Thursday, October 23, 2014

Stones Without Stories

While researchers grappling with the dearth of genealogical records in Ireland may be disappointed at what they can find, once having traveled the distance to get there, there is always that hope that what is etched in stone will outlive what was once recorded on paper.

Sadly, that is not always so. While the permanency of stone may be admirable—it is, after all, the medium of choice for safekeeping of our remembrances of those long gone—it is wholly dependent on which type of stone is chosen, how it is engraved, and what type of weather conditions it must endure which reveal how long a stone may recount its story.

Recent headstones in Ireland are a treasure. Unlike American headstones, which may simply reveal the dates of birth and death for one individual, Irish memorials we saw from the mid-twentieth century onward sometimes presented an entire family tree for three generations—and listed the townland from which the family originated. As our family toured church graveyards in the various counties of Ireland, we encountered some stones which provided the family story for the deceased, plus a spouse and children—in addition to a parent or in-laws. All on one memorial. The stone might also include a long list of all the remaining family members who contributed to erecting the memorial, thus providing names of still-living grandchildren.

In unfortunate contrast, those headstones we were hoping to find for relatives of my husband’s ancestors—all of whom would have been living in the 1800s—had encountered various difficulties in bringing their stories forward through time. For some, the choice of stone—coupled with the types of lichens of the area which favored the damp, cool weather—insured that any inscriptions would be obliterated by environmental factors. We saw this, again and again, as we walked the gravel groundcover of the Templekelly church ruins above the River Shannon in northern County Tipperary or the grassy Aghadoe graveyard near Killarney in County Kerry.

More heartbreaking than that was to encounter stones of a different type—some of which we found at Templekelly near Ballina, some from the Castletown church ruins near Ballyagran in County Limerick. Tall, flat, dark stones, devoid of any inscription, instead of standing upright, were face down in the dirt—yet, it didn’t appear as if they were dislodged from a previous position, but laid that way originally. I have yet to learn the significance—or fate—of such stones. But I can’t help wonder if any of them once bore the surname of any of the eight family lines we were seeking.

In contrast to those tall stones were the small, chipped flat stones, rising up from the ground in jagged configuration. They were silent reminders that someone was buried beneath them—but who? The sight conjured up vignettes in my mind of those too impoverished to sustain life through even rudimentary items like food—how, then, could their mourners provide adequate memorials for those in death, for whom they couldn’t provide sustenance in life?

While remaining church records of bygone years in Ireland may name the details we seek for baptisms or marriages, there are precious few records identifying details of the deaths of family members. Outside city life, it would be doubtful to find obituaries providing the dates and relationships of those who had passed on in such rural surroundings. Our only hope had been to find some records in the churchyards of our Irish ancestors. In walking through those very places, though, it became clear that this was not to be. The stones which we would expect to divulge their story in places closer to our homes would, in this faraway land, conspire to remain silent in the presence of these encroaching strangers.

Photograph: Headstones alongside the ruins at Templekelly church near Ballina, County Tipperary, reveal the conditions buffeting these monuments over the centuries. White marks visible on the stones are from lichens. The lower left and center of the picture show two of the large, flat stones mentioned above in the textwholly embedded in the gravel, they have no markings showing. Very few of the engravings on the upright stones were legible.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Rethinking Those Unavoidable Brick Walls

“Oh, no, a brick wall,” most genealogy researchers exclaim in dismay when they encounter those invisible yet palpable blocks to progress. From that point onward, it is supposed, nothing further may be uncovered on the specific person or line being pursued.

During my three weeks in Ireland, I’ve had some time to re-examine attitudes towards those brick wall research dilemmas. First, of course, I’ve long ago realized that what might amount to a brick wall on an ancestor at one specific point may not always remain so. Stuff turns up. Busy capitalists eager to sell their genealogical research wares come up with yet more old records which handily answer questions about our family history. This is great for those of us willing to revisit sticking points and prod and poke around until we can burst through to new discoveries.

But will there always be more ways to poke around for fresh information? Will there always be more document discoveries?

