Monday, April 2, 2012

A Brief Tour Of the Family Constellation

The last page in Father Dan E. Reilly’s 1909 letter to Agnes Tully is brief and, while covert, to the point. Before we join him for that closing, a little explanation of family relations is in order, as he sends his greetings by name.

First, as this letter is composed upon the eve of the New Year, 1910, we have to keep in mind that Agnes has been without her father, John Tully, for nearly three years.

At this point, the Tully household includes John’s widow, Catherine, and their older daughter, Lily, along with the baby of the family, Agnes.

Two of this couple’s children passed away in childhood: their oldest, Margaret—the oft-lamented “Daisy,”—the family’s first loss in 1877; and Anna, who succumbed to diphtheria in 1889.

Agnes and Walter McNamara, 1925
Of those Tully children still alive in 1909, John and Catherine’s only son, William, was already married to the former Mary Balfe of Kitley Township, Leeds County in Ontario, Canada; their daughter—and only child, as William, himself, suffered heart failure in 1915—whom they named Agnes, was herself now five. John and Catherine’s other daughter, Mary Monica, was married about a year after William and Mary, to Ohio widower Dennis Austin McGonagle, in 1902.

So, in addressing his greetings to the family at 507 West Garfield Boulevard, one would presume that Father Reilly was talking to Agnes, her mother, and her sister “Lill.”

When he mentions “Babe” in his closing remarks, I am somewhat puzzled. I had always understood, from family explanations, that “Babe” was the nickname for William and Mary’s daughter, Agnes. Indeed, I have a wedding picture with the handwritten note, “Babe and Walter McNamara.” And another of a toddler, with the question, "Babe Tully McNamara?" written on the reverse.

From Father Reilly’s note, however, I can presume that her mother’s nickname was also Babe. If so, who do those pictures represent?

Concerns such as these merely scratch the surface of this task of reading between the lines. The real question comes with his closing piece of advice. To what does the Reverend refer when he mentions “dramatic circles”? And why, if Agnes’ life is in such turmoil, did he so briefly touch on the subject—and at such a point in his three page missive?

Had he said something previously that had caused offense? Indeed, in light of his last letter, full of questions as to why she wasn't replying, he even sent this one to a different address—possibly to a mutual friend trusted to assure delivery. Perhaps Agnes had not appreciated some earlier strong lecturing on the state of her interpersonal affairs. Perhaps she had already told him so. Yet he cannot resist the call to bring it up again.


And go.

…and remember, that’s Father Dan Reilly.

            Do not work too hard in “Dramatic circles” or you may have to go globe trotting again.
            Now allow me to wish you, your mother, Lill + Babe a very happy and a bright New Year. May it bring you everything that you want.
                                    Devotedly Yours
                                                Fr Dan. E. Reilly

All photographs from the personal collection of the Stevens family.


  1. I got to make sure I re-label some of my photos of my Grandfather. His name was Harry Edwin but about half "his world" called him "Bud" and so a lot of his photos are labeled "Bud at..." or "Bud with..." And soon no will know who the heck this "Bud" guy was! What I would like to learn is *why* they called him "Bud"!

    1. Yeah, Iggy, it can get frustrating! My only guess would be to see if Harry Edwin was named after his father, or his father's brother. You know how it gets when there are too many people in the same family with name-afters. I sometimes think nicknames were created to avoid confusion.

      I hate to think how many of my own pictures still need that re-labeling attention...

  2. I have to remember that Aunts had nicknames..Skip and Toots..(Vivian and Esther) I should ask my Mom how those names came about. She was the oldest..
    I enjoyed the photos with this [post..especially the wedding photo:)


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