Sunday, October 25, 2015

I Write, Therefore I . . . Think?

There are times when we have things all backwards. We presume some prerequisites to certain actions—which we may be entirely justified to assume—but then we go and do the whole thing in reverse order. Yet it seems to work out just fine, anyhow.

Take writing. If we took our grade school teachers seriously, we would unquestioningly first ply our scratch paper with thoughts in outline form before ever dreaming of letting our pens speak in real English. Never mind our brains never fit in such a box when formulating the first whiffs of a thought.

Perhaps that's why we doodle when we should have been doing those outlines. Our brains need gentle coaxing to come outside and play.

Perhaps that's why, like other bloggers, I sometimes find myself saying, "I don't know what I'm going to say until I start writing it."

Yesterday's post leads me to one of those instances. Honestly, I'm stuck on my Margaret Tully quandary. I have no idea where she disappeared to. The record trail isn't being very helpful, either. I've tried to stick with all the close relatives—you know, those obvious connections like siblings, since both parents seem to have dropped from sight by the early 1860s.

Perhaps being so regulated in my approach has hemmed that weary brain into confines too restricting. It needs the freedom to wonder, "What if..."

Blogging can sometimes be as therapeutic as journaling. A little free associating while writing can lead a wearied, stifled brain to greener pastures, where it can roam and, if thirsty, test the waters nearby.

It was while pulling up the references, yesterday, to the Tully family's more distant relations who had joined them, after crossing over from Ireland, in that same neighborhood in Paris, Ontario, that I got that broader perspective. Speaking of "Ed-blot" Flannery yesterday reminded me that our missing Margaret Tully's mother was a Flannery, and that, there in the 1851 record, Mr. Flannery and his wife and children were listed on the same "West River Street" in the Paris enumeration as Margaret Tully's household.

Also on that same census page was another Tully family—that of John Tully, his wife and two daughters. We've spent some time, last year, attempting to trace their whereabouts after this 1851 census, as well. Keeping in mind this John Tully may also have been married to a Flannery (based on records I found in Ireland during my trip last year), it would be good to revisit their story, as well.

Perhaps, in following the trail of these more distant relatives as they again picked up and moved onward, we may uncover some record of where their possible niece—our missing Margaret Tully—may have moved, as well.

Perhaps, in realizing all these possibilities I've just reviewed, I need to remember, when stuck on a problem and unable to figure it out, just write my way out of the puzzle. Sometimes, just putting words to paper can ease those tangled thoughts and let them unravel and do the problem solving they were meant to do.

Above, left: partial list of names from the 1851 Canadian census for Paris, Brant County, Ontario (Canada West), showing the Denis Tully household at the top, followed on line twenty five by the Ed Flannery family, all under the heading, inserted here below, of the identifying address for the census page. Also following but not shown here: possible additional relatives, the John Tully family, on lines forty six through forty nine. Images courtesy


  1. Taking the time to stop and write is a step many resist as it appears to steal precious time from the process of research. I've heard Tom Jones (the genealogist, not the singer!) say that when we get stuck, we need to stop and write. I have found that is it often in the process of writing that I find the holes and suddenly see where the picture or story is incomplete and in need of further research.

    1. Good point, Michelle--and thanks for sharing Dr. Jones' advice, as well!

      Essentially, what we are doing when we take the time to write is actually use a narrative form to explain to ourselves what it is that we know, already, and where the holes are that we must task ourselves to fill in.

      By writing this, rather than just thinking it, we force ourselves to slow down and let each detail take center stage--in our mind--for its own moment in the spotlight. Letting the possible narrative rerun in our minds--and then letting it flow on to paper--slows us down enough to capture the details and then actually notice them.

      Somehow, all along, our subconscious mind is vacuuming up every detail and processing the story anew. Sometimes, the results can be gratifying. If not, it is still a useful organizing exercise.

  2. YES! Many times I've been writing the next post thinking I KNEW the story or at least KNEW the questions that needed answering when suddenly a new thought emerges. Sometimes I've even solved the puzzle in midstream.

    1. You'd think we'd know our own brains better. Sometimes, they surprise us. Even mid-sentence.

  3. I think outlining things may be semi-obsolete with the event of Word Processors - with tend to encourage "write whatever you got in your head" and then go back and edit things - something you wouldn't do with pen and paper or with a typewriter.

    1. That's an interesting observation, Iggy. It does make it much easier to edit after the fact now than before word processors.

      On the other hand, with the rise of "mind mapping" as an alternate form of thought organization, it seems to imply that outlining is still expected as a step in getting one's thoughts together before putting them down on paper.

      I've never been able to wrap my head around outlining, but mind mapping seems more intuitive to me. Perhaps its just because it seems less restrictive, but still allows for a way to sort things into relative groups.

  4. I still outline my bio-sketch posts before I write them, but it's more of a timeline with highlights. And writing them certainly does help me find the holes! Very interesting. Thank you for sharing this! I wanted to tell you that I've included your post in my Noteworthy Reads for this week:

    1. Jo, thanks for including me in your Noteworthy Reads for this week! I'm honored! And enjoyed gleaning your many other recommendations, as well!


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