Think about it. I just spent three weeks in Ireland, looking for more resources to chart eight of my husband’s family lines. I had already made it back to the early 1830s, just using resources findable in the United States. Do you think I was able to push that dateline any further back in time by making a trip to the originating location?

The irony of date discrepancies is not lost on me. In a place where people routinely drive by ruins dating back, at the very least, one thousand years, it is quite unusual to happen upon genealogical material granting entrance to times any earlier than that same 1830 decade. The politics of the era, combined with the likelihood of the culture to see record-keeping concerning the common classes as of less importance, may have contributed to the research challenges we face now. Of course, for the landed gentry of the time, the case may have been different, but that was not, apparently, the calling of the people making up my husband’s heritage in Ireland.

Lack of usable documentation is not the only contributor to my research roadblock. Even if the government overseeing rule of Ireland had seen things differently back then, there would still be a brick wall awaiting me at some point. Think about it: whether your ancestors remained in the well-documented United States earlier than my sticking-spot in 1820s Ireland, at some point, the paper trail would have run out. It might not have happened until before the first United States census—maybe not even in colonial times—but at some point, records kept about most people would have run out.

Eventually, all of us will run out of paper trails to follow. Yes, I know there are some who are fortunate enough to claim descent from some renowned king in the Middle Ages, but not everyone can say that. At least I can’t—not at this point. And there may be no finding of any “missing link” to connect me with such a claim. Ever.

As I cranked through hopelessly-dim filmed copies of two hundred year old crumbling records last week, my mind couldn’t help wandering through such thoughts. People kept saying, “Well, you know…” Records in Ireland, especially of the Catholic persuasion, weren’t really kept before that point. That never-broken chain, winding from child to parent, step by step through the generations, had stopped at that missing link.

I had to ask myself: at what point would I be satisfied with this quest? Would it make everything better if I could just find one more generation preceding that 1820s roadblock? Wouldn’t I then want to press further back in time? If we can conquer the records of one generation, why would we be satisfied to stop before the next generation?

Since my genealogical research is not done for religious purposes—I’ve been smitten by the genealogy bug solely because I have this inexplicable need to know—there is no pressing requirement to keep looking, once the door is shut. But for some reason, I keep wanting to know—to know what lies beyond, who came before, what life was like for that generation.

Likely, the story for those ancestors in 1820s Ireland was that they lived in the same townlands as their parents did. Worked the same land. Lived the same lives.

Or did they? There are, after all, stories of people groups who traveled long distances, or overcame exceptional odds, to end up in the residences where we found them “living the same lives.” Examining Irish history, I became aware of the swirl of ethnic variations present in Ireland over the centuries—not just the British, but the Normans, the Vikings, the Celts, came to this island at one point or another to settle. Even now, I’m aware of Polish and Romanian immigrants adding to the mix.

I may never know the precise details of our family’s story in Ireland. The Y-DNA test for my husband suggests some Viking activity in his case, for that “deep” history. But I will have to make my peace with the gap between 1820-something and the dates of Viking settlement along the coasts of Ireland. There may never be another document discovery to provide me an alternate way around my Irish brick walls. And I will have to accept that.

Facing that fact requires me to clarify just what it is that I’m seeking in this family history pursuit. Not only for my husband’s Irish lines. But for all our family heritage. Genealogy is not just a merry waltz back through the generations, world without end, amen. While it may be a struggle against the forces of time which age and destroy old documents, it is inevitably also a losing battle against the choices which went into deciding what—if anything at all—should be documented. For those powerful enough to claim the right to make that choice, the paper trail may still survive. For those unimportant to The Powers That Be, at some point, there will be no trail to follow.

We cannot step backwards in time indefinitely. Genealogy is not an endless loop. While on its face, that thought may bring disappointment for those of us who continually want to know, “What happened next?” the restrictions that fact places upon us will help us better hone our research expectations.

Some people bridle at the comment, “I’ve finished my family tree.” It is, of course, an impossible task. On the other hand, to come to that realization that it can’t be finished means that you are finished.

