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. 

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