Thursday, September 21, 2023

Genetic Road Maps


When you consider how many matches the average participant in DNA testing can receive, it becomes mind boggling to think of all the people with whom we connect genetically. I have, for instance, over twenty four hundred people who have tested their DNA at and match me at the level of fourth cousin or closer. And that is just the matches I have at one of the five companies where I have tested.

In the process of reviewing all these matches and finding a place for each of them in my family tree, I inevitably end up adding several more generations of cousins as I chart my way back to the most recent common ancestor we—my match and I—share. That process alone can be a tedious exercise—something I can vouch for, having managed to merely complete one such matching task per day, now that I've started reviewing my Broyles connections. It's the documentation which puts the brakes on the otherwise willy-nilly temptation to go careening down the steep slope of descendancy. 

When you consider how many families in our past generations were composed of multiple children, you realize that documenting each one of them down to the present age can be a mind-boggling process. There are so many points at which to make a wrong turn.

Now that I've taken to using the DNA shortcut to that tedious every-child-in-the-family approach, I realize that tools like Ancestry's ThruLines serve as genetic road maps guiding my progress. I have the starting point, pinpointing my possible DNA cousin through the actual test results. And then I have suggestions, based on computer-guided searches through multiple resources within the Ancestry tree collection, laying out the possible route from where I stand, up through the ancestor I share with my match, then back to the generation of that specific DNA match.

While I appreciate having access to those genetic road maps, the route proposed still needs to be carefully traveled. Why? Because many of the clues pointing the way are drawn from other subscribers' family trees. True, there is a genetic connection, but any tree is only as reliable as the documentation which supported it in the first place. I've got to compare what others assert with a thorough examination of available documentation. I owe that process to myself—and to all the family members who will eventually come to rely on my research.

Thus, the reason for such slow progress, despite the handy genetic road map. Hopefully, by the end of this week, I will have completed confirming the six DNA matches whose ancestor was Jemima Broyles Horton, sister of my third great-grandfather, Ozey Robert Broyles. From there, I will move on to the four DNA-matching descendants of her older brother, Cain Broyles. If there is any time left, perhaps I'll be fortunate to also squeeze in work on the one DNA match each for their siblings, John Taylor Broyles and Edna Broyles.

As for the DNA matches leading to my own third great-grandfather Ozey Robert Broyles, don't think I'll be able to follow that route in the remainder of this month. With thirty nine matches on that line alone, it will be a while before I close out that process. Road map or not, DNA work doesn't proceed well on a speedway.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Aunt Jemima


Yes, I have an Aunt Jemima. Well, technically she was my third great-grand aunt, a sister to my third great-grandfather, Ozey Robert Broyles. The reason I've been paying particular attention to Aunt Jemima this past week is that she was the ancestor of at least six of my DNA matches, according to's ThruLines tool. And yet, maddeningly, I can't find documentation to confirm some of those DNA matches'  lines of descent.

Have you ever run into a problem like that? I've seen other ThruLines results asserting that the way I connect to a DNA match is through a particular line of descent, when in actuality, I discover an entirely different—and thoroughly documented—line of descent connecting my match with our most recent common ancestor.

As I run through this unfinished business of connecting all my Broyles family DNA matches, I've even discovered some ThruLines proposals which lead to distant cousins who are related to me in more than one way. In a case I worked on yesterday—amidst the four earthquake tremors which hit our home in rapid succession—I discovered a DNA match who descended in two different ways from my Broyles ancestors. And there was the catch: I actually have two different Aunt Jemimas in my Broyles ancestry.

The Aunt Jemima I had been working with was listed in ThruLines as the daughter of Aaron Broyles, my fourth great-grandfather. As it turns out, Aaron also had a sister named Jemima—possibly the very person after whom he named his daughter. The elder Jemima, Aaron's sister, was daughter of Adam Broyles—who, as you may have suspected, was also Aaron's father.

This elder Jemima married a man with the rather unremarkable name of Joseph Brown. While surnames like Brown can be the source of great consternation for unassuming family historians, this Joseph saved me some research grief by becoming the patriarch from whom at least two future Georgia governors descended.

The younger Jemima, niece to the elder woman by the same name, granted me the relative ease of research when she chose as her husband a man with a rather unusual name: Grief Horton. It is with six of her Horton descendants that I am currently struggling. What ThruLines asserts is not what I can find through supporting records. Granted, it will take quite a bit more patience and concentration to locate the type of documents which will reveal her female descendants' married names, but I am willing to tough it out and look beyond the usual sources for online records.

In the meantime, the slow slogging reminded me that sometimes, what online services assert is the right relationship may not always be so. Or there might be verifiable alternates. Or maybe both versions will turn out to be correct, as in the case of the doubly-related DNA match I've discovered.

While there may not be many Aunt Jemimas out there nowadays, there were at one point. Even for two hundred year old ancestors, we still need to keep our Aunt Jemimas straight. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

When Lightning Strikes
and Earthquakes Hit


Some things you never expect to happen...and then, they do. This will be one of those posts which has to happen quickly because of the risk of one unexpected event occurring, yet while I'm racing that risk, I'm in the process of discovering the likelihood of another unexpected event unfolding. These sorts of things occurring may be far more like when lightning strikes twice than I had ever thought possible.

I'm writing quickly because tonight we have been experiencing a cluster of earthquakes hitting within thirty miles of our home—closer than usual for this New York transplant in California. This is not the time when I'd like to be lolling around at my desk with the luxury of electricity powering my worldwide Internet connections. 

When I came home earlier this evening, my California-born daughter asked if anything had hit the side of the house. New York native me: I thought that was an unusual question to ask. Until, that is, I was sitting at my desk, preparing to write this post. The desk under my resting arms vibrated after a sudden jolt—and then I clearly understood what my daughter had been asking. We were having an earthquake. Another one.

Despite living in a place having the reputation of someday "falling into the ocean," it is not an everyday occurrence when we find ourselves rocking or rolling—literally—but we do know how to click on to the U.S. Geological Survey's Earthquake Map to see where the activity is happening. Clue: it happened—so far, four times today—beginning with the first crack my daughter heard, all clustered in one place not far from our home.

Meanwhile, I had been continuing my research plan, confirming several of the DNA matches showing on my ThruLines readout for descendants of my Broyles line. These match confirmations take time, at least for those who wish to also include documentation to demonstrate the actual family connection. I was working on one particular Broyles fifth cousin, when I noticed that, after her father's death, her mother had remarried. It was the surname of the next husband which caught my eye: an unusual surname someone in my local genealogical society has been working on for years.

This is what I like to think of as a genealogical lightning striking: the rare chance that someone else in my society might also be researching a family line I'm connected to. After all, it wasn't that long ago when I discovered that the ex-husband of one of my distant cousins ended up marrying a society member's sister. I would never have known that if we didn't make a habit at our society of keeping up on each other's research progress.

While we love to keep in touch over our latest family finds, we never actually expect to discover that we, ourselves, are related! Yet, with this new discovery tonight, I might be witnessing lightning striking the same place twice. And if this California ground ever stops shaking, perhaps I'll get a chance to compare notes over coffee again with a fellow genealogical society member.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Learning About the Katy


If it weren't for the consistent pursuit of my family's story over the generations, I doubt I would have learned as much about history as I have. Add to that geography, economics, and human hopes and dreams, fulfilled or dashed. Learning about the life of others in the family eventually means learning about Life, itself.

With the last of my research goals abandoned for lack of material allowing me to continue that track, I'll be dedicating the upcoming two weeks to reviewing the loose ends left behind from previous months' goals. First on my list is a review of DNA matches in my ThruLines results for the Broyles family line. While that may seem a simple assignment, I hardly expected I'd be learning about a train line with a claim to fame of going against the grain. This is what I learned about the railroad line known, over a century ago, as "the Katy."

Apparently, unlike other lines known for shipping goods and passengers across the continent, connecting east and west, the Katy was part of a company which became known as the first railroad to enter Texas from the north. The "unconventional north-south network" of the Kansas-Texas division (the K-T, or "Katy" for short) of the Missouri Pacific Railroad owed its roots to a formation designed to build a supply network connecting frontier military posts in the midwest with port cities in the south. The dream was to eventually expand to a rail system stretching from Chicago to New Orleans.

Before 1870, the U.S. Congress had passed acts promising land grants to the first railroad to complete a route through the Neosho Valley to the Kansas border. Though the Katy line was the first to do so, they never received the promised land due to other restraints. However, the company continued its push southward, completing a route to the Texas border by 1872, and incrementally beyond that to several other Texas cities by the early 1900s.

