Saturday, July 23, 2011

Tracing Parallel Tully Lines

A while back, I mentioned using parallel family lines to do an end run around a brick wall relative. For the longest time, my husband’s great-grandfather, John Tully, was my primo brick wall. Since then, I’ve tentatively been convinced to consider Denis Tully of Ireland and Canada to be John’s father—but in the mean time, I took the alternate road of depending on cousins to attempt a creative solution.

My cousin of choice was a woman named Edna Tully. My only clue about her family tie was that she was identified as a cousin in a 1912 wedding photograph of John’s daughter Agnes and her bridesmaids.

I was able to find some online sources showing Edna’s parents’ names, and I soon tentatively listed her father as William Earl Tully. If the term “cousin” was to be taken literally, then William and John would be brothers.

There was a bit of a stretch in swallowing that assumption, though. As far as I knew, John was born in Ireland in 1842. His brother William—assuming he was John’s brother—was born eight years later, in 1850. In today’s mindset of “us four and no more,” child spacing of more than a few years seems unusual; I had to picture the larger families traditional in earlier centuries to consider the possibility of an eight-year gap in sibling ages.

William’s place of birth created some confusion, too: census records showed him as born in Canada, which would make sense owing to family oral tradition holding that the Irish family settled first in Ontario. However, his daughter Margaret’s death certificate showed her father William’s place of birth as Winnipeg. In retrospect, now knowing what I know about another branch of this Tully family which migrated west through Canada, it makes sense that one of William’s children might have mistakenly assumed that her long-dead father had grown up in the same city where her aunt’s family had settled.

William had died relatively young, too. For his daughter Edna, memories of her father must have been vague: she was only six years of age when he passed away. Even older daughter Margaret was barely a teenager at the time of the family’s loss. Understandably, official records depending on their recollections might have been error-prone.

Whether those memories were crystal clear or not, what was passed down still enables us to find these ancestors’ trails. Bit by bit, collective work by several descendants has pieced together a clearer picture of William Tully—and thankfully, in my case, also provided me with the possibility of discovering another generation in John Tully’s line. Putting together clues from several descendants who didn’t even know each other—but whose individual observations created the nexus that became my research stepping stone—I found my smoking gun in the Canadian census of 1852. There, with the right age spacing, was the family listing for my husband’s great-grandfather John, cousin Edna’s father William, and the other siblings I had discovered along the way. With the exception of their sister Johanna listed as a male with the name “Johan,” and the census taker’s quaint (though irritating) custom of delineating all wives’ given names as “Mrs.,” the listing provided a promising summary of all my previous surmising.

But Edna’s story was not done yet. Evidently, a number of her descendants and other relatives have persevered in pursuing her lineage. I’ve been blessed to meet a number of them online over the years. And yesterday’s package delivery—such a delightful treasure—became the latest find from which to glean more genealogical discoveries.

Those discoveries come with a price: I now have some corrections to make in my database. But it is a price well worth the investment. The treat of sharing the opportunity to glimpse the life of a branch of this family—if even only a corollary—has been so worth the opportunity to find a way to press onward in discovering new generations.

In this picture: William Earl Tully with his wife, Sarah Swanton Tully, and daughters Maime, Margaret, Edna and Esther. Edna, about four at the time of this 1894 portrait, is seated in front of her father.


  1. Great picture. Also enjoyed your "cousin trek" -- I too like to delve into the side streets of cousindom.

  2. My Great John D Tully was born in Corwall Ontario Canada in the 1845 His parents Thomas D Tully and Mary Dunleavy Tully came over from Tipperary county Ireland to Rochester New York and only stayed 2 years. Then migrated to Cornwall and stayed in Cornwall for 6 years until immigrating to Chicago in the 1850s where the family stayed. My Great great grandparents and great grandparents are buried in Chicago. I wondered why they went to Cornwall, maybe they had family there. There is a town in county Tipperary called Bellina

    1. Yes, I've actually since been to Ballina in County Tipperary, and had the privilege of going to the place where our Tully ancestors once lived.

      Jeanne, I'm wondering if Tully was a common name in that area. Do you know where in County Tipperary your Tully family once lived? Interesting that your Tully family and ours both passed through Ontario, and ended up in Chicago.


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