Researching the Tully family—my father-in-law's maternal ancestry—has always seemed a straightforward process. All eight of his great-grandparents were born in Ireland, but somehow made their way to the United States. Of course, that is not to say it was always an easy process to document; the seamless paper trail in America gave way to a documentary black hole on the other side of the Atlantic at just about the time the Great Famine convinced those ancestors to find greener pastures elsewhere. Even so, I'd always thought my persistence paid off handsomely when it came to tracing that Tully line.
Though my father-in-law's mother was born in Chicago and spent the rest of her life in that city, her father—John Tully—was himself born in Ireland. It wasn't, however, a simple move from Ireland through one of the typical ports on the eastern seaboard that brought him to the Windy City. If it weren't for the many letters, photographs, and other mementos the Tully family hoarded over the generations, perhaps I wouldn't have so easily discovered that John Tully's parents first brought their family from Ireland to Canada.
John's father, Denis Tully, apparently first settled in a tiny place called Paris. If, in reading that city name, you are thinking of the more dreamy metropolis of the same name, disabuse yourself of such a notion. Paris in what is now Ontario, Canada, was a tiny town which, barely a decade before the Tully family's arrival, numbered a mere thousand people.
Since Tully is a somewhat common Irish surname, it might be logical to assume that, in finding Denis Tully in the 1851 census, I had mistakenly selected the wrong Tully family. I admit, that is quite possible. However, over the course of several years' work on this family puzzle, I've been able to locate the connection between John Tully's descendants and those of three of the other siblings on that enumeration. That, thankfully, was mostly accomplished due to that stash of mementos I mentioned, and further confirmed through several other records.
In addition, owing to some rather "long" generations—the baby of John Tully's family, for instance, was my father-in-law's mother, born when John was forty six—the line of ascent from my father-in-law to Denis Tully was rather simple: from Frank Stevens to Agnes Tully to John Tully to Denis Tully, himself. How, then, could a Tully DNA match not lead back as clearly to those same names?
There are, of course, sticking points in this scenario. One glaring difficulty is that the nameless enumerator of that 1851 British census taken in then-colonial Canada had qualms about actually providing the names of married women. Denis' wife Margaret, for instance, was listed simply as "Mrs." Speeding forward to the next census doesn't resolve that sticking point, either; apparently, Margaret Tully was dead before 1861—but too soon for Paris' Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church (founded in 1857) to have noted her passing in its records. Nor does the nearby church cemetery show any signs of the Tully family.
It is this very question of Margaret's identity which comes into play when I consider the closest of my husband's Tully DNA matches at Ancestry.com. Other than those matches descending from our direct line (through John Tully), this match holds the highest centiMorgan count: forty five, contained in only two segments. The Ancestry ThruLines relationship estimate of third cousin figures prominently in the relationship possibilities outlined according to the Shared cM Project at DNA Painter.
The only problem? The names on the match's tree don't align with those on my father-in-law's line. Am I certain I've got the right information recorded on my tree? Of course I am; I have the documentation to back up each assertion. But, like anyone, I can make mistakes.
What I haven't considered, up until now, was whether I could replicate the assertions outlined on the match's tree. If I can independently recreate the paper trail leading from this match (now deceased) back to Denis Tully, it may shine some light on a possible explanation. It's worth a try to at least explore the thinking behind another researcher's work.