Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Can’t Find Cornelius

Seeking the possible relatives of the matriarch—so far—of our Tully line has not yet led me to success. I’ve found, on the same page as the Denis and Margaret Flannery Tully family in the Canada West village of Paris, a Flannery family whose head may very well be Denis Tully’s brother in law. To confirm that, I need to discover more about this Flannery household.

With an Irish immigrant family rife with those typical sons’ names—Patrick, John, Michael—I seized upon my one glimmering hope for delineation: the one son named Cornelius.

Now, I realize it may be poor form to delve into genealogical research based on the rarity of a name. But what’s a desperate researcher to do?

I set off to find everything I could about Cornelius Flannery, age seventeen—well, at his next birthday after the census records were gathered in 1852.

It didn’t take long until I realized, even with what seemed a promising premise, I was getting nowhere.

Oh, there were Corneliuses to be found in Ontario. Two, to be precise, in the city of Toronto, for example, in time for the 1881 Canadian census. But the age of one, found in the census, didn’t match the previous record, and I couldn’t find the other one in the census record to even see if the age were right.

While one of those Cornelius Flannerys was still alive—and still living in Toronto—at the time of the 1911 census, I was beginning to doubt my originating premise even more.

One flaw in my method was to fail to take into account how prevalent the name Cornelius might have been back then—back at the time of the man’s own life. While my one source for such comparisons—the United States’ Social Security website—reflects trends in Canada’s neighbor to the south (and is also limited by data provided by year of birth of those alive and eligible when the Social Security program was first established), it did provide a thumbnail sketch of the waning popularity of the name over time. While Cornelius now is sinking toward a popularity rank nearing one thousandth place, back in the 1940s it rose to a rank in the three hundreds, and by the turn of the last century, the name enjoyed a ranking just under two hundredth place. If, when first hearing the name Cornelius, a famous name like Cornelius Vanderbilt came to your mind, you’ll realize that given name has been in good company through the ages, as many well-known men have kept it in circulation.

Not making any progress by limiting my search to Ontario, I widened the scope. And what should I find, but a stray entry—and very poorly spelled, I might add—for a Cornelius Flannery who emigrated from Ireland to, of all places, Chicago.

Remember my Tully family who eventually settled in Chicago? Their midway stopping point, after leaving Ireland, was also Paris, Ontario. Could “Cornelious Flenory” of the 1880 Chicago census be my man? Their oldest son, Edward, bore a name conveniently lining up with my Cornelius’ father’s name—if, of course, that ink-smeared 1852 census entry turned out to be for Edward and not “Edman.”

What of that original entry in the 1852 census? The Cornelius in that census was about to turn seventeen—putting his year of birth at about 1835. With the 1880 United States census showing that Cornelius to be forty five, it also yielded a year of birth as 1835.

The 1880 census showed a household full of children born in various locations in the United States, not Canada. Some were born in Illinois—indicating the family's arrival in that state by 1867. The two oldest children, however, were born in Michigan—possibly tracing the very route taken from Ontario by potential Tully cousin Michael.

While a possible narrative for how this Cornelius arrived in Chicago may seem convincing, it may also be coincidental. It calls for more fact-checking and location of more corroborating evidence, something we will continue tomorrow.


  1. Sounds like the bloodhounds are baying to me... :)

    1. The thrill of the hunt can be pretty addictive, can't it? But I'm concerned this might be an instance of records not yet digitized that is keeping me from finding what I need. There is so much more available on site at local areas that can help searches like this. It's just that jetting off to Chicago and Ontario are not part of current travel plans...


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