Sunday, July 31, 2022

"What If" Versus "What if NOT"


This week, while muddling over the issue of the Tully DNA match we've been discussing, something else occurred: an unexpected close match showed up on my own readout. Of course, those of us who have tested our own DNA for genealogical purposes need to understand that such a scenario can present itself at any time. When it does happen, however, it can present us with many questions.

This instance involves an adoptee from a previous generation. For a potential parent of the adoptee, I was able to isolate one particular branch of my family, which pointed to three siblings. All three of those siblings are no longer living, so the option of being able to talk to any of them is eliminated.

On the bright side, each of those siblings has had a descendant purchase a DNA test kit at the same company as the adoptee's descendant. Knowing the connection between each of the test-taking descendants and those three siblings, I could look at the amount of centiMorgans shared between each individual family member and this mystery DNA match.

The problem was that none of the test scenarios came with numbers which could rule out any of the siblings. There were other options for solving the puzzle, but they all involved either an outlay of more money or the (for some) terrifying step of tackling the tech approach of uploading data to another testing company to look for other matches there. With that, I was stuck.

The next morning, though, I woke up with a thought. We are so focused on checking out "What If" scenarios—which I did when working with this surprise DNA match—that we forget to also try the opposite. I sat down with the Shared cM Project beta posted at DNA Painter and played with the numbers—only this time, rather than assume a specific sibling as parent and then checking the match with that same sibling's descendant, I played a "What If Not" game.

This approach essentially moved the Most Recent Common Ancestor back a generation. In other words, instead of comparing the descendant of Sibling One with my mystery match while assuming Sibling One was also the match's ancestor, I switched to instead assume the mystery match's ancestor was actually Sibling One's sibling.

Keeping a close eye on the "Relationship Probabilities" chart included above the Shared cM Project readout at DNA Painter was also important. While we all have found DNA matches who push the margins of connectivity, it was helpful to know which possible scenarios produced the least likely result.

Because the Shared cM Project clearly demonstrates there is a range of numbers for each potential relationship, my thought was that—perhaps—I could force one "What If Not" assumption into the gap between two relationships. Perhaps, if the relationships were closer, I could have found that sweet spot.

All was not lost with that experiment. I could see how it cross-applies to the Tully research question I've been puzzling over this past month. For whatever reason, I had strong doubts that my husband's DNA match with the descendant of another Dennis Tully meant his Dennis was son of my husband's second great-grandfather. So I constructed a "What if Not" scenario: what if Dennis Tully, husband of Margaret Hurley was not son of Denis Tully, husband of Margaret Flannery?

In fact, I drew up two proposals. For one scenario, I presumed that it was our Denis Tully's brother who was father of the other Dennis Tully, producing a proposed relationship between the two matches of fourth cousin. In the other proposal, I took a step backwards and played with the notion that our Denis' father had a brother who was father of the other Dennis, resulting in a relationship for the matches of fourth cousin once removed.

The results? Considering my husband shares forty five centiMorgans with this Tully DNA match, despite falling within the range given of shared cMs for each relationship possibility, there is a mere 11% chance that two people sharing 45 cMs would be fourth cousins. Worse, for the second scenario, the chances dropped to 4%.

And for the original proposal? The one in which the younger Dennis in Ontario, Canada, was son of our Denis from County Tipperary in Ireland, the percentage rose to 35%. Still not a robust percentage, but certainly better than the others.

With that, while I would have liked to see more solid documentation than that one report on Dennis' Canadian death certificate, I feel a bit more comfortable accepting that proposal. And just in time, too, for tomorrow we move on to another ancestor quest.


Saturday, July 30, 2022

I Came, I Saw, I . . . Discarded


Sometimes, it seems such a good idea to take a certain course of action. It seems right and true—until just about the time we make the plunge and realize it was not such a good idea.

I've been circling this notion of the relationship between my husband's second great-grandfather, Denis Tully, and another Tully man named John who emigrated from Ballina in County Tipperary about the same time as Denis. I've been going round about this connection since I got to research first-hand in Ireland, back in 2014.

Of course, it didn't help convince me to lay down that notion when I found both families enumerated on the same page in the 1851 Canadian census. Nagging the back of my brain was this notion that I had found this John Tully, having moved westward, enumerated as neighbors with the other Dennis Tully, my husband's DNA match, in a subsequent census. What if they were relatives?