All this I would never have known, had it not been for a newspaper report involving one of my Broyles line DNA matches' ancestors. On Friday evening, July 12, 1907, the Parsons, Kansas, Daily Eclipse carried the story:

Second section of Katy freight No. 414 went into a weakened culvert about three-quarters of a mile north of Colbert yesterday morning about 5:10 as a result of which the entire crew of five men were more or less injured, one very seriously.

Despite the seemingly offhand comment, "more or less," reading beyond the first paragraph did indeed spell out the story more clearly. The train was "running light"—consisting of only the engine and caboose—and had just passed Colbert in what was then "Indian Territory." The conductor had just received a "slow order" regarding two approaching bridges upon which construction work had recently been done. The train safely crossed the first. However, in attempting to slowly cross the second, after the engine cleared the area, the construction gave way, leaving the caboose crashing down almost on end.

It was there in that falling train car that brakeman Horace Maxwell Rolater was thrown to the floor of the caboose, knocked unconscious as the fall fractured his skull and caused internal injuries. By July 17, the next edition of the weekly Parsons newspaper reported that Rolater had died the evening of the day following the crash. By then, he had undergone surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain in hopes that would improve his chances of survival. He never regained consciousness.

Horace's father, who lived in Oklahoma, was present at the time of his passing. Not much else was said about the man who lost his life due to construction issues along the route he took that last work day. The newspaper did mention that Horace left a wife and two children—a boy and a girl—but they remained nameless. The only other comment provided by the article was that it was believed Horace Rolater was not a member of any Brotherhood or fraternal order, most likely meaning that there would be no help in providing his funeral and burial expenses—a hard burden for a young widow to bear unexpectedly.

While Horace Rolater was not anyone my family knew personally—he would have been my grandmother's third cousin—stories like this implore me to look further. Of course, you know there had to be more to this story, for the only reason I found it was because one of my DNA matches is a descendant of one of Horace Rolater's children.

Those children were indeed quite young when they lost their father—a devastating thought to consider, never mind live through. Horace's son was not quite five years old—an age in which a missing father might not be much more than a fuzzy memory. His daughter, still only one year old, would likely only have experienced the sudden sadness enveloping the home, not actually remembered the father she had lost.

Stories such as this are ones which cause us to stop and consider, no matter how far removed we are from the actual relative. They belong to the life history of another branch of the family, true, but they also belong to the tapestry of what makes our extended family what it is, even now. They remind me how important it is to capture those memories for the others who share those roots with us. They are all part of our fabric of life.



Sunday, September 17, 2023

Keeping on Track With D N A


The larger the family tree grows, the more ways we need to organize our approach to systematically research all branches. Unless the goal is to only learn about one surname in the family tree, we face a multiplying spread of unidentified ancestors if we don't develop a system.

For the most part, since I've decided to include research on all collateral lines—in other words, the siblings of each of my direct ancestors—that has become a helpful approach to overcome two potential pitfalls in genealogy. One is the "brick wall" ancestor—that great-great whoever who becomes the roadblock in research progress due to lack of information. The other is that overwhelming dazed sense, in looking at the avalanche of DNA matches and realizing that none of the names look familiar: who are all those people?!

Doing an end run around the brick wall ancestor became far easier, once I learned to look to siblings to unlock the puzzle. Sometimes, it's the kid brother whose life story makes it into the tell-all obituary when older sister's prim and proper generation didn't have much to say at her passing.

It's the DNA approach, however, which took much more effort to snap into shape. I did develop a system to work through all the descendants of collateral lines, so I could pin those DNA matches into my family tree. Let me tell you, when working with large families with many children who do likewise in the next generation, that process, though thorough, can be tedious.

That's why I've developed a second, faster approach to provide information up front as needed. Rather than researching every single line of every sibling in each generation, I've used my DNA matches as my guide. In particular, I'm working with the ThruLines matches at and the Theory of Family Relativity at MyHeritage. Yes, of course, that leaves big gaps in my tree; I'm only working on those who have tested their DNA and have posted enough of a family tree to grant me a toe-hold on finding our ancestral nexus.

With that process, I'll be taking the next two weeks to double check on family lines which I had long ago meant to complete—namely, the three maternal lines I mentioned in yesterday's post: Broyles, Tilson, and Taliaferro. My starting point will be to examine the ThruLines for those specific ancestral surnames.

Starting that process today, I managed to add seventy more names to my mother's tree, most of them in one day of work. Though my own family tree has languished in the last several months while I focused on my father-in-law's Tully and Flannery lines, the count for my own tree has started to grow. Total count for documented ancestors and related lines is now at 33,977.

Because I had spent so much time working on my father-in-law's lines for the past three months, of course there was much progress there. In the last two weeks, I added 221 more documented individuals to that tree, which now stands at 34,019 names.

As I wrap up the last two weeks of September, and before springing into research on my own father's lines for the last three months of the year, I'll be focusing on the ThruLines results for my Broyles, Taliaferro, and Tilson lines. With each DNA match listed in that program, I'll then work through the documentation to confirm those ThruLines suggestions—or reject them, as sometimes happens, once a problem manifests itself through conflicting records. This can become a multi-generational process for each DNA match, but it can also become a deep and wide procedure, as the research stretches not only from founding immigrant ancestor to present time, but also through each sibling's line of descent over the generations.

Since I've saved way-markers for my more thorough but plodding family-wide sweep through the generations, I'll always be able to return to the places where I left off that process. In the meantime, though, since I have a limited two weeks for this catch-up period, I'll keep on track more quickly by focusing on what the DNA matches show me on specific lines of interest. When that two week test run is completed, I'll take another look at the results and see whether it will be worthwhile to pick three more surnames for this fast-track approach before the year is out.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Looking Back


One problem with plans is that they always seem to point our attention to the future. Sometimes, we need to reserve time for looking back.

Take my current annual plan for family history research, which I call my Twelve Most Wanted. Each month, I set aside time to focus on researching one ancestor. Along with some specific research goals—usually questions arising from what I was unable to resolve the last time I tackled that ancestor's story—the goal was to push forward, er, backwards in time enough to be within sight of the preceding generation's details.

Usually, such plans meant I had far more to do in one month than I calculated during my annual planning session during that dreamy time between Christmas and Epiphany. I generally left each month with a to-do list to get me started for the next time I visited that research topic. This month, unfortunately, has not been quite the same. And, as I look at the topics I've selected for the final quarter of this year, I realize I may be up against the same dilemma for each of the next three months, as well.

What to do with the extra time? After all, we were only halfway through this month when I realized there is very little more that I can devote to the Tully and Flannery lines, despite all the additional time remaining.

That's when I realized the problem with goals: they always push us forward. What is needed is to fold in a regular time of review, a feedback loop, of looking backward at what's already been accomplished, to see whether any additional adjustments need to be made.

For instance, during each month's iteration of the Twelve Most Wanted, behind the scenes I am churning out a corollary goal: document the lines of descent for that particular ancestor. This I do for purposes of connecting DNA matches to my family tree, but it takes time to complete each line. Sometimes, by the end of the month, I mark my stopping point with the best of intentions to return to the task. Often, those markers lay neglected where I parked them at the close of that month's research effort.

This reminds me that, inside any research plan, time should be allotted for returning to review progress on old goals. Checking to see whether anything else could be added, or any loose ends tied up, should become part of the routine as I move through each month's research goal.

I certainly have a lot of incomplete goals to revisit. Remember that unfinished business on my Tilson line? I'm still working on adding all the descendants of my fourth great-grandfather, Peleg Tilson. The same could be said about the cousins in my Broyles line, about whom someone asked me just the other day. And, of course, my Taliaferro line—which reaches even farther back into the colonial history of this country—needs continued attention, as well. And these were only the first three months' worth of this year's research plans. There is far more yet to review.

I think it is safe to say there is plenty to review before Ancestor #10 gets released for the upcoming month's project. Let's take the upcoming two weeks to revisit these three ancestors from the beginning of the year to see how progress has fared.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Pet Peeve


For the past several days, I've been mulling over the options regarding my latest research dilemma. While I had so carefully laid out my research plans for the entire year—my Twelve Most Wanted, a plan set at the beginning of January—this month with my father-in-law's Tully line, I find myself running short of plan. With half a month yet to go, I have absolutely no further material to help me find answers. And that dilemma—reaching all the brick wall ancestors in each family line—is becoming my latest pet peeve, as we'll see as we launch into the goals for the last quarter of this year.

While casting about for a viable alternative approach, I returned to my trees at to snag screen shots of the fan view beta option which recently popped up on my account. What should greet my bleary eyes upon pulling up the site again but a screaming green banner announcing, "Know Your Pet DNA by Ancestry is here."

