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.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Adding a New Generation


When I think about the key ingredient which first beguiled me to pursue my family's history—the stories passed down through my mother to me from her grandaunt Fannie—I remember how startled I was to discover that it could actually have been possible for me to meet the family's great storyteller. The stories she shared were full of history from the early days of the family's settlement in Florida—back as long ago as the 1830s. And yet, it wasn't until after I graduated from college that Aunt Fannie had passed away. She had taken on a reputation as historic as the memories of previous generations which she had captured in her tales.

And how many of those family stories there are to capture, even after all these years of pursuit. It reminds us of our role in keeping those stories alive for another generation—and not a moment too soon. Just this past week, our extended family welcomed in the first arrival in the next generation. Adding a new generation to the family's history reiterates the call for us to continue preserving and passing on those stories. Someday, this newest generation will take our place, and what will they have to pass along, if we don't give them the gift of these remembrances?

While so many family historians bemoan what seems to be a lack of interest in what they've discovered by years of research, I still am convinced that someone in the upcoming generations will step up to take our place as preserver of family remembrances. While this first member of the newest generation for our family may not take the helm as our future family historian, someone joining the ranks of that next generation may well be the one. As long as we share those stories, there will be someone who will feel the call to step up and do so. We never know, as we welcome in each member of this newest generation, who will be the one. But that there will be one, I am quite certain. 

Thursday, August 24, 2023

The More we Add, the More we Connect


The wonderful thing about some tech tools for genealogy is that, the more information we add, the better it is that the tools can connect us to the information and people we need.

Recently on, I received a message to return to my DNA test results to check for updates. Ancestry is apparently rolling out new details. "More of your matches have been updated into parent groups," the email read. On their invitation, I clicked the green button to "see your updates."

This, I presumed, would be when the company resolved some of the DNA matches in the "unassigned" category, but when I checked that entry, it still remained under a banner declaring, "pending update."

Not to worry. Right now, while I'm working on my father-in-law's Tully line, I see Ancestry still has 7,703 matches lined up for that paternal line alone. Let's just say that should keep me busy for at least as long as it takes for Ancestry to get around to actually updating the unassigned category.

Besides, was it merely my imagination, or did I suddenly find new ThruLines matches for that same Tully line, now that I've added upwards of twenty new cousins to that tree? The more that tree grows, the more surnames can connect to other subscribers' trees—the main point of the ThruLines tool. I've added material the tool can sink its teeth into, and now it is churning out the information to guide me further.

When I first told people, years ago when our family first DNA tested, what my game plan was for linking those DNA cousins to their rightful place in my family tree, I invariably heard groans. Yes, it is a lot of work, but now I'm finding even more genetic connections pointing squarely to Irish immigrant Dennis Tully, born 1830 in County Tipperary, being another likely son of my father-in-law's great-grandfather. Through pursuit of collateral lines, once again an entire branch of the family is now coming to light—both in Ontario, Canada, where that immigrant had settled, and now throughout the province and even across the border in the United States.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

How Spoiled We've Become


Think, for a moment, how you would go about finding documentation on your ancestors if you no longer had, say, a computer and online access and websites with handily digitized documents detailing the lives of those who lived before you were even born. Know what you'd be doing? The same thing your ancestors did when they wanted to write the story of their family's history.

I realize, as I struggle with identifying the correct set of parents for Irish-Canadian immigrant Dennis Tully, that I may sound rather spoiled. After all, we can accomplish so much more—and faster, too!—than anyone could have dreamed would be possible, perhaps even as recently as only forty years ago. For the record, I do remember SASEs and long waits—for a price—to hear from distant governmental agencies that, no, they did not have any record of my grandparents' marriage license. But it has been a long, long time since I've had to rely on such efforts.

Not everything genealogical is housed online, we are reminded, so perhaps in pursuing this question about Dennis Tully, I need to remember there is still a world of resources out there which may remain untapped, unless we take care to look for research opportunities. It is still possible—even necessary—to look for locally-known resources which may hold the key to freeing this brick wall ancestor. 

For instance, in reading about each of the descendants of Dennis Tully as I add them to his tree,  I ran across an obituary of one family member who was instrumental in establishing the Irish American History Archives. Until that point, I had never heard of such an organization, but apparently someone connected to this Dennis Tully had a hand in setting up the collection there. Since the holdings include recollections of "individual life experiences" of Irish immigrants who settled in the Cleveland, Ohio, area—as did some of Dennis Tully's descendants—could it be possible that I'd find any mention of his family there?

The only way to know is to ask. And the only way to do that is to learn about local resources. Places like city libraries where reference librarians can point a researcher in the right direction, or local historical or genealogical societies can share what they know about the treasure troves of information in their area. Many of these organizations now have an online presence—if not through their own website, perhaps through other forms of social media. Reaching out and asking questions or seeking research guidance has never been so easy, but we need to remember to go and look and ask. Not everything is online.

Perhaps, for our effort in this direction, we may return empty handed. That is always a risk. But it is no more a risk than looking on the usual big-box websites, which also have many gaps in records. The flip side is that we may actually find a gem for our efforts to dig deeper in the local area. And, at this point, it would make it well worth the effort to find useful information. Some of our ancestors sure did seem to know how to make themselves hard to find.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Not Gretna Greens


Where do you find marriage records for your ancestors when the ceremony doesn't seem to have occurred in the place where either bride or groom called home? The presumption is to look for the closest "Gretna Green" and check the records there.

I've been holding out for a marriage record for Dennis Tully, that Irish immigrant to Canada whose wife Margaret's maiden name didn't seem to match up with records I had for my father-in-law's Denis Tully. My goal in looking for Dennis' marriage to Margaret Hurley is the hope that their record would reveal something I've yet to find back in Dennis' Irish birthplace: names of parents.

Since there is no record that I can find anywhere near County Tipperary, where our Tully family originated in Ireland, I am presuming the ceremony was conducted after the bride and groom arrived in Canada. And yet—so far—no document. That's when the notion of checking Gretna Green possibilities taps me on the shoulder.

The concept we've since labeled "Gretna Green" goes back to a law passed in England in 1753 prohibiting underaged couples from marrying without parental permission. Since laws are apparently made to be circumvented, sure enough, English couples soon discovered they could get around that requirement by marrying somewhere other than England. Conveniently, Scotland at that time had no such restriction, and enterprising lovers slipped over the border to Scotland to exchange their vows. The first town they found where they were free to do so was called Gretna Green.

The name of that tiny village, Gretna Green, soon came to be the label for any place where couples eloped to avoid marriage restrictions imposed in their own hometown. And genealogists eventually learned that, when unable to locate the marriage confirmation for their ancestral couples, they could consult a list of cities which were considered to be Gretna Greens. The FamilySearch wiki, for instance, provides a map of known locations in the United States, as well as a chart which begins, "If your ancestor is from..." (fill in the name of a family city or region), "Then check here...."