That may actually turn out to be a freeing concept. It helps us put our research in a box. It helps us delineate the task for each line. Ultimately, it helps us face up to the need to develop goals in keeping with those limitations.

When I saw that brick wall looming in front of me at the National Library of Ireland, close to the end of my week there, at first it was depressing. It made me realize, however, that while I may not be able to press backward in time any further in Ireland, there are many other lines and projects I’ve yet to conquer. Which is a good thing, for none of us have the luxury of limitless time in which to accomplish even the things which we can achieve.

Old graveyard outside church ruins at Ballina in County Tipperary in Ireland

Photograph: View from graveyard into interior of ruins of Templekelly Church near Ballina in County Tipperary. Photograph courtesy Chris Stevens.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Slow Versus Slower

It's been a long and delightful three weeks we've spent in Ireland—my husband and I, joined later by his two sisters, as we spent time with our daughter, the college student in Cork, and then the full week of genealogical research on our eight Irish family lines—but nevertheless, it's good to be back home.

After an experience like that, I can't help but reflect on what went well about this time away from home, and what turned out to be less than exemplary progress.

In the main, I can safely say as researchers, we've been spoiled by the digitization of records. Say what you may about resources like or even the freely-accessible treasure chest of documents at, you can't beat accessing the very record you are seeking with one click of a "Search" button.

Yes, I know, even so, online research may entail the tedium of going through countless records of people with the same "John Kelly" name and date of birth. That can certainly slow down your progress. But just try your hand at slogging through the faded chicken scratch of an overworked Catholic parish priest serving in the western hinterlands of Ireland just after the rough pre-emancipation years, and you will be quickly disabused of your tendency to label online research "slow."

While some aspects of research progress can't be helped—how am I to know, for instance, whether a specific ancestor will be included in parish record microfilms at the point where I expect him to appear?—I've had some thoughts on how I might approach such a research trip on a second attempt.

First, there is absolutely nothing that can be done about what isn't there, so cut those losses and move on. It was so frustrating to finally get to the County Limerick film roll for the Catholic parish of our Flanagan and Malloy ancestors, set it up in the reader, crank forward to the label listing the entries included, and realize that not only the marriage record for Stephen Malloy and Anna Flanagan fell into the date gaps, but also the baptismal record of their only child's birth. Sometimes, there are ways to access, ahead of time, whether specific dates have been lost from records now available; sometimes not. Some records, by time of filming, were so fragile as to have been unreadable; some records were lost or misplaced. Though some are later recovered and added to collections, that will not always be the case.

I learned to substitute for the disappointment of such findings the more flexible question, "So, what's next?" At least in our case, I had seven more lines to follow up on while we were here.

Once we had bought our airline tickets, I had had a moment of regret, thinking perhaps it would have been better to do the paperwork before embarking on the fieldwork of driving to the sites of our ancestral homes. What if I discovered something which would alter the course of our tour through the countryside of Ireland?

In retrospect, though, I found the hands-on experience up front became a finding aid for me. As I progressed through microfilms of sometimes jumbled collections—jumping from dates, mentions of townlands, parishes, and sacraments of baptism alternating to marriages—I could get my bearings as I remembered the names of neighboring church parishes or townlands. Remembering the names of the areas we had driven through helped orient me to which sections of microfilms were more pertinent to our family's records. And, as it turned out, with the one exception of the Flanagans showing in a neighboring townland to the one I had originally anticipated them to live, I didn't unearth any startling discoveries that would inhibit my research progress. Neither, however, did I uncover any of the earth-shaking revelations I had hoped for.

The pace of research, in the main, was as slow as the rhythm of the passing pages as my microfilm reel cranked forward. The more faint the images—or more illegible—the slower my progress.

The others in my research group seemed to have similar experiences. I don't recall anyone sharing a "Eureka!" moment. Finding verification for already-held hunches seemed to be the best-hoped-for outcome. There is a lot of "cranking out" and not as much crashing through those brick walls. The speed of discovery can be astoundingly glacial.

