There’s an old quote that has made the rounds in various formats. One version has it going something like this:
Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made.
Whether you subscribe to the version attributed to Otto von Bismarck, or to a more flowery form pinned on his contemporary, Vermont attorney—and poet—John Godfrey Saxe, you are sure to agree on the gist of the message: some things are better enjoyed in their finished state.
I’d like to propose that we add genealogy to that list. Here’s why.
For the three and a half years that I’ve been writing A Family Tapestry, I’ve either been spouting off on subjects that matter a great deal to me, or sharing my family history research.
Um, let me amend that: I’ve been sharing my completed family history research.
Then came that glorious day when I realized I’d be able to continue that research—at least on my father-in-law’s Irish lines—by going directly to the counties in the Old Country from which his great grandparents had emigrated.
That, if you hadn’t noticed, was when we made the big shift from reviewing the completed project to becoming spectator-participants in seeing the research unfold.
Sometimes, watching such discoveries as they unfold can be exciting. Mostly, that’s when everything turns out all right, we find the mystery ancestor and everyone heads to the kitchen for an impromptu ice cream sundae after the night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are brings the celebrity-du-jour’s ancestral saga to a satisfying end.
That’s not what’s been happening around here lately.
Take that 1852 Canada West census record from Paris, Ontario. I thought it was such good fortune to not miss the fact that our Denis and Margaret Flannery Tully family had settled in the same place as another Flannery household. Or that there was another Tully family right down the street.
Now I’m not so happy about that discovery. It’s making things rather messy, in fact.
Yes, I’ve found traces of those families in the baptismal and marriage records for the Ballina parish back home in County Tipperary. But not enough to confirm how the adults are related. After all, Denis and John could be siblings. So could Margaret Flannery Tully and Edmund Flannery. Then again, they could all be cousins. Worse, they could be more distant relatives who all just happened to come from the same place in Ireland.
There’s nothing that can be confirmed until I trace the records to some sort of statement about these people’s parents. And that is not something I’ve been able to find.
So I get sucked into tracing the lines down another generation. And another migration. And another nation.
Or maybe these are not even the same lines. What do you do with these unidentified “maybes”?
I know what I’d do if I were researching them: I’d continue looking in other places for more resources. I’d keep plugging away. Something would be bound to show up one way or another.
But for blogging? I imagine it could tax a reader’s patience. There are only so many research roller coaster rides a vicarious experience can include.
Then there’s the question of what to do, as I find these shreds of possible hits. Where do I plug them in? Michael Tully may be the son of John and Catherine Tully, but I don’t yet know that John Tully definitely fits the profile for my Denis Tully’s family—even if they turned out to be neighbors after a three thousand mile migration. I can’t just stick him on the family tree as a hypothesis. There is no such branch on that Tully tree.
To answer my own question, I do have a roll of butcher paper in my closet calling my name. I’ll likely find myself pinning a long stretch of the stuff up on a wall and taking a packet of post-it pages and sticking my notes up there in pedigree-chart fashion. At least that way, I can move names around on the page as I discover more details. Maybe someday, I’ll find the final shred of information that conclusively links them to the right spot in the Tully and Flannery lines.
In the meantime, that would leave you, dear reader, observing the making of genealogical sausage. A most unappetizing prospect.
So let this be our reminder call to bring us back to the original intent of my post-travel reports. While I will have to leave our visit in County Tipperary unresolved and put it on hold while I examine the makings of this Tully family tree, I have yet to bring you through the rest of our island tour. With that, let’s continue the journey’s report with a last visit to our stop in County Kerry, and from there onwards to the final week in Dublin.
Oh. One more thing: if you are curious about who, exactly, spoke those historic words likening the making of laws to that of the making of sausage, you might be interested in the Quote Investigator’s take on the subject. You’ll notice my amendment regarding genealogy didn’t make it into the final cut.