Though the chart mainly focuses on United States cities and regions, I noticed there were several entries for Canada, including one for Ontario locations where couples might slip across the border to, for instance, Port Huron, Michigan. 

While that thought might have been tempting for me—Dennis Tully did have some descendants who either married in Port Huron, or even settled there—I still believe that would not be a likely scenario for Dennis Tully and Margaret Hurley, themselves. There are a few reasons I think so. For one thing, each of them was Catholic, and baptismal records I've found for some of their children indicate their intention to follow the tenets of their religion, which would include the Catholic sacrament of marriage—hardly a ceremony they would leave to the closest blacksmith across the border in Gretna Green.

Then, too, while the Gretna Green concept was alive and well long before the time in which Dennis and Margaret would have married—their oldest child was born in 1857, so likely a year prior to that point—the area in Canada in which they settled would not have lent itself easily to slipping across the border. While it is true that the region in which they settled later saw traffic to the United States through places like Port Huron, I would be more interested in confirming the time period in which such movement would have likely occurred—a much later time period, I suspect.

Another reason I'm not capitulating to the Gretna Green concept just yet is that I haven't thoroughly searched the marriage records for the possible locations where either Dennis or Margaret may have settled in the 1850s. Taking a look at the overview for marriages in Ontario, Canada, in the FamilySearch wiki, there are far more resources than just what can be found for our couple—nothing, incidentally—at Even so, there may be gaps in what is available in microfilms at FamilySearch, itself, though I won't know until I grind my way through all of the available resources there.

Even so, there are limitations to the microfilms which are available. Many records prior to 1869—and our couple's wedding would fall within this range—were gleaned from church records, not civil records. And even if we could find the right record for the right couple, despite some later records I've found in Ontario with all the information I'm seeking, chances were high that the record itself might be sparse

Fortunately, FamilySearch provides a list of "What else you can try" if initial search attempts bring up nothing. I will likely be checking out the links provided on this list, too. But first, I'll narrow my search to the places where I've been able to find Dennis in the earliest years after his arrival in Canada West. The first possibility would be in Blenheim, where a young, single, man by that name was living with another Irish laborer, two Catholics living in the midst of a page filled with Protestant families in the 1851 census. Could he have met Margaret there? Or did he meet her when he settled in Warwick in Lambton County? Or even in Paris, Brant County, where his possible father lived—and where, later, his first child was born?

These are the three main possibilities I'll be checking as I search for that elusive marriage record for Dennis Tully and Margaret Hurley. It makes more sense to look at those locations—or the geographic region closely surrounding those locations—than to strike out to intuit which Gretna Green location might have been the favorite spot for eloping couples in the late 1850s in Canada.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Collateral Connections


Many people, when starting to build their family tree, opt to go straight for the main line: they want to know only about their own direct ancestors. After those direct ancestors turn into brick wall ancestors, though, we begin to see the value in taking a detour to explore those ancestors' siblings and cousins—or what we call collateral lines.

Now that I've been stuck on this unexpected but quite possibly verifiable brother to my father-in-law's maternal grandfather, I've been calling collateral lines my best research friends. Yet, I'm almost running out of month for this research project, and need to sit myself down, ask a few guiding questions, and remind myself of the value of seeking out collateral connections. I'll be taking the rest of this week to do just that as I wrap up this month.

One prime goal is to connect our eight DNA matches who belong to this unexpected collateral line—all descendants of Irish immigrants Dennis Tully and Margaret Hurley—with our family's direct line descending from a different Denis Tully and wife, Margaret Flannery. I suspect that count of eight DNA matches will grow before the week's out. 

Here's why. The younger Dennis Tully had several daughters, all of whom would lose their maiden name in the transition to becoming mothers in their own rights. Thus, repeating that process for another generation or two, our DNA matches from Dennis Tully's line might present us with an unexpected surname—unless, that is, I become familiar with the list of possible surnames for descendants.

I've only just begun this search for descendants in the past week, and yet, I already have a list comprised of thirteen surnames I would otherwise not have known about. The list includes some typically Irish surnames, such as Cahill, McCauley, and McCabe—the last one of particular interest, because I believe I've spotted that one on otherwise unidentified family photos.

The list also stretches to some unusual surnames, such as Homan, Devlin, Demming, and Calladine. I always am happy when research leads to those names which are seen less often, for they sometimes make tracing the right family a bit easier. 

Of course, on the flip side of that convenient scenario are those I groan about: common surnames such as McDonald, Wallace, and Wilson. Those challenges are in there, just to keep me on my toes, I suppose.

Adding Baxter, Kane, and Storey rounds out my list, so far, although I am quite sure there will eventually be far more, as I notice each generation seems to include at least five children. As I go, I will add the lines of descent to my father-in-law's family tree, so that I can link each Tully DNA match to the appropriate relationship.

That is not the only task for collateral lines, however. Just as for direct line ancestors, these relatives also need to be supported by documentation. As I go through this process, the value of it becomes the chance to learn more about each individual as a person, not just as a slot to fill in in the family tree. The hope is that, in the process, I'll run across some clues as to who might know more about how their ancestor Dennis Tully connected to my father-in-law's grandfather John Tully, and to his father, Denis Tully.

This is an assignment far less streamlined than simply attaching a name to a branch on the tree. Depending on how much we can read between the lines on boring government documentation like census enumerations, for instance, those ancestors may remain an enigma to me.

On the other hand, just this past weekend, I ran across an obituary for the wife of one descendant, who had dedicated her life's work to establishing a local archives of Irish-American history. I regret the fact that I learned about this person through her obituary—this is the type of person I would have loved to share this research quest with!—but the discovery drops one of those encouraging breadcrumbs to keep me on the trail leading (hopefully) to answers.

It is in these collateral lines that we may find the answers to our brick-wall situations. Though there are no guarantees, I'm convinced of the possibility. And that's enough to keep me going down that research pathway. 

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Counting Cousins


Cousins, at least in my opinion, can be valuable guides to piecing together a family's story—especially when it comes to those cousins who lived three or four generations prior to our own lifetime. Right now, I'm just not sure whether the newly-found Dennis Tully is actually brother of my father-in-law's maternal grandfather, but I'm testing out some hypotheses by plugging him into my tree—along with the several children of that Dennis who would be cousins of my father-in-law's own mother.

Since today marks my biweekly progress report, this will provide a count of just how many individuals have been tentatively added to that family tree. The hope is that I will eventually reach down to the third cousin level where DNA matches start popping up in the tree—matches which, at some point, I'll need to tag in the tree for their genetic as well as genealogical connection.