Well, let me spare you the gory details of that chase. Of course, I had nowhere to note that discovery when I first spotted it—if, indeed, those were the correct two Tully men. Reconstructing the scenario didn't help. Reviewing all my research notes, however, pointed me to one dismal discovery: the other Dennis Tully's death record. It is not a pretty sight.

Yes, if you've clicked through to find what I saw on that entry, the reporting party—yet another John Tully—stated that Dennis Tully's father's name was indeed Dennis.

I have long learned to distrust reporting parties' ability to deliver correct answers under the duress of tragic endings like the loss of a loved one. I've seen too many mother's maiden names blurted out in error—maybe even providing the name of a relative from the other side of the family. And this is the only documentation I've been able to find indicating any name for Dennis Tully's parents.

So, Dennis, son of Dennis? Perhaps. But I hesitate to accept that the elder Dennis is our Denis. In the scenario I had hypothesized—that Dennis' father was brother to our Denis—a fourth cousin connection for our DNA match would land the numbers (45 cMs shared between these two Tully matches) right in the midst of the possible range for that relationship...but at a lesser percentage likelihood.

Once again, that puts me in a position of closing out a month of research without coming to a solid conclusion. Was Dennis Tully, husband of Margaret Hurley, actually son of my husband's second great-grandfather Denis Tully? Perhaps, as a possible firstborn, arriving before the start of available baptismal entries on the Ballina parish records. But with only the one documented source—given by another reporting party eighty years after the fact—I'm still skeptical. You know I'll always hold out for the hope of new document discoveries. 

Friday, July 29, 2022

What If . . .


When it is easy to come up with arguments discarding a research hypothesis, then what? Can we come up with an alternate explanation?

In the case of finding the connection between my husband's second great-grandfather Denis Tully and his DNA match claiming another Dennis Tully as his great-grandfather, we are somewhat hampered by the lack of available records from their ancestral homeland in Ireland. However, we can observe a few details which may provide us with some leads:

  • The two ancestors, Denis and Dennis, are a generation apart. Denis was born in 1802, while Dennis was born in 1830.
  • After emigrating from Ireland, each man settled in nearly the same Canadian location: Denis in Paris of Brant County, and Dennis ninety miles (or 145 km) to the west in Warwick in Lambton County, Ontario.
  • Each family chose similar names for their children: Margaret, Johanna, Patrick, John.

If it is true that both Tully men were related, it would likely be true that the younger Dennis also came from the area around Ballina in northern County Tipperary. And if the Irish naming tradition still held strong at the time when both these men raised their families, Denis's firstborn son Michael would indicate that that was also the name of Denis' father. Likewise—though he didn't marry or begin a family until arriving in Canada—Dennis' firstborn son Patrick might point us to a possibility for his father's name. If.

While several subscribers seem to favor the idea—undocumented—that the younger Dennis was son of the elder, if the naming tradition held true for that era, it would indicate otherwise. But here's a thought: if the two men were removed a generation from each other, it would be more likely that they were uncle and nephew, rather than father and son.

Could the elder Denis have had a brother named Patrick? It is impossible to tell from the records posted online for the parish at Ballina, as during the time frame available, there is no sign of a Patrick Tully having children baptised in that community. However, there was one other Tully couple of interest who also named their firstborn son by that same name of Patrick. We've talked about that couple before. Perhaps now would be a good time to revisit that family and see if we can extract any new clues. 


Thursday, July 28, 2022

Getting Negative


When we work on adding a new collateral line to our family tree, the focus is often on drawing up a solid proof argument. That litany of reasons to add a specific ancestral relationship may seem to focus on the positive. We look for documents that confirm the relationship.

There is—or can be—a negative side to such research. As much as no one wants to be considered negative, it's important to be able to also outline the reasons for rejecting a hypothesis.

In evaluating a DNA match to my husband's Tully line, it seems there is little on paper to confirm the connection between my husband's ancestor, Denis Tully, and this DNA match's ancestor, also named Dennis Tully. There are certainly hypotheses out there—witness the many trees on which claim the younger Dennis is actually son of our line's Denis Tully. And yet, there is one vital ingredient missing in this mix: documentation.

Not that I mean to get negative, but there is one detail which kept popping up as I tried to make these two jigsaw puzzle pieces fit together: a funny designation added to some of the trees. Here's a snippet from's ThruLines proposal of how our two families might fit together.


What was up with the question mark, I wondered. I already knew the dotted lines around some names signified those individuals were not part of my own tree, but were merely suggested for my consideration. The green "Evaluate" box, when clicked, brings up a panorama of other Ancestry trees which include the individual in question. Subheadings in that pop-up box also allow the viewer, by clicking on the down carrot, to examine the details of such items as documentation. Guess which link I headed to first?!

