Let’s see: I know the names of two people labeled in my Tully line as cousins: the priest John Bernard Davidson, and one of the many in this family called Patrick. Both of these men descend from the Michael and Margaret Tully showing on the same 1861 Canadian census page as the patriarch (so far) of my husband’s Tully line, Denis Tully. Can I connect these lines, and add all the material I’ve uncovered on Michael’s descendants to my database?
How frustrating. I’ve already got a list of Michael and Margaret’s entire roster of children’s names and birth years—there were six, of whom only two survived by the time of the 1900 census.
I’ve found their daughter Margaret and her husband, Robert T. Davidson—whom she married November 24, 1897, in Chicago—showing in the 1900 census with her mother, and, widowed, in the 1920 census with her brother Patrick just before her death that July. I’ve located the three Davidson children, including the priest, Father John (who evidently died in 1983, still in Chicago), and John’s sister Margaret, who married the “Rory” Hill showing in the household for that 1920 census. I’ve followed that Margaret’s line down for another two generations.
I’ve done due diligence on Margaret Tully Davidson’s brother’s line, too. While Patrick’s line is considerably shorter—he and his wife Carrie had only one surviving child—I was able to locate their daughter in census records from her parents’ household in 1900, to her marriage in 1912 and ensuing census records in 1920, 1930 and 1940. All that, despite a scramble of documentation under the name Margaret, Margaret Maud, and Maude M—with a husband alternately referred to as Achille Mailhot and its spelling variant Achilles, and his nickname, Archie.
As maddening as it is to have sketched out an entire branch potentially ready-made to plug into my Tully line, I just need more documentation to verify that these people are, indeed, descended from the right individual. After all, isn’t this the family with a kazillion Margarets? Can I even be sure about a line with multiple Patricks? How can I be sure this isn’t just a neighborly coincidence?
And so I end up, as I have before, with lines of descendants streaming from a mystery person—someone I have a hunch belongs to me, courtesy of hearsay and labels such as “my cousin” but for whom I can find no official documentation.
I’ve had that same thing happen to my Flanagan line. Remember William Flanagan, the old man with the impressive monument at the Chicago cemetery that became his final resting place? The one who started out in “Parish Ballygran” in Ireland's County Limerick, but was unceremoniously awarded one-way transportation to Australia, yet ended up in Chicago? Somewhere along that line, I stumbled upon a mention of “his niece” Johanna Lee—and successfully pursued research on her line. In the end, though, I had to stop, not knowing where or how to plug what I found into the overarching family scheme.
So these disembodied branches of family exist. Detached from any connection to the larger design, the records lie in a box somewhere, pages of scribbled notes hastily sketching the connection for future reference. But somehow, still remaining detached.
It feels maddening to have these detached generations. Unable to attach them in their rightful place, I feel as if they run the risk of being forever forgotten. Yet, with the right documentation, they could be safely tucked in their spot so everyone would have the relief of knowing the connection.
The documentation is not always there, though. As rapidly as online sites are adding digitization of archives through scans and transcriptions, there is still so much not accessible online. I’m an old hand at trawling through microfilms and dusty archives, but I’ve found that sometimes, those resources aren’t even available. There is so much of private records that still remains, well, private.
And so, I wait. I spread the word, myself, hoping somehow the search engines will make my small piece of the puzzle more visible. I put out the feelers that tentatively ask for consideration—to collaborate, to share documentation—but then, all I can do is hope that somehow, this brick wall will, one day, tumble down like all the others.
And this Margaret and this Patrick—and yes, even the long-separated Johanna—will be entitled to claim their place.