Now, before you jump on the bandwagon headed in either direction—yay or nay—let me share a little story. 

It was years ago when I first tried talking one of my paternal cousins into springing for a DNA test. I was particularly stuck on my father's line—a perennial complaint of mine, thanks to my grandfather's silence about his true roots—and hoped that having another DNA participant on my father's side might help.

My cousin had plenty of questions, which I was careful to address. I was beginning to feel worthy of being sainted for my patience—or at least worthy of a sale on my proposal to have her test—when she suddenly confessed that she actually knew quite a bit about genetic genealogy.

The only difference between what she knew and what I knew? She did her testing on horses. She was a horse breeder, and DNA testing was an important way to verify that the right family lines were involved in the pedigree.

I've since heard similar stories from people who are dog breeders, as well. We think of DNA as the domain of our own genealogical endeavors, but DNA testing is apparently something used in a number of domains.

Thus, when Ancestry introduced their own DNA tests for pets this week, I wasn't surprised. There are many people who care very much for their pet, perhaps seeing that pet more as part of their family than simply an animal companion living in the same house. I'm curious to see how this offering resonates with the current market, though. Verifying a purebred line for which a customer may have paid highly is one thing; curiosity about the roots of a pet rescued from the pound may not be as compelling. I think seeing how this product fares may be more revealing about us as a culture than it will be about the pet for whom we laid down the purchase price.

Rather than stare at the neon green ribbon across my computer screen, though, I hope the anticipated big change heralded on a banner on the DNA page (for humans, that is) will live up to its hype. "Even more precision in the coming weeks" hopefully wasn't delayed due to this other product launch. I'd much rather have more information on my father's mysterious roots than know that Fido was merely a mongrel, after all.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Release Your Research Skills
Out Into the Wilds


After years of enjoying the speedy success of researching our roots using the commercial entities I sometimes refer to as genealogy "big box" stores, it seems our research muscles are atrophying. With the "easy" family history details which show up regularly in computer-searchable census enumerations and other digitized vital records, we forget how to release our research skills out into the wilds and wildernesses of real life paper. This week brought an occasion to reacquaint myself with the fact that there are plenty of resources out there which are not locked away in the computer world of genealogy city lights and subdivisions.

Like many other groups, our local genealogy organization coordinates what we call "Special Interest Groups." These are smaller circles of members who get together to focus on one particular aspect of our family history research. We are probably the only society outside the state of Tennessee which hosts a Tennessee Special Interest Group, but that's just a research interest several of us share.

This week was our monthly gathering and, as usual, the conversation was lively. Several of us are researching the historic Washington County, and one member had brought several photocopies of pages from a book she had found years ago. The book, unimaginatively entitled History of Washington County, Tennessee, contained biographical sketches of several of this member's ancestral families.

The question was: how to locate a copy of this book once again? This member had only stumbled upon it year ago at a library while visiting a friend in Southern California. Since that is a trip of over three hundred miles, she was not likely to return, simply to look at the book once again.

I thought I'd try my hand at helping her locate another copy. My first stop: Internet Archive, where both staff and volunteers have uploaded an impressive amount of written material over the years—but there was no result for my search there. Taking the cue from the location of the library where the woman had first found the book, I went to the library's online catalog to see if the book was still in circulation there. It was—a good sign.

Confirming the book's title, and now from the catalog also gleaning the date of publication and name of the authors, I had more details to lead me toward the next step in my adventure. The "authors" turned out to be a genealogical organization back in the area of current-day Washington County called the Watauga Association of Genealogists. I found an online entry explaining the history of the group. Then I headed to the Association's own website to see whether they still sold a version of their book, since it was published in 1988—not quite to the point of being in public domain, but hopefully not too long since their last printing—but they did not.

Next step in the exploration: check to see which libraries closer to home might have the book in their collection. Enter to discover that a Family History Library nearby did indeed have a copy of the book.

That, however, was not all. WorldCat also pointed me to other books with similar titles. I realized I might as well make note of these other potential resources for our Washington County research, so I saved that listing as well. One of the books on this topic was a more recent publication, and while I thought I'd be interested in buying that one, sticker shock prevented me.

Meanwhile, since another topic in our Tennessee meeting was the family photos shared in those ubiquitous "Images of America" books, I promised to bring what I thought was my copy of the Washington County book published by the printer, Arcadia Publishing. However, I was mistaken; instead, I had their book, Erwin and Unicoi County. Close, but not the same location. So I went to Arcadia Publishing's own website and looked up all the titles they offer on Tennessee topics. There are pages and pages of resources—even more books to follow up on, check reviews, and possibly purchase.

The conversation in our meeting moved next to resources for finding old letters, journals, and other memorabilia from bygone years in Tennessee. Archives were a main topic—and another one which nudges us off the grid of big-box genealogy subdivisions into the wilds of our own exploration. There can be lots to find in these off-the-beaten-path resources for historic material. Using ArchiveGrid or the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC) at the U.S. Library of Congress may—if you're lucky to have the right ancestors and the knack of finding usable material—lead to more information on your family.

After our meeting, I realized it felt good to flex those research muscles and go outside the box and off the grid to search for material I was seeking on my family's roots. There is plenty of material out there. It just takes far more persistence and know-how than simply sitting at a computer being spoon fed "hints" from a subscription service. Yes, these are the wilds of genealogical research, but sometimes we need to feed that sense of research adventure and strike out on our own.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

A Pause in the Interim


While I am casting about for a new topic to research in the short period leading up to writing next month's goal, I had a thought I'd like to share. Perhaps, in this interim, you might have some thoughts on the same situation—in which case, I'd love to hear them.

I often reflect on the state of local genealogical societies, especially considering what is to become of these small but vital groups. It may seem that "big box" commercial entities have become the be-all, end-all which are swallowing up these small organizations. After all, there is so much that can be obtained online to support building that family tree. Why need a local group? Where can such a small group fill in the gaps?

Of course, if you've been reading here at A Family Tapestry for any amount of time, you know I'm a strong supporter of local genealogical groups. Perhaps it took coming through a devastating pandemic to open my eyes to exactly why local groups are needed, but to me it is crystal clear that we in local organizations provide the human element. We are the ones filling in the gaps where people want feedback—someone else to rejoice with us in our research victories, cry at our losses, come alongside us when we are all tackling a new research challenge.

There is, however, a glitch in all this celebration of local societies. And I can best describe that with a story. 

In our local group, which only weathered the pandemic through the help of online meeting technology—hello, Zoom!—we have nonetheless had other organizational problems. Not the least of these has been the difficulty finding anyone willing to step up and volunteer to be part of leadership on our board of directors.

As we have turned our attention back to in-person meetings in the last several months—a move warmly received by our membership—we tried a new type of meeting. This one, called simply "Coffee and Conversation," is a monthly chance to get together and just talk genealogy. No agenda. Membership-driven topics of discussion. Free flow of sharing ideas, resources, and crowdsourced problem-solving. An hour that lets our members shine without pressure of preparing presentations.

This past month, the topic turned to finding old high school yearbooks. One member mentioned that he had found a copy of his school's yearbook for his year of graduation, which inspired him to put his research skills to work discovering what had became of all his former teachers.

"What year?" someone in the crowd asked. "Fifty nine" was the reply.

Another member fist-bumped the man who graduated in fifty nine. Another one said he beat them both by two years. "Fifty seven!" Meanwhile, the woman sitting next to me said, almost to herself, "Fifty five."

It was interesting to listen to the group share their remembrances of the "good old days"—especially when it came to local history—but one thought was not lost on me. These are members of a group meeting in 2023—a group which is having trouble finding candidates to run for officers in our board for the year 2024. 

Yes, I did the math. And the numbers opened my mind. Our members have been there, "done that," for decades. They've served on the hospitality committee, or as newsletter editor, or even as president. Again and again, in many cases. And next year, they are not the ones we need to look to when it comes to filling the positions which will lead our organization into the future.

The people we need for those spots are the ones who weren't even born in 1955, let alone graduated high school then.

The question, then, is how to find them. I'm not totally sold on some suggestions which have been floated by other bloggers. Making the exterior of anything shiny has never been the answer to truly keeping a house in order. Finding college student volunteers to serve in exchange for class credit, or high school students writing essays for a scholarship competition may be commendable outreaches, but those are not where we will find committed, long-term members willing to volunteer over the long run.

My hunch is to go back to basics and remember what it was that got us started as members of our own local association. In my case, it was the invitation of a genealogy friend which got me to my first meeting. A connection with a friend and a sharing of a mutual interest. The people element combined with the purpose equation.

