Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Looking for
the Stories Behind the Ancestors


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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