The sad part was that, of all the trees listed, not a one included documentation for the other Dennis Tully predating his arrival in Canada. So how did any of these researchers assert that Dennis, born 1830, was son of my husband's second great-grandfather?

Perhaps it all came down to that question mark curiously placed in front of the younger Dennis Tully's name. I found that same configuration in more than one tree. Thinking it might have been a way for Ancestry to signify the first in a sequence of suggested relationships, I looked at other ThruLines results for both my husband's matches and mine. Turns out nothing like that showed up in any other family lines.

The strangely-placed question mark is likely the fingerprints of someone whose original entry was copied. Sure, one person wanted to use a way to signal, "Hey, I'm not sure about this guess." Despite the warning sign, it wasn't enough to deter anyone else from copying the entry wholesale.

I have read of people who struggle with the choice of whether to make their tree public or private. One concern is that, in the process of making the honest mistakes we all can make, someone will spot the entry and be tempted to copy it to another tree rather than first ensure it is correct information. I recently read someone's explanation for choosing to go public, while entering a strongly-worded warning to copy at one's own risk. No matter how talented a word smith, I doubt there is anyone able to craft a warning sufficiently strong enough to deter copying.

When that situation comes back to bite us in the form of suggested lines of descent on ThruLines, we have yet another reason to step back and take notice—and not fall for copying the suggestion wholesale. Denis and Dennis may be one such instance. I am finding all sorts of reasons to discard the suggestion of father and son. In other words, my negative arguments are building some real muscle in this research struggle.

And yet...the DNA connection is still there. Time to explore some alternate proposals in the quest to figure out just how these two DNA cousins connect.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The Other John Tully


If I could have made the title of this post clearer, I would have labeled it "The Other Other John Tully." You see, like Margaret, John seems to be a favorite name in my husband's Tully family—and that of his Tully DNA match, as well.

I always knew there was another John Tully in my husband's family. The sources for this information, though, were sketchy: oral reports and written remembrances of an unexplained other relative claiming that same name. Snippets from ephemera saved from weddings celebrated a century ago showed signs of a "Jack" Tully baptised with that formal name John, somehow related to our line. A diary written by a teenaged cousin of my husband's paternal grandmother spoke of another John Tully besides the one in our direct line. Somehow, no matter how many stories our older relatives shared, no one could quite place who that other John Tully might have been.

As it turns out, there may have been more than one John Tully our family was recalling. One that I found by research was John, son of Patrick, son of our Denis. Family had recalled another John Tully who lived not far from Chicago in Indiana, and this John, born in Canada in 1868, filled that description in his later years, dying in Hammond, Indiana, in 1928. His son—also named John but going by the nickname Jack—may have been the one mentioned in wedding recollections.

There is, of course, a reason I am speaking of Tullys with the given name of John. Our DNA match's brick wall ancestor, also named Dennis, happened to have a son named John. Likewise, our own direct line featured a son of Denis named John. Since our Denis was the older of the two men we are comparing, it is no surprise to see that his son John was born in 1842. The younger Dennis, our DNA match's ancestor, welcomed his second son John, into his Canadian home in Warwick, Lambton County, Ontario, in 1866.

While the other Dennis Tully's son John in no way could have been the John Tully remembered by our Tully relatives, nevertheless, it may be helpful to trace this other John's family history to see if any clues emerge. Before we do that, though, we do need to pay attention to one more caution. We'll discuss that one warning sign tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Too Many Margarets


Taking the long view of your genealogy, does your family favor a certain given name? Given the Irish naming pattern we discussed yesterday, such a tradition could serve to amplify those specific names and repeat them through multiple lines over the generations.

In the Tully family's case—at least among the women—that most-repeated name appears to be Margaret. As far back as I've been able to trace that family—which, sadly, is only until the 1830s—Margarets have popped up with frustrating regularity in all branches of the Denis and Margaret Tully family.

Denis and Margaret were my husband's second great-grandparents, the founding immigrant ancestral couple who left their homeland in the far north of County Tipperary, Ireland. Although our branch of the Tullys eventually arrived in Chicago, Denis and Margaret initially settled the family in what was then called Canada West.

In the 1851 census, we can find the family living in Paris, Ontario. Sure enough, the couple named one of their two daughters Margaret. Though the Tully family sons eventually outnumbered those daughters four to two, the name Margaret solidly advanced to the next generation with each child of this family who married, ensuring that his or her mother's name was honored with a namesake in the subsequent generation.

