"Our Loose Ends" Genealogy Column
by Lynna Kay Shuffield
Houston, Texas

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Printed in the Taylor Daily Press - 8 June 2000

Itís Summer and time for Brickwalls

Itís Summer and you kids or grandkids are out of school. Youíre getting ready for your family reunions. Itís time to attack your brickwalls!

We all have brickwalls in our genealogy. I have several brickwalls that are solely due these ancestors having common names like John Smith, William Johnson and Henry Williams. This week, I am going to ask you to pick one individual to focus your attack. Define the problem with this person, e.g., I donít know his/her parents.

On a clean piece of paper, write down everything you know about this person. Your goal is to write narrative paragraph of no more than 35 to 40 words to summarize your research problem. Next, on another clean piece of paper, you should make a time-line of every fact you know for this person and be sure to include the locations (city, county & state).

You should also make a list of children, brothers/sisters, parents, friends, and/or neighbors for this ancestor. This will be your hit list of approximate dates of birth/marriage, locations that might apply to your problem.

For example, I could not find an ancestor on the 1870 Census Index. I was disappointed that the family was not listed. However, I looked at his neighbors in the 1860 Census and tracked them on the 1870 Census. Guess what, the index, for whatever reason, omitted my ancestor and there they were in the 1870 Census, right next to the same neighbors. You might not be this lucky, but remember to look at neighbors.

Here are some general problems to attack: (1) missing names, the use of initials, nicknames, illegible names, middle names, etc.; (2) missing dates of birth, marriage, death; and, (3) missing father/mother/siblings.

If you have exhausted you search using Federal/State Census records, consider Tax Rolls, church records, cattle brands, military records, deeds or land records, school censuses, cemetery/ tombstone records, voter registrations, Social Security Applications, county histories, obituaries, jury lists, and newspapers.

You should also look at descendants and collateral families and study the naming patterns. You will probably find the same names or variations. I know this worked for me tracking the name Agnes back four generations.

If you do not know the date of marriage, you can approximate the date based on the birth of the first child. Generally, you can find the approximate age or year of birth of children on the Federal Census or School Census.

Recently, a researcher expressed frustration at not finding any records related to his ancestors in a particular county. After a quick analysis, I determined he was looking in the wrong county, because that county had not been created until 1870 and the family was there in 1850. No wonder he wasnít finding anything. It is important to understand the history of the creation of the counties where you are researching as well as the records available. A good quick resource is the, ďHandybook for Genealogists,Ē Everton Publishers, Inc., P. O. Box 368, Logan, UT 84321.

Some good generalities for you to keep in mind when attacking your brickwall:

1. Until the 1900s, most people lived on farms.

2. Illiteracy was common in rural areas.

3. Families were large and had an average of 10 children.

4. There are usually three (3) generations for every 100 years.

5. Men usually married between the ages of 20 to 24 and women married about the age of 20, rarely before they were 16. However, this is not always the case. In my family, I have three great-great-grandmothers who were married between the ages 13 and 15.

6. Births usually occur in 2-year intervals and a gap in years, is a suggestion of a deceased child or perhaps a new spouse.

7. Families and neighbors usually migrated and married together. Remember, women did not travel alone and the only men they usually knew were from their own community.

8. When considering military service: American Revolutionary soldiers were born circa 1740-1765; War of 1812 soldiers were born circa 1790; and, Civil War soldiers were born circa 1840.

9. Most ancestors did not leave a Will.

10. Assume anyone with the same surname who lives in the same area of your ancestor is related. You should research these individuals to establish their relationship, if any.

Remember to keep a research log so that next year, you wonít recreate or repeat your research. Also, cite your sources. If you or another researcher cannot recreate your research, it is not good genealogy.

Lastly, write up the results of your research. Remember a no answer is still a good answer because you will know that you have exhausted the line of research. If you reach a wrong conclusion or find you have been researching the wrong family, let it go and re-analyze your brickwall from scratch.

In this column, I will be glad to highlight and review any family history, genealogy, county history, or similar book, free of charge, if you donate a copy of the book or item. After it has been highlighted and reviewed, on a space available basis, it will be donated to the genealogy section of a library. You will receive an acknowledgment of the donation from the library. Mail item or book to me at the below address.

Lynna Kay Shuffield has written several books related to Texas genealogy and military history. She has spoken before numerous genealogy and veterans groups. Also, is a County Coordinator for the Texas GenWeb Project. Regretfully, she cannot help with individual genealogical research. Please visit the website for this column at: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Academy/2670/ COLUMN-001.htm or if you have any questions, comments, suggestions for column topics, genealogy or historical society announcements, please contact her at: P. O. Box 16604, Houston, Texas 77222-6604 or e-mail: lksfriday@sbcglobal.net

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This webpage was last created on 17 May 2000 and was last revised on 30 May 2000

Copyright © 1999, 2000 Lynna Kay Shuffield - All rights reserved.
P. O. Box 16604
Houston, Texas 77222-6604