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.

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