Saturday, May 30, 2015

Reconstructing Branches

When parents introduce their young children to someone called “Aunt,” does that always mean the woman is a sibling to either Mom or Dad?

We all know that is sometimes not the case. The handy convention of having children demonstrate respect for family friends by dubbing them as aunts and uncles is a widespread tradition, at least in American circles.

It would be too far a stretch to expand that device to the point of assuming that the children of such an "aunt" or "uncle" would then be considered cousins. But, in going with the “Aunt” and “Uncle” custom, could it be possible that a family might have insisted on such an informal designation?

That was my dilemma, almost three years ago, as I sifted through the piles of papers rescued from Agnes Tully Stevens’ files. I had found a photograph and ordination invitation in Agnes' keepsakes, labeled by her daughter, “my cousin.”

The name, though, was one that hadn’t—yet—shown up in my genealogical searches. I had no idea how this man—Father John Bernard Davidson—connected to the Tully family.

It took quite a while to reconstruct Father Davidson’s own family tree—perhaps, if you’ve been reading at A Family Tapestry for that long, you may recall seeing the explanation in the two part series here and here. I was able to put together a chart of the two generations preceding him, leading up to the very Michael Tully who had appeared on the same page in the Canadian 1861 census in Paris, Ontario, as our Tully family’s progenitor, Denis Tully.

If, I reasoned, Agnes’ daughter knew to label the photograph of Father John Davidson as “my cousin,” this must not have been an example of that friendly convention. I felt somewhat confident that this was family, not just good friend.

But I lacked any final documentation. After all, 1860s Canada was not the best place to send for birth documentation. The Catholic Church there in Paris, Ontario, had barely been established. They were having trouble identifying the people buried in their graveyard at that time, let alone preserving that decade’s baptismal records.

Fast forward to my angst, this week, over discovering that I never actually entered that family line in my database. Of course I didn’t: I couldn’t locate any documentation that Michael was son of Denis and Margaret Flannery Tully. All I had were family notes—the two handwritten entries on material saved from John Bernard Davidson’s ordination being among other such discoveries—stating that relationship as fact.

So, do I save this? Or not? Evidently, I had chosen the more cautious route, the last time I visited this dilemma. And then turned back, seeking my notes documenting the discovery, only to find I couldn’t locate them. I sure don’t want to repeat that again.

There is a second aspect to this story that compels me to revisit it. Remember my mention, regarding DNA test results, about lack of any device to separate my husband’s paternally-linked results from those of his mother’s line? It occurred to me that I needed to seek a willing family participant whose test results could serve to delineate which, among the autosomal results, were from his mother’s side, and which from his father’s line.

I now realize I may already have such a device. And if not, I’m close enough to a willing subject to quickly grant that wish. You see, by plugging in the data from that Davidson branch into my Tully database—notwithstanding lack of a specific document stating the connection between patriarch Denis Tully and his son Michael—I now can reap several additional surnames to look for in my results. And, recalling that I’ve already met two distant cousins from that line, I may also find that they are willing to pursue DNA testing—if they haven’t already done so.

So—though I still can’t shake that hesitancy to add a name without a bona fide document—I’ve bit the bullet and added this entire line to my Tully tree. Beginning with the Michael Tully who appeared in the 1861 Canadian census for Paris, Ontario, I’ve traced everyone from his firstborn son—named, significantly, Denis, just like any Irish son of Denis would have done for his firstborn son—on down to Father John Bernard Davidson. Armed with the names of several more cousins—including married names for the female descendants—I now have much more to work with.

Perhaps this will yield some handy tools in further evaluating our DNA test results. It would be nice to witness some progress on this attempt. If nothing else, lacking that one key document, perhaps the DNA will confirm my hunch.


  1. I recognize those feelings that "I know this," "I have this," "I've done this" yet "where is it?" I'm glad you have connections willing to take part in the DNA testing.

    1. It's always helpful when willing candidates are among those already interested in family history research. We do tend to think alike, don't we?

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks for that vote of confidence, Far Side. Although I don't have some "official" documentation for this connection, I'm banking on the informal notes of relatives. Of course, even family can get those handed-down stories wrong, but based on the time when those notes were written, I'm feeling fairly certain it will hold true.

  3. I think I have more Aunts, Uncles, and Grandmothers that weren't family than I do that are!

    1. Well, that certainly sounds like your family had a lot of good family friends!


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