger aligns me more with mindset of their departure than the viewpoint held by the town's current residents. How strange it will seem to be leisurely chatting over a meal at a tony cafĂ© by the very streets these destitute ancestors may once have passed on their way out of town for the last time.

Above: "On the Quays," 1888 charcoal on canvas by Irish artist, Frank O'Meara; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Waited ’Til the Last Moment

When taking a trip of a lifetime, everyone knows the planning starts in advance. Way in advance. For those of you following along here at A Family Tapestry, you know I’ve been at it diligently for quite some time. While I can say it’s been a push for the last several months, I’ve actually been aggregating records and notes and things-to-remember for years.

Now that I’ve come to the end of my research rope—at least the part that can handily be done from home—I thought it would be safe (to say nothing of prudent) to pull out all those old files and review those many notes.

One of the mental notes in that stash of to-do lists was to revisit the website of the Irish Family History Foundation. That has become the online presence of the parish church records, gravestone inscriptions, and even census records accumulated from each of the county genealogy centers throughout Ireland. Many of those records have been transcribed, and it is the transcriptions that are available for viewing—for a price—from the Foundation’s website.

I had known about this site for years. I can’t even remember how it was I first stumbled upon the site, but I can say it is vastly different now than it was then. At that point, anyone could freely make a search of the documents in their database and at least get a brief summary of the results found. Now, to access the material, the Foundation requires registration, which is at no cost, and once you find a potentially viable hit to your search parameters, payment up front before viewing even one record.

I remember, years ago, discussing with a fellow Tully researcher what we had found on the Foundation’s website. There were, as it turned out, several baptismal records on file in County Tipperary for children of one Denis Tully and wife Margaret Flannery. Working jointly, we had thought those records looked like potential keepers. I saved the emails exchanged with that other Tully researcher, intending to return and look into the records further. Some day.

Several months ago, once I began planning this Ireland research trip in earnest, I decided it would be just the time to review those records, and went back to retrace my research steps. I found that things had changed—mostly the requirement for registration and the pay-as-you-go fees—but I also found another disconcerting item: the terms of service.

Now, I am not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV, but it seemed to me the legal jargon in those terms of service was insinuating that the sharing of any portion of the website’s material in even as well-intentioned a manner as the fair-use concept familiar to academics of many disciplines was a grave violation of their rights. Not wanting to step on anyone’s digital toes, I decided not to register. Of course, that also meant I would not be saying—at least to my circle of genealogy friends—“Hey, check out this site; I heartily recommend it.”

Fast forward to this week. Suffice it to say I have reconsidered my self-defensive stance. I did go back and register to use the Foundation’s website. But not having the time to re-examine those myriad service restrictions, I won’t be free to tell you anything about what I found on their website.

Isn’t that just a killer?

If you feel as bound and gagged as I do, it’s understandable. Anyone writing for any academic journal would have had the liberty to at least quote a small portion of another researcher’s text, duly footnoted, and use it as a stepping stone upon which to bolster one’s own hypothesis. But apparently not here. Yes, they are certainly entitled to see their holdings as tokens of their national treasure. They are even well within their rights to charge for the privilege of gaining temporary access to those holdings. But to demand, in a researcher’s world, a vow of saying nothing violates the concept of fair use.

Because I already have other verification of the documentation I was seeking, I think I can safely say that, as for our Tully family in County Tipperary, I already knew all the pertinent details I was checking for confirmation. This was one of those cover-your-bases cases. You never know when something new will pop up and bust wide open those impossible brick wall roadblocks.

I guess, even in this wonderful age of free access to so much information—or, at least, reasonable charges for the organization and provision of accessibility and searchability—there are still some who are more vested in their own rights than in the service of a wider audience for the greater good.

 Above: "A Rest in Rotten Row," 1892 watercolor by Dublin-born Rose Maynard Barton; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Yes, I know that is a term usually deployed by military personnel. It’s just that I’ve been seriously contemplating hotel reservations, train tickets and flight schedules for four different people. Oh, and class schedule for a fifth person. And maybe a guest.

You see, this research trip to Ireland has blossomed into a mini-family reunion of sorts. My husband and I are going to visit our daughter, who is currently attending school at University College Cork. His sisters are going to join us for one week of tromping around the west coast of the island. One sister’s husband may fly in for a weekend. And one new-found college friend may come along for the ride.

I used to be amused when, at the grocery store—now, doesn’t that strike you as a quaint term?—I would flip the package of whichever gourmet treat I was considering purchasing, and see, on the back label, that it was delivered to my local store expressly by the XYZ Logistics Company. How appetizing. Somehow, the art of delivery has moved from the realm of foodstuff to factory assembly.

If the supermarket can use the term, so can I. I am, after all, coordinating the travels of an itinerant foursome—sometimes five-some or maybe even more—who are, mostly, out to research the rural outreaches of western Ireland, all in the hopes of locating our ancestral roots.

The amount of time sucked out of daily life by online travel arrangements is exceeded only by the time it used to take to make such maneuvers via telephone. By mid-afternoon yesterday—after getting in our preparatory daily walk, as darling daughter insists, “You walk everywhere”—I had succeeded in securing one reservation. Yes, only one. At least it was for two days.

My great disappointment was in discovering that the one place where I had most hoped to stay—no surprise here, it was indeed a castle—has vanished from the face of the Internet. I cannot replicate the search which conjured up the dream destination. That, alone, ate up half a day last week. No more time to search for such oddities; if I don’t find something practical—and quickly—it will be the park bench for the bunch of us. I don’t think that will go over well with the in-laws.

