Category Archives: Brick Walls

10 Record Sets I Used to Break Through Genealogy Brick Walls

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.










My Top 3 Most Wanted Ancestors x 2 in 2021

We often hear that it’s not good to repeat research that we’ve already done, but I think that statement isn’t so true anymore. That’s because of the flood of records becoming digitally available online with each succeeding year.

I have been quite successful identifying a number of new leaves on the family trees by revisiting branches that have been sitting dormant for years.

I’ve decided it is time to give a serious new look to several more of those ancestral leaves and see if I can find some new blooms of information.

I don’t want to identify these ancestors as brick walls. To me, a brick wall is when I don’t have a new avenue to pursue. As you will see, there are clues for these Most Wanted.

I’ve chosen three ancestors from Dave’s tree and three from mine.

The lucky winners are – from the Stufflebean tree:

1. Parents of Jacob Miller. I know a lot about Jacob, as he was a Revolutionary War pensioner and served from Northampton County, Pennsylvania. I suspect his father might be one Henry Miller who died in the 1760s, when Jacob was just a child. I’ve made tentative searches in the past, but dropped them as I don’t find Pennsylvania to be a very researcher-friendly state. It’s time I really made the effort and dug around for more information about Henry and/or other potential parents for Jacob Miller.

2. Parents of Zadock Jarvis. Zadock also had military service during the American Revolution when he lived in Maryland. I’ve seen references that his father was James Jarvis. I also thought that Zadock probably died in North Carolina in the early 1800s, as he was quite elderly – 80ish – at his final census appearance. I figured he had died before the following census (I think it was the 1830), but another researcher claimed that Zadock died in Indiana, where he lived with his son. I checked the census and was I surprised to see a 90 year old male in that home. Therefore, I have Maryland and Indiana records that need to be combed for Jarvis clues.

3. Family of Rebecca (MNU) Alberty, wife of Henry Alberty of Surry County, North Carolina and Washington County, Arkansas. I’ve seen statements that her maiden name was Bryant, or possibly Bryan, without even a hint of a source for that. However, it’s a clue to be followed if I can find some crumbs of a trail. This is Dave’s maternal line and the family always claimed a Cherokee ancestor. Rebecca could possibly be it, as Henry lived in North Carolina, Georgia and Arkansas, all areas with ties to the Trail of Tears. Bryant is a name among Cherokees and, perhaps most importantly, Henry’s half brother, Moses Alberty, has family members documented on the Dawes Rolls.

I actually had a much harder time picking three most wanted from my own tree. My dad’s side is out of the picture, as there are no records in the village in Slovakia to tell me any more than I, or anyone else, knows.

The winners in the Sabo family tree are:

1. Robert Wilson, born c1730, of Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada. I knew that Robert was said to have come from the Boston, Massachusetts area after first arriving in the colonies, but there are new clues out there pointing to Sudbury, Middlesex, Massachusetts.

2. Mary Woodward, wife of Robert Wilson, above. If this proves to be the correct couple, there will possibly be an entirely new branch on my family tree.

3. Jonathan Parker, of Campobello Island, c1788, Loyalist. There are lists of his children out there with marriages and then descendants. I hope Parker relatives on Campobello Island (and there are many) have correctly pieced together his family, with a possible wife! Jonathan’s son, Benjamin, married Robert and Mary Wilson’s granddaughter, Maria Wilson, which is my direct line.

We will see how much success I have in documenting any of these clues. I might be wildly successful or it just might be many cases of non-researchers copying, pasting and spreading wishful thinking!

Which Brick Wall Would You Most Like to Bust Wide Open in 2021?

Which brick wall would you most like to have break wide open in 2021? For me, my Loyalist ancestor, Robert Carlisle, is well represented in a brick wall. There are a few chinks, here and there, but not a peep of light shining through anywhere!

I know quite a bit about Robert after he married, probably in Parr Town (today, St. John, New Brunswick, Canada) in the summer of 1785.

I know almost nothing of his life before the American Revolution.

Here is what I do know, working backwards in time:

1. Robert died in 1834 in Charlotte, Washington, Maine, according to widow Catherine’s statement when she applied for a widow’s pension available in Canada for soldiers of the “old war.”
2. The family lived in Sussex Vale, Kings County, New Brunswick, Canada until they removed to Charlotte, Maine in the 1820s.
3. Robert filed two land deeds in St. John in the summer of 1785. Both were for land sales. In the first, no wife released dower rights. In the second, Catherine released her rights, so Robert apparently married in the summer of 1785. That fits with the birth of their first child about 1786.