Still, there is no replacing such an experience. I was glad we were able to take the extra two weeks to see the specific places where our ancestors originated. This we could not have done without the prior legwork of finding records before even stepping out our door and heading on our way to Ireland. Ironically, it seemed I found more about these Irish ancestors through the records I located in the United States, than through the records found once we arrived in Dublin.

On the other hand, if we had not made the effort to travel to Ireland, we would never have experienced the remoteness of the townlands, the quality of the land from which our ancestors attempted to extract their livelihood, or the layout of the nearby villages where they came to trade or socialize.

It was a worthwhile experience to see what Irish genealogical researchers are up against, with many of their records—documents such as the types we have come to take for granted in the United States—no longer in existence, owing to wars or other upheavals. It was informative, as well, to see the ingenuity applied to the task of research in developing ways to work around these unfortunate losses. In the process, not only did I learn new research resources and techniques, but had my eyes opened to the need for flexibility and creativity in the face of insurmountable roadblocks to research progress.

Photograph: View, looking south, from the road near the cemetery at the Cathedral ruins at Aghadoe in County Kerry. Somewhere near here was the townland where our Kelly and Falvey families originated. Photograph courtesy of Chris Stevens.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Working Around the System

I close my eyes and can still see the calligraphic lines of Father James Flanagan's hand rhythmically unfolding across the pages of the Ballyagran parish register. Those dark images of the 1830s are still imprinted on my mind. I will likely carry their memory with me on my journey back across the Atlantic—but clutch my files in safekeeping in my carry-on bags, just in case.

This research trip to Ireland, home of my Irish-American father-in-law's eight great-grandparents, has given me three weeks of material to mull over. There have been moments to ponder. Moments in which time stood still as I sensed intangible connections. And long stretches of time, seeking the unfindable.

Researching outside one's own country brings a person face-to-face with one's own assumptions. And those assumptions often crumble in the face of reality. What we take for granted through our experience, researching at home, will not always be the same system we encounter abroad. While Americans traipse merrily along the unwinding trail from the 1940 census backwards through the decades at home, their immigrant ancestors left behind governments which might not even be in existence now.

"Frame of reference" has become a buzzword for this month's research experience. In the States, we expect our government to collect certain types of information, and learn how to extract from those documents what is useful for our genealogical pursuits. We expect to cross-apply that assumption to the governments of our ancestors. This does not always hold true. Other governments—indeed, other organizations in general—collect vastly different types of information based on what suits their purposes. I spent the greater part of this last week, essentially conducting the equivalent of what, in America, might be looking at rent rolls of apartment managers—all in the interest of finding some clue as to the whereabouts of my husband's ancestors.

If documents are basically collections of what "We the People" deem important for our government to record and store, they become a window through which others may glean hints of what we count as important. As much as Americans see themselves as being from a "young" country—after all, empires like those of the British and even more so the Chinese, vastly outclass our history—as American genealogists, we blithely flip through the pages of our decennial census records in one form or another, (with only one hiccup), back through 1790. Yet from where I have traveled this month, I could photograph the ruins of an Irish monastery or castle dating from years labeled with only three digits, yet drive less than an hour to access census records that can't reach beyond 1901.

For those of Irish Catholic heritage, this could mean struggling with the researcher's brick wall as recently as the late 1820s. An Irish immigrant willing to brave the unknown to cross the sea to a New World in the 1600s would have had a better chance of being discovered by a descendant in American documents than would his siblings who remained behind in their homeland.

I learned, in this past week, to adopt a "systems" frame of reference in assessing my progress in research here in Ireland. We as researchers will only be able to access what has been left behind by a country's collective determination of what is of value to them. The systems each country has developed, over the decades—and even centuries—leave behind records which may be of value to us in tracing our roots. The key is to determine which system has collected the names, dates and identities which provide the clues we seek. While every system of collective activity will accumulate paper trails, we can never assume the systems we've come to take for granted in our own country will be the same ones valued—or even practiced—in another country.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Last Day in Dublin

Friday was our last full day of research here in Dublin. After wrapping up my project examining County Kerry tax records at the Valuation office, I met my husband for dinner—he had just spent the entire day on a trip to Newgrange—and then we retired to our hotel room. There, I took the time to gather my thoughts on the day's progress and prepare the next day's blog post. Inevitably, after answering email, following online links and organizing notes for the next morning's blitz through my last microfilm roll, the evening was spent. The time was nearing one in the morning.

