Monday, November 10, 2014

Laying the Ground Work

Sometimes, in puzzling out tangled family lines, it helps to think out loud. While I’m not going to go as far as to lay down an audio track for today’s post, I am going to go through the paces of retracing my steps on this question about whether the Darby Tully and the Denis Tully in Canada West’s 1852 census were related.

Let’s start with what we already know, and examine the findings in two parallel tracks: one for Darby and one for Denis.

As for Darby, we’ve already taken a look at his entry in the 1852 census. Almost immediately, in reviewing my steps, I saw my first mistake: the assumption that Blenheim today would be the same place as Blenheim township in 1852. If you live in the eastern regions of the United States and are familiar with those entities known as townships, you could easily have told me that. And, really, if I had remembered back far enough to my childhood days in New York, I would have realized that, myself.

It took reviewing a few decades of census records before I woke up to the fact that the documents I was viewing belonged to Blenheim Township in Oxford County, not Blenheim, the community located in Chatham-Kent. One glance at a map told me I was no longer considering a distance between the two Tully households in excess of one hundred miles, but a mere seventeen miles across the neighboring county line. Out of all the townships in rural Oxford County, Blenheim township is situated farthest to the east, as you can see on this diagram of the townships here. In current-day Oxford County, the area is now known as Blandford-Blenheim township. The historic township of Blenheim was “amalgamated” with neighboring Blandford township in 1975. Looking to the footer on the entry for the township in Wikipedia, you can see the neighboring areas include sections of Brant County—precisely the county in which our Denis Tully settled.

In 1852, Darby Tully was fifty two years of age, putting his date of birth at approximately 1800. In his household were fifteen year old Margaret, thirteen year old Patrick, ten year old Mary, six year old Bridget, and three year old John—the only one of the household actually born in Canada. The census does not provide any labels regarding relationship among those in the Tully household, but we can presume that Darby was a widower, and these were at least some of his children.

By the time of the 1861 census, I can find no entry for a Darby Tully in Canada West. However—and here Kat’s explanation is borne out—there is a listing for one solitary Jeremiah Tully. Fortunately, that entry is for a man living in Oxford County. Although his household consists of a smaller threesome—besides sixty three year old Jeremiah, there was twelve year old John and fourteen year old Bridget—the names and ages are appropriately similar to what we found in 1852.

Despite the fluidity of ages among reports by the Irish in census records, Jeremiah likely was about the age he reported—even though the age given in 1861 would place his year of birth closer to 1798. I wasn’t sure he would make a showing for the subsequent census enumeration, but there he was in 1871, giving his age as seventy four. Unfortunately, he appeared to be living alone, so we can’t glean any hints as to daughters’ married names from this record. However, the longer he lived, the closer he got to the era in which record-keeping would record the type of details we’d be after for family history purposes. By 1881, however, there was no census entry under either Jeremiah Tully or Darby Tully.

What about his possible brother, Denis Tully in neighboring Brant County, Ontario? It turns out he was just as steady in his residence location as was Darby. Denis appeared in the 1852 census at age fifty—two years younger than Darby. He was accompanied by a forty three year old woman, labeled frustratingly only as “Mrs.” Then followed seventeen year old “Johan”—an unlikely rendition of difficult handwriting, probably meant to signify Denis’ daughter Johanna. Then follow, though not quite in stair-step manner, Patrick, John, Margaret and William, ages fourteen, ten, eight and two, respectively. Just as Darby’s youngest was born after the family’s arrival in the new land, likewise William became Denis’ addition to a new home in a new world.

The 1861 census brought changes for Denis’ household as well. Gone was the “Mrs.” of the previous decade. Of the children, the only one to have left the household was Johanna, of whose marriage in the interim I have other documentation. With Denis now listed as age sixty, the children had grown to the ages of twenty five, twenty three, eighteen and twelve. Of them all, John seemed to age the fastest. Perhaps he was already entertaining illusions of running away to glory in the American Civil War.

While there were three people listed with variations on the name Dennis Tully in the 1871 census, none matched the year of birth or country of origin of our Denis Tully. By this time, his sons John and Patrick had immigrated to the United States. Perhaps he moved to Chicago along with his sons, though that is doubtful, considering his possible age by that point.

As for the other John Tullys we encountered the other day—the one for whom we have baptismal record from County Tipperary in 1834, and the one showing in the 1861 census in Jeremiah Tully’s household in Oxford County, Canada West—they seem to have disappeared without any trace.

In their place appears yet another John Tully—this one a neighbor of Denis Tully in Brant County. Aged thirty six, with a thirty two year old wife—“Mrs.” again—and young daughters Mary and Margaret, his name makes him a redundant addition to either of the other Tully households, both of which already had sons by that given name. His 1816 birth makes him a far stretch for brother to Darby and Denis. But possible.

He could, however, be the John Tully mentioned in Tipperary church records (of "Tauntinna") as having married a Kitty “Flanery” in 1841. With the Flannery family of Ed-blot (now confirmed to be Edmund) arriving in time for the 1852 census in close proximity to both the households of John and Denis Tully in the village of Paris in Brant County, we may be seeing the beginnings of a shadow family constellation taking form.

While the brick wall of destroyed government documents may have prevented us from moving backward in time to earlier generations in Ireland, we may still, by moving forward in time, be able to re-construct the details of this Tully family constellation, after all.


  1. Woo Hoo!!!! Have you checked any baptismal records in Canada for sponsors?

    1. Church records in Canada may be a challenge, Kat. At the one family's church, we've already written for some records with no success. It may be the early dates we're dealing with. Of course, I'll pursue this further. I see myself possibly joining the Ontario Genealogical Society and enlisting some local help from the branch at Brant County. Fortunately, this is one line I'm working on with help from some cousins!

  2. Replies
    1. It's been really neat to have family to compare notes with!

  3. Jeremy is a variation on Darby? Who'd of thunk it.

    I'm still trying to wrap my head around being either so poor that the "current" year is irrelevant (how else can one explain the widely varying birth / event years we see? Were they so ... isolated from "progress" that the year was "meaningless"?

    1. Iggy, I'm not sure about the cause, but I think there wasn't as much emphasis put on recording the date of birth back then. I also wonder if there were variations in this tendency. Some of the Canadian records I've seen show the ages consistently advancing for the Irish, but then I think of our Kelly family in Fort Wayne, coming from the Tipperary area of County Kerry. The reporting of their birth dates seemed to be all over the place. Who knows what the cause was.

      Perhaps the culture in those areas of Ireland didn't place as much emphasis on dates as we do here. After all, it was tax records I used for genealogical research in Ireland, while we rely on census records here--always demanding people remember dates here, while property valuations and taxes there. I know that is just a sliver of the picture, but one way or another, years and dates didn't seem as important in some circles.


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