Another thought is to think of when we first turned our thoughts to belonging with a group of like-minded people. For many of the members in our group, it was when they gave their first serious thought at retiring from a full-time occupation: then what? Some people make golfing their new full-time job. Others embark on a journey to discover new hobbies they hope they'll learn to love. But retirement is often the spark that gets some people saying, "I always wanted to look into my family history, and now I have the time to do it." I know that is what the students in my beginning genealogy classes tell me.

If you graduated high school in fifty-anything and are still working hard as a volunteer with your local genealogical society, that is great! I hope you will be able to keep up your service for many years to come. But if you were a graduate of the seventies, or the eighties, or even more recent than that, I hope you are ready to step up and try your hand at making your local genealogical society everything that it can be.

And when you do, bring your friends with you. Almost everything is more fun when you do it with your friends. I know genealogy is.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

At the Trail's End


The positive aspect about plans is the way they keep us on the straight and narrow research trail in accomplishing goals. If you plan things like I do, though, there is usually more plan than month in which to complete it. This month, however, is quite the opposite. Though I've had good intentions, my plan to learn more about my father-in-law's great-grandparents, Denis Tully and Margaret Flannery, yielded me little.

Instead, I hit a snag: a detour into an entirely new branch of the Tully line. That unexpected turn came when I discovered Denis and Margaret may have had a son I never knew about. That son, also named Dennis, was the ancestor of more than eight DNA matches for my husband. This was someone I couldn't simply ignore. Never mind the lack of documentation, either back in his native Ireland or in his immigrant home in Ontario, Canada.

At this point, I've nearly completed as much as could be found on the many descendants of Dennis Tully and his wife, Margaret Hurley. In addition, I've linked those eight ThruLines DNA matches to my husband's tree and found three more matches within those at Since then, I've combed through his matches at three other companies: MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA, and 23 and Me. Through that research journey, I've confirmed at least one more DNA match at MyHeritage and am still watching for others.

Yet that original goal—to learn more about Dennis Tully's parents in the Tully and Flannery lines—has brought me no closer than I was when I started. With a little over half a month remaining, I've run out of plan before I've run out of time. I could jump ahead to my goal for October, moving into the last quarter of the year, which I usually devote to my own father's difficult-to-research Polish lines. Or I could try exploring another avenue which needs attention.

The down side to relying on monthly plans is that if those plans run short of month, I'm quite out of practice being spontaneous. Where is the allure of those rabbit trails when you need them to be beguiled? 

Monday, September 11, 2023

The Tortoise Approach


Perhaps change is in the air. Along with the shifting seasons, I'm spotting signs of more than just beta tests at In fact, there's quite a buzz about the banner heading AncestryDNA's landing page—something I've unwittingly bypassed since I sign in directly to the option to view my matches or latest ThruLines update. Superimposed upon what appears to be a map of the world's reference panels, the banner heralds: "Coming soon: AncestryDNA results will be updated with even more precision in the coming weeks."

Coming weeks? How long will I have to wait to see this? I fervently hope I've missed seeing that banner for quite some time. I'm not sure I can wait that much longer. Sometimes, I feel more like the hare in the fable, chafing at the starting line to be off and running, rather than the plodding tortoise, sure to never win the race to find my ancestral answers.

While several genea-bloggers are surmising the latest heralded changes at Ancestry will relate to ethnicity estimates, I'm frankly not all that concerned about those data points. As I work, match by match, to pinpoint the place on my family tree where each DNA cousin belongs, I'm hoping for far more useful data for such a task. Remember, I'm stuck with this extra member of my father-in-law's family—Irish immigrant Dennis Tully, who is the apparent ancestor of more than eight of my husband's DNA matches. If there was any way, through DNA technology, to speedily determine whether he was the actual, bona fide son of our Denis Tully and Margaret Flannery, rather than being another relationship, that is the stuff of which I'd be most appreciative. As far as I can see, there is no other way to find documentation showing the correct relationship.

Between the latest beta tests and banners promising good things to come, the news certainly is being heralded on social media. Anticipation is fun, yes, but the end results will fully tell the tale. Yet, looking back over the last nine and a half years since buying my first DNA test kit, the ease with which I can determine where to place each cousin in my tree has greatly increased. I'm in awe over how much I've learned about family connections through this tool of genetic genealogy.

At this point, I've completely connected each of the eight ThruLines matches for this Tully line—the largest DNA test-taking set of all the descendants of Dennis Tully's supposed parents, Denis and Margaret Flannery Tully. Within the remainder of the DNA matches at, I've also spotted three or four additional candidates for this line and placed two of them in the tree, as well. Next task will be to move on to the other DNA companies where my family has tested, to spot matches descending from this same Dennis in those companies' matches, as well. And matches who may not show up in my husband's test might be part of the test results for either of my two sisters-in-law.

More discoveries await, I'm certain. All it takes is more work—plodding work to examine matches not yet aligned with Side View wizardry or through other tools. A tortoise approach for sure. New tools may redirect those efforts into slam-dunk answers with the new and improved hare approach, but I know I can figure out many of these puzzles with old-fashioned sheer effort, as well.

Still, I'm glad for those speedy short-cut tools. The more we can accomplish in less time, the more liberty we'll have to move on to even more amazing discoveries. In a few weeks. With the next update. In the meantime, perhaps I can make it to the finish line before the hare makes its next appearance. You know the old saying about slow and steady....

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Beta Bait


It was the indefatigable Debbie Kennett who first brought my attention to it: beta tests are's way of gauging customer response to their changes. On her, ahem, not-Twitter account, she shared a link to an article describing the technology behind the inquiries behind the beta tests.

Yes, I know that's a mouthful. But here are a few takeaways I gleaned from the linked article. Posted on the website of Statsig, a feature management and experimentation platform now being used by Ancestry, the article explained, "Ancestry's roadmap includes a mandate that every new feature has to be delivered via experimentation."

Thus, perhaps, the explanation regarding the multiple beta offerings appearing in the last several months, as the article itself indicated. The Statsig tools help the Ancestry team analyze how each beta offering functions and, bottom line, is received, even by sub-segments of their customer base.

Perhaps hidden within all that analysis is the reason why some beta offerings seem to simply disappear. That was apparent when I first read articles about the latest offering I've mentioned—that of the Fan View options—where the array of features shrunk from several to just one in a matter of days.

Then, too, bloggers have shown signs that multiple beta offerings are swirling about at the same time. Just when I spotted Marian Wood's recent post—and thinking it was yet another dissection of the Fan View beta—I realized Ancestry's beta world is operating on multiple planes of digital existence: you may receive one beta while I get to check out another.

Just as quickly as the Fan View beta morphed from one multi-faceted version to a single option—choose it or don't—I realized I better not bank on having that option around for the long term. Though it isn't anytime near my year-end reverie on my Twelve Most Wanted for next year's research plans, I figured I better jump on the chance to capture the visuals I think will help me in planning, in case that chance disappears entirely.

Today, I took a snapshot of the Fan View for each of my sixteen second great-grandparents. The idea is to spot at a glance where I need to focus future research efforts. Of those sixteen, some pictures produced painfully obvious diagrams, like this one for Sarah Catherine Laws, from my maternal grandfather's family.

Each of the sixteen snapshots show the work I have cut out for future research projects. Each diagram looks different. Take, for instance, this Fan View for Mary Elizabeth Rainey, from my grandmother's heritage, pointing out a quite lopsided research path.

Now that I have each of the sixteen views laid out—and preserved on my own system, just in case this beta test doesn't seem to resonate with Ancestry subscribers or the company's management—I have a clearer picture of just where I need to apply future work. My next step will be to employ this same routine to capture similar views for each of my husband's second great-grandparents, as well.

Then, hopefully, I'll be better equipped to decide where to apply my research efforts for the upcoming year. And if any further beta tests come my way with complementary tools and resources, I'll be thrilled to explore just how they might amplify my efforts.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Looking Forward


Fall is in the air—and in those delicious promos for pumpkin spiced lattes. Around here, daytime temperatures are still reaching into the nineties, but people are ready for a change.

I can't say I'm in any rush to dispense with the seasonable weather, but the coolness in the morning—and a few other signs—have put me in the mood to look forward to a new year.

Yesterday's message from which gifted me with the beta version of their new "fan view" has certainly been part of the reason I'm looking forward to the upcoming year. Frankly, work on my father-in-law's Irish roots, mired in the murky midst of a century lacking existent records, has put a damper on my research enthusiasm. And looking forward to the last quarter of the year, when I devote time to puzzling through my own father's unfathomable Polish roots, comes with that same dread of unsuccessful forays. I need something new to look forward to, and the fan view beta has given me that first glimpse of something—hopefully—yet to come.