Shutting everything down for the night, we unplugged the laptop and set the iPad and phone up to charge. Just as we turned out the lights, there was an unusual sound from the electronic devices, so my husband went to check everything out. Apparently, the noise was to alert us that the devices were no longer charging. As he unplugged and then re-inserted the converter into the outlet, something in the wall popped—sounded like a small explosion to me—and there was the smell of something burning.

I screamed—not a wise move for that time of night. But hey. Every research trip needs a little excitement.

On Saturday, I had just three hours to crank through an entire decade of Catholic baptism records from the 1830s. It didn't help that the day started out with glorious sunshine. It's been culture shock for this California resident to spend so many hours under cloud cover. I hadn't realized how much my subconscious registered this deprivation until I actually saw real sunlight on Saturday.

Not to worry. I powered on. Fifteen minutes before closing, I realized I had only made it to 1834 in the County Tipperary parish—I had started at 1832—and if I were going to capture a copy of our John Tully's baptismal entry, I had better fast-forward to the appropriate spot and grab my opportunity now.

I do have to say, the journey through that Ballina parish register was informative. My hope had been to connect the dots between any Flannerys and Tullys in the area and our own Margaret Flannery and Denis Tully.

If you recall my consternation over the ink blot unserendipitously deposited upon the precise spot on the page of the 1851 Canada West census which contained relatives of our Flannery line, you will be happy to note that the name was Edmund Flannery after all. I came upon his son Cornelius' baptismal entry Saturday morning.

I'd like to say I hated leaving the rest of that microfilm roll behind at the sound of the closing bell, but I really can't say that. There was, after all, sunlight awaiting my emergence from the rotunda of the National Library. I joined my husband who, along with what seemed to be the entire residency of the city of Dublin, was out enjoying this novelty called sunshine. We walked along, taking in the sights of the city in which I had spent the last week sequestered indoors.

The afternoon presented a bonus, in that our research trip was deftly designed to coincide with Dublin's Back to Our Past conference. The DNA lectures there included a keynote presentation by Spencer Wells of National Geographic's Genographic Project. Being so far from home, I found it a treat to run into the familiar face of Katherine Borges of ISOGG, and even Maurice Gleeson, whom I had met and discussed this trip with, back at the Southern California Jamboree last June.

On today's agenda is nothing but time to enjoy the sights of Dublin and relax. Then pack. Tonight—if all goes as planned—we will be joined by our daughter, who once again will take the train from Cork to spend this last evening with us. Early tomorrow morning, we'll be off to the airport and the long trip back home.


Photograph: Looking into the ruins of the Aghadoe Cathedral in County Kerry from an outside wall of the building. Photograph courtesy of Chris Stevens.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Race to Finish

Today is the last day I'll be able to do any genealogical research in Ireland. We leave here Monday morning.

When that thought sank in yesterday, I was torn between completing two tasks: finish slogging through the microfilm of Tully family possibilities in County Tipperary, or try my hand again at property records.

If you think looking at property records for genealogical research hints at the possibility of landed gentry for our family, think again. It took passage of legislation before any possible other descendants of our Irish ancestors were able to buy a chip off the old block of estate property. It is, however, one way to detour ye olde brick wall and discover possible distant cousins in the process.

The drawback to this alternate research plan entailed a long walk through the rain to the Valuation Office. Again. I had done this very process the other day—that time, seeking Flanagans in County Limerick—but I thought it might be worth my while to attempt the same technique on my Kelly and Falvey families in County Kerry.