Thus, it is not a surprise to see, in reviewing the family tree of our mystery Tully DNA match, that the name Margaret made a fair showing in that related line as well. Not only among that founding immigrant ancestor's children, but in his own selection of a wife. You see, the difficulty is that the match's founding ancestor—also named Dennis—happened to marry a woman named Margaret, as well. The problem is that this Dennis married a woman named Margaret Hurley, while our Denis was wed to Margaret Flannery.

There are, of course, some differences between the two couples. Our Denis was born approximately 1802, the other Dennis in 1830—a generation apart, if we go strictly by the numbers. Our Margaret can be found in the Catholic Parish Records for Ballina in County Tipperary while the other Margaret cannot (at least as far as I can tell at this point). Our Denis was likely married in Ballina, whereas the other Dennis probably met and married his Margaret after arriving in Canada.

Looking at the other Dennis and Margaret in the 1861 census, we can already see two of their daughters sporting names familiar to our line of Tullys. Looking ahead to the 1871 census, it is easy to notice the family's choice of names—Margaret, Mary, Johanna, Patrick, John—were echoed in our own Tully line. Add in the DNA connection and it seems surely there is a match. But how?

In thoroughly reviewing the generation-to-generation documentation of this DNA match's tree, it does seem that the original settlers were indeed Dennis and Margaret Hurley Tully. After all, a key death certificate seems to shout out that very conclusion. But neither this match's researcher nor I can come up with the next step: connecting that Dennis, born 1830, with our Denis of County Tipperary.

Even more disappointing, while I already have ample confirmation that our Tully line came from the region around Ballina, there is nothing I can find in that parish's Catholic Church records to show the younger Dennis' baptism—or even a possible record to point to another Tully who could have been his father.

There are, unfortunately, some other details nagging at me to keep pressing forward with this chase. We'll take a few days to examine some very weak clues.

Monday, July 25, 2022

The Problem With Namesakes


When exploring the generations in one's family history, it's quite common to encounter a son named after his father. While such namesakes are understandable, they also can create some confusion if the names are not coupled with other identifying information. Researching an Irish namesake, though, can cause extra headaches for one particular reason: the old country's particular tradition of adhering to a naming pattern.

In the research problem I'm trying to untangle in the remainder of this month, we're dealing with a DNA match to my husband who claims—on paper, at least—to have descended from the same Denis Tully who was my husband's second great-grandfather. Sharing a match of forty five centiMorgans, these two could be related as closely as third cousins, or be as distant as fifth cousins.

This match has a tree shared on which makes it appear as if the closest relationship in that cousin range is the correct choice. In other words, with the same number of generations removed, both lines point back to an ancestor named Denis Tully from Ireland. There's just one problem with that scenario: unlike my husband, who descends from Denis' son John Tully, this match's tree claims a direct line to a son of Denis given the exact same name. A namesake.

And there's my problem. As much as I've traced this Tully line back in time from Chicago to their immigration stopping point in Canada of Paris, Ontario, I have yet to find any son of Denis and Margaret Tully named after his father. True, when our Tully family first showed up in the 1851 census, there was already one son missing from the household (their recently-married son Michael, whose own household became apparent near his father's household in the subsequent census in 1861). But there is another reason I'm concerned about this supposed namesake son.

My primary concern about finding a Denis, son of Denis Tully, is due to the long-followed naming pattern adhered to during that era in Ireland. The pattern goes something like this: the first son is named after the paternal grandfather, the second after the maternal grandfather. Only with the third son would the name given be his father's namesake.

Even though the children in our Denis Tully's family married in Canada, at least some followed that old tradition of their homeland. Son Michael gave his firstborn son the name Denis, after the child's paternal grandfather. Though Michael's older sister Johanna also followed that naming convention—her second son was also named Dennis, after his maternal grandfather—none of the other Tully children adhered to that pattern. While they, too, were immigrants from Ireland, those Tully children were far younger when arriving in Canada and likely had less cultural influence pressing them to follow the tradition of their father and even their older siblings.

There is, however, another reason I'm concerned about a claim of Denis Tully having a son by that same name. The Dennis who was ancestor of this DNA match was said to have been born in 1830. The oldest child I've been able to locate from our Denis' records was born in 1832. While it is quite possible that our Denis could have had a child before that date, the likelihood that he would have named that son—possibly his firstborn—by his own name is slim. The only scenario in which he would have done so—at least, according to that traditional naming procedure—would be if Denis' own father was also named Denis.

