Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Disappearing Act

The deaf have an expression in sign language that pretty much represents how I feel after another day of fruitless genealogical research. It is basically composed of two images. One, stationary, is represented by two fingers, outstretched, parallel to the floor. The other is a quick motion in which the thumb and two fingers are closed together in simultaneous movement with the arm drawing the hand away from the communicator. What the sign represents, literally, is a train moving away from the station and rapidly fading into the distance. All that, figuratively, is meant to signify: “Ya missed it.”

Searching for this mystery branch of our Tully family—once living in County Tipperary in Ireland, then settled in Paris, Ontario, then seemingly vanished from all subsequent census documents—feels quite the same way. Somehow, I’ve missed it—the next place where the family must have moved.

It seemed logical, as we discussed yesterday, to presume the family of John and Catherine Flannery Tully moved in the same direction as many of their relatives once living in Paris, Ontario. We’ve seen others move to Detroit—it is, after all, along the main highway leading past Paris to the west. And we know another John and Catherine Tully—my husband’s great-grandparents—ended up in Chicago, along with some of his siblings.

So it wasn’t a surprise to find a potential John and Catherine Tully of just the right ages as our Tully-Flannery couple in Detroit for both the 1870 and 1880 census. Because they were aging, themselves, finding the addition of a son, Michael, seemed just the ticket to trace this line into the future—well, at least as far into the future as to get to the decade in which government records tended to include parents’ names in death certificates.

Because John and Catherine’s entry in the 1880 census—well, let’s presume this was theirs—did not include any sign of their son Michael, I looked elsewhere for a possible twenty-seven year old Canadian-born candidate. I did find one, of approximately the same age, still in Detroit. However, what I found in the census record wasn’t going to help much with tracing the line forward. This Michael Tully was still a single man, living in a boarding home with several other men who, like himself, worked for the railroad.

The railroad? This was not going to be easy. While Michael might still have been in Detroit in 1880, he was likely to end up anywhere, next time we’d find him in any government documents. It’s great that he had a good job, but that job meant he needed to be willing to travel to where the work was when the local project was completed. I was beginning to feel like that sign: about to see myself miss the train as it moved down the tracks.

Having no 1890 census to consult became a sorely missed link in tracing this family, for by the time I checked for Michael in the 1900 census, there was no sign of him anywhere—well, not anywhere the search engine for the digitized version of the census at was able to see. Perhaps another search engine at another collection might be able to serve up a different set of results, and I’ll need to check that. But for 1900 and 1910, I hadn't found any results.

Did that mean Michael passed away early from occupational hazards? Working for the railroad industry did include some risks. I looked at the Seeking Michigan website to see if I could find any death certificates in that name—or even the names of Michael’s parents—from that approximate time frame, but I found no pertinent results.

If Michael, or John and Catherine, made their move once again—perhaps to Chicago as did other family members—I must have missed it. Another train slipped down the tracks before I realized it. My only recourse in continuing any research on this potential branch of the family would be to locate any marriage records for John and Catherine’s daughter, Margaret—who did make it to Michigan—or their older daughter, Mary, who disappeared from governmental view sometime before that 1870 United States census revealed the family had left their home in Canada.


  1. I suspect they "headed" west... on the railroad - but as you ask, "where did they go?"

    1. Railroad employees can be particularly difficult to trace, as you know, Iggy. A little knowledge of the railroad lines, companies, and railroad history help. But a railroad man could show up almost anywhere--or quit his job, or switch to another line, or die a sudden death somewhere besides where he was last seen on census records. In this particular case, he could have gone from an American concern back to a Canadian company, as well. A lot can happen in a ten year span.


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