Thursday, June 11, 2015

Following Mary

Sometimes, when family history research has been done over long periods of time—in some cases for me, over decades—being able to review research notes can be indispensable when trying to reconstruct the search pattern.

Of course, with today's example being one of those puzzles I sorted through nearly ten years ago, that research paper trail is somewhat unclear. All the better for taking the time right now to make amends and gather those notes in one place.

In order to explain how I determined which other child of Edward and Johanna Tully Ryan had died prematurely, the best way is to follow the trajectory of their son Dennis Ryan's widow, Mary McMartin Ryan. The best aspect of this approach is how it demonstrates the value of tracking all the family members—not just those in the immediate line of ascendancy.

With the introduction of Dennis and Mary Ryan's family yesterday, I noted that they were parents of four children. There was Mary, their eldest, born in 1884. Their second-born, arriving in June, 1885, was Chester Dennis. This only son was followed by a daughter in 1888, listed by the 1900 census enumerator as Catrine Jane—undoubtedly a misspelling of the given name, for which I had made a mental note to check in future census records. The youngest of the family, born only a year before her father's passing, was Maggie. Though their parents were born in Ontario, Canada, all four of the children were born in the American state to which the family had immigrated: North Dakota.

While I have yet to discover what prompted the family members' next step after Dennis' passing in 1892, I already have been able to determine that, between the date of Dennis' death and the passing of several other neighboring family members by 1900, the thought of keeping up the pioneer lifestyle in remote North Dakota had begun to grow stale for some members of the extended family.

That, however, I did not discover without broadening my search, after the 1900 census, to explore a wider geographic area—and to remember to keep an eye open for each of the now-fatherless children, as well.

Finding any trace of the Dennis Ryan family in North Dakota after the 1900 census was a challenge. Though fellow researchers on the various genealogy forums I had used at the time were helpful in divulging their favorite local resources—like the North Dakota Department of Health Public Death Index—I hadn't been able to dredge up any leads via the usual vital statistics.

I did, however, have one additional resource: my notes from the distant cousin with whom I had been corresponding, after a chance online encounter instigated by the comments of yet another distant cousin. These weak links, as I've discovered, are sometimes the only leads a researcher has to go on. But they are also—sometimes—as valuable as any government document could prove to be.

Remember that this cousin had revealed the rest of the story—at least for his direct line, the descendants of the then-still-living Ryan son, James. According to his email to me from 2007, his family had returned to Canada shortly after the American census in 1900. Remember my mention of the editorial instructions, "Ontario and Manitoba papers, please copy" for John Tully's obituary in Chicago? The reference to Manitoba was on behalf of this extended Ryan family, after their return to Canada from North Dakota.

Apparently, not only did James Ryan's branch of the family return to Canada, but his brother Dennis' widow Mary did, as well.

There are two documents revealing this to me. One was a 1906 Canadian census entry, showing a step-son named Chester Ryan living with his sister, "Cassie" Ryan, in the household of one William Guinan and his wife, Mary.

More helpful, however, was the record found in the online resource, the Manitoba Vital Statistics Agency Genealogy Searches page. There, marriages from over eighty years ago may be freely searched in their online database, which is also accessible via There, I discovered that, in Winnipeg on November 21, 1900, Mary McMartin Ryan married a man by the name of William Henry Guinan.

William Guinan, however, was not merely a current resident of Winnipeg, the city in which he and Mary Ryan were married. William's name had also shown up in the 1900 U.S. census—back in Walsh County, North Dakota, in fact.

At that time, coincidentally, he, too, had had a wife named Mary.

Or was it Margaret? The entry in the census record made it too hard to tell...

Image, above, from the 1900 U.S. Census for Walsh County, North Dakota, courtesy of


  1. In recent months I have discovered several good leads in old email. Funny how a word was just a word years ago but now it reads like the Rosetta Stone.

    1. Great way to put it, Wendy: it does feel like stumbling upon the Rosetta Stone in a way!

  2. Entry #65 might be of interest to you

    1. Yes, exactly: that is one of William Guinan's descendants. The entry, however, illustrates my predicament: who was William's wife and mother of that descendant?

      That's why I'm spending so much time evaluating this issue. It's my contention that the mother of that Guinan descendant was someone else, and that Mary McMartin Ryan Guinan was the step-mother in this case.

      Thanks for finding that website, Iggy. It is definitely connected to one branch of this family, and part of the family saga after their return to Canada.

  3. They moved back to Canada...that is interesting:) Good thing you found the children in the Canadian census:)

    1. I don't think I would ever have figured that out, if it hadn't been for the guidance of distant cousins who were more closely related to these lines. Otherwise, I wouldn't even have known to search in Canada!


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