There is another reason why I'm hesitant to accept that our Denis had an oldest son who shared his father's given name. This reason has nothing to do with naming traditions, or any other custom carried over from the Tullys' Irish roots, but is a matter of the names of the women who married into the Tully line. We'll take a look at that issue tomorrow.


Sunday, July 24, 2022

A Goal's a Goal . . .


. . .no matter how small? How about when the goal is massive?

When I hear examples of appropriate research goals in genealogy workshops, they often are quite measurable and attainable. That is good; results like that provide us with encouragement to keep at our work. But what about when the goal is enormous?

It has been almost exactly nine years since I first received results for a family member's DNA test. The first test I purchased was a Y-DNA kit for my brother, who was thankfully willing to do anything that would help us—siblings and cousins—figure out where our paternal grandfather actually was born. That step launched me on the longest-term research goal I'd ever tackled: to document every first through sixth cousin I could find on either side of my family.

The reason for such an ambitious project was simple: I couldn't stand looking at the names of nearly one thousand matches and realize I hadn't the faintest clue how they fit into my family's picture.

Nine years later, and I have two ever-expanding trees. (I couldn't take on a project like that for my side of the family without doing the same for my in-laws' family lines, too.) Perhaps that will provide a reasonable explanation for my biweekly reports of how my trees are growing. After all, such numbers would otherwise appear quite outlandish to the average hobbyist. 

While I took a break from blogging for the past six weeks, behind the scenes, I still pursued that overarching research goal. I'm still adding cousins to my trees. During that quiet time period, my own lines saw 114 documented individuals added to my tree, which now numbers 28,863. During that same quiet six weeks, I raced through 901 new entries, bringing my in-laws' tree's count to 29,590.

Behind the scenes, that frenzy of adding names had a sub-goal. Those directions I took from my Twelve Most Wanted research outline for the year. I was still working on my mother-in-law's Gordon line at the time, and had 168 Gordon DNA matches on's ThruLines tool to confirm. Working on the documentation for those 168—I'm not finished yet!—has so far brought in those 901 entries. After all, families do multiply.

The virtue of having such a long-range goal is that eventually—though ever so slowly—it becomes easier to place those distant cousin matches on my tree. In some cases, I've already placed them in their correct location, before even realizing we have a DNA match. It was such slow going at first, back in July of 2013 when I first began receiving those DNA matches, but over the years, the effort has eventually paid off well.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Off the Shelf: Drive


While I may have many motivations driving me to read, I do admit: it sometimes takes me a long time to get around to actually sitting down and, you know, turning the pages of a coveted book to actually read it. Daniel Pink's book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us is one such example.

It's taken me over a decade to get around to opening the cover to Drive. Yes, Drive actually came out in 2009, so maybe this book no longer represents the cutting edge of discoveries about the human psyche. Though I enjoy reading books about psychology, my primary reason for selecting this book was the author. I enjoy reading Pink's writing.

I first started exploring the author's work with his 2002 volume, Free Agent Nation. If ever there was a tag for what I wanted to be when I grew up, it would be a free agent; I was sold on the title alone. Fortunately, the author's engaging and thorough writing style converted me to follow not only topics like that, but the author's future works, as well.

You may think subjects like motivation have no application to the world of genealogy, but think again. I could see genies in every turn of the page. Call me too single-minded, but I enjoy finding ways to cross-apply concepts. Take this simple set of instructions included in Drive, given to help people zero in on what they find personally motivating:

1.) What gets you up in the morning?

2.) What keeps you up at night?

The author shared this technique from another book on my reading to-do list: Rules of Thumb by Fast Company magazine co-founder Alan Webber, inviting readers to write down their answers to each of those two questions above.

When I followed the instructions to that simple exercise, I'm afraid my results turned out exactly opposite of what was intended. 

My answer to #1: Obligations I have to attend to right away.

My answer to #2: Genealogy.

Granted, I've always realized I'm an outlier. (I'm also not a morning person.) But what is likely the opposite pattern—jumping out of bed with anticipation of the day's goals, but turning in at night laying a world of worries on top of one's pillow—is simply not me.

The exercise showed me something I think we all know: pursuing our passion of family history has kept many of us up half the night—and we see that as a good thing. A sign of what motivates us, keeps us engaged.

