Sunday, February 12, 2012

What is Causing Your Brick Wall?

In the coming months I am going to be giving two Brick Wall webinars. The first is this Wednesday with a talk called "Ten Brick Wall Tips for Beginners" and then another in October with "Ten Brick Wall Tips for Intermediate Researchers."

This afternoon I was thinking about the survey questions that would be asked before the start of each webinar. The survey questions help me gauge the level and needs of the audience. In the past I have given webinars and been surprised that they are heavily skewed toward a certain time frame or immigrant group.

So I thought I would put a question out to you ahead of time so that I can better find tune both of my webinars.

What is Causing Your Brick Wall?

Please let me know if your brick wall(s) falls into any of these categories. If not, please let me know where the obstacle is so I can try to address the issue.

Possible suggestions:
  • You can't find the parents of a male ancestor
  • You can't find the parents of a female ancestor
  • You can't find the geographic origins of your ancestor in the old country
  • Your ancestor seems to have disappeared from all records without a trace
  • Your ancestor has a challenging last name that is frequently misspelled
  • You can't find records for a 19th, 18th or 17th century ancestor (tell me which century) because you are unfamiliar with the records of that time period
  • Your ancestor comes from a region with burned court houses
  • Your ancestor has a very common name and there are too many possible candidates
  • Civil Registration started late where your ancestors lived
  • Something else...

Please help me by telling me a little about your brick walls (especially if you are going to be listening in on the webinars). Leave your note in the comments or send me an email.

Thanks so much!

Click here if you would like to register for this week's free brick wall webinar.

The permanent url for this blog post is


  1. Common last names, O'Connell.
    I also did a blog post about what I learned in breaking it down,
    Though, it came down, another one went up with the next generation.
    Can't wait to watch these (will have to wait since I cannot attend on Wednesday's).

  2. Difficult (sometimes impossible) to find documents for the western frontiers, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri early 19th century.

  3. Can't find parents of a female ancestor, born 1799 in either western Mass, or CT or NY, and died maybe in WI or IL or IA, but not sure... I wrote about a sampler her daughter embroidered in the 1830's at

  4. One of my brick walls is getting back to Ireland. I have 2 families, one may have been from Clare,the other may have been from Armagh. Have not found naturalization papers on either. Know they lived in NY and came about 1850.

    1. Barbara, have you tried searching this website,
      for any records in IRE? I found baptismal information for my gg grandfather from the late 1850's. I was not 100% sure it was him until I used its information to track down his death certificate in VT.

  5. I can't find parents of a male ancestor, who has apparently left no records at all. See:

    I have plenty more, both male and female!

  6. can't find the parents of a male relative, the last name of a wife of the same male. Many males with the same name in the same area and same ages. Doing a spreadsheet on the name in the area. Conflicting ideas in published genealogies of who was who -- one statement in a book which made me feel not quite so stupid "researchers have been working on this brickwall for hundreds of years!"

  7. The webinars sound great, Marian! Two of my current brick walls involve immigrants; one from England around the time of the American Rev. War, one from Quebec in the mid-19th century. The one from England has a very common name and I haven't found any passenger arrival records for this time period. Also, none of the records for his known children are giving me much detail about his origins. The one from Quebec has a fairly uncommon name, but one that can have tons of variations on top of his having a dit name. That could possibly be adding to the problems of finding him in church records, as well as passenger arrival records. Hope that helps a bit.

  8. One of my Brickwalls is finding my grandmother's birth record. My grandmothers maiden name was her mother's married name. Her mother was widowed 15 or so years before my grandmother was born just after my grandmothers brother was born. I have been told my great grandmother was not married when my grandmother was born. I also cannot find my great grandmother and grandmother in the 1920 census. Can't watch on Wednesday but will as soon as it is online.

  9. Can't find the parents of female ancestor (born abt 1794 TN). There are several families in the area with the same surname, and a dearth of records. For that matter, no marriage or death record exists for her.

  10. Daniel Severs seems to have "disappeared" with no records. Family lore is that he was "bushwacked." Who knows? I can't watch the actual webinar but I will definitely look for it later. Thank you.

  11. My 2nd greatgrandmother, Sophia b.abt 1824 in NY (state), who married Francis William Pettygrove in abt 1842 in probably Maine - then sailed off with him & his sister & her husband/children to the Sandwich Islands (Hawai'i) where she had her 1st kid, then across to Portland Oregon Territories (Portland named by FW Pettygrove). Because her husband is relatively well-known or 'famous', there is nothing much written about her that I've been able to find. Her surname is sometimes listed as "Ruland" or "Roland" but could be spelled many other ways, and I've yet to find a source for that information. Nothing ever written about her birth family, siblings, history. Her obituary in 1889 in Port Townsend, WA, talked mostly about her husband.

  12. I'm having a problem with my 3rd Great Grandfather, George Thorward. The name is uncommon enough that I never thought I would have problems finding him. He immigrated to the United States from Germany around 1865-1867 when he was just a teenager. There doesn't seem to be any trace of any other family. I worked backwards from what I knew until I came up to the point of his marriage. It was when I got his marriage record that I found he was listed as George Yohn. Then I found him living next door to his future wife, where he's also listed as George Yohn, in the 1870 census. It's weird because everything matched except his name. His children all went by the name Thorward and so did he. I thought maybe it was a misunderstanding until I found it on two different records. So I'm unsure if he legally changed his name or when. I'm unsure if there are birth records for his children. All I know is that he settled in Caldwell, NJ and was a cigar manufacturer his whole life. My Grandfather says that the Thorwards helped bring the Methodist church to Caldwell but without traveling there and digging in, I'm blocked. Anything before he was in Caldwell is a mystery to me.

  13. Ireland pre-1840: 'nuf said!

    Parents of Vermont ancestors born in Rhode Island pre-1800 (just not sure where to turn beyond census, wills, land records)

    Thanks for making us think of these!

  14. Well my brick wall is can't fine the parents of a male ancestor. Last name Smith. This is my grandfather. I have birth and death dates and places. I know his children and still am having difficulty finding some info on them even though most are deceased.

    I think that I know the name of his first wife and the names of his children by her. I know the name of his second wife and can trace her family.

    Where is George E Smith?

  15. Looking forward to the webinar!

    Pssstt.. Marian, I tagged you..come on over and play....

  16. Looking forward also.
    One of my brickwalls is my 4g-grandfather James Madison DeHority, born DE in 1819/1816. I've described the search on my blog:
    I have searched the available archives in DE for probate or land records, hired a local professional, no luck. Hope to hear of aproaches I haven't tried.

  17. Two of my ancestral lines (which ended up getting married) had common names AND moved all over the place. I've been slowly making more breakthroughs lately but it is so frustrating to do any searching on them.

  18. The very first one...I think he was a love child...born out of evidence but nothing I've heard can be proven with evidence.'s my maiden name surname :(

  19. Those are good questions for ferreting out audience needs, Marian. In my case, I'd pick the first statement (parents of male ancester) twice over, even though these are people from not that long ago. They're just very "bricky" brick walls!

    I'd add another suggestion to your list of questions: family members who, according to oral tradition, changed their names