On the transportation front, we are currently negotiating the use of a rental car, which the agency insists will fit five people. Right. Turns out, it is a Toyota Corolla. In my book, that was a fresh-out-of-college starter car. It will take a lot more walking before five of me can fit into one of those.

When it comes to road trips and rental cars, let us not discuss the fact that we shall be driving on that other side of the road.

And did I mention we will be doing that, driving a stick shift?

Moving on to luggage. It doesn’t help my case that we are traveling during a season in which the temperatures will be plummeting from their summer highs to a seasonally adjusted fifty to sixty degrees.

What? You say those are the same as the summertime temperatures?

Let’s just say the clothes I wear during our type of summer weigh a lot less than the ones I wear during our wintertime—which has just about the same temperatures we can expect to have, once we arrive in Ireland. And I can only pack fifty pounds of those winter togs. For three weeks. That, incidentally, will be after we include all the vital material omitted from the previous traveler’s exodus to Ireland.

There will be virtue, however, in packing light: we need to wrestle those bags out of the airport, into a bus, onto a train, and into a cab, before we can kick our feet up at our hard-won hotel room. Maybe instead of walking every day, we should have been lifting weights.

The light begins to dawn on me, somewhere in the midst of struggling with all these arrangements, that this might be why so many people prefer the turnkey offers of one-price-buys-all. Pay your money, get whisked to your destination, stay put for a week, return home. Easy.

But who am I kidding here? There’s no reason to gripe. After all, we’ll get to see our dear daughter, who has been away from home for ages two months. And we’ll get to join the hordes of “dewy-eyed Americans” (as comedian Pete McCarthy called them) seeking our roots in the farthest outposts of Ireland. Even if I can’t make all those schedules align just the way I want, I really couldn’t ask for more.

Above: "A Steady Drizzle," oil on canvas by County Limerick native, Norman Garstin; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

How to Meet a Fourth Cousin

With as much sniveling and whining as I do over not having any distant cousins flocking to my virtual door, you’d think I never have had such an opportunity. Truth be told, I have—well, of a sort. It’s just that, when pursuing long-lost relatives, I am invariably the one who is seeking the connections.

And yet, sometimes, it does happen. You may recall the trip to Chicago undertaken by my family over a year ago, in which my husband had the privilege of meeting up for lunch with not only his (known) cousins and a (known) second cousin but also with two third-cousins-once-removed. (Well, at least we presume they are; we have yet to find documentation fixing the relationship at that point, though we do have auxiliary confirmation.) We can thank none other than our reader “Iggy” for serving as digital matchmaker for that occasion, as he was the one who found himself providing my email address to the inquiring relative who had stumbled upon my blog post mentioning a known ancestor from her family.

Now, of course, I’m headed to Ireland in an attempt to push back the Tully family history yet one more generation. And the question nearly taunts me: will we be able to meet distant cousins over there?

After all, we’ve advanced in our track record from second to third cousin—once removed, even! Could it be possible to find any fourth cousins over there?

Since Denis Tully, immigrant from Ireland, is the connecting link for this family, I pause to ponder those numbers. Denis Tully was my husband’s second great-grandfather. Any descendants of his would lead to the level of third cousins for our generation. Of course, being that my husband was the baby of the (almost) baby of the family (et cetera), we end up meeting people who are, eventually, one generation removed from his—but still counting from the level of third cousin.

But what if we could push back the shroud of time yet another generation? That would yield, for a third great-grandfather, fourth cousins. Fourth cousins possibly living in Ireland right now.

My mind starts spinning at the numbers. I once met—online, of course; these things seldom happen in person—a ninth cousin in my own Taliaferro line. Fortunately, that is a line from Virginian colonial history that is well documented, so it was just a matter of counting on a descendancy chart. I had to come up with a way to keep the right numbers in the right columns.

Sketching these generations out on a spare napkin at a coffee shop may work for a casual meet-up with a second cousin, but add a few generations, and it can get messy. I thought it better to come up with a concise way to yield the proper (n)th cousin. Ready? The (n)th cousins have a common (n – 1) great-grandparent. So, fourth cousins would share a third great-grandparent. In our case, that would be Denis Tully’s parents, whoever they might be—or his wife Margaret Flannery Tully’s parents. And they would not be here in America. Not even back in Canada, where Denis arrived after his trans-Atlantic voyage. They would be in County Tipperary. In Ireland. Where I’ll be in two weeks.

The first task, of course, would be to locate that third great-grandparent. If I cannot find any documentation at the local level in Ballina, where the family originated in the early 1800s, I will have to hope for some great revelation when I get to Dublin. And from there, I could trace the lines of descent. After all, it wouldn’t do to just go door knocking along the River Shannon, asking, “Are you my fourth cousin?”

Once the names and dates are secured, it has never been more than a matter of spreading the word far and wide—wanted: descendant of So-and-So Tully, father of Denis Tully of Ballina, County Tipperary—to find some takers for the coveted position of fourth cousin. Post it in online genealogy forums, as I have for so many other family lines. Search for connections on the family finder devices on sites like or head out to deeper, more generic waters and trawl the hits on Google. Take a DNA test, even—after all, we just connected with a distant cousin that way, though on the other side of the family. Stalk possible descendants on Facebook—even if it costs a lousy buck to send a private message. Wear a sandwich board—yes, believe it or not, I saw someone do that, here in my own city, last week—and walk down the main streets of Ballina.

However we do it—meet up over a cup of coffee, or over lunch, or even via phone or email—here’s hoping that, at least, we do it. It would be grand to meet a fourth cousin. Especially on the other side of the equation. “Across the pond,” as it is so often termed. However, wherever: Tully fourth cousin, we know you are out there.

 Above: Ireland-born Samuel McCloy's "A Fisherman's Children," an 1881 pencil and watercolor; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
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