While much of Drive applies to the work world and rethinking what motivates people to achieve goals and dreams, the farther into the book I journeyed, the more it became a matter of seeing ourselves in a mirror. After all, the only ones who willingly subject themselves to cranking through pages of blurry microfilm, or to endure the dreary droning on and on of legal documents, are those of us on a mission to learn the rest of the story about our family's history. I'm not sure anyone could pay me enough to do drudgery like that for someone else, but I'd gladly do it for free for those intrinsic goals of finding my own family.


Friday, July 22, 2022

Discovery by D N A


There is a saying making the rounds in genealogy circles here that DNA doesn't lie. True, if we are using a scientifically sound sampling method to gather a sufficient number of "SNPs" and accurately evaluate them and compare them to other just-as-soundly gathered samples, any sizeable matching patterns will point to familial relationship. Still, I'm a stuck-in-the-mud stalwart when it comes to insisting that we rely on the paper trail as well as genetic genealogy before leaping to conclusions. Not always is there an "NPE" lurking behind every family tree.

In my current research challenge—I'm trying to figure out how a DNA match pointing back to a Most Recent Common Ancestor shared with my husband could come up a different genealogical conclusion.

That MRCA (Most Recent Common Ancestor) would be Denis Tully, the Irish immigrant who sailed away to Canada from what surely would have been a life of extreme deprivation back in this homeland. Denis—at least according to my best estimate—would have been my husband's second great-grandfather, not a very distant relative at all.

Of all his DNA matches listed on's ThruLines tool for Denis Tully, my husband's closest match from a non-direct line (in other words, not his first great-grandfather John Tully's descendants) comes from a third cousin whose lineage is nowhere on my radar. According to this other researcher, he descends from the line of a man also named Denis Tully, son of the Denis Tully, our MRCA.

Problem: though this match might assert this, we have no Denis Tully listed as son of Denis Tully.

Granted, if this match were still alive, he would be an excellent candidate for taking a Y-DNA test, as his is a direct patriline through to Denis—which possibly could reveal some deeper ancestral connections for that particular surname. As it is, my husband's line, while passing through his father, then takes a turn to the maternal side before resuming its paternal route back through the generations. All we have to rely on would be matches through any autosomal connections.

There are, however, other tools at our disposal. In fact, more and more tools are being developed, chipping away at the task of puzzling over those mystery matches. Take the beta version of Ancestry DNA's Chromosome Painter, released just this past week. Trailing the recently released Ethnicity Inheritance graphic which Ancestry dubbed SideView™ is this new tool allowing us to view a breakdown, by parent, of major ethnicities inherited, according to our DNA test results.

Finding that latest addition on Ancestry's website, the Chromosome Painter, seemed to be a well-kept secret. It is parked under the "DNA Story" tab on the Ancestry toolbar. Scrolling down beyond the "Ethnicity Estimate" page on DNA Story to the second sheet, "Ethnicity inheritance," the Painter beta tag, "View Breakdown" is located just below the now familiar colored, split circle graphic.


There are, of course, other ways to reach this information. In my excitement to find this new toy at Ancestry, I had scrolled right past the tab which would have given me direct access to what I was seeking. Notice the choice, right at the top of that same page, labeled "Chromosome Painter." Oh, duh. And, if you get sidetracked and go directly to the Parent 1/ Parent 2 overview, you can scroll a very long way to the bottom of that graphic and find a third way to access the Chromosome Painter, as well.


What was interesting to me—though no surprise whatsoever—was to find the graphic confirmation that my husband's "Parent 2" had a nearly all-green readout for his Irish roots.


Small wonder, considering that all eight of that parent's own great-grandparents were born in Ireland. The likelihood that our DNA match was just as monochromatic is quite as high. The direct line connecting this DNA match to our MRCA goes from Tully, to Tully, to Tully, to Tully. No surprise with those surnames: all unmistakeably Irish. It's the given names that have me thrown.

This is where we kiss goodbye all those fancy DNA tools and hit the books, looking for the right paper trail. Before we do that, though, I do have to confess I have some misgivings about that proposed Denis, son of Denis in our match's tree. And that's something we'll need to talk about. Monday.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Tracing the Tullys


Researching the Tully family—my father-in-law's maternal ancestry—has always seemed a straightforward process. All eight of his great-grandparents were born in Ireland, but somehow made their way to the United States. Of course, that is not to say it was always an easy process to document; the seamless paper trail in America gave way to a documentary black hole on the other side of the Atlantic at just about the time the Great Famine convinced those ancestors to find greener pastures elsewhere. Even so, I'd always thought my persistence paid off handsomely when it came to tracing that Tully line.