Here's the main reason I'm looking forward to using the fan view: it will help me find some fresh candidates for my Twelve Most Wanted for 2024. Yes, I warned you: I'm already looking forward to a new year. My approach—and quickly, just in case Ancestry yanks its beta version of this fan chart option—is to take all of my most distant known ancestors and draw up charts using each of them as the home person.

I could take, for instance, my second great-grandparents and create that fan view chart for each one of them. Then, looking at who is missing in the generations beyond, formulate my plan for filling in those blanks. For the family lines in which the blanks don't appear until generations after that point, I simply use that later great-grandparent as the home person for the fan chart. In some cases—for instance, in my mother's and my mother-in-law's family lines—that home person could be someone born in colonial times.

Wherever those ancestors fall on the timeline of generations, the visual of who's there and who's missing is quite helpful—and is somehow more obvious to me than looking at a horizontal pedigree chart. I'm having quite a bit of fun with this already, but I think it will offer up some viable alternatives for me to research next year. It will certainly pinpoint some of the lines I've neglected over the past years.

I may not be much for pumpkin spiced lattes, myself, but that encouraging feeling of looking forward to a new challenge does provide inspiration—and energy. And to think it was all thanks to a simple experiment in a beta version of an idea that really isn't anything new. Just different. Like changing seasons. And different coffee flavors. 

Friday, September 8, 2023

Seeing Things Differently


A well-trained eye has become accustomed to gleaning minute details from maps or other diagrams. In our case as family historians, pedigree charts become our familiar domain. We know how to read them and what to look for. And yet, I find it refreshing to be able to rearrange the order of a chart, because it provides a new way to view research progress. When the diagram is rearranged, it allows us to see things differently. And sometimes, that leads to helpful discoveries.

Yesterday, when I opened up my tree to make additions to my father-in-law's new Tully line, up popped an announcement about a different type of family tree: a fan chart.

Ancestry is adding an additional option of seeing your pedigree chart in what they call "fan view." Of course, this is a beta offering, so not everyone will see this immediately in their account. In fact, I'm apparently the new kid on the beta block, as others have already written about this beta offering. It was only a few days ago when Ancestry's fan view test included even more options than what I can access now—options which I hope Ancestry will eventually include in their final version, such as extending the view from five generations to seven, and setting the chart so that it can be easily printable at a size which is legible. After all, I'd love to share my work—without having to bring along a magnifying glass when I show it off.

Granted, there are other genealogy programs, both online and in desktop-resident options, which already offer the option of viewing our work in fan chart arrangement. For some of those, I am already a subscriber. However, since Ancestry is where I do the bulk of my family history research, I am glad for this latest development.

New toys demand time for play, and I did experiment with printing the charts—both my parents' tree and that of my in-laws. I was surprised to see, in working with my own parents' lines, that there were no blanks among the generations. I've had so much trouble researching my paternal side, especially the Polish ancestry, that I was sure I would find gaps. That was an encouraging discovery—even though I could have seen the same thing, looking at the traditional pedigree chart (I prefer using the horizontal version). I guess looking at things differently can also be encouraging.

What I found most useful in this new fan chart offering is the option of going to a specific individual—say, an ancestor outside the five-generation parameter currently offered in this beta version—then, on the person's profile page, selecting "view in tree." From that vantage point of the specific individual, I can then select "fan view" and see that individual at the central position in their own fan display.

Here, for example, is the fan view visually demonstrating what I currently have added to the line of my second great-grandfather, Thomas Taliaferro Broyles. You can see, even in this chart, Ancestry has automatically added suggestions for the ancestors I haven't yet confirmed, including clickable green tabs with hints. The other uncolored slots show me at a glance where I need to focus my research in the upcoming year. 

If Ancestry decides to include this fan view option in their ongoing offerings, I hope the several iterations of the idea that were originally developed will be included in the end product. Color coding to show which ancestral lines need the most work—greater need for work represented by more intense shade of the color code for larger number of hints—could help pinpoint where to direct research efforts. So would the ability to expand the chart to include more generations.

At a glance, the fan view option gives us another way to not only see what work is still needed, but aesthetically reward us for what we've already accomplished. I certainly appreciate the opportunity to print and share what I've been working on. And who knows? Maybe the family and friends who see it might be encouraged to try their own hand at finding their ancestors, too. 

Thursday, September 7, 2023

When Parts of the Story are Missing


Researching a less-familiar family line can feel somewhat like finding your way down a dark hallway, blindfolded. That's the feeling I'm left with, once I entered the line of Dennis Tully's grandson, Frederick Hugh Kane. It's been that thin line of hockey connecting each of Frederick's children—and, eventually, leading me to them.

The key to finding each of these children was taking a leap into the dark and locating an obituary for at least one potential child. Then, using the names of that person's siblings listed in the obituary, branching out to locate more documentation on the next sibling. Once again, step by step, comparing names to move to another sibling, until I complete the family constellation. 

It hasn't been easy. The last sign I could find of Frederick Hugh Kane—other than his own Find a Grave entry—was his appearance in a few census records. In 1911, he appeared in his parents' home in Perth County, Ontario. At that point, he was twenty one and single. Ten years later—though with no sign of any marriage record—he was not only married to Lillian, but was father of three: baby Frederick and daughters Mary Ethel and her mama's namesake, eldest child Lillian Ruth.

From that point, the elder Frederick's next appearance in 1931 was as a married man, yet in the household of his sister Ethel and her husband, Frank Harkin. No mention of Frederick's wife or children, at least in that household. Frederick's burial in 1954 was the next record I could find for him, buried alone, but in the same cemetery as that of his sister Ethel.

Meanwhile, from the obituary of one of Frederick's children, John, I learned that their mother had moved them to Toronto when John was about twelve. Since he was born in 1925, that meant his mother moved the family in 1937—several years after her husband appeared in his brother-in-law's household for the 1931 census.

There is a story missing here, of course, but likely not one I'll be able to access. While there is always a need to be discreet with family details—although some governmental entities divulge more documents with the public than others—it is the continuing story of the DNA connection which I'm seeking.

I could likely fill in the blanks in my own mind as to what became of that family. But now that I've found the obituaries for far more children than those whose names appeared in that most recent publicly shared census enumeration, I've begun piecing together the family constellation. And that's really all I had been seeking: a way to confirm where DNA matches belong in our family tree.

Genealogy, for me, has always functioned somewhat like an algebra equation. When I find myself missing a key detail—the "x" of the equation—I simply have found ways to re-arrange the known facts to isolate the variable. When the known facts are readily accessible—and we all know which states or provinces share more than the others—we can pencil in that algebraic genealogy calculation quite handily.

There are other realms, however, where even if we are missing the documentation, we can read between the lines and guess what might have occurred. And that is where discretion comes in. Perhaps there are parts of the story which are better laid to rest, for the peace of mind of those who remain, if for no other reason. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Running in the Family


From time to time, when I hear people discussing members of a family, I'll hear the phrase, "It must have run in the family." Perhaps it is in comparing pictures of siblings, or meeting someone's parent or child, that the similarities can jump out unexpectedly.

In piecing together a family tree, researching collateral lines can be just as helpful. Though we may not see those ancestors face to face—or even in photographs—learning something about their siblings can help guide us in our search to fully understand the family. Once we learn about an ancestor's siblings, we start to get those "aha" moments when we realize there are traits which run in that family.

Take the ice hockey player, "Red" Kane, I mentioned yesterday. I've been working on that family's tree longer than I had expected, simply because I haven't been able to locate adequate documentation. And yet, stepping forward into the unknown anyhow, I began to spot some similarities popping up in the possible members of that family.

It actually wasn't Red Kane himself whom I first found in my search, but a brother. Thanks to a hint at Ancestry as I stumbled about online, I found a border crossing for Red's brother John. Though whoever filled out the border crossing paperwork in 1945 got his name partially wrong—John Birchman Kane instead of John Bertram Kane—his birthdate and the name of his mother Lillian confirmed this was the right sibling.

The place he was destined for in 1945 was what caught my eye: the San Francisco Hockey Club at the Winterland Arena. I got the feeling he wasn't traveling across the continent from his native Stratford, Ontario, for the mere purpose of visiting a tourist attraction. He was going on business.

It wasn't until the other end of his life when I found the rest of the story. In his obituary, I picked up a few of the missing details from the earlier portion of his life. For one thing, John B. Kane went by the nickname Jeff (though the only mention of a hockey player by that name was for one season with the San Francisco team during the 1945-1946 season).

