Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Incremental Inquiry

Pursuing research goals in family history can become a hurry-up-and-wait, here-a-little-there-a-little side-stepping dance. And I should have remembered that sequence of steps when I spotted a DNA match on my husband's Tully line.

Wonderful. A Tully DNA match. An actual surname I recognize. Even better, it was from someone in Canada—Ontario in Canada, even. Exactly the migratory pathway our Tully family followed when leaving famine-stricken Ireland.

Everything on this match's tree looked promising, as I ran the family history journey back through its ancestral paces. Generation after generation, I knew, at one point, this Tully line would match up with my husband's own line. All I had to do was click through until I came to Denis Tully and his wife Margaret Flannery from County Tipperary in Ireland.

The line for this match did go back to a Denis Tully, alright—but though his wife's name was Margaret, her maiden name wasn't Flannery. It was something else.

This is the kind of near miss a researcher hopes to not encounter. When connections get this close, how can they swerve to the left after so many right steps?

I wrote the other researcher about this Tully relative who, by the DNA, was a match, no matter what the paper trail said. I checked carefully the response. Sure enough, this researcher—administrator for her husband's results, just as I am for mine—was as sure of her research as I am of mine. And her research pointed solidly to a different Margaret.

I had seen that Margaret's name in other trees, myself. Even more, I had remembered spotting records pairing a Denis Tully in Ontario with this other Margaret's name. Back when I had encountered those documents, I had discarded them as possible matches with our Tully family. Now, I would have to revisit my research logs to determine just what it was that nudged my decision away from that choice and on to a different path.

Despite the fact that I am quite careful to record, in my online tree, all the documentation I've found on each member of any given family line, re-examining each of those records attached to the Tully line didn't reveal any missteps. Where could I have gone wrong? Where could the other researcher have made an error? Each side's progression seemed to make sense, if taken step by step.

It took quite a while for me to mull this one over. In the end, though, it finally occurred to me that my online compilation of assembled documentation didn't really tell the full story. I had found several other inputs in my research that provided a fuller picture of my Tully line's story. While these were records that likely wouldn't have been accessible to the average researcher, there was something else about them: they came to me, step by step—and yes, here a little, there a little. Finding the story of our Tully line came quite incrementally, with one clue building upon another, rather than by being extracted from a wholesale collection of major record sets.

So many times, we want to get to the punch line, to race to the back of the book, to zoom any which way that leads to an answer, that we lose the patience to trudge, bit by augmenting bit, through the tedious steps to build a solid case.

Now, don't assume—yet—that I have a solid case regarding this Tully line's Irish matriarch. I'll walk us all back through each of those incremental steps I'm talking about as I double—and triple—check my process. We'll take a look back at those steps this week. At the same time, it will help me recall all those micro-sized discoveries which, added up, led me to my conclusion about Denis Tully's wife.

In the process, I'll also evaluate the alternate path proposed by the other Tully researcher, and trust the process to lead us both to the correct identity of this ancestor. In the end, though, I suspect it will be the one tiny detail, added to the next tiny detail, which, in a long sequence of incremental discoveries, will build up to the maiden name I had found confirmed in my previous search. Still, it never hurts to retrace one's research steps.


  1. I'll be paying attention. I am not good at documenting my steps and keeping a research log. Things would surely be better if I did!

    1. Oh, Kathy, that is a lesson we all learn by trial and error. Of course, it helps to refine whatever system we come up with as our research needs become more complex. We'll talk about this quite a bit more later this week.

  2. Ugh..... see you all week....

    1. Oh, dear...that sounds foreboding... It's not as bad as it sounds, Susie Q.


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