Since making that decision to tentatively add Dennis Tully and his wife Margaret Hurley to my tree, I've added 218 additional names. Call each one of them cousins, for that is exactly what I've been working on. And those 218 are just the beginning of the task. Once Dennis removed from his native Ireland and settled in Ontario, Canada, his marriage—whenever and wherever it may have occurred—led to a far more abundant life than he could have hoped for, back in County Tipperary. There will be several more descendants of Dennis Tully and Margaret Hurley added to this tree, as we will see in the next two week period. As of today, that tree stands at 33,340 names.

Though the line of the other Denis Tully—he whose wife was Margaret Flannery, and whom I'm presuming was the father of the younger Dennis—has been my research focus this month, I did also manage to add one more name to my own mother's tree. These stray additions usually happen due to discovery of an important life event—a marriage, for instance, or birth of another child—and I try to update my tree as soon as I discover the addition. Though the addition may be small, saving it for later—those "more opportune times"—seldom works out well in the long run. Better to keep up with family changes when they are announced. Considering my own tree is now up to 33,900 names, that timeliness is an imperative.

The DNA match count may be inching up ever so slowly—on Ancestry, for instance, my husband's match count went up by only two in the past two weeks, and my own by three—but I anticipate with this month's research project to eventually discover several more DNA matches which connect my husband to that newly-discovered Tully line. Already, by adding new lines of cousins from the Dennis Tully descendants, I'm seeing surnames from marriages which I've also spotted in those DNA match lists. I'm looking forward to connecting the genealogical documentation to the DNA information now available to place these matches in the right part of the family tree.

And I marvel to think it was only a few years ago that we would never have had any way to know about these missing cousins at all.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Getting Sociable With Genealogy


Just when we thought we saw the death of local genealogical societies and a turn to genealogical solitaire, must have decided to change it all. And I say cheers for that.

For some time now, those of us who have sprung for a DNA test have been able to reach out to our matches—at least in the hopes of getting a reply from our unknown cousins. With my latest discovery of a possible additional branch of my father-in-law's Tully line, I've been doing quite a bit of reaching out, myself. And, encouragingly, some people have been responding.

With DNA, not all responses are upbeat, of course. I did run across one contact whose family member's situation was apparently more similar to an adoptee's story than the usual connection we'd expect to make. What do you say in a situation like that? But in many other cases—especially now, when I'm looking for family memorabilia which might provide clues to confirm or reject my hypothesis about the newly discovered Dennis Tully—I'm welcoming any information I can find. Other DNA matches want to know, too. Together, we are pushing back into the murky unknown on this family tree, and it is exciting to contemplate.

The ability to connect with other DNA matches presents a tool to enable us to gather more information. There may only have been one lucky son or daughter who inherited those early photographs or other family keepsakes, back in the first generation of our family's history. But now, we can scan photos and share their digital versions with the multiple distant cousins who are now out there, several generations later. Having the ability to contact those matches makes the exchange possible.

There are other ways now to connect over family history, as well. While most genealogy services have offered the ability to connect with other subscribers, it seems that opportunity is multiplying., for instance, has offered their new Circles, and while they have yet—apparently—to work out the kinks in full accessibility for connection with other subscribers, this idea is on the right track. 

Then, too, the Activity tab in the pedigree chart on Ancestry includes in their drop-down menu a selection called Viewers. In my opinion, that was an excellent idea. Apparently, other subscribers did not share that opinion; for in the few weeks since its introduction, several people researching the same lines as mine took the option to opt out of the feature by shutting it down in their settings. While I understand people's desire to maintain their privacy, at the same time, they are cutting themselves short from any opportunity to collaborate with other researchers pondering the same family puzzles. Some tools lose their value if no one uses them.

Over the years, I have heard encouraging stories of distant cousins working together to multiply their efforts in piecing together their family's story. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I've also run into researchers who have a knack for putting a damper on any team approach. I dunno, perhaps we need a guide for getting social with our genealogy. But no matter how we reach out, I hope the trend to connect is able to grow and thrive. We all know something about our ancestors that maybe the others in the family have yet to discover. With access to tools for connecting and a shared passion to pursue our family's stories, we have a great way to super-charge the process and enjoy making the connections that come with teamwork. 

Friday, August 18, 2023

Getting Cozy With Caution —
Or, How Yellow is Becoming My Fav Color


You knew I'd have to do it sometime. I've got a prolific—but only potential—branch of my father-in-law's Irish Catholic Tully family waving their DNA test results in my face, demanding a resolution to this stalemate. I've got Denis Tully and his wife Margaret Flannery on the one hand, parents of my father-in-law's maternal grandfather John, and this other guy named Dennis Tully and his wife Margaret Hurley on the other. Oh, and the descendants of this other Dennis—eight of them and counting—make a promising showing as third cousins or at least third cousins once removed, when compared to my husband's own autosomal test results.

Not so fast, you might be singing as you wave your yellow flags to join the chorus of genealogical caution: where is the smoking, um, document to connect the two lines? Yes, I still have no Irish birth confirmation for that other Dennis. Not even a Canadian marriage record for the immigrants—let alone one which would conveniently add in the names of parents for each side. Perhaps those documents will come after slogging, page by digital page, through some microfilms at Or not.

After mulling this over—not to mention, wondering if the search weariness I'm feeling qualifies yet as "reasonably exhaustive" search—I decided to take a weasel approach: proceed with caution. After all, I need some way to attach all those DNA matches into a tree diagram somewhere.

So, revisiting a play from my Falvey and Kelly play book from three years ago, I'm borrowing a tip from Connie Knox of Genealogy TV: add a yellow caution icon next to the younger Dennis' name and plug him into my tree. In addition, I've added notes on my Ancestry family tree to further flag those who blast past screaming-yellow warning signs to indicate that this connection is merely a guess. And I'm proceeding with building Dennis' tree.

This is not the first time I've stumbled upon a surprise addition to the Tully family line. Years ago, I realized that the other Tully down the street in the 1861 Canadian census wasn't simply a coincidental occurrence; those two Tully men were related. Michael, whom I previously knew nothing about, was actually son of Denis and Margaret (Flannery) Tully. Granted, I had a few more corroborating morsels for that one: labeled photographs of Michael's descendant kept by my husband's aunt, confirming the descendant was a cousin, and then, to top it off, two DNA test results which provided more confirmation.

With the younger Dennis, though I do have eight iterations of the DNA connection, I have yet to find such confirming tidbits in relatives' possession. I'm still looking, of course, and corroborating with family members on both sides. But what I hope to obtain by proceeding with the family tree connection is a widening circle of DNA matches. Daughters and granddaughters of this line, in particular, will obscure the connection due to necessary surname changes, which might not currently be picked up by digital tools like Ancestry's ThruLines program. I want to lay out the diagram onto which I can pin other matches whose married names might have disguised their familial connection to the Tully line.