John was one of eight siblings who survived to adulthood. According to his obituary, John, like his brothers, "excelled in hockey." His obit noted that he played semi-pro in both San Francisco and Indianapolis, before returning home to Canada to play for the Toronto Winged Wheelers. Now that I've found that information for both John and his brother Francis, perhaps that trait, running in the family, may help guide me to the rest of the brothers.

It was the obituary which also helped fill in some of the blanks in John's own life, especially the many places where he lived, and the family members who remained—and may potentially be among my husband's DNA matches whom I've yet to place correctly in the family tree.

But following these traits and personal history turn out to be helpful in yet another way. Like piecing together colored slivers into a mosaic to make sense of the bigger picture, it is such glimpses of each family member's lifetime which helps me paint the picture of the larger family descended from our Dennis Tully, the immigrant from County Tipperary who settled in Canada. And this family in particular presents me with a challenge: there are several pieces of their picture which are still missing.

Prime among the missing puzzle pieces is what became of Dennis Tully's own grandson, the man who supposedly was father of these Kane brothers who lived and breathed hockey. Until I began finding obituaries for any of John's siblings, I had no idea what became of Frederick Hugh Kane. But now, at least I know he was out of the picture, according to this obituary, when his mother moved her children to Toronto when John was about twelve.

I'll do the math, of course, and keep looking for more documentation, but I'll also take my cue from the fact that hockey runs in this family's blood. Detail by detail, across all eight of the siblings who survived to adulthood, what I can find hidden between the lines may, in the aggregate, be what leads me to the answers I'm seeking on this family line. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Looking for
the Stories Behind the Ancestors


Granted, not many of us know our own third cousins, personally. But this month, in researching the descendants of a newly-discovered branch of my father-in-law's Tully family, I found one I wish I had gotten to know. 

Dennis Tully, that Irish-born Canadian immigrant whose descendants showed up in my husband's DNA matches, unexplained, had a large family which included several daughters. One of them, named Johanna but preferring to go by Hannah for short, married a man by the name of Hugh Kane. They, in turn, settled in Stratford, Ontario, where they had a somewhat smaller family than the Tullys' own, the oldest of which Hugh and Hannah named Frederick Hugh Kane.

Frederick eventually married a Stratford gal named Lillian, from which followed at least eight children that I could find, with the last two being twins. While I have yet to determine part of their family story—Lillian seemed to be the strong influence in this household—I noticed a theme developing in the siblings' stories. They were all active—and one skill that they liked in particular was ice skating.

No surprise, here; they're Canadian. Plenty of opportunities to practice their hobby, eh?

I began seeing this trend as I read through the siblings' obituaries. When I got to one in particular, I found myself wishing I had had the opportunity to meet him in person. The memorial styled him as someone with roots in Canada, but there was so much more to say about the man. He was apparently a great storyteller, "never met a stranger" and "could learn everything about a person in the course of an elevator ride." Credited with "silent generosity," he served on his adopted city's parks and recreation board for eighteen years, after which the city named a park in his honor. At the close of the obituary, where typical "in lieu of flowers" statements are inserted, this one was different: "that you would do one spontaneous, unsolicited act of kindness for someone."

This Tully descendant alone, of all his siblings in the Kane family, had left Canada and settled in Texas, which might have explained the border crossing documents I was able to find. As it turns out, there was a reason for that, and it had to do with his love of skating. Actually, that love of skating brought him to cities across the North American continent, places like Detroit, Saint Louis, Tulsa, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Vancouver--as well as the Fort Worth area, where he eventually settled. As a professional ice hockey player, Francis J. Kane—or Red Kane, as he came to be called—played in 447 games from 1943 through 1951. While most of his games were played in the minor leagues, he did play for the major league Detroit Red Wings.

It was fun to find so many details about the life of this third cousin. More than just building out a family tree with bland names, places, and dates, I've always wanted to include the stories that seem to bring these people back to life again. Newspapers are one way to attempt getting the bigger picture, but sometimes that resource is as limited as the editorial policy in place in an ancestor's hometown paper. Granted, it is not every day that we find write-ups in Wikipedia under our relative's name—but sometimes, that rare occurrence can provide information as well as links to other resources about that family member. Sometimes, just googling the family member's name, or looking through old history books at Internet Archive can also provide resources for those stories we crave.

When we do find those unexpected stories, what a treasure they are. At the slightest hint that they might be out there, it's worth taking the time to go take a look. 

Monday, September 4, 2023

Canada, Genealogy, and Ice Hockey:
There May be a Connection


Perhaps it will come as no surprise to learn that this couch potato has never been much for professional ice hockey. Despite our city becoming home to a minor league team years ago—which, in politics beyond my comprehension, eventually gave way to another team up through last year—I've never been to any of their games. Even taking time to understand which local team belonged to which league was more complicated than my mind could take in.

For the most part, though, the connection was clearly with a major league team whose home base was located somewhere in Canada. And that is the only reason I've taken any notice in the sport for this week's posts at all: guess whose descendants played ice hockey professionally?

Yes, if you've been following along here for the past month or so, you've noticed that my father-in-law had some Canadian cousins, thanks to one newly discovered branch of their Tully line remaining in Ontario while our family moved onward to Detroit, Cleveland, or Chicago.

As I worked my way through the generations of this Dennis Tully's family, I feel as if I've "met" a whole new set of cousins. Briefly, I've been introduced to their stories, but for the most part, I know very little about them, other than their names, dates of their life span, and where they lived. But some stories stand out. And yes, despite my disinterest in ice hockey, I actually became quite interested in the stories of a few of these third cousins.

Granted, I'm still churning out that Tully family tree, generation by generation, for my main goal of placing eight DNA matches in their rightful place. While that is going on in the background, this week, I'd like to begin sharing some of the stories I'm uncovering. We'll begin, tomorrow, with the story of one of Dennis' descendants whose energy and skill on the ice brought him far from the family's adopted home in Ontario, Canada, while pursuing a passion close to the hearts of many Canadians.

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Simply Plodding Along


As exciting as unexpected breakthroughs may be, most of genealogy involves simply showing up and doing the work, step by step. One name at a time, one document added each step of the way, and eventually the virtual paperwork takes shape in the form of a family tree.

That's mainly why, every two weeks, I step back to take a look at what's been accomplished in the past fourteen days of simply plodding along. A mere spark to re-ignite the joy, perhaps, but it keeps me moving on.

Most days, nothing exciting comes to pass. Knowing that the discovery of that new Dennis Tully line this summer could possibly lead to a mushrooming of my father-in-law's tree, I wasn't exactly surprised when I saw 458 new names added to the tree in the past two weeks, but it certainly was encouraging to see. My in-laws' tree now has 33,798 documented individuals listed. It's taken a little here, a little there for years to get to that point—but that's the point of it. Bit by bit, it all adds up, but each step of the way was really a tiny effort.

Sometimes—like yesterday, when I mentioned Ancestry's email alerting me to a new DNA match—there is a pleasant surprise. While I'm not working on my own parents' tree right now, that DNA match actually belonged to my mother's family. Adding that newfound relative to the tree actually garnered a total of seven new names, something I hadn't even expected right now with my research focus elsewhere. My parents' tree now has 33,907 names in place, all documented.

As I race through this new Tully line in my father-in-law's tree, I've been treated to "meeting" some new ancestral relatives. Many of them led average lives, but some had interesting stories, making me wish I could have had the chance to sit down with them and have a long talk about family history.

I suppose that is our collective regret in family history: loss of the many stories we may have missed when ancestors took them to the grave. Hopefully, despite the protective shield of privacy for the living, there may be opportunities to gather some of those family stories yet. 

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Quick Tips and
Record-Breaking Moments


Unless couch potatoes have become the new athletes, you wouldn't expect genealogy to become the domain of record-breaking accomplishments. And yet, that's what happened this weekend for this (very unathletic) family history buff.

It all started with an email from announcing the arrival of a specific DNA match to my account. It was a fairly close relative—at an estimated second to third cousin, at least that is a close match in my experience. Of course, this brand new match notice came with a warning that the only other item to offer was an unlinked family tree. But hey, I'm game to explore. After all, one look at "shared matches" could provide all the information I need.

As it turned out, though the match hadn't yet been assigned to either side of my family—"unassigned" rather than listed on either the paternal or maternal side of my tree—the "shared matches" tab on my match's entry page told me everything I needed to know. That was a good thing, considering the unlinked family tree she offered contained only five people, three of whom were listed as "private"—in other words, living relatives. The two named ancestors were her paternal grandparents—assuming, that is, that the home person actually was my DNA match.

