Whenever my college-aged daughter is advising her classmates on study problems, she likes to remind them to consult "Doctor Google." Even though I'm no longer in a degree program at a university, I like to remind myself of her advice. You see, Doctor Google is not only the college student's guide. Doctor Google has wonderful suggestions for genealogical research as well.
Take my quandary, mentioned the other day, about the missing Margaret Tully: did she die young? Or did she marry and disappear from view?
Now, we all know that not everything genealogical has magically migrated to the oft-touted online services marketed to people like us. I'm reminded of the poster created for the California Genealogical Society, which says exactly that:
Genealogy Research: Internet is just the tip of the iceberg; most research is done in libraries, archives, courthouses.
Since I don't have a trip to Paris, Ontario, coming up in the near future, though, I'll have to see what can be found online in the meantime.
My first inclination, when encountering a brick wall impeding my research progress, is to look at the finding aids available online. Besides searching the catalog at Ancestry.com, that means reading through recommended wikis at FamilySearch.org.
Over the past few days, that's exactly what I did. Since I knew Margaret was still in her family's home for the 1861 Canadian census, that became my starting point for testing one of those two hypotheses: that she got married.
Granted, there are many records out there, in all that vast volume of not-yet-indexed resources on FamilySearch.org. Just finding one does not mean I have reached the end of my trail. The next step means taking a close look at just what is included in any possible collection on their website.
For instance, the first stop on my wiki tour was an entry called, "Canada Marriages (FamilySearch Historical Records)." That sounds like a promising file, doesn't it? Looking over the entry on the wiki, it turns out the answer is a resounding, "No." Not, at least, for me; I'm seeking marriage records for the province of Ontario, for which an asterisk marks the matrix, advising me that I need to look for the entries in an entirely different collection. (It would have been nice if the page had included hyperlinks to the specific collections referenced in that note.)
Not to worry. Later in that wiki, under "Related Websites," a link is provided to familiar territory: The Olive Tree Genealogy's page on "Canada Births, Deaths, Marriages Exchange." This address provides a place where researchers can voluntarily share information on births, baptisms, deaths or marriages in the stated provinces in Canada.
I selected Ontario for my search at Olive Tree, chose the entry for marriages, and clicked on the letter for Margaret's surname, which brought me to the page of listings.
Right away, I saw two reasons why this would not be the answer for my search. First, it contained information about certificates registered in Canada. That meant my Margaret's theoretical date of marriage would likely fall before that date at which registrations were required. Indeed, searching for earliest dates on the listing, I couldn't find anything dated earlier than 1868. Second, because this was a volunteer-driven project, it meant there would only be resources placed there by other researchers also pursuing the same surnames. Judging by past experience of the number of people researching the same lines as mine, I had that feeling mine likely would not be among them. Sure enough, it wasn't.
Back to the FamilySearch wikis, I kept clicking through hyperlinks and searching until I found more possibilities. One was a wiki entitled, "Ontario Marriages (FamilySearch Historical Records)." Unlike its similarly-entitled counterpart, this page lacked the detail. My first caution came with the introductory line, "This index is not complete for any particular place or region."
Continuing my click-through extravaganza, I found another wiki for "Ontario Marriages, 1869-1927." Again, that date: too late. Still, I kept reading, and found a link to another wiki, "Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records." Now I was getting closer, right?
Not quite. The beauty of looking over these wikis before launching into something like a browse-only collection at FamilySearch is to determine whether the record of interest would even be included in the collection. This wiki listed the dioceses included. Mine was not among them.
The wiki once again warned, "Civil registration began in Ontario in 1869 but was not fully implemented until 1930."
I consider myself warned. Dejected, I didn't stop there, though. I decided to brief myself on the basics of acquiring vital records in Ontario, Canada, with one more stop on my wiki tour, "Ontario Vital Records." There, under the heading for "Marriage Records," I spotted this one hopeful observation:
From 1858 to 1869, the province required the counties to keep marriage registers. Clergymen of all faiths were supposed to record information from their parish registers in county marriage books.
Could it be possible that I might be able to find an answer to my Tully marriage hypothesis, after all?
It seemed I had reached the end of the line on the informative wikis on this topic at FamilySearch. But I hardly had all the direction I needed to complete my quest. That's where Doctor Google came in. I had to have somewhere else to search for this generic genealogy question. And why not? May I remind you of all the years of volunteer entries by genealogy enthusiasts, tucking away their research findings in websites as obscure as GeoCities, RootsWeb, GenForum, GenWeb and other now virtually discarded previous genealogy playgrounds. There has to be some way to tiptoe around this digital universe. And Google is just the way to do that!
I played around with a few search terms and ran across this old site hosted by RootsWeb: "Ontario Marriage Registrations, 1800-1927." While the entries are spotty, date-wise, it does seem to include some entries from Brant County, the county jurisdiction where the Tully family settled. Just in case, I also took a look at the marriages post-1869 registration date.
Sadly, no matter where I looked on the pages of this unexpected gift of a website, I couldn't find any possible Tully marriages. But that was just fine. Even though the results upon arrival are disappointing, the journey to get there taught me one thing: don't forget to Google your question—even if it is a genealogical research question. Google does genealogy, too.