I haven't been waving those yellow flags indiscriminately. Using them with caution—and sparingly—I see them as a tool to use hypotheses in solving some persistent family history quandaries. Moving forward with caution, I'll keep my eye open for more DNA connections with matches who might not have been much more than mysteries before this point. Using the yellow tags as I go leaves a marker which will help me retrace my steps, should I need to cut mistaken branches from the tree. At the same time, they will hopefully serve as a warning to any other Ancestry subscribers who have the tendency to indiscriminately cut and paste from other people's trees.

It will take a while to add all the branches of the younger Dennis Tully's line. After all, we already have DNA matches descended from four of Dennis' children—three of them daughters. After a weekend of working behind the scenes on this project, we'll revisit the DNA side of the equation next week to see if any additional matches have come out of obscurity. Hopefully, this move to take that cautious step will yield some additional details on those Tully cousins we never knew we had.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

When You're "More Irish"


Years ago, someone had made a comment to one of my sisters-in-law that she was obviously "more Irish"—than what? Than the rest of the family? Needless to say, that sister-in-law took a shine to the designation. She took that comment as a compliment and ran with it, much to the dismay—and ridicule—of her siblings.

In an unrelated occurrence, along came this woman's particular genealogy-driven sister-in-law (me, if you can't tell) who innocently asked for three siblings from that family to step up and volunteer to take an autosomal DNA test to help said relative with a class project. That sister-in-law, along with another, as well as my husband, became my volunteers.

When the test results came back, there didn't seem to be many surprises. Ethnicity results seemed to fit what we already knew, according to family lore: about fifty percent of each person's result showed Irish ancestry. Small wonder, since my father-in-law could claim three out of four grandparents who were actually born in Ireland, with the fourth the son of Irish immigrants.

Long after I had completed the class project for which I had recruited family volunteers, I almost forgot about the DNA results for those two in-laws. Sure, I served as admin for each of the accounts, and sat down with each volunteer to explain what the test results meant and what we could learn from examining the many matches they each had received. After the initial fascination wore off, everyone set aside the results and, well, pretty much forgot about them.

While I had taken the time to examine the then-current set of matches for each sister-in-law, eventually I, too, set aside the experiment...until I started noticing some unusual results popping up. Since those early days of mounting the steep learning curve for utilizing genetic genealogy, I had met experts in the field both in the United States and in Ireland. I have had some fascinating talks with some of these innovative leaders, and appreciated their accessibility in those early days.

One day, returning to the test results for my in-laws, I was surprised to see a name pop up for one of my husband's sisters: that of a key genetic genealogist I had met in Ireland. It was linked to a DNA match for which he served as test administrator. His Irish ancestor from County Tipperary was our distant relative!

While that was fun news to discover, I also realized something was odd about the finding. Why hadn't I spotted that name when I reviewed my husband's results? After all, I had kept checking my husband's results quite regularly. Besides, why did it only come up for this one sister's test? I checked again—then double-checked by looking at his other sister's test. Not one sign of this DNA connection for either of them; only for the one sister. 

I'll give you a moment to guess which of the three siblings was the owner of that test result. Clue: it was the sister who claimed she was "more Irish" than the rest of the family. (I couldn't resist teasing her that her DNA test validated her claim.)

Fast-forward to this month's research project. Now that I've been struggling to find a way to confirm this month's possible connection to my father-in-law's Tully family—the Dennis Tully, born 1830, whose early existence in County Tipperary, Ireland, seems to have been lost to time—it occurred to me that my "more Irish" sister-in-law could once again come to my assistance. I went back to her DNA test to see how her numbers compared to any Tully matches.

In particular, I was looking for one specific match: a descendant of Dennis Tully's daughter Johanna who, of all Tully DNA matches, shared the largest centiMorgan count with my husband. This DNA match (we'll call her TD for Tully descendant) shared 72.8 cMs with my husband. When I compared this match with my "more Irish" sister-in-law, the count bumped up to 91.3 cMs.

I then turned to the Shared centiMorgan interactive page at DNA Painter to enter some numbers and check results. I wanted to see what the probability might be for these matches as third cousins once removed (in other words, if Dennis were son of our Denis Tully and Margaret Flannery) versus fourth cousin once removed (if Dennis were the older couple's nephew). I was hoping the difference between my husband's match level and that of "More Irish" might bump one into the not-possible realm.

Well, it came close, but didn't quite convince me. Here's what the numbers said, first for current version, then for beta version #4 with updated probabilities:

If Dennis were son of the elder Denis:

  • TD as 3C1R to hubs = 31%
  • TD as 3C1R to "More Irish" = 24%
  • TD as 3C1R to hubs on update = 14%
  • TD as 3C1R to "More Irish" on update = 8%

If Dennis were nephew of the elder Denis:

  • TD as 4C1R to hubs = 4% chance
  • TD as 4C1R to "More Irish" = 0.64% chance (but not footnoted as "falls outside the bounds")
  • TD as 4C1R to hubs on update = 0.61% chance
  • TD as 4C1R to "More Irish" on update = 0.50% chance

What does all that tell me? I was hoping that using my "More Irish" sister-in-law's numbers might help flush out some more telling numbers, as she had more centiMorgans in common with their highest Tully match. The probabilities for the closer scenario—assuming Dennis Tully's father was actually our Denis Tully—sure look better than those for the minuscule chances for the uncle-nephew scenario. But—and here is the part that leaves me twisting in the wind—either relationship could be possible. Slim, but not quite ruled out.

Which leaves me asking the same question I had before starting: now what?

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Considering the Odds


I've been considering all the encouraging stories about using the tool dubbed What Are The Odds, or WATO. A collaboration between Leah Larkin of The DNA Geek, mathematician Andrew Millard, and Jonny Perl, creator of the DNA Painter website, the tool has generated so many fascinating case studies that I was entranced with its usefulness. The only problem was: I missed one vital detail.

Most of the stories involving use of this tool were applications considering an unidentified parent or grandparent of the person who took the autosomal DNA test. Some were adoptees wishing to discover the true identity of a birth parent. Others were avocational genealogists on a quest to help a parent or other relative from a previous generation find out who their parent might have been. Somehow I lost sight of a fact I already knew: autosomal DNA tests can only reveal so much. The farther back you wander through the generations, the weaker that DNA signal becomes.

In my case, I was working on my husband's DNA test, which was collecting a growing number of matches with people claiming to be descended from a couple named Dennis and Margaret Tully. That seemed fair enough—after all, my father-in-law's great-grandparents had the same names. Better yet, both this couple and my father-in-law's great-grandparents moved from Ireland to what was then called Canada West—present-day Ontario.