Though my father-in-law's mother was born in Chicago and spent the rest of her life in that city, her father—John Tully—was himself born in Ireland. It wasn't, however, a simple move from Ireland through one of the typical ports on the eastern seaboard that brought him to the Windy City. If it weren't for the many letters, photographs, and other mementos the Tully family hoarded over the generations, perhaps I wouldn't have so easily discovered that John Tully's parents first brought their family from Ireland to Canada.

John's father, Denis Tully, apparently first settled in a tiny place called Paris. If, in reading that city name, you are thinking of the more dreamy metropolis of the same name, disabuse yourself of such a notion. Paris in what is now Ontario, Canada, was a tiny town which, barely a decade before the Tully family's arrival, numbered a mere thousand people.

Since Tully is a somewhat common Irish surname, it might be logical to assume that, in finding Denis Tully in the 1851 census, I had mistakenly selected the wrong Tully family. I admit, that is quite possible. However, over the course of several years' work on this family puzzle, I've been able to locate the connection between John Tully's descendants and those of three of the other siblings on that enumeration. That, thankfully, was mostly accomplished due to that stash of mementos I mentioned, and further confirmed through several other records.

In addition, owing to some rather "long" generations—the baby of John Tully's family, for instance, was my father-in-law's mother, born when John was forty six—the line of ascent from my father-in-law to Denis Tully was rather simple: from Frank Stevens to Agnes Tully to John Tully to Denis Tully, himself. How, then, could a Tully DNA match not lead back as clearly to those same names?

There are, of course, sticking points in this scenario. One glaring difficulty is that the nameless enumerator of that 1851 British census taken in then-colonial Canada had qualms about actually providing the names of married women. Denis' wife Margaret, for instance, was listed simply as "Mrs." Speeding forward to the next census doesn't resolve that sticking point, either; apparently, Margaret Tully was dead before 1861—but too soon for Paris' Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church (founded in 1857) to have noted her passing in its records. Nor does the nearby church cemetery show any signs of the Tully family.

It is this very question of Margaret's identity which comes into play when I consider the closest of my husband's Tully DNA matches at Other than those matches descending from our direct line (through John Tully), this match holds the highest centiMorgan count: forty five, contained in only  two segments. The Ancestry ThruLines relationship estimate of third cousin figures prominently in the relationship possibilities outlined according to the Shared cM Project at DNA Painter

The only problem? The names on the match's tree don't align with those on my father-in-law's line. Am I certain I've got the right information recorded on my tree? Of course I am; I have the documentation to back up each assertion. But, like anyone, I can make mistakes.

What I haven't considered, up until now, was whether I could replicate the assertions outlined on the match's tree. If I can independently recreate the paper trail leading from this match (now deceased) back to Denis Tully, it may shine some light on a possible explanation. It's worth a try to at least explore the thinking behind another researcher's work.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Mapping Our Research Pathway


One of the best tools for tackling an unyielding family history research problem is to approach it with a plan. Especially if available time is limited—which it was for so many of my working years—mapping out a way to handle that shortage of available research hours made a big difference in my progress.

Though I've tried various approaches throughout the years, I've come to like the plan I developed only a few years ago. I've found that most of my research goals evolved into a cyclical pattern, in which one year I'd work on a goal until I couldn't make any more progress, then set it aside until I could travel to access appropriate documents (or find that those documents thankfully materialized somewhere online). Then, once again, I'd pick up that research goal and take it as far as I could go, given those limited resources.

That plan, which I first launched at the end of 2019, I've dubbed my "Twelve Most Wanted" approach. At the close of the year, I pick twelve ancestors, one for each month of the upcoming year, and devote my research time to whatever goals need to be accomplished to round out the story of that selected ancestor. When the month was up for the featured person, I moved on to the next ancestor. No need to fret that I was letting that ancestor slip through my fingers on the last day of the month; I knew I'd be back to revisit that research problem in another year. After all, I've been at this genealogy quest as a near-lifelong discipline now.

Since having a plan such as the Twelve Most Wanted gives me the permission to call off the chase when the time is up, it brings with that plan an agreement—and a sense of peace—that it is okay to move on to another research target, even though the last one wasn't completed. But really, do we ever come to a point when we are "finished" with our family tree? There's always one more step, one more generation, one more story...

As for this month's goal—to find the glitch in the DNA match leading back to my father-in-law's Tully roots—this is not the first time I've grappled with this family line. Every reiteration, though, brings me a bit closer to having a clear picture of where this Irish forebear originated and who was in his circle of near relatives.

