Saturday, September 13, 2014

On a Lark

There are two kinds of genealogical research: the reasonably exhaustive search and the wild goose chase. Sometimes, you can't know which one is which until it is all over.

I’ve tried to be good and perform up to snuff with as close an approximation to the reasonably exhaustive search as possible. But sometimes, I just can’t help myself. Today was one of those days.

I keep hearing those apocryphal stories about people going to the Old Country, anxious to see if there are any distant cousins still living there. They breeze into town, find a phone book—really, how many phone books do you see lying around anymore?—and open up to the section of the alphabet containing their surname. Plunk a finger down in the midst of those listings and voilĂ ! An unsuspecting native, sure to be just the one who is that long-lost relative’s descendant.

Think that’s an urban legend? Think again. My esteemed tour guide for the Ireland research trip had such an experience. Of course, her name is Moughty, not Murphy. If this were my research trip to Poland and I was seeking my Aktabowski relatives, it might have worked for me, too. But not the dime-a-dozen collection I’m working on for this trip. Yeah, right: just try finding our Kelly relatives that way.

But I was still tempted. So I tried giving it a try. After all, what else can a soul do while chomping at the bit at the start gate to a research adventure?

My first attempt was to head to and see if their collection contained any viable city directories for anyplace in Ireland. I quickly nixed that idea. Nothing remotely close.

So what does one do when wanting to search? Head for a search engine, of course. I never cease to be appreciative of search engines, for they seem to endlessly deliver just the results I’m seeking, no matter how arcane. There’s never any disparaging thought, complaint or snide remark. Just compliant service. Perhaps that’s why I so enjoyed using the search engine once known as “Ask Jeeves.” The iconic Jeeves encapsulated the quintessential concept in the service of Search.

There is this challenge that was called, a few years back, Googlewhacking: find two words that, entered together in the Google dialog box, will return only one hit. Never heard of it? Believe it or not, someone actually wrote a book about it.

I don’t know what I was thinking when I entered the terms “Tully” and “Ballina,” but I thought perhaps I would be extremely lucky to actually get even one hit. I didn’t, by the way, win the Googlewhack award for this round.

Yes, it was a silly thing to attempt—certainly not anything worthy of the concept of “a reasonably exhaustive search”—but it did lead me to several useful online entries. Like one from the Tithe Applotment Books, scanned by the National Archives of Ireland. I hadn’t yet pushed back that far in time—the time range for these records spans the years 1823 through 1837—because I had assumed my earliest known Tully male in County Tipperary would have been too young to show in this documentation. However, in thinking this over once again, I realized that Denis Tully might well have been represented in this listing of all who were obligated to pay tithes to the Church of Ireland.

While the page I was led to, originally, contained both the names “Tully” and “Denis,” they were not listed contiguously—as they might have, if I had correctly utilized those handy quote marks—but, if you notice, the results still led me to a scan which included a Tully in the very civil parish where our Tully should have appeared. The only Tully, as it turned out, was named Darby Tully. Relative? Too soon to tell.

An interesting side note was that the same page also contained someone with a Flannery surname—Michael, in this case—who could very well have had some relation to our Denis Tully’s wife, Margaret. Her maiden name, if you remember, was also Flannery. If Michael was indeed Margaret’s father’s name, then following Irish naming patterns, that would mean that Denis and Margaret’s son Michael would have actually been their second-born rather than their oldest son. In that case, where was the oldest son? Now I am wanting to go back and revisit those Canadian census records where I first found the immigrant Tully family.

And what about this listing I found, courtesy of that wild Google search, for “1831 Tithes Defaulters in Templeachally Parish”? If you use your “Find” function to navigate this long transcription of names, you will notice, in sequence, a listing for both a Darby Tully and a Dennis Tully. Ours? Maybe.

“Too soon to tell” may well be my motto, both now and on our upcoming research trip. While I certainly know better than to include such search results in my collection of answers from a “reasonably exhaustive search,” I’m afraid I just couldn’t help myself. This trip may still be two weeks away, but I’m already ready to go.

 Above: "The Dandelion Clock" by Irish-American artist, William John Hennessy; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. I love that opening line -- if that wild goose chase turns out to be right, you can claim that you knew it would all along. "After all, I AM a genealogist!"

    1. Wendy, I would dearly love to make such a claim ;)

  2. Jacqi, It is not a waste of time to leave no 'stone unturned' before such a big trip.

    1. No, you are right, Colleen: no stone unturned. I do want to accomplish every bit I can before the trip begins.

      Of course, that is in the hope that it frees up more time to do all that can be found over there. Why is it that, every time I travel to a genealogical library or archives, that I seem to find more to do than time in which to do it? That's a thought that certainly drives maximizing our efforts.

  3. Sometimes the wild goose chases are the most fun! :0

    1. Agreed! And you know I'm already off, searching for Darby ;)

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  5. It's more fun to catch than chase! But have you ever caught a Goose? Goodness... I once did in Boy Scouts and swore I'd never do it again!

    Just sayin... good luck with the search for Darby Tully!


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