Before Robert’s appearance in St. John in 1785, I have only one bit of proven information about him. He served with the Royal Fencibles. Again, Catherine supplied that helpful detail in her pension application.

You would think that would be a huge lead for further research. Well, not really. My research has shown that relatively little is known about the Fencibles during the war.

Here are a few facts:

1. The Fencibles were recruited in Boston (Massachusetts), Newfoundland and Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1775. By October of that year, the regiment consisted of about 200 men. However, no muster rolls survive.

2. The only known combat for the Royal Fencibles was the defense of Fort Cumberland, near Sackville, New Brunswick in late 1776.

3. The regiment constructed Fort Howe at the mouth of the St. John River in 1777. They served under Gilbert Studholme there until the end of the war.

4. They disbanded at Fort Howe and Halifax on 10 October 1783.

5. There is no evidence that the Fencibles ever entered the American colonies as a military force.

Back to Robert Carlisle –

The only American census record for Robert shows him living in Charlotte in 1830 with son James and his family. Living next door is another son, John, and his family. The census places Robert’s birth year between 1751-1760 and wife Catherine’s between 1761-1770. Catherine’s pension application indicated she was born in 1761, so the 1830 age categories are likely correct.

I have no evidence that Robert Carlisle ever lived in the American colonies before the Revolutionary War. None of his children lived to the 1880 census in the U.S. or the 1881 Canadian census. If he did live in the colonies, he hid his past well.

It is likely that Robert was born 1755-1760 since Catherine was born c1761. He would have been about 20 years old if he joined the Royal Fencibles in 1775. Since he evidently was a private or perhaps of some other low military rank, his young age would fit that scenario.

On the other hand, It is entirely possible that Robert Carlisle was not a member of the Fencibles for the entire length of the war. He might have only served with them for a year or two. With no muster rolls or payroll lists surviving, it is impossible to verify the length of his service. More on that in a bit.

Have Nova Scotia records shed any light on Robert Carlisle?

I wish I could say yes. I was fortunate enough to visit the Nova Scotia Archives in 2019 and spend a couple of hours there.

Robert was unmarried until the war ended. Not only does he not appear in land or probate records there, the Carlisle surname isn’t even found in those early records.

Except. . . . for one mention. Dennis Heffernan married one Mrs. Jane Carlisle in December 1761. Where they married isn’t stated on the library catalog card, but Dennis Heffernan lived in Halifax, so it seems likely he married Mrs. Carlisle there.

Dennis Heffernan was a business man. He had two known children, Dennis, born c1762 and Jane, born in the 1760s. Mr. Heffernan died on 24 March 1789, also found on a card in the Nova Scotia Archives catalog.

I think part of my difficulty in finding family for Robert might be that he had no brothers and, perhaps, didn’t even have any full siblings. It’s a possibility that Mrs. Jane Carlisle was his mother and was a young widow with a toddler when she married Dennis Heffernan.

However, aside from the notation of her marriage, Mrs. Jane Carlisle slipped into history leaving no other trace of her existence. Given that Dennis Jr. was born c1762 and a daughter was named Jane, she probably is the mother of those two Heffernan children.

Is she Robert Carlisle’s mother? I have no idea. Robert didn’t have any known daughter named Jane, but it is certainly possible that he could have had a daughter by that name who died young.

Robert’s first three children were sons Robert, John and James. I’d guess from those choices that his own father likely bore one of those names.

There are Carlisles/Carliles in southern Maine  around York County at the turn of the 19th century. However, I’ve found no documentary links between that family and my Robert Carlisle.

Apart from the marriage of a Mrs. Jane Carlisle in 1761, there is one other possibly tantalizing clue to follow.

Loyalist Walter Stewart was the father of John Stewart who married Robert’s daughter, Catherine Carlisle, in Sussex Vale, New Brunswick, Canada in 1814.

Walter Stewart was from Dutchess County, New York and in his memorial, it is stated that he served with the Loyal American Regiment, based in Dutchess and Westchester Counties, New York.

What is intriguing about the Loyal American Regiment is that one JOHN Carlisle enlisted with them on 21 December 1782 AND on 25 June 1783, one JAMES Carlisle is noted as having deserted the same regiment.

Could Robert be related to this John or James Carlisle? Again, I don’t know.

A search of Dutchess County land and probate records hasn’t turned up any instances of the Carlile/Carlisle surname in the years leading up to the American Revolution.

I would dearly love to find parents and siblings for Robert, but I  have been stymied at every turn.

Suggestions, anyone???