That, however, was where the similarities ended. When I discovered the discrepancies—details like dates of birth separated by nearly thirty years, or wife's maiden name not remotely similar—I wanted to find  another way to determine the relationship between what had turned out to be two separate couples. WATO seemed a possible key to testing out some hypotheses.

Scholar-at-heart that I am, I first had to over-study the issue. I read every article and FAQ sheet I could find, then watched webinars explaining how to use WATO, like Jonny Perl's own presentation at Legacy Webinars. I was already ready to launch with a target person and several hypotheses to test, but there was one thing I was missing: my "target person" was not a DNA match; it was the younger Dennis Tully, himself.

Unpacking the question headers on the FAQ page at DNA Painter, I ran across one key detail:

The target person in WATO would normally be someone whose results you have access to.

Because it's necessary to enter in the WATO tool the amount of DNA—think centiMorgans here—the target person shares with each of the others in the family tree, that was my dead stop. There was simply no way I could reverse the clocks, time travel back to the mid-1800s and take a DNA sample from either the senior or junior Dennis Tully. Thus endeth my grand experiment with using WATO to determine whether this centuries-old connection was a father-son relationship, an uncle-nephew one, or something more distant.

Before I simply cave and add the younger Dennis to my father-in-law's family tree in a fit of resigned presumption, I did think of one other way to play with the numbers. Years ago, I had taken a DNA class from Blaine Bettinger—creator of another useful tool, the Shared centiMorgan Project—who had required class members to come prepared for class with the results of DNA tests for three siblings. Because I do not have two full siblings—some of them are half-siblings—I asked my husband and his two sisters if they would provide the test results for me to use.

Once I had those results—and served as admin for the two siblings' tests—I noticed something unusual about the matches each sibling received. This has become a mainstay of my reasons to urge researchers to consider collateral lines. Reminded of the anomaly that showed up in this case, thanks to that original class assignment, I went back to revisit the results of one sister, in view of this latest question about the two Tully ancestors. Since it involves an explanation and some details, I'll save that story for tomorrow's post. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Running Around in Circles


Best laid plans sometimes get the run-around. I was hoping Ancestry's latest offering, dubbed Circles, would open doors for much-needed collaboration on a family history mystery. Granted, Ancestry's Circles was still marked as a beta version, so naturally the early adaptors might become the guinea pigs who help work out the bugs. I might not care for bugs much, but you know me: always up for being the genealogy guinea pig, so I couldn't wait to give Circles a try.

Give it a try, that is, if I could find the front door to enter this new world of opportunity. That wasn't as easy as I thought it would be.

When I'm stumped with tech issues, I've learned to poke around and click on possibilities until a virtual door opens up and lets me in. I found the first door in my hunt for Circles when I clicked on those three little dots next to an Ancestry subscriber's name in the message center. Just the other day, I noticed the choices offered there had expanded to include "Create a Circle" and "Invite to Circle."

Great. Hurdle One overcome. I set up a Circle so I could invite the Ancestry members and DNA matches who had been working with me on figuring out the connection between my father-in-law's Denis Tully and Margaret Flannery and that other Dennis Tully couple.

Enter Hurdle Number Two: I sent out the invitations, then separately messaged each invitee to give him or her a heads-up that I had figured out how to get the process started.

And waited.

Eventually, I got an email from one of my contacts, who informed me that he hadn't gotten any such message from me. That's when I discovered I couldn't even figure out how to find the Circle that I had set up, myself. This beta offering might have been a great idea at the start, but it was becoming a well-kept secret.

While a Google search didn't locate previous Ancestry announcements that I know I had received, I was positive I had seen something. At a loss as to how to retrace my steps, I tried talking to the chatbot at Ancestry, which gave a few links to help articles. Those, however, were mostly about how to set up a new Circle. I, on the other hand, was seeking how to troubleshoot what had obviously gone wrong about a Circle I had already set up. Likewise, an attempt at a chat with a real person—and a nice one, at that—didn't produce the hoped for answers.

In the meantime, here are a few details I gleaned from the material I did find. The good thing was that, once having been sent to those links with information, I could save them for future reference. I have no idea how I would have found them otherwise—my first problem with Circles. Ancestry Circles seems to be a great idea and I'm glad the company has launched this opportunity, but finding the front door to access the tool seems to be Ancestry's best-kept secret.

Apparently, the key to finding information on the Circles is to begin with one's own Ancestry account. I wouldn't have thought to click on my photo in the top righthand corner of the Ancestry website landing page, but that is where "Your Profile" provides a drop-down menu which includes the choice, "Circles"—with a green button proclaiming, "New." 

If you've already set up a Circle at Ancestry, clicking on that choice leads to that specific Circle—or, if none has already been set up, where you can start the process. Creating the Circle was easy. On my end, the process indicated that my notices were sent out, just as I had set them up to go through Ancestry's own messaging system—though you can also send emailed invitations, even to people who are not currently Ancestry subscribers (as long as they are willing to set up a free account with Ancestry, called a Registered Guest account).

From there, all the receiver had to do when receiving my message was to click the very obvious button to accept.

After that point, it seemed I could merrily continue adding more of my fellow Tully researchers with this handy addition:

The only drawback: my invitees didn't think it was all that easy to follow through. One subscriber said he didn't even receive my invitation, despite my sending it out a second time after receiving his email. Another subscriber—the one who suggested the idea to me in the first place—couldn't find any way to actually accept the offer.

One other drawback was that, having set up the Circle, even I couldn't find a way to access it afterwards. It took a lot of poking around—I can't even tell you how I got there—before I found my way back home to my Circle.

And there it sits, freshly etched in the ether, my virtual Circle, full of promise as a research tool to help all of us invited Tully DNA matches and puzzled descendants—of either Denis Tully and Margaret Flannery or Dennis Tully and Margaret Hurley—figure out just how we are connected.

If only someone could find the way to answer the invitation. 

Monday, August 14, 2023

Dog-Ate-My-Homework Time, Again


The past twenty four hours have brought me one of those dog-ate-my-homework days again. I truly, honestly had good intentions to work on that WATO project, using a techy tool to help me decide whether Dennis Tully as son of Denis Tully might be a viable hypothesis. But something else was apparently in the works for my day, instead.

We had just arrived in Southern California, a few days preceding a conference my family is attending on behalf of our business. Settling, late in the evening, into our room at one of two designated conference hotels in the area, we drifted off to sleep around midnight, only to be awakened four hours later by the blaring of a fire alarm. Announcements in the hallway indicated that, while there was no fire, everyone was to report to the outer courtyard of the main entrance—where we awaited word of permission to safely return to our rooms.

