Friday, October 16, 2015

When the Source
Doesn't Have That Source Document

Searching through all the ancestral lines connected to my husband's Tully family brought up an important point: some of those near-invisible women among his ancestors need to be found. But how? Once a young woman no longer shows up in her parents' household, unless she shows up in the church cemetery under a headstone confirming her maiden name, the only conclusion we could reach—at least in those bygone years of previous centuries—was that she married and disappeared into genealogical oblivion.

Unless, of course, we are gifted with a hint as to that married name.

In the case of John Tully's siblings, our review of the family showed us his brothers' names—now, even including the eldest brother (at least, among those I've been able to find), thanks to confirmation by DNA testing. Our Tully tree, for that generation, sports John's brothers Michael, Patrick and William.

As for John's sisters, we've only been fortunate to have clues for one: Johanna, who married fellow Irish immigrant Edward Ryan somewhere in Ontario, Canada—likely in Paris in Brant County, where the Tully family settled before the 1851 census.

But what of the other sister? Although I know her name was Margaret, and that the 1851 census showed her born in Ireland about 1844, after her appearance in the subsequent tally in 1861—still single and living at home—I never could find any mention of her again.

Of course, the same could be said about her mother—also called Margaret, a name oft-repeated in this family, as we've already seen—as I've not been able to track the rest of her life's story, either.

It would seem the logical approach might be to contact the local Catholic church in the town where the family lived. Even though Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church celebrated its first Mass on Christmas Day in 1857—in plenty of time for any possible marriage of the younger Margaret Tully, and certainly before either of them would have died—and even though that church is still in existence, it apparently has no record of any such Margaret Tully.

I know this because my husband's now-confirmed third-cousin-once-removed, herself a genealogy enthusiast, took it upon herself to write a letter requesting this information. I have a copy of the letter she received in response.

So...the church which the Tully family attended since its establishment in 1857 would not be able to provide any documentation of this Margaret Tully.

Nor could the cemetery—either via its entry on Find A Grave or Now what?

In this awkward research moment when the source document required is too soon for governmental record-keeping, but not, ahem, available at the source, a researcher begins to sense that sinking pit-of-the-stomach feeling some people experience when their genealogical trail leads them to the very county courthouse that burned down. It does seem like the end of the trail.

But it isn't. At least, not all the time. I've heard encouraging stories of locating alternate records—the Sam Fink files in Chicago come to mind here, but there are other resources devised by clever researchers in a number of locations.

One of those local resources that comes to mind is the material housed in county genealogical societies' collections. I know our local genealogical society has spent decades developing their own lists and finding aids. What about Brant County, Ontario?

Sometimes, those materials are in other repositories, like local libraries or historical societies. Occasionally, a local museum will house an archival collection. Or the nearby university.

Since Paris, Ontario, is now a town of only twelve thousand people, they may not have the resources to assemble a large mass of records from their local history. But it is certainly worth checking into.

The obvious alternative, though, is the county's genealogical society—which, in this case, operates on a system in which counties form branches of the Ontario Genealogical Society. Brant County is one of those branches. Either for a modest research fee or through other membership opportunities, it may be possible to mine those local resources and discover a clue to fill in the blanks where those missing source documents are keeping me in the dark.  


  1. Replies
    1. Well, in the process, I'm certainly learning quite a bit about our neighbors to the north!

  2. Jacqi, I would not accept the church's verdict that she is not in those records. I was told a similar outcome in a Hamilton church. Twenty years later, when I drove up there in person, the records on my missing person was there! Plus, the Catholic records are online for Ontario. Did you take a peek there in neighbouring villages?

    1. Looking around in neighboring villages is definitely going to be part of the protocol. But first, I have yet to zero in on the specific Catholic records I need. Apparently, not all dioceses are included in that collection. I'll be discussing that further in Monday's post.


  4. I know you're focused on church records in this post, but as I was reading the first paragraphs, my first thought to find married sisters is through obituaries of the brothers. I apologize if you have already addressed this. I came to the blog from Randy Seaver's Best of.

    1. Lisa, thanks for stopping by! Yes, that is a good option, in general. I'll go back and review each of the brothers' obituaries, just in case. But it seems to me that the ones that mentioned any relatives had referred only to children and spouse.

      Of course, in this case, we have one family out in the Dakotas, where I've yet to track down their exact place of death--or burial. Just know that a good number of the extended family died there in a short period of time. Not the same amenities there as for our urban-dwelling ancestors.

  5. Now here is a situation that just begs for one or both; a Star Trek transporter to allow you to go there and look and/or a time machine so you can go back to the day and ask!

    The only probable help with be some local boots on the ground that wants to help ...

    1. Oh, don't you wish, Iggy! Then we'd all have our questions answered!

      Yes, it will be the local help that might make the difference here. In fact, it was a response to a query I posted years ago on a Brant County forum that led me to that first census record in Paris.

  6. So frustrating and something we all deal with. Those disappearing females drive me nuts. As others have mentioned and as I am sure you are well aware, tracing the siblings sometimes helps as they often interacted during various points in their life, although some picked up and moved too. Good luck.

    1. Well, there are one or more mystery relatives, but I'm not sure of their names--just the location of the photography studio they used for the pictures they sent to our family. Whether they (or she) can be determined to be one and the same with the missing Tully sister, I'm not sure yet. Of course, it doesn't help that the letters accompanying the mailed photographs are no longer in existence.

      Oh, well, maybe someday I'll pick up this mystery again and one of the details will just pop up and smack me across the face with an obvious lead to which I was heretofore oblivious.


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