Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Difference Between Denis and Dennis

While I'm delighted to have found a Tully DNA match—and one back in Canada, besides—I'm not as overjoyed about the discrepancies between our two family trees. Both families point back to a place called Paris in Ontario, true, but from there to Ireland seems to be a matter of divergent paths—Denis to County Tipperary and Dennis to County Clare...maybe.

Those, however, are minor details to be ironed out with the other researcher, compared to the more glaring complications of piecing this family puzzle together. Some of these problems I've already reviewed. Our Denis Tully, for instance, was married to a Margaret whose maiden name was Flannery; this match's matriarch, while also named Margaret, was a Hurley. Worse, our Denis was born about 1802—and I have no trace of any death information about him; he seemed to have vanished into thin, cold, Canadian air—while the other Dennis was born in 1830.

It is very tempting to push for connections between these families, especially in view of the fact that each DNA match descends from someone named John Tully, son of Dennis and Margaret. It's just that the dates are so far off from each other. Believe me, I tried—looking from our dates to our match's dates, back and forth, searching for wiggle room or any forgiving gap to take advantage of.

It was in that sifting stage—searching for a way to squeeze an answer out of that date dilemma—that I realized something: this wasn't the first time I had gone back and forth over a Tully who wasn't in a tree but seemed so much like he ought to be.

It was back when I discovered a Michael Tully on the same page as our Denis Tully in the 1861 census record for Paris, Ontario. This Michael was a young man listed along with his wife—coincidentally also named Margaret—and their only son, a one-year-old whom the couple had named Denis. I've shared stories about this young Tully family over the years, but let's just make the story short for the purposes of today's quandary: it turned out that this Michael was son of our Denis Tully. A missing son who hadn't been on my research radar.

Of course, I made sure to do my due diligence to confirm that Michael was indeed son of Denis and Margaret, especially considering I hadn't yet seen any corroborating stories from oral histories given by older relatives. The best part was when I received a set of old family photographs with labels containing not only Tully names but relationships, and realized some of them pointed to descent from this very Michael and Margaret.

All of that led to connecting with a new set of distant Tully cousins—through posts on this blog, in fact—and a face to face meeting in Chicago. Eventually, I asked one of those cousins if she would be willing to do a DNA test—which she did, providing yet another confirmation to the paper trail.

You'd think an experience like that would be uppermost on my mind as I sifted through the not-so-comparable dates of birth for this Denis Tully and Dennis Tully. But it wasn't, as glaring a discrepancy as an 1802 date of birth versus one in 1830 might have been. They could have been father and son. After all, there was plenty of room between the birth dates of two in particular of Denis' confirmed children: Johanna in 1832, Michael in 1834, Patrick in 1836, and John not until 1842, followed by Margaret in 1844. (The gap before the next child's arrival—William in 1850—can be explained by the family's emigration from Ireland, and possibly could indicate a death of any next-born child.)

Even more, given that Denis would have been thirty years of age, and his wife twenty five, when Johanna was born leads me to wonder whether there might have been another child born before Johanna's arrival. Two years prior to Johanna's baptism would have made a birth around 1830, the year this DNA match's progenitor Dennis was born.

I am not necessarily sold on that scenario, though. Irish naming patterns of that time period, while not strictly adhered to, indicated the stronger likelihood that the firstborn son would be named after the father's father. At this point, I have no idea who Denis Tully's father might have been—the baptismal registry for the parish of his origin dropping off the table before 1832, lending no help in this situation—but unless his father was also named Denis, it is unlikely that he would have named his first son after himself.

There is, however, another possibility. In scouring the pages of the census records for Paris and Brant County from the point of the Tully family's arrival in Ontario before the 1852 census onward, I have noticed several others with surnames from our family line, both Tully and Flannery. Either the extended family traveled together, or engaged in a sort of serial migration; many of them ended up in Paris. Dennis Tully, the one born in 1830, might have emigrated along with his extended family. Our Denis could have been an uncle. Or a very much older cousin.

That he was something in relation to this Dennis is very likely. I mentioned asking the descendants of our missing Michael Tully to take a DNA test to confirm our relationship, and not only the woman whom I originally contacted, but one of her siblings as well are matches to this Dennis Tully descendant. This match is not just some fluke. There are several other Tully matches which all point back to our mutual DNA link—it's just that no one has a tree to diagram just how this connection came about.

At this point, now that I feel I'm seeing the possibility more clearly, I can connect with the other Tully researcher, discuss the possibilities of relationship, and share the documentation—and explanations—I've gleaned. Many of these, as we've seen, are records which may no longer be accessible, like inscriptions on privately-held family photographs or notes passed along by family members from generation to generation. In part, that's why I started sharing such notes on this blog—yes, it's a form of cousin-baiting, but it also is a means for allowing others to benefit from privately-held records. When it comes to family research, we are our brothers' keepers—and our cousins' keepers, as well. What we know can definitely become a help to another family historian, as long as we find a way to share these resources.


  1. I wondered about an uncle as a possibility ... if I'm keeping the story straight.
    I woke up this morning thinking about odd little clues that I had missed for years or found some scribble on an envelope that led to some new information, I think the best one was on a photo of a wedding cake. Initials on some ribbon on the bottom of a wedding cake. I couldn't see them until I scanned and could see it enlarged.

    1. That is such a good point, Kathy--and thanks for sharing that post from your blog (which I love, by the way, and am glad you are back to writing). I am hoping for an uncle connection, though I feel like I'm twisting and turning and struggling through all the available documents without any sign of confirmation in this.

  2. I am certain you will solve the puzzle of the Denis Dennis:)


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