The shared matches list, however, contained almost twenty other DNA relatives. Some were quite closely related to me—including eight who shared at least one hundred centiMorgans with me, and several others whom I had already identified in my tree. Most helpful was the fact that the two closest in-common matches were children of my paternal half-siblings, an immense clue pointing me in the right direction.

Because I've long made it a habit to include collateral lines in my family tree, it already included the name of this DNA match's paternal grandparents, even though they weren't part of my own family line. Of course, that meant I also had this match's maternal side, the one which connected her to my own family.

In all, it probably took me a matter of minutes to find where this DNA match belonged in my own tree, mark her as a DNA match, and confirm the relationship on the site. From the minute I saw the email to the point of looking at the match's limited information and checking with my own tree and confirming the match took far less than an hour—and that included adding some documentation, as well.

I thought it was a nice touch to see that Ancestry is now alerting subscribers when they receive a new, close DNA match. Along with the notice, the email included a green button front and center, labeled "Explore your match." Couldn't have been any more obvious. 

Besides that, the email contained a list of quick tips labeled "How do you start a conversation with a new match?" The third point resonated with me, considering my current research project: just ask if the match has any favorite stories or photos to share about the mutual ancestor. I'm finding collaboration on my newly-discovered Dennis Tully is opening up worlds of understanding.

To wrap up, the Ancestry email offered a quick overview of other tips in a video featuring the ubiquitous Crista Cowan in her "Genealogy in a Minute" series.

As far as my "record-breaking" DNA matching prowess, I can safely say it was thanks to spending years linking collateral lines to my family tree. Once the bigger picture was added, it is now quite easy to get one's bearings in a matter of moments, given Ancestry's search capabilities applied to my own tree. And a succinct email reminder from Ancestry didn't hurt, either.

Friday, September 1, 2023

New Month, Same Research Goal

Welcome to September! Are you ready? I'm not.

While I've made progress on my research project for August—admittedly, somewhat sidetracked with the unexpected appearance of new relative Dennis Tully in my father-in-law's tree—what should I encounter as the research plan for this upcoming month of September but the goal of delving deeper into another Denis Tully's roots.

Call that redundant, I guess. Or prescient planning. How was I to know, back in January when I set my research plans for my Twelve Most Wanted ancestors to research for 2023? At that point, I had written that I wanted to delve further into the details I had already discovered about Denis Tully. Back then, I had a hunch that what I was seeking was perhaps simply hidden in plain view, right in front of my face. Perhaps re-examining all the facts I had already found might lead to the a-ha! moment which has, so far, eluded me.

Right now, I'm continuing the chase for what most likely is Denis Tully's son, another Irish immigrant in Ontario, Canada, also going by that same given name. I'll keep working on that project through the beginning of this month, with hopes that I'll get more responses to my messages to newly-found DNA matches which might lead to further family stories and remembrances. Old letters, saved photographs, reminiscences about visiting distant cousins in, say, Chicago or Detroit or Cleveland might be just the thing to help confirm where the younger Dennis fits in the family constellation of the elder Denis.

Depending on just where this journey leads us for September, we may find the story line winding down far before we reach the end of the pages in this month's calendar. If so, at that point, we'll detour to another branch of my father-in-law's family to round out the month. With this many descendants of just one line of Denis and Margaret Flannery Tully's large family, we're sure to run into more stories at some point. 

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Making Connections
with Other Family Researchers


How helpful it is when the tools we have to reach out to others researching our family lines actually return useful connections. In the case of my current Tully project, I've met another avid family history researcher at and we've been comparing notes on what we know about the family.

The rationale for connecting with such distant cousins is that some parts of a family may have benefited from more heirlooms or heritage stories than other members. In this case, the researcher has enjoyed a wealth of family stories passed down from previous generations. Added bonus: she is willing to share.

In a recent conversation, we were noting how many members of the Canadian Tully family had opted to cross the border to settle in nearby U.S. cities, such as Detroit and Cleveland. This researcher, who had already shared a number of local details with me, asked, "Have you heard of the Black Donnellys?"

While no, I hadn't, she piqued my interest further by explaining that due to that tragedy, that may have been the specific reason a number of family members may have left the area.

Of course, you know I had to race to Google to see what I could find about the massacre that occurred at the Donnelly home in 1880. I had never heard of the tragedy. Then again, here I am across the continent and south of the international border by almost one thousand miles. Give or take the distance that separates us, plus the years which have passed since the massacre occurred, there is a lot that separates me from the "local history" of that time and place. And yet, this researcher could explain how the impact of those events had influenced her family's choices in where they lived and worked. She urged me to consider whether that, rather than other reasons, might have been the impetus for the Tully family's choice to leave where they had settled in Canada.

Local history that is so far removed from us may not be a detail we take into account as we puzzle over the seemingly unreasonable choices our ancestors made. Yet, if we only knew of those details—could develop a knack to put ourselves in our ancestors' shoes, so to speak—perhaps their choices would make more sense to us. Perhaps, even, we could better intuit what their next steps might have been.

Granted, it is hard, from a vantage point so far removed from where these ancestors once lived, to learn how to put ourselves into their shoes. I am convinced, though, that taking the effort to learn more about the local history, geography, and living conditions of the time and place will help reap rewards in our research progress. If nothing else, this becomes a strong motivator to me to reach out to the others who are also researching the same family lines. There's someone out there who does know the family's stories—and perhaps that someone would be more than happy to share what she knows.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

When our Family's Heritage Speaks to Us


Yesterday, my daughter and I spent a couple hours in the kitchen preparing a big batch of pesto to freeze for wintertime dinners. There was no recipe; just the oft-repeated combining of fresh ingredients which my daughter blended from that culinary sixth sense which seems to need no road map. It was a lot of work, of course, but an enjoyable opportunity to get together and talk—not to mention sopping up the last few drops with a morsel of fresh bread, a slice of mozzarella topped with tomato and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. As much as we relish a treat like this, you'd think we were re-enacting a centuries-old family tradition, but we weren't. We just appreciate delicious food.

Earlier in the day, I had gone to the library along with a few other volunteers from our genealogical society to help library patrons with their family history questions. We never know what to expect, but do our best to provide guidance and resources, based on our own prior research experience. It doesn't hurt that some of our volunteers are former real estate appraisers, or are well versed in researching Native American roots or using DNA for genealogy.

As it often turns out, this was one of those days in which that expertise came in handy. An African-American library patron came to us with a research brick wall, but not what you'd expect; she was attempting to find her ancestor in records of the Cherokee nation. Our volunteer did her best to equip this library patron with additional resources and some next steps to take before checking in with us again next week.

When I reflected on the day's experiences later that evening, I realized one thing: you can't always tell which aspects of a person's life will reveal the truth of their roots. You may think—especially since I sport a name like Taliaferro in my ancestral heritage—that my daughter's pesto recipe came to us, handed down through generations of Italian ancestors. But you'd be quite wrong in such an assessment. I have no such connection in my family tree, nor does my husband in his. It just so happens that we live near a farmer—he's the Italian—who grows wonderfully aromatic basil, which he will pick fresh for us when we need to do up a batch of our recipe. It's a matter of resources at hand in the local market and an epicurean bent to our nature.

Likewise, our friend who stopped in to see us at the library that morning might have had a more expected research question. At least, we had expected something far different. But in this researcher's case, she had something my basil-grinding daughter and I didn't have: a family tradition. Her family had paperwork which had been passed down from her grandmother, years ago. She just wanted to find a way to connect all the records available to complete the family story.

Granted, there are family history stories which may have been, to us, previously unknown—until we stumbled upon an unexpected discovery. Such is the case for the generations of descendants reaching back to that previously-unknown brother of my father-in-law's grandfather Tully. But for the most part, families which shared those stories over generations tend to know the general direction their research will lead them. In those cases, our task is more of one seeking to close the circuit, to come full circle through documentation as well as oral tradition, so that the story we pass down to the next generation is one we can confirm through a full array of resources.


Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Signs of Progress


Whether it is true or not, a little (former) bird tipped me off the other day that there might be changes afoot at Ancestry. Small ones, of course, but an ethnicity update was one specific mention. You know I had to immediately go take a peek. That doesn't mean I didn't look for other minor adjustments, of course. Ancestry has been tweaking their presentation here and there for months lately, so I launched my own exploration.

While I didn't find any earth-shaking DNA changes—both tests I administer noted the last update was in June of 2022—there were other handy modifications. Though I probably missed this the last time I looked, the bell-shaped icon in the top righthand corner of the screen not only kept pace with my work by adding in a steady stream of latest hints to inspect, but also advised me of my progress. And right now, I need that kind of encouragement.

