Thursday, August 5, 2021

Checking Old Records with New Eyes


If the supply of newly-digitized genealogical records doesn't spring up in our direction as quickly as we'd like, there is still a useful option for researchers struggling with those frustrating "brick wall" ancestors: look at old records with new eyes. While that is exactly what I will be doing for the remainder of this week (and likely well into next week), here's another timely example to consider, if you need further encouragement, from American Ancestors' Vita Brevis.

The research goal I'm tackling this month is to discover any further details on the mother of my father-in-law's maternal grandfather, John Tully. We've already learned, through the fact that John Tully needed to request a letter verifying the date of his baptism, that his mother's maiden name was Margaret Flannery, and that she and her husband attended the Catholic church in the small town of Ballina in County Tipperary, Ireland.

That, however, is the end of the line, as far as my father-in-law's Tully pedigree goes. I have not been able to advance farther than Margaret and her husband, Denis Tully.

Fortunately, Margaret and Denis had many children, all of whom were baptised by the priest at the church in Ballina. Their records have been preserved as well as can be hoped, and are now accessible through many websites, thanks to digitization.

Our purpose today, in taking these old baptismal records and looking at them with fresh eyes, is to document the names of each of the Tully children's godparents. This is for good reason—at least, if advice from one Irish genealogy resource holds steady. According to an article posted at Ireland Reaching Out, "The poorer class of Catholics...followed a specific godparent convention to the letter: every sponsor/godparent was either a sibling or a sibling-in-law of one of the child's parents."

In outlining the names of godparents for each of the Tully children, my hope is to draw names which can then be tentatively inserted in a proposed family tree for each of the parents. While that still doesn't provide me with John's grandparents' names, it is a starting point in building the family constellation.

With that, here is what I found. Keep in mind that I am drawing from documents preserved from nearly two hundred years ago, then microfilmed, then converted to a digitized format. Some pages which inadvertently included folds along the edges unfortunately were preserved exactly as they were laid out for the camera. Beyond that, in the often poverty-stricken conditions in which the priests kept the records, edges of pages crumbled or—as one person told me in Ireland—were torn off to provide a means to light votive candles when no other supplies were available. Some of those sacrifices took with them the details of our own ancestors.

For Denis Tully and his wife Margaret Flannery in the Catholic parish of Ballina, County Tipperary, these are the children I could find in the baptismal records.

Oldest child Johanna, baptised in March of 1832, was missing her first name—lost in the torn margin—as well as the day of the baptism. For this one in particular, I am grateful for the corroboration of one of her direct descendants, whose father also had had the foresight to preserve the letter confirming her date of baptism. However, only the parish records themselves could provide us the names of Johanna's godparents, and even that suffered partial obliteration: - - ke Tully and Kitty Flannery. (Luke?)

Next child was son Michael, baptised June 5, 1834. This is the record which first provides us with the location of the Tully residence, a place far outside the town of Ballina called Tountinna, which I have had the privilege of visiting. Michael's sponsors were named as William Flanery and Bridget Flanery. While church tradition would have it that the women were identified by their maiden name, I can't be sure that convention was always strictly followed—but William's name is certainly a keeper.

About two years later, younger son Patrick followed on August 30, 1836. His sponsors don't help us with the Flannery side of the equation, but will come in handy as I repeat this same process for Denis Tully's side of the family. Named were Thomas Tully and Mary Tully.

The next child was a discovery I would otherwise have never realized, for the child must have died before the family reached Canada—or at least prior to the first enumeration in which they appeared in "Canada West." Named William, he was baptised May 8, 1839, in the presence of godparents John Tully and Judy McNamara. Again, one sponsor's name associated with the Tully side of the family. You'll see later that the name William must have been an important one to the family, for it is repeated at the birth of the Tullys' youngest child, the only one born in Canada.

At this point in the family constellation, we insert my father-in-law's direct ancestor, John Tully. His sponsors for his February 24, 1842, baptism were John Brien (likely O'Brien) and Mary McNamara—giving us little clue how these two fit into the picture. Tully side or Flannery side? This will take yet another round of examination of records.

John's younger sister Margaret was the next baptism, in September of 1844, with the day of the event obliterated in a crumbling margin of the record. The godparents named were Mick Tully—no question about relationships there—and Mary Gleeson. That Gleeson, however, is a guess on my part, simply owing to the abysmal handwriting overlaid upon the now-crumpled record. But I find it a likely possibility, simply because we already have DNA matches connected to that surname from County Tipperary. Perhaps this is the nexus.

The last of the Tully family's Irish-born children was a daughter they named Honora. Baptised February 25, 1847, she, like her brother William, did not live to be counted in the first census after the family's arrival in their new homeland. At her baptism, her godparents were listed as John Tully and Biddy Tully.

Some time after that point, Denis and Margaret and their surviving children left famine-ravaged Ireland for a new life in Canada. By the time they next appeared in any preserved records, it was to document their existence in the County of Brant in what was then called Canada West—now Ontario. Gone from the 1851 record was any sign of what became of son William or youngest daughter Honora, but a child born to the couple in Canada received the name lost with the passing of William.

With that, we find only a few names to possibly add to Margaret Flannery's collateral lines: Kitty, William, and Bridget Flannery. On the Tully side, we now have the names Luke (?), Thomas, Mary, John, Mick, and Biddy. John Tully is actually mentioned twice, which may signify two separate individuals, or a very popular uncle. The remaining named individuals are a mystery for the moment but will hopefully lead to further family clues from Judy McNamara, John O'Brien, Mary McNamara, and Mary Gleeson.

In just these few baptismal records, we've now gleaned our first step towards determining who peopled the collateral lines in Denis Tully's and Margaret Flannery's family trees. Since the Tully side produced the majority of the names, tomorrow we'll begin the search through any other documents which can give us a clue as to who these Tully godparents might have been. 


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