Of all our eight lines of Irish ancestors, the County Kerry couple had been the last to leave Ireland, so I hoped there might be more recent records with additional detail to help push back another generation. The trouble was, as everyone realizes, Kelly is a common surname in Ireland, making differentiations a challenge. Plus, the few birth records I've been able to find hint at either a family that moved from place to place—or couples with the exact same names.

The marriage record I had found showed John Kelly to be from Knockauncore, a townland in the parish of Kilcummin—one of the microfilms still awaiting my return to the National Library. Checking Griffith's Valuation, I noticed there happened to be two women renting property in the 1850s who might be of interest: Anne Falvey and Mary Kelly. What would be the chances that they were related to our soon-to-be-married Johanna Falvey and John Kelly from that very same townland?

The virtue of checking the subsequent valuation records is that a researcher may then trace the changing of hands from one renter to another, pinpointed to within at least two years range. The changes are marked directly into the valuation records, color coded as to year in which the change was noted. Our research guide, Donna Moughty, explained this in her blog the other day.

In my case the other day, I (hopefully) found our family's renegade William Flanagan in the primary valuation in 1853. At the Valuation Office the other day, I had continued the chase with the book that began in 1855. The same property number—7f in the townland of Cappananty—now showed under the name Catherine Flanagan. William was gone, presumably either serving his sentence in a jail in Ireland, or on his way to Australia.

Catherine Flanagan continued as the entry at that 7f property designation for a number of years, but eventually, her name was lined out in red ink in the book dated 1866. Above her name was inserted the name James Flanagan, and in the right margin in the same corresponding red ink, the date was noted as "68."

Presumably, at that point, either Catherine died, or was no longer able to maintain her position as the responsible taxpayer for the property. Again—we can only presume here—James Flanagan could have been a relative of hers, taking over responsibility for the property of his mother or sister.

I followed the books through the years of cancellations—each volume containing multiple color-coded revisions until anywhere from two to several years later, a new volume was issued—to trace tenancy of that same "7f" property.

I witnessed the stamp in 1906 indicating that James Flanagan was finally able to purchase the land upon which he had lived all these years. And I noted the green entry dated 1939 which indicated the property was in probate—James had likely died. A final entry in red ink in 1941 noted, "in ruins," and the valuation adjusted to reflect the value of property only.

Encouraged by those findings, yesterday I had hoped to do the same for my Kelly and Falvey families in County Kerry. Genealogical lightning, however, seldom strikes twice. While Anne Falvey and Mary Kelly remained neighbors only a few doors down from each other—well, at least until Mary's name is replaced by Catherine Ryan, and then Timothy Connor in quick succession in 1863 and 1864—there was precious little about the succession of property tenants to reveal any possible relatives' names. The only change—a brief one—lined out Anne Falvey in 1899, and replaced her with the name Mary Falvey. Mary's name was removed, lined out in blue ink with a comment inserted, "1907 ruin."

Could Mary Falvey be related to Anne Falvey? Could Anne from County Kerry be part of our Falvey line? What about the property in County Limerick that passed from William to Catherine to James Flanagan?

I have so many pages of notes compiled from this week's work. When I get home, I'll need to sort through it all and see if there are any trends—or at least possibilities—hiding within these records. For now, though, I have only this morning between 9:30 and 12:45 to wrap up my work in the National Library. How quickly that time will disappear!

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Awe-Inspiring Moments of Research

I miss my genealogy society buddies. We all understand the need to share what we find in our research projects. Some things are just not meant to be experienced alone.

Take yesterday's episode at the National Library of Ireland. I had decided to continue slogging through those unreadable microfilm records from the Catholic Church parishes of County Limerick (for our Flanagans and Malloys) and County Tipperary (for our Tullys and Flannerys). After a late and leisurely breakfast—with three weeks of sleep deprivation catching up to me, believe me, I needed a break—I took the morning to finish up the parish Ballyagran records.


I drowned my disappointment in a small cup of mocha at a noisy coffee shop over an art gallery near Kildare Street, then came back to the library for more drudgery. You may think I am a glutton for punishment, but at this point, I only wanted to say I had finished a microfilm roll.