This month, I've finally succumbed to the notion that my father-in-law's grandfather probably had yet another brother I knew nothing about. That is the Dennis Tully I found, thanks to multiple DNA matches. For the last several days, I've been building out the tree to add in this new Dennis' descendants, of which there are many. Clicking on the notifications icon today, that handy device informed me that, just in the past week, I had added 239 more people, along with reviewing 450 hints. All, thanks to the discovery of yet another Tully in my father-in-law's family.

Though I keep a biweekly progress report of my own, it's helpful to see at a glance how nicely a bit of work here, another bit there can add up over time. There are some times we need more encouragement than others. For me, these seasons of genealogical grunt work are one example of those kinds of times.

Since Ancestry has been quite consistent about keeping a feedback loop open, I can only presume that some of the comments made by subscribers may have led to such updates. Then, again, perhaps the many talented members of their staff have contributed valuable input which has gotten translated into a better user interface. Whichever way it is—or a blend of both worlds—it certainly is helpful to see signs of progress as we get lost in build our ever-expanding family tree.

Monday, August 28, 2023

When Boy Meets Girl


Were you one of those children who clamored to hear just how your dad met your mom? It seems so many people have a soft spot for boy meets girl stories. I'll admit I was always curious about such details concerning my own parents—but right now, I'm more interested in how some of my ancestors met. Top that list with the ancestors who seemed to make such details a well-kept secret.

Since I've been researching my father-in-law's roots this month, one couple on my need-to-know list is the newly-discovered line of Dennis Tully who, after his arrival in Canada, married another Irish immigrant named Margaret Hurley. This Dennis is, as far as I can tell, a newly-discovered son of my father-in-law's ancestor who was also named Denis Tully.

My thinking was that if I could find this Dennis' marriage record—and if I were extremely fortunate—perhaps it would reveal the parents' names for both bride and groom. Unfortunately, I have no idea how or where Dennis met Margaret, let alone when. My best guess, based on the birth dates of their children, would be about 1856.

It occurred to me that I've been down this path before with the extended Tully family. It was a few years ago when, thanks to some DNA test matches, I discovered that there was another son of our Denis Tully and Margaret Flannery. This son, Michael, was not in his parents' first census record after the Tully family moved to Canada, but did show up on the subsequent census in 1861—not in the same household, but at least on the same page as his father.

I never had discovered how Michael met his wife—here's a groaner: she was also named Margaret—so I decided to revisit that family line to see if I could figure out a way to locate such details. I looked first for Michael Tully prior to his marriage to Margaret, and found a likely candidate in the 1851 census. This Michael Tully was a sixteen year old laborer listed in the household of an Irish Catholic couple named John and Bridget Moore. Along with Michael was another boarder named Ann Welsh—a surname which, back at the Tully household of Michael's parents was the same as that of a family living nearby.

This Michael, in 1851, was residing in a town called Brantford, which at the time was part of the same county as the home of Michael's parents—the village of Paris in Brant County. A distance today of twelve kilometers from town center to town center would prove an easy trip, even back in that era.

If that were the right Michael Tully, then could Brantford be the place where Michael met his future wife Margaret? Her maiden name was Dowd, which could present some spelling challenges. I looked to see what could be found in the census just following their likely 1856 marriage.

Though I did find a family named "Doud" in the 1861 census, living in nearby South Dumfries township—which in the 1850s did include a portion of Paris—it didn't appear by their ages that this Margaret would have fit in, though the proximity to Brantford looked promising. Another Dowd family in Hamilton also caught my eye, but didn't seem likely, either. Of all the Dowds which were listed in the 1861 census for Canada West, none seemed likely. 

Though my test run with the question about Michael Tully didn't produce any helpful clues, I did try the same exercise for Dennis and his bride Margaret, looking in the 1861 census for her likely family. Granted, in researching this family line, I've stumbled upon results peppered with spelling permutations like Horely and Earley. Notwithstanding that caution, I could find no detail which could help me figure out how Dennis could have met Margaret.

Sometimes, those boy meets girl stories may only survive through the years when the storytellers in the family pass down the tale from generation to generation.

I'm still looking for that Tully family storyteller.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Read the Fine Print


Read the fine print—then read it again. It's that double-check which sometimes saves us from veering off in the wrong genealogical direction.

I can't tell how many times I've been grateful that I actually laid eyes on a document itself, rather than trusting someone's transcription of the form. Mistakes can happen, of course, and we always want to avoid those needless errors. But I know that looking at a second document—and then a third and a fourth—further keep us from getting snared in someone else's error.

In my behind-the-scenes research drill this month, I've been adding Tully cousins to my father-in-law's tree. Just today, though, a census record caused a double-take. An entry for what, ten years prior, had been a daughter, became a son in the subsequent enumeration.

I'll chalk that up to a clerical error, but though I have run into such problems in the past, I do admit this time, I hadn't spotted it right away. It was only after said daughter Francis seemed to disappear from all subsequent signs of existence that I went back, searching. Sure enough, that Francis turned out to be a son in the later document. By his adulthood, I noted that he preferred to go by the name Frank—perhaps for obvious reasons.

In the same research project, I've spotted a transcription giving another new Tully cousin's date of death as 1944, when in reality it was 1994. Someone just keyed in a "4" to the sequence one space too soon. Now, wouldn't that have made a rather curious entry in the family tree? The record's transcription made it look as if it took the family fifty years to actually get around to burying the poor bloke. Made me look twice on that one, too.

I'm sure everyone's got their favorite story of records errors and transcription troubles. No matter how long we have been on this family history research road, though, there's bound to be one or more transpositions which slip by us unawares. It always helps to review our efforts. Actually lay eyes on the document. Read the fine print—not just once, but twice. Make sure it's a digital version of the original if at all possible, not merely someone's transcription. And double-check what has been found; if possible, find two different records to confirm a fact, not just rely on one document.

Perhaps it's the unfamiliar research path I'm on right now which heightens my caution. After all, this line of the newly-discovered Dennis Tully represents a family I hadn't known about before. I have no family stories to rely on, no hand-me-down photos or family treasures to guide me in this process. All I have are the records, right or wrong. Those can build a lifelong sequence of events for each member of Dennis Tully's family line by letting the fine print do the talking, from document to document, to identify the right relationships.   

Saturday, August 26, 2023

New Options for Service


Years ago, genealogical societies used their ability to coordinate projects to advance our collective research capabilities. Local societies such as the one in my county used that volunteer willpower to publish indices of local records—deeds, burials, voter registration. Whatever could lift a distant researcher over his or her brick wall and onto further pursuits, that was the goal for the resources the society assembled.

Now, with so many digitized resources at our fingertips, perhaps we have forgotten that we can still be of assistance to others. I am still amazed when our society sells some of those decades-old publications—until I realize that our county is part of a remaining, though dwindling, black hole of digitized resources. Not many of our records have made the cut when it comes to offerings from genealogical companies.

Now, with Ancestry promoting their new "Circles" and urging subscribers' collaboration, and MyHeritage giving examples of such collaboration at their website as well, perhaps genealogical societies can turn their attention to using these services to be of assistance to others online.

The other day, members of our local society gathered for an in-person discussion group. We've found that, with many of our programs still being offered online despite the passing of the pandemic, what's been missing is the social element. We just miss hanging out together before and after our monthly meetings—so we simply made that a separate event.

Out of this week's in-person discussion group, members shared their memories of decades past in our community. It was obvious that there is a lot of "institutional knowledge" represented in our membership. It was agreed that these are memories which need to be shared and passed down to subsequent generations. One longstanding member mentioned wanting to do a project using an old high school yearbook, in which he'd research his high school teachers and their families to see whatever became of them. Someone mentioned that that would be a great article for our newsletter. But why stop there? How can we harness our decades-old tradition of service in promoting family history research with these fresh ideas and technology tailor-made for sharing?

With Ancestry's Circles, I wonder about setting up collaborative research projects, not just for one family line, but for all the families in our community—a First Families tree, for instance. If enough people are willing to work on it, we could capture the stories of the city's families and preserve them in one place. It could be our gift back to the community.

I've heard of others who have wanted to do the same sort of project at MyHeritage—find a unifying factor which binds together a community, then research the families who were part of that time period in the community's history. I'm on the lookout to spot any other such projects now, just to see how others are approaching these possibilities. While there may not be a market for self-published genealogy books from societies at this point, that doesn't mean we as societies can't still put together our collective efforts to provide resources to the genealogical community at large.

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