Everyone finds some brick walls in their family trees. While some can never be knocked down because records just don’t exist (like for my Rusyn ancestors living in Slovakia before 1827), many brick walls can be obliterated whether in one or with several steps.
I’ve written about many of my successes in marching through my family tree brick walls, but this post will be a bit different. I could just list the types of records I used and leave it at that. Instead, there will be a short description of the problem with a link to the post (or first post if it was a series) that will provided the details of how, where and why the record solved the problem.
The link in the research question goes to the post where the problem is discussed.
1. Oliver Shepley was born in 1734, Groton, Middlesex, Massachusetts. He married Mary (MNU), but no record was found for their marriage. Oliver died 11 August 1757 in Pepperell, Middlesex, Massachusetts while Mary pre-deceased him by five days, dying on 6 August 1757. Both died of “fever” and the deaths are recorded in the town records. Mary was aged 23 years, while Oliver was 22 years, 6 months, 23 days. They left one daughter, Sibbel, my ancestor, who was born 19 September 1755.
Research Question: What was Mary’s maiden name?
The record sets that answered this question was include Middlesex County, Massachusetts guardianship records. Since Sibbel was barely two years old when her parents died, someone took her in and raised her until 15 June 1775 when she married James Scripture.
Ambrose Lakin was Sibbel’s guardian for many years, as he repeatedly updated the court. Ambrose wasn’t paid from an estate to raise her – Oliver was too young to have accumulated much. That meant he was likely related to the young family and was able to take on the financial burden of another child.
My Shepleys had other ties by marriage to the Lakins. In fact, I am descended more than once from the immigrant Lakin brothers.
A Lakin family history book placed Ambrose in the family of James Lakin and Elizabeth Williams who lived in Groton, where Oliver Shepley also grew up.
Ambrose Lakin was one of nine siblings, which included the 8th born child Mary Lakin, born 26 April 1734 in Groton, about whom little was known, and the 9th child in the family, Sibbel, born 2 January 1737.
I posited the theory that Mary, who married Oliver Shepley, was, in fact, Mary Lakin. It was then her brother who raised little Sibbel Shepley and Sibbel might have been named in honor of Mary’s own sister. Sibbel, to whom she was closest in age.
Ambrose was willing to take on a 19 year guardianship because the child was his niece, the only child of a sister who died very young.
There was no “smoking gun” that clinched the relationship. However, I shared my theory and preponderance of evidence with a staff researcher at NEHGS, who agreed 100% with me.
To summarize, Example #1 used guardianship records and a family history book.
2. Loyalist Robert Carlisle was born c1758. He served in the Revolutionary War defending Fort Cumberland in today’s Canada. Whether he was born in Europe, Canada or the American colonies is unknown, but I have no evidence that he ever lived in America until his sons James and John appear in the Washington County, Maine 1830 census, living side by side in the village of Charlotte.
James’s household included an elderly man 70-80 years old and woman 60-70 years, who were probably Robert and wife Catherine.
The 1840 census for James Carlisle, still in Charlotte, shows only an elderly woman in her 80s. Robert apparently had died, but when? Charlotte town records still survive from the 1820s, when the town was formed. However, there is no death record for Robert Carlisle. Did he die in Maine? Did he return to New Brunswick, where he had other children living? It’s possible he died in Canada and Catherine returned to James’s home after her husband’s death.
This missing information wasn’t a huge brick wall, but it was a piece of information that should have been recorded in the town records, but wasn’t.
Research Question: When and where did Robert Carlisle die?
There is no post that specifically discusses finding his death date, so in its place will be an image from the record in which it was found.
Catherine actually lived into the 1840s and, while we all know about American Revolutionary War pension records, did you know that (today’s) Canada also provided small pensioners for soldiers who defended its land in the war?
The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick has digitized many records, including the database set Records of Old Revolutionary Soldiers and Their Wives.
Look what Catherine’s pension statement included:
Last three lines: that he died at the Town of Charlotte in the United States of American in the year 1834. . .
In fact, when I found this database, I wasn’t focused on finding Robert’s death date/place. When I found Robert and Catherine in the index, I was hoping it might include her maiden name and information on his war service. It did say he was in the Royal Fencibles, but, unfortunately, Catherine didn’t state her maiden name or when/where they married.