My final task for the day was to pick up where I had left off on the parish records for Ballina in County Tipperary. Granted, anything I could find there would not add much to what I already knew. Thanks to overzealous relatives of the past few generations who saved everything, I had already unearthed a letter from a parish priest, who several years after the fact had provided written verification of baptism for my husband's great-grandfather. But I still wanted to see it in the original record.

The microfilm I had been working with, as I mentioned to you before, was in horrible shape. Not only were the original records apparently greatly faded, but the film itself was scratched from repeated wear. Then, too, the priest's handwriting had been a particular challenge for my eyes. Not to mention, the film itself was torn, both at the beginning of the reel, and then at the middle, where the strand was broken in half.

Sidestepping all those hazards, I proceeded beyond the place where I had left off the other day. Discovery number one was the relief upon realizing that part of the reading difficulty was due to an ineffective machine—I wanted to cheer on account of the brighter readout, but there seemed to be a no-talking policy in place, so I minded my manners.

I keep rolling past my starting place, watching the dates slip away from my target--marriages moving into the 1860s, then 1870s, much too late for the generation I was seeking. I was sure this would be another empty attempt.

And then, without warning, the next page on the microfilm not only switched abruptly from marriages to baptisms, but skipped from February, 1872, back to March, 1832. The quality of the film changed, as well. While complete pages—admittedly filled with chicken scratch, but at least completely present on the readout—had been the fare for the rest of the film, suddenly the images were of smaller, darker pages with all the edges crumbled, torn or worn away. The left margin, where a date and first name of the baby should have appeared, there was nothing. The paper was gone.

I tried to read through the records anyway. Despite the increasing difficulty in deciphering the names listed, not far from the top of the page, I thought I made out the words, Denis Tully and Margaret "Flannary." Was this our Tully line? Sure enough, the next line provided enough for me to see "--ke tully and Kitty Flannary."

I already had a baptismal note like that—it was for the Ryan family branch of our Tully family, which started with Johanna Tully, our John's older sister. Still, I was overwhelmed with this sudden sense of awe. Even though I was looking at a microfilm of the original document, I had this instant feeling of connection with the past—our family's specific past.

I wanted to tell someone. I looked at the woman sitting next to me. Someone whom I hadn't met, she was engrossed in the struggle of making her way through her own illegible assignment. I looked around the room, but there wasn't even anyone from our own research group with whom to share my small victory. All I could do was sit there, sigh heavily, and consider how incredible it was to have even this small connection with someone who was once part of the family I know now.

Wishing I could memorialize the experience—I know; I was desperate for some way to share it—I grabbed my pencil and wrote the date and time in my notebook. It was 4:23 p.m. on October 16.

Perhaps a sniffle alerted my desk-mate to look up. Glancing at me with an inquiring look, she gave me all the opening I needed, and I told her what I found. We exchanged war stories and complaints about horrid microfilm samples, and then she packed up and called it quits for the day.

I had just a few minutes more to work before closing—just enough time, in fact, to discover one more hint about the other John Tully I keep finding in family records—before staff came in to unceremoniously announce that the library was closing in fifteen minutes and everyone needed to leave. Now.

I didn't get much more done on that microfilm yesterday, but that's okay. I still have today--and even Saturday morning, if necessary. But some things you can't just rush. When you can't find anything, it can be a drag. Our tendency is to hurry past those moments.

But when you find something, you can't just soldier on. Those are the moments when you absolutely need to stop and savor the victory—to let the reality of the realization wash over you. The stark recognition of what these discoveries mean can stop you in your tracks.

These are the moments we are in a hurry to find. But when we find them, all Time seems to stand still. In that timeless moment, what we find is meant to be shared.


Photograph: The close-up, above, of the 1832 baptism of an unnamed child of Denis and Margaret Flannery Tully of the Catholic parish of Ballina in County Tipperary is followed, below, by the picture of the microfilmed page from which it was extracted.

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