Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Brick walls

Anyone who does enough genealogy will inevitably hit a brick wall. All the easy research has been done, even some where you had to dig a little deeper, and suddenly, your family line just disappears and seemingly ends. Obviously, they didn't. Everybody comes from somebody before them, but if there are no records going further back, then your brick wall might as well have just spontaneously come to life. In many cases (at least on my family tree), the brick wall seems to be the immigrant ancestor. You can find them on all the census forms. You can find them on a ship passenger manifest. But now you have to rely on foreign vital records for research, some of which might be in a language you don't understand, some of which might not exist at all. Irish genealogy seems to be the hardest for me, even though it's also the most recent.

Now, my Raynor side has been in America for so long that on some branches I hit brick walls way before the immigrant ancestor. One that is particularly frustrating is Jacob Raynor, my 5th great-grandfather. Jacob is the common ancestor that brought cousin April E. into my life, as she is probably even more frustrated than I am by this common brick wall of ours (and so I'm hoping her diligence in researching him will be very helpful!)

Various Raynor genealogists have listed this Jacob, husband of Rebecca Raynor, as one of two people - Jacob, son of Daniel, born 1771 or Jacob, son of Joseph, born 1754. Daniel Raynor moved upstate, and based on her research, April is convinced that Jacob, son of Daniel, is not our guy.

So does that make Jacob, son of Joseph, our Jacob? I have yet to find any proof linking a Jacob and Joseph together. April is intent on researching wills and estate listings, though the lack of organization of those records at Hofstra University make that task an enormous undertaking. Families often repeated names - Jacob and Rebecca had a son, Joseph, so Jacob's father could be a Joseph, although Rebecca's father's name seems to have been Joseph as well. Prior to 1850, census records only list heads of household and other vital records become harder to come by. We know Jacob was dead by 1850 (as Rebecca is listed as a widow in the census), but we don't know where he's buried. Jacob, son of Joseph, came from somewhere, but I don't know who it came from or the reliability of where that person got that information. Sometimes, it can get so frustrating that all you want to do is bang your head repeatedly against said brick wall.

When that happens, I put that branch aside. I focus on another branch, or on adding cousins or rounding out information on those I already have. And then I go back, hopefully with fresh eyes and a renewed spirit of enthusiasm - after all, half the fun of genealogy is the challenge in figuring out the puzzle, right? Sometimes you just need a new idea, approach the wall from a different avenue, and if you're lucky, you'll start to find chinks. Many brick walls can crumble and even be broken down.

I had successfully researched my Dauch family line back to a ship passenger manifest from 1845: parents Nicolas and Eva, and children Andreas, Marie and Thomas, my 3rd great-grandfather. I had come back to this family recently to try and trace my Dauch cousins, not go back further than Nicolas and Eva, but inputting a name into Ancestry brought up a family tree posted by a man in Germany, tracing Nicolas and Eva back three or four more generations. Are those names sourced? No. Are they reliable? I have no idea. But this new information puts a chink into the brick wall that was Nicolas and Eva, a place to go from and try and bring this wall down.

Inevitably, we'll all hit the ultimate brick wall, the one that will stand the test of time. But new information, reliable or not, can be found every day. People just starting to become interested in genealogy will share what they know. Sometimes you need luck, sometimes creativity and ingenuity, and sometimes you'll find that the thing you were banging your head against wasn't a brick wall after all.

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