Adrenaline rush aside, we eventually were able to settle in and catch a bit of sleep before being awakened again with a phone call that the hotel—which had parked us, out of desperation the night before, in a handicapped-occupant room—would be moving us to more appropriate quarters. The only hitch: we had to check out of our room by 11:00 and wait until we could "check in" again that afternoon. They would, as a courtesy, hold our re-packed bags for us until such a time as we could access that new room assignment.

Thus, left without my computer, I hoofed it to a nearby Starbucks and entertained myself the old-fashioned way: I read a book. No online searching for documentation for mystery DNA matches for me.

The WATO process involves setting up an abbreviated pedigree chart, widened to include theoretical generations which might tie us to the mystery DNA matches which trace back to that other Dennis Tully. The trick is thinking through the process so there is a place on the chart for each of the DNA matches for each Dennis' tree plus the preceding generations needed to chart each of at least three hypotheses. One hypothesis, of course, would be that Dennis is son of Denis, but another one, toying with the idea that the younger Dennis could be nephew of the elder, would require me to expand to a theoretical set of grandparents as most recent common ancestors at the head of the tree.

In the meantime, once I finally was able to return to my room and repeat that process of unpacking the suitcases, I did manage to gather my thoughts and reach out to a few more Tully researchers of that other Dennis Tully line. In addition, I finally—though accidentally—stumbled across the secret passageway leading to setting up those new Ancestry circles for family collaboration. More on that, tomorrow.

In this era awash with proliferating Karen-itis, I'm sure this past twenty four hour period must have been a nightmare of a headache for hotel management at our facility. As a postscript to the unfortunate episode, I do have to say the hotel's management certainly bent over backwards to send us on our way with a bigger smile on our faces than we might otherwise have expected. Hopefully, with a good night's sleep behind me—and barring any further midnight surprises—I'll have enough clarity of mind to tackle the WATO project for tomorrow.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Finding the Way Out of a Paper Bag


Can you find your way out of a paper bag? Of course you can—but sometimes circumstances seem to overwhelm and, stymied, we feel like we can't even get ourselves out of a simple paper bag.

Years ago, our family, living on the edges of suburbia, felt the need to adopt several "barn cats" to keep the mouse population at bay. The only problem was, while decreasing the mouse population, those cats multiplied their own count. One unfortunate, inbred result was a tiny black kitten we dubbed Tidbit. Not only was he tiny, he was not too bright—as in, couldn't find his way out of a paper bag. Literally.

One day, after emptying the bag of briquets for a barbecue, my husband tossed aside the sack, intending to retrieve it after we finished dinner. Of course, one thing led to another and the bag remained where it had been tossed.

A few days later, someone asked, "Has anyone seen Tidbit?" Crazy drivers on country roads, coyotes, and other hazards can make life hard for little critters like cats. He hadn't been showing up for his meal, and we got worried something might have happened to him. 

Then we remembered the empty briquet bag. Sure enough, going back to retrieve the bag, there was Tidbit, a little dazed—and a bit blacker—from the experience. He hadn't been able to find his way out of the bag.

Lately, I feel a bit like Tidbit. I've been wandering in circles, trying to find my way out of the tight loop of eight DNA matches—and counting—who connect with my husband, a descendant of Denis and Margaret Tully. Only problem is these DNA matches descend from a different couple named Dennis and Margaret Tully, and I can't figure out how the two couples connect.

That's when I had to sit myself down and think the thing through: how can I find a way to connect the two couples? I came up with as many questions as I could to ferret out a strategy. I looked at all the possible ways which might lead to confirmations of connection. If these two couples were aware of each other, surely someone else in their families would have known about the connection. That's what I need to find now.

This coming week, I'll be trying my hand at using WATO to test a few relationship hypotheses. I'll continue poking around in all the known relationships in either family to see whether there are any signs of connection—old letters shared, photographs given, folksy newspaper articles about who came to visit for a family member's wedding or just for Sunday dinner. Somewhere between these collateral lines, there has to have been a clue.

No matter where I'll look, though, I realize one thing: the best way to fight my way out of a problem paper bag is to learn to ask questions. To see all the possibilities, even the ones which might seem outlandish or improbable. To test every hypothesis. To follow through on hunches. 

I'm convinced there is someone out there—at least one hundred years ago—who knew what the connection might have been. The challenge is to get inside those relatives' heads and garner their recollections. It will be through the questions I ask myself about the situation that will direct me to the next step toward finding my way out of that paper bag.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Those Unnamed Faces


It's no secret that many of us who pursue our family history possess unlabeled photographs, despite our diligence to identify each individual ancestor. We become the inheritor of those stashes of memorabilia from distant cousins and other family members who haven't the slightest idea what to do with them. A parent or grandparent dies and the next generation gets called in to help clean up "the mess." While we are excited to become the new possessor of these family treasures, that delight soon turns to dismay. "Now what are we gonna do?"

Now that I've been puzzling over the discovery of a possible new (to me) collateral line in my father-in-law's Tully ancestry, behind the scenes I've been reaching out to Tully cousins new and old. Some are fellow subscribers at, and some also show their connection to this family line through DNA matches to my husband. Others have posted trees which include the Tully family of that other line I've lately discovered, that of another Dennis Tully whose wife—Margaret Hurley—did not match the name of our Denis' wife Margaret (Flannery). 

One consistent response, as I connect with these fellow Tully researchers, is that they are now the keepers of multiple family photographs with one specific problem: the pictures are not labeled. As one person put it, there is no one left who might recognize these faces. What to do now?

Granted, there are few options open to us. But at least there are some—not none. In such a case, the first idea that comes to my mind is the story once mentioned here in a comment by reader (and blogger) Miss Merry, who discovered she and someone else in her town were both descendants of two women pictured in a photo she had. The obvious answer was to share. After all, we now have the technology to make copies—better yet, to scan and digitally share what we have. We may not know much about the sister of our great-grandmother, but that sister is someone else's ancestor—someone else who would love to have that photo.

Another option I've put into practice is something I learned from "Far Side of Fifty," the blogger behind Forgotten Old Photos. She crowdsourced attempts to figure out who the subject of a photo might have been. Better yet, she'd rescue "orphan photographs" and, with the help of her blog readers, find a way to send the photo back home to family. It became obvious that, with only a few hints showing on the picture—or on its flip side—it might be possible to determine who the subject was. In my experience, just like triangulation in DNA testing, if I could find three points of information about a photograph, it might be possible to identify the subject.

One of my newly-found Tully contacts mentioned exactly this problem: what to do with those old unlabeled family photos? She suggested finding a way for all of us to share what we have. Since is encouraging subscribers to collaborate on our trees, perhaps using Ancestry's own website would be one way to do so. I've known of others who have utilized social media, such as Facebook, by setting up a private group where members could discuss research puzzles, share in problem solving, and, of course, share those unlabeled family photos.

