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 Interment.net. 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.