Finding Robert’s death information was a side benefit!
To summarize, Example #2 used an online database of New Brunswick, Canada Loyalist pension files.
3. Sometimes breaking down one brick wall brings the discovery that another has quickly appeared, which is what happened with my husband’s ancestor, Martin Miller (1785-1863).
I am not the only one who searched for years AND years for the parents of Martin Miller, born in Pennsylvania, married in Botetourt County, Virginia and died in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. This family was German and Martin has hundreds of descendants. No one had any clue about his parentage or even proof that he was born in Pennsylvania, aside from the 1850 and 1860 censuses saying so.
This brick wall was multi-step and helped by the passage of time and new records becoming more easily accessible.
Research Question: Who were Martin Miller’s parents?
I hoped that Martin’s father served in the American Revolution, given his birth year of 1786. Virgil White published Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files in 1990. While at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, I had an idea. Since Martin’s life path began in Pennsylvania and continued through Virginia, if he wasn’t orphaned, then his father likely shared that same path. IF, and this was the catch, IF Martin’s father served AND received a pension, then he would be in White’s book. I already knew that there were multiple Miller families in Botetourt County at the time Martin married there.
Well, I found one excellent candidate: Jacob Miller, who served from Pennsylvania during the war, removed to Botetourt County afterwards. About the same time that Martin (with his wife’s family) headed to Kentucky, this Jacob moved to Franklin County, Tennessee.
A search of land deeds in Franklin County after Henry died in 1833 provided proof positive of the father-son relationship. Martin Miller of MUHLENBERG County Kentucky gave power of attorney to brother-in-law Philip Williams in regards to Martin’s portion of the estate of his deceased father!
The new brick wall that appeared? Martin’s mother was Jacob’s first wife, Sarah, and her maiden name is unknown so that branch of the family tree is at a dead end for the time being.
I didn’t mention there was a second new brick wall – Jacob Miller’s war service was from Northampton County, Pennsylvania, but no proof has been found connecting him to parents either.
To Summarize, Example #3 used the reference book Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files and Franklin County, Tennessee land deeds.
4. My next brick wall was a huge one that took DECADES to unravel and my very first blog post in 2014 explained the complicated route needed to prove the birth place and parentage of my 3X great grandfather, Johannes Jensen, born 27 April 1810 in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Research Question: Who were the parents of Johannes Jensen?
The short answer is that Johannes was born out of wedlock. Proving his parentage required many record sets, including one only available by in person access at the Danish National Archives in Copenhagen.
To summarize, Example #4 used Danish vital records, Danish military lists (microfilm at the Family History Library) and corresponding records for mother and baby born at the Unwed Mothers’ Hospital in Copenhagen and only available by in-person access at the Danish National Archives.
5. Some brick walls have to be approached from the American immigrant downward instead of working back in time and sometimes, no clear answers are readily found. Such is the case with my husband’s ancestress, Elsie Larrison (c1764-after 23 June 1848) who married John Stufflebean.
Larrison is a somewhat unique surname in that most of them appear to be related in colonial days and the family originated in the New York-New Jersey area. Previous research indicated that one George Larison, living near the Stufflebeans in Kentucky, was probably Elsee’s brother, given the closeness of their ages and rarity of the surname in Kentucky.
Searching for Larrison parents for Elsee and George by backtracking was fruitless.
Instead, research was done by tracing descendants of immigrants John and James Larrison, in New York by the middle of the 1600s, forward in time.
Research Question: Who were the parents of Elsee and (probably) George Larrison?
In this case, the line could be brought forward to the missing link connecting Elsee and George to their forebears – their father remained the missing link. However, indications are that he was the George Larrison, born c1716 in New Jersey, who married Abigail Moone and is written out of the family histories with the sweeping statement that he “went to Pennsylvania.”
To summarize, Example #5 required the use of multiple digital online books that abstracted land, tax and court records as well as Larrison family histories.
The goal of this post was to point how out throwing a wide net is often necessary to solve difficult problems in the family tree.
Not one of my own brick walls would ever have been solved if I used the basic search features on the major genealogy websites. In many of my attempts, records I consulted weren’t even indexed – it meant moving along page by page.
It takes work, determination and thinking outside the box, but many brick walls can be broken down.