Based on my conversations just this month with the Tully connections, apparently there are several such neglected pictures in the collections several of us hold. Perhaps, coming together to collaborate, each of us might find our own family's faces in the collection of cousins we never before knew we had. 

Friday, August 11, 2023

Seeking Signs of Connection


When two families seem like they should connect, but offer no signs of just how that could be, we begin the hunt for clues. In the case of the family of Dennis Tully and Margaret Hurley, DNA matches seem to indicate that this Dennis Tully could be related to an older man by the same name, my father-in-law's great-grandfather, husband of a different Margaret—Margaret Flannery.

Right now, I've been in the process of searching for signs of connection. The tiniest of hints is not too small to be seriously considered. Thus it was, when I discovered one tantalizing detail on the marriage record of the younger Dennis' daughter Margaret, I had to follow up on that information.

It didn't help that the only record I can access for this Margaret's wedding was a state register containing the transcription of returns for Wayne County, Michigan, during the second quarter of 1889. You'll see in a  moment why I'm regretting only having access to a handwritten transcription—and why I'm grateful that other governmental documents seem to clarify the issue for me.

Margaret Tully's marriage record—at least, according to this register—included some details which gave me pause. For one thing, though the bride's entry under the nickname Maggie wasn't too unusual, the names provided for her parents were confidence killers: John Tully and Mary McGuire. Not even close. And yet, her place of birth, listed as Watford, Canada, fit in perfectly with her parents' recent census record in Lambton County near the time of her birth.

It took a visit to other corroborating records to confirm that Maggie, bride of Henry Baxter, was indeed Margaret, daughter of Dennis Tully and Margaret Hurley. Her death record, also drawn up in Michigan, indicated that it was she who was both widow of Henry Baxter and daughter of Dennis and Margaret. To help secure the death record, I noticed the informant was named Anna Bristol, same given name as Maggie's eldest daughter—who eventually became the wife of Ward Bristol.

It was a different detail, however, which caught my eye and made me wonder about a connection with the other Tully family. Moving back to that original marriage register, the one for Maggie and Henry, the record indicated the names of the two witnesses to the ceremony. While I have no idea who Mabel Ramsey might have been, the other name—Michael Tully—could indeed be a key.

In our family's Tully line—that of the family descending from the other Denis and Margaret—there was a son whom I had missed entirely in the original process of tracing my father-in-law's line back through to Ireland. That son's name was Michael. The first notion I had that I might have missed a member of Denis' family was when I spotted Michael's surname while doing a visual sweep of the census page containing Denis' own family in 1861. There he was, another Tully on the same page, with his oldest son named exactly the same as his father, in traditional Irish fashion.

Tracing this mystery Michael Tully through documents, I eventually was convinced that I had found a missing son of our Denis and Margaret. Not long afterwards, I discovered two descendants of that Michael through, started corresponding with them, and eventually asked each of them if they'd be willing to take a DNA test. Each did. And turned out to match my husband. 

Now, seeing that same name—Michael Tully—I wondered whether the witness to the Baxter wedding was a relative of Maggie. After all, our Michael had moved to Michigan, just the same as Maggie had done. And Michael—born in 1834 back in Ballina, County Tipperary, Ireland—would have been only about four years younger than Maggie's father Dennis.

Double checking the family roster for the other Dennis, just in case, I confirmed that Maggie did not have a brother named Michael. The witness to her wedding had to have been connected through some other relationship.

It all started seeming like a great confirmation of family connections, until I remembered one other detail. Michael Tully, while moving from Canada within the year after birth of his son in 1879, may have been living in Wayne County, Michigan, as early as the 1880 census, but after that, he had moved his family further on to settle in Chicago, near his other siblings. Worse, while documentation during the time period doesn't give me a clear indication that I've found the right man, an 1885 death record in Chicago for a man by the same name and approximate age reveal that this Michael Tully couldn't possibly have been the witness at Maggie Tully's 1889 wedding.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Children of the Other Dennis Tully


Since DNA tells me that my father-in-law's maternal grandfather John Tully may have had more cousins in Canada than we knew of, it will be useful to find further details on just who those other cousins might have been.

These would be the sons and daughters of another Dennis Tully, born in Ireland in 1830, who married an Irish immigrant named Margaret Hurley. Whether Margaret Hurley was someone Dennis knew from back in his Irish hometown—or simply someone he met after arriving in Canada West—is a detail I've yet to discover. In fact, my research to-do list still includes finding the actual marriage record, an item I hope will reveal more than just the date of that matrimonial event.

As far as I can tell from the census records we discussed yesterday, this Dennis and Margaret were parents of at least seven Canadian-born children: Bridget, Margaret, Mary, Johanna, Patrick, John, and Sarah. While the sons obviously would carry forward the Tully name, theoretically making them a bit easier to follow through their life's trajectory, we need to note the married names of each of the Tully daughters, if for nothing more than to spot DNA matches with their possible descendants. Here is a brief overview of those Tully surname changes for the next generation. 

Bridget, the oldest daughter, married a Stratford, Ontario, man named John Kane in October, 1881. An interesting detail on the church's marriage record for this event was the note that Bridget was actually born in Paris, the then-tiny village in the County of Brant where our Denis Tully had settled before the 1851 census. Though I still don't know the connection between the two—Denis and Dennis—this is an encouraging sign.

The second Tully daughter, Margaret, proved to be difficult to trace, not only because she used the nickname Maggie—a predictable switch—but because some records during her lifetime didn't seem to agree with the others. And yet, it may be she who will help us put our fingers on the possibility of any connection between her parents Dennis and Margaret and that other couple by the same given names—Denis and Margaret—who were the founding immigrants at the head of my father-in-law's own family. We'll revisit this issue in a later post, but for now, at least Margaret's 1935 death record across the international border in the U.S. state of Michigan revealed that she was widow of American Henry Baxter.

Though I have yet to find direct documentation on this, the next-born daughter of Dennis and Margaret, Mary, married a man by the name of Thomas Calladine, as can be determined from Mary's 1932 death certificate plus the 1901 census record which included the daughter who was named as informant on Mary's death record.

The next child, Johanna, also presented a few challenges in finding her marriage record. If we can accept that the bride going by the nickname Hannah, listed as daughter of Denis Tilly and Margaret Early, was our Johanna, then her husband was Hugh Kane, brother of Johanna's sister Bridget's husband John.

Youngest daughter Sarah also presented us with a challenge in finding her marriage information. Going by her middle name, Ann, the twenty eight year old daughter of Dennis Tully and Margaret Hurley married Francis McCabe in Lambton County in 1899. 

