Monday, June 15, 2015

Following the Wider Family Circle

Sometimes, when stumped by your ancestors' whereabouts, the best course is to follow the trail of their family members—and sometimes even their friends.

Since I've been stymied by the families of Edward and Johanna Tully Ryan's grown children, I thought it might be profitable to seek out any trace of the in-law family into which two—at least that's my estimate—Ryan descendants married. Son James had married a woman by the name of Annie Guinan, and daughter Mary—at least, I think it's Mary—had become the wife of one William Guinan.

All this happened—at least, if I'm correct in my guess here—after the Ryan family emigrated from Ontario. Which means these marital vows were exchanged somewhere in the northeast corner of the Dakota Territory. Thankfully, that meant the odds of finding the wrong families would be extremely slim. After all, the population of Grafton, North Dakota—where Edward and Johanna Ryan showed up in the 1900 census—had just then crested two thousand souls. Nearby Hoople—closest town to the land grants obtained by William Guinan—at that same time registered a population of one hundred seventy four.

What were my chances that seeking the surname Guinan in newspaper reports of that time period would give me false leads?

Well, it was at least worth the chance. So I took a look to see what I could find.

Using, I was pleased to see that there were a good number of hits for my search on the name Guinan. The oldest of them was the most felicitous. From The Grand Forks Daily Herald on Monday, November 29, 1886, the reprint from the Saint Thomas Times reported:
One of the most pleasant events of the season was the marriage of Mr. John J. Franklin to Miss Maggie Guinan, last Tuesday evening. The ceremony was performed by Rev. Father Kennedy of Grafton in the presence of a number of invited guests.
But was that my Guinan? I couldn't yet tell. At least, for the Guinan household I had found in the most recent census—the territorial census conducted in June, 1885—there was no sign of a Maggie or Margaret Guinan. Of course, that is provided I've found the right Guinans in the census to match up with my Ryan descendants.

I kept looking. There were other reports for Guinans in the area. Take this one, found as a reprint of the Saint Thomas Times in the February 5, 1899, Grand Forks Daily Herald:
Mrs. Guinan was buried here last Friday. She was the mother of Tom Guinan of Grafton and William Guinan of Hoople.
Though not indicating the given name of the unfortunate Mrs. Guinan, the article did provide enough direction to sketch out a rudimentary family constellation. And indeed, that's where our William Guinan—and his lined-out wife Margaret Mary had lived, according to the 1900 census.

Another report, again from the same resource and dated May 31, 1899, helped build the Guinan family constellation even further.
Bernie Guinan of Grafton has been spending a few days visiting at the homes of his uncle, Hugh Quigley, and his cousin Joe Guinan. He will return to Grafton Thursday morning.
Great! That gives us some further clues. First, the connection to the Quigley surname is encouraging, as we've already noted that in other records, most recently the Margaret Quigley living next to the Guinan family in that 1885 territorial census. This report, though, indicates a Guinan family in Grand Forks, the town of the newspaper report. Perhaps the Bernard Guinan of the 1885 census record is one and the same as this Bernie? After all, this Bernie had a brother named Hugh as well. Could that Uncle Hugh be Margaret Quigley's sibling or in-law?

We find another confirmation of Thomas Guinan in the same Grand Forks newspaper on September 15 of that year:
Thos. Guinan, formerly of this city [Grand Forks] but now of Grafton, was in town on Thursday making a deal with Soards for a engine [sic].
Just when we think we're making progress with this newspaper archive expedition, however, we run into some conflicting information. From the September 19, 1899, Grand Forks Daily Herald:
Berney Guinan, brother of Joe Guinan of East Grand Forks and a relative of the Franklin and Quigley families, died in Grafton Sunday morning at 10 o'clock of typhoid fever. Berney was a young man in the prime of life, being 24 years old, and was possessed of a most kindly and gentle disposition which endeared him to all who knew him.
Though the article went on to extoll his virtues, it certainly didn't provide me any explanation for who this particular Bernard Guinan might have been. After all, the other Bernard Guinan was cousin to Joe Guinan, not brother. I began to see the specter of another family rising, rife with named-afters. While the lingo sounded right—all the right Quigleys and Franklins were there—things were not stacking up in just the right places. The traditional Irish naming pattern was sitting off in a dusky corner, mocking me.

At least the obituary provided me with some solid information—that the funeral would be held at Saint Thomas' Cathedral in Grafton and the burial would be in "the Catholic cemetery"—and gave me an inkling of what, exactly, might have wiped out the unfortunate mother, "Mrs. Guinan," back in February and her possible relatives, the younger Mrs. Guinan and her brother, Dennis Ryan.

Though interesting—and sometimes tantalizingly close to its target—following the trail of these possible members of the extended family didn't seem to serve its purpose of leading me to the information I'm seeking on our Ryan family. Yet.


  1. There must be a term for this universal phenomenon -- you know, when you find a person who LOOKS like family and SHOULD be family, but the dots don't align just right. I'm working on a situation like that in my own family line right now.

    1. Wendy, I have a hunch that this is a case of family--only cousins with the same names! It sure is pushing me to draw up a rough sketch of the extended Guinan family tree, though. Best wishes to you as you struggle through your own example of this frustration!

  2. Looking at a map - Hoople and Grafton aren't far apart - and Grand Forks would be the nearest city/town of any significance.

    The St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway Company ran from Grand Forks to Grafton and then on to Hoople by 1886.

    1. You would know those railroad routes, Iggy! I keep reminding myself to keep railroad transportation in mind, as I watch this family hop from Ontario to the Dakotas and then back up to Manitoba and places to the northwest. This is not your legendary tedious tromp across the plains in covered wagons here!


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