Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Nathan Brown: How Exactly Did I Find Nathan's Parents?

This is one of a series of posts that follow up on my Legacy Family Tree webinar called "Brick Walls: Cracking the Case of Nathan Brown's Parents." Use the Nathan Brown tag/label to view all the posts in the series.

During the webinar I did not go into great detail about exactly how I found Nathan Brown's parents.  Some people wanted to know how I found them in Swansea, Massachusetts.  The truth is I didn't search for them in Swansea, MA, they just happened to be in Swansea when I found them.

Once I focused in on the name Samuel Miller Brown as a major clue for finding the family, I redefined my search strategy to ask this question:

"Can I find a family where the Brown husband married a Miller wife whose father was named Samuel Miller?"

In order to find a family such as this I harnessed the power of a database and Boolean logic.  Genealogists are by nature an analytical bunch and many already apply this kind of thinking when doing Google searches and such.

So to make this happen all I needed was a database that would allow me to search on an individual's name, a spouse's name and a father's name., and the World Connnect database will all let you do this kind of searching.

FamilySearch is a little fussy in that when you only have a last name you can't enter any other information but the country.  Without the name of parents ahead of time you would have to enter Nathan Brown and Brown for the father and Miller for the mother.  If no connection has previously been made between the child and the parents (as is the case with most brick walls) then your result will turn up empty.  But try it anyway because you may have good luck. always allows for this sort of search when you use the advanced search option.
And World Connect is likely the easiest of all to use when trying this sort of search.
Now, the easy part is doing the search.  The hard part is searching through the results. With common English names like Brown and Miller, the search will result in many, many hits.  So it's best to restrict the search a bit more.  Since I believed that these families either were born or died in Connecticut, Rhode Island or Massachusetts, I can then restrict the search to those states (fill in only one of the criteria such as birth place not both birth and death place).  By performing three separate searches, each with a different state, I can get much more specific, higher quality results.

When I did the search narrowing my criteria, I came right to Jeremiah and Rebecca Miller and her father Samuel Miller.

The effectiveness of this technique will depend on how unique the names are that you are using and how much information you have about your brick wall.  The more information you have the easier it will be. 
If you missed the live version of the webinar, you can see it now in the Legacy Family Tree archives. It will be available until November 14, 2011 to view (for free) at your leisure.  


  1. I love Rootsweb's WorldConnect. It's the only 'on-line tree' site where I will put my family tree. It gives me complete control over what is displayed and what people can do with it, and it lets them contact me easily.

  2. Nicely done - I have always loved logic puzzles and for me genealogy are these with real consequences. Thanks for the walk through.