Saturday, September 3, 2011

Tully’s Three Sons

John Felix Tully 1875-1880
I think we have little concept of the difficulties of life even one hundred years ago. I am reminded of such dire realities when I look at the 1900 census and can’t seem to find those who were detailed as mere children in the previous available census.

Sadly, I find what may be the remembrances of such children in the photo collection of Edna Tully McCaughey. Here are three young ones and the pathetic little bit I can find on each of them.

According to the 1900 United States census, in which Edna’s mother Sarah was already widowed, Sarah was listed as the mother of eight children. Unfortunately, by that time, she had already lost four of them.

Firstborn John, named perhaps after his father William’s older brother, was born in 1875. He was listed in the 1880 census transcription under the name “John T. Tulley,” living in South Chicago as of the enumeration on June 15, 1880. The inscription on the back of his photograph started in ink: “John Tully, little son of William and Sarah Tully,” but sadly continued in pencil, “died at age 5; First born.”

Because of spelling variations at the time, and due to the many people bearing that name, I never was sure of the many entries in the online death record listings at the Illinois Archives. However, there is, indeed, one for a “John F. Tully” who died at 5 years of age on July 24, not much after that 1880 census was taken. Taking a look at the digital copy of the census (rather than the transcription, which listed middle initial “T”), that name did show an overwritten middle initial, making it possible that the census was showing “F” as the middle initial, in agreement with the death record.

I found a digital copy of the death certificate for that date, and the middle name is spelled out as Felix. Another wrinkle surfaces in that the place of death was 93rd Street in South Chicago, while father William Tully’s census address showed as South Chicago Avenue. Yet the age seems to fit. There were others in the Tully family who may have lived at 93rd Street at the time; given their proclivity to keep using the same given names, I wonder if this might have been for a cousin. The cemetery listed on the certificate, Calvary in Evanston, did have other Tully family members buried there. No parents’ names were listed on the death certificate, making the results inconclusive.

LeRoy F. Tully 1885-1889
After the birth of three daughters, William and Sarah had their next son Leroy, sometimes called simply, “Roy.” Ten years after the birth of his older brother, Roy arrived on the scene June 4, 1885. While there is no somber memorial inked on the back of his young likeness, the Illinois Archives show death certificate number 11130 in Cook County has the date of death for a four-year-old Leroy Tully to be July 12, 1889. Looking at to see a copy of the certificate, I discover the collection evidently skips over that number—and several others—so there is no way to visually verify address or any other of the meager set of identifiers made available on death certificates of that time. I can’t tell for sure if this was William and Sarah’s little “Roy.” However, there is no record of him in subsequent census reports.

William and Sarah’s next baby was, again, a boy, whom they named after his father. He was born August 24, 1887, on 93rd Street “near Marquette Av.,” handily confirming the change of address that had caused me some doubt for the death certificate of his oldest brother. This younger William Earl Tully was fated to the same end as his older brothers. The inked note on the back of this photo, “Wm. Earl Tully, little son of Wm. & Sarah Tully” was once again followed by a sad, penciled-in postscript: “died at age 5 yrs. in 1893.”

William Earl Tully Jr. 1887-1892
That, however, was not quite correct, according to the death certificate I found online. Little William did not quite make it to his fifth birthday, which in any event would have been in 1892.

Then, again, perhaps this was not his record. After all, I wasn’t able to find anything online for brother Roy’s passing. And this record bore a different address: 9216 Commercial Avenue.

Before the loss of this third son, William and Sarah became proud parents of a daughter—Edna, the one who, as a very capable grown woman and mother, preserved many of the records I now benefit from in my research. I wonder if Edna remembered anything about her next-oldest sibling, her brother William. She would have been barely two years old when he passed away.

I wondered, also, if Edna’s birth certificate could verify whether the record I found for William really was the right one. I looked, but once again, a gap must have occurred in storing online records. Nothing in sight for Edna, as far as birth records showed. However, happily, the family didn’t stop with baby Edna. Her younger sister, Esther, still sports an online birth record, which thankfully confirms the family’s change of address to Commercial Avenue, though sadly reveals that her birth came two days on the heels of her brother William’s death.

It wasn’t long after Esther’s birth that the elder William, himself, passed away, leaving his wife to raise her remaining four daughters. It is no surprise that a woman in those circumstances at that time would rely heavily on her extended family, church family, and good neighbors to make it through the challenges of daily life in late 1890s Chicago. She would have had no alternative.


  1. Nice job putting together the story on these children and their parents. It's a sad but typical story of the times I think. Well written and an interesting read!

  2. So many children died of the various childhood diseases back then. In my family previous to about 1915, it seems like about 1 in 3 or 4 died before age 6.


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