The two sons of Dennis and Margaret, whom they named Patrick and John, obviously would pass down the Tully surname to their own children, and thus make it easy for us to spot those Tully descendants in DNA matches. Having the addition of the married names for the Tully daughters, though, allows me to look for even more DNA matches linked to this unexpected relative of my father-in-law's Tully ancestors, the other Denis and Margaret Tully.


Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Possible Canadian Cousins


Those of us who research our Irish ancestry in the United States may not have given much thought to just where those Irish immigrants actually landed, once they reached the New World. We might assume New York City, the predominant destination for so many immigrants to America. Or perhaps, knowing of the reputation of one other city with a large Irish-American contingent, we assume the port might have been Boston. However, there are a good number of Irish descendants who have possible Canadian cousins.

My father-in-law and his siblings in Chicago were among those who knew they had Canadian cousins. There were stories of letters from Manitoba, and visits from Canadian friends from Winnipeg. Unbeknownst to any of them, there later was even a children's book written about one such connection. Those family stories, kept alive, are sometimes the only clues to keep us family historians searching for the information we know must be out there for the finding.

With this recent discovery of a possible additional branch of my father-in-law's Tully relatives in Ontario, I am wishing I could find someone else in the extended family to recall any such family stories—anything to validate what I now have found only through the results of multiple DNA tests. And, as I reach out to these DNA matches, perhaps something may jog someone's memory to head to the attic to pull out that old trunk or stash of family papers.

In the meantime, we'll take some time to research the family of this Dennis Tully, the man born about 1830 in Ireland who crossed the ocean to live a fresh life of promise in "Canada West"—the province of Ontario.

I can't be sure exactly when Dennis Tully arrived on Canadian shores, as passenger records for that time period were not required, being simply a trip from one part of Great Britain to another. He possibly could be this single laborer showing in the 1851 census in Blenheim, as only one of a few born in Ireland and of the Roman Catholic faith. Giving his age then as twenty one, he lived with another Irish immigrant by the name of James Welsh. There were no other individuals claiming either surname on the enumeration page in which they appeared.

The next ten years brought many changes to Dennis' life—if I have found the right person. By the time of the 1861 census, Dennis had moved nearly a straight shot north from Blenheim, on the shores of Lake Erie, to Lambton County, almost reaching Lake Huron. He was by then married to Margaret, and had three children, ages five and under: Bridget, Margaret, and Mary. Within the next ten years, at least according to the 1871 census, the Tully family had grown to include seven children, adding Johanna, Patrick, John, and Sarah. By then, too, Dennis' occupational listing had changed from "laborer" to "farmer," signifying a possible acquisition of property.

From that point—and we'll explore this next generation in detail tomorrow—the Tully children married and started their own families, while Dennis and Margaret remained in their own household in Warwick until Margaret's death in 1904 and, finally, Dennis' passing in 1909.

Since I haven't been able to locate any baptismal record for Dennis' own birth in Ireland, assumedly occurring in 1830, my next search is to look for any marriage document for him in Ontario, in the hopes that a church document might divulge as much information as this tell-all dream record I found for an "O'Donnell and Houloghan" marriage—sadly unrelated—in the province during that same time period. I keep hoping to find a genealogical smoking gun to link Dennis to his parents back in record-poor Ireland.

In the meantime, while this previously unknown Dennis Tully seems to have taken the same immigration route as my father-in-law's own Tully ancestors, our side of the family eventually left Canada for jobs in the American cities of Detroit and Chicago. If the younger Dennis turns out to be related to our line—and we can see the likelihood, based on DNA test results—we'll next take a look at the children of Dennis and Margaret who may have yielded my father-in-law some previously unknown additional Canadian cousins.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Tools That Tell


After years of working on one's family tree, it hardly seems possible to discover an entire branch of the family has been omitted. How did I manage to do that? But gaps in records, or perhaps a child who left home early for work, or other extenuating circumstance can render a sibling invisible—until the DNA results of subsequent generations reveal the omission.

Now that we have the DNA tools to hopefully tell us the story which has obviously been missed, what can we do next with our research situation? In this month's case, I have discovered eight DNA matches who descend from an ancestor named Dennis Tully and his wife, Margaret Hurley. The catch is that the Denis Tully from whom my husband descends was not married to the same Margaret—his wife was named Margaret Flannery. Besides, our Denis Tully was born nearly thirty years prior to the arrival of the other Dennis.

I have documentation to support my father-in-law's connection to our Denis Tully. Those eight DNA matches appear to have documentation connecting them to their Dennis Tully. But what ties us all together? That's the point at which we need to turn to some tools to tell us more.

In working on this puzzle, I first outlined each of the DNA matches in order from largest centiMorgan count to least, writing in the actual count of cMs as well as number of matching segments on the outline. Also in that list, I included the name of the specific son or daughter of Dennis from whom each DNA match descended. Of the children of Dennis Tully and Margaret Hurley, our DNA matches were descendants from four of their children: Bridget, Mary, Johanna, and John.

Taking those centiMorgan counts, I then used the interactive version of Blaine Bettinger's Shared centiMorgan Project, a tool provided at DNA Painter. Entering each DNA match's centiMorgan count in comparison with my husband's test, I checked to see whether the count would support the relationship yielded by my hypothesis of younger Dennis being son of elder Denis. Each of the matches' cM count was supported by that hypothesized relationship—but that isn't to say an alternate one, like elder Denis being younger Dennis' uncle, wouldn't be supported. The relationships might be too distant to finger such minute gradations.

Taking things a step further—and for clarity in my mind—I drew a chart to outline the proposed place in the family tree for each of the eight descendants of Dennis Tully and Margaret Hurley. Then, I added in the line connecting my husband (the DNA test participant) and his father to our Denis Tully and his wife, based on one possible hypothesis that our Denis was father of the other Dennis. That way, I could lay out possible relationships between each of the DNA matches and my husband.

There is an easier way to track all this, of course. That's where the other tools come in. Thankfully, Leah Larkin of The DNA Geek developed a tool called "What Are The Odds?"—or WATO, for short. She explains it in her blog and, since Jonny Perl of DNA Painter added that tool to his website, you can read about WATO there, too.

Most of the time I've seen WATO used, it has been applied to questions about the possible identity of birth parents. Diahan Southard of Your DNA Guide gives an example of how one adoptee put the tool to work in hypothesizing which relative of her matches might be her birth mother.

While I am fairly sure such tools could be put to good use in my own Tully case, it is now a matter of entering that proposed family tree, along with at least two alternate hypotheses, into the program at DNA Painter. As clearly as the adoptee example was laid out in Diahan Southard's blog, my concern is that a three generation example provides far closer relationships than the Tully situation I am examining.

While I'll be trying my hand at that question over the next few days, in the meantime, let's take a look next at what we already can find about the family of Dennis Tully and Margaret Hurley.

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