Sometimes, it seems as if ancestors are jumping in front of us, yelling “Here I am,” while, at other times, it seems more likely that the ancestors are so well hidden that they might never be found. It is these ancestors that become our proverbial brick walls.
I have to admit that my own “empty branches” aren’t all that empty, but it isn’t because of a lack of brick walls. Instead, I believe it is directly related to my research methods. The one I use most often to break through brick walls is “Leave no stone unturned.”
Now, for many people, “no stone unturned” means that it can’t be found online. In my mind, “no stone unturned” means checking library catalogs for books available that cover historical and/or genealogical information in the locale of interest. It means visiting libraries to browse through those books if they aren’t digitally available. It means writing letters to local genealogical and historical societies and to local court houses and possibly churches. It means reading microfilms of records that might include tax lists, compiled genealogies, unpublished court house records and miscellaneous information.
I do all that because you never know where you might find that hint of a clue, a clue that might be quite obscure.
That is exactly how I broke through the John Whitmer German origins brick wall years ago. I never would have been able to prove his parentage and find his home village if I had overlooked even one stone, or in this case, a little pebble.
The pebble that totally destroyed this brick wall was one sentence (and if I remember correctly, it was actually in a footnote that was on page 106 of volume 2) in a book that I browsed on a library shelf. Calvin E. Schildknecht was the editor of a three volume history, Monocacy and Catoctin: Some Settlers of Western Maryland and Adjacent Pennsylvania and Their Descendants, 1725-1988, published in 1989.
What I found was a statement that a John Whitmore had emigrated to Frederick County, Maryland from Barbelroth, Zweibrucken, Germany in 1753.
I could find nothing else in Maryland resources that talked about this John “Whitmore” from Barbelroth. However, there were two or three John Whitmore/Wittmer/Whitmers living in the area at that time.
Next, I checked the old IGI (International Genealogical Index) microfiche at my local family history center. There were, indeed, Whitmers of various spellings in Barbelroth records in the mid 1700’s.
My last step was to order the microfilms of those relevant church records. The result? The brick wall was gone. People rarely migrated alone to new places. The Whitmer family traveled with other Barbelroth residents, including John’s wife’s family, to Maryland. Together, they disappeared from the German church records and, together, they appeared in the Frederick County, Maryland church records.
Remember: Leave no stone unturned!