With my late start to the month's assignment, I may—or may not—find the solution to this Tully tangle. But with documentation of my progress, a research log to track which records I've found, and a finite time span, this research plan gives me the freedom to line up not just this one goal, but tackle a wide array of goals from previous years' unfinished research business. There will always be another chance to revisit the issue, gather new resources, or visit new promising repositories or online collections. And there will always be new research questions which spring up, even for those ancestors for whom I've already found so many answers.

Tomorrow, let's get started with a review of just who our Denis Tully was, and where I found him in colonial Canada.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Where We're Going . . .


The beauty of having an overarching research plan for family history challenges is that it becomes the guiding map allowing us to pick up where we left off during those pesky but necessary interruptions to our progress. More on that tomorrow by way of a refresher, in case anyone's lost focus on last January's plans. For now, let's talk about what's in store for this genealogy guinea pig for the remainder of the month.

My plan for July was to shift from researching my mother-in-law's story to digging deeper around my father-in-law's roots. That means—eventually, at least—we'll be going to Ireland (well, virtually). But first, a necessary stop in Canada.

Why Canada? Because like so many Irish emigrants, my father-in-law's great-grandfather Denis Tully chose the more wallet-forgiving route of sailing from his beloved homeland to Great Britain's remaining outpost in North America, rather than any port on the eastern coast of the United States. Thus, by the time of the 1851 census, it is quite easy to find him in "Canada West" with his wife and five of their children.

How do I know this is the right Tully family? Despite the apparent difficulty of researching an Irish immigrant family possessing such a common surname, I've not only followed each line of descent to the current day members of the family, but have the rich resource of ancestors who saved photographs—and labeled them, too!—letters and other mementos of these ancestors. Though representing what was likely yet another poverty-stricken Irish household, that collection, indeed, is an unrivaled source of wealth, as far as family heritage goes. 

There is, however, one problem. No matter how diligent or resourceful I might have been in combing the available paper trail, I may have missed one detail. And it is that one detail I'll try to grapple with for the remainder of this month's research. You see, my husband has one lone DNA match which, according to that account's administrator, leads to a Tully ancestor whose story is not quite the same as what we thought it would be. My father-in-law's tree doesn't align quite as neatly with this match's tree as I'd have hoped.

There are some possible twists and turns in that branch of the family tree which I didn't quite correctly trace. We'll take a look at those possibilities this week. But first, tomorrow, let's go back and review just what having that overarching research plan did to help us pick up, mid-year, and get back on our research feet again.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Where I've Been . . .


Incredibly, it's been a long six weeks since I last entered any research notes on that continual quest to mine the stories in our families' history. There have been some good reasons for that—health-wise, mostly—and some not-as-sterling reasons for lingering as long as I have. But for now, let's see what we can piece together. The goal is not so much to look back, but to move forward.

All told, posting one puny day's entry usually requires about three hours' effort, start to finish, but it's always been a worthwhile process. For one thing, blogging one's research journey provides a record of what has already been accomplished, and what still needs attention. Having a blogging plan helps organize the research path, too. But if nothing else, I always figured that, after a long day's work when most people collapse on the sofa to unwind to the sights and sounds of network television, my choice of wandering along the branches of my family tree was just as viable a way to relax.

While I didn't post any of my wanderings this past six weeks, that doesn't mean I wasn't looking. There's always time to poke around those half-finished branches. And I did find some tempting stories—like discovering a fourth cousin from a southern family connection ended up living on the other side of town from me, an entire continent's distance from where we both started life. There were some stories that broke my heart, and others which made me proud of my family's roots. Those are all stories which need to be told.

Since my goal in June was to untangle all the branches of my mother-in-law's Gordon roots—after all, 168 DNA matches can make for a gnarly Gordon tree—I have been busy behind the scenes with that attempt. To talk about it, though, might equate to the excitement of watching grass grow, so perhaps that can save for another year's posts.

Looking forward, July represents a shift in my Twelve Most Wanted quest for 2022: a move to examine the roots of the first of three ancestors from my father-in-law's Irish heritage. That is a task to be introduced tomorrow.

For now, my gratitude to those of you who reached out with comments and emails. Your prayers and well-wishes have been encouraging. If there is anything I have felt was missing from the medium of blogging, it is the wish that this could be turned into a true conversation. It's always nice to have a listener talk back, to join in the conversation—almost as if we are sharing a cup of coffee before going our separate ways to start our day. 

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