Thursday, March 27, 2014

Stuck Out West in Canada

If you had the kind of rocky relationship I had with grade school history classes, you might have gotten that multiple choice question about the Northwest Territory wrong, too. To me, “west” just sounds so far—well, west! It does not bring up visions of any portion of the Ohio River.

A ghost of the same concept still plagues me today, as I research the immigration trail of my husband’s Tully family. Before arriving in Chicago by the 1870s, this Tully line actually lived in Canada. Back then, though, the place where they lived in Ontario was considered “Canada West,” conjuring up images in my mind of somewhere to the far west like, say, Saskatchewan.

I was fortunate to discover the Tully family’s location in Canada. It took working my way backwards through siblings’ lines, since our direct John Tully line lost its patriarch just before governmental requirements added data on parents’ names or place of birth. To find any possible clues about the family's origin in Canada, I needed a relative old enough to have been born in Canada, but not so old as to have been born all the way back home in Ireland. And I needed a Tully family member whose death post-dated that point in time at which death certificates added such useful details.

It was John Tully’s niece Margaret, daughter of John's brother Patrick, whose death certificate provided me with the town in Canada where the family had lived. Eventually, I was able to trace a number of the other Tully siblings back to that same spot in Canada: the town of Paris in the County of Brant, Ontario.

I’ve already written about some of the discoveries that had taken place during that episode in my research journey, so I won’t recount them here. If you’d like to refresh your memory, you can revisit where I wrote about efforts to piece together the Tully family tree through notes on the backs of photographs here and here, and discoveries about Tully (and related) baptismal records here and here.

Since then, of course, literally thousands of documents have been digitized and added to various genealogical resources available online. Now that I’m ready to revisit this research topic, I’ve been hoping some of those new documents would be just the thing I’ve been looking for.

That has not shown itself to be necessarily so.

Just searching for Denis Tully—the father of John Tully of Chicago—recently yielded everything but information on the man I was seeking. comes up with only two Tullys in Brant County, Ontario, for the 1852 census, and neither of them is from the right family.

Fortunately, I had already marked the spot in the 1852 census provided at—but how I found it, I’ll never know. It was indexed under the given name “Derris” instead of the correct transcription, “Denis.”

When it comes to researching these earlier census records for Canada, I prefer using the rather plain-jane site, Automated Genealogy. For a free website devoid of the bells and whistles we’ve come to expect online, Automated Genealogy allows me several search options. I can search by surname. I can sort the listings by specific geographic areas. And—best yet, in my book—I can request a “split screen” view of the actual digitized census page, superimposed above the typed transcription listed below.

Seeing that actual census page and being able to explore who else lived nearby provides me with the chance to play around with several “what if” scenarios. In the case of the Denis Tully family, their neighbors indeed prompted many questions about relationships—something we’ll explore in more detail tomorrow.

For a settlement for these traveling families, the midst of Ontario may indeed have seemed to be far “west” of their home in Ireland. It is very likely, though, that the Tully family did not travel west to Ontario alone.


  1. Somehow the term "Canada West" has the ring of modern-day suburbia. I don't know Canada's history, but 1870 seems late in the game for Ontario to be "West." But what do I know? I have no Canadian ancestors.

    1. How funny, Wendy! I hadn't thought of putting that spin on "Canada West" but now that you mention it...I can see it slapped on some brick gateway to a new housing development!

      Before Canada's "Confederation" in 1867, there were the designations Canada East and Canada West. That was the term showing on the census pages for the 1852 and 1861 census forms in which I found our Tully family in Ontario.

  2. Just goes to show - a little history lesson pertaining to the time one is looking into to be valuable in understand where / who / and what.

    As you will see, understanding the Irish governmental arrangement both now and then - will help you figure out where things happened! I'm learning all about "Northern Ireland" where my grandmother's folks came from. Place names have changed a lot since the "my kinfolks" left the old sod!

    1. You're so right, Iggy! It's been a steep learning, trying to absorb all the "local" history I can find on the counties and parishes where our ancestors once lived. Fortunately, to get up to speed, I can glom on to the many books on Irish history my daughter has accumulated over the years.

      Northern Ireland has its own set of challenges, too. I'm sure you're finding all sorts of fascinating details to help sort out your family's story across the "pond."

  3. I like to slog through the census records.. sometime people don't move far:)

    1. ...which makes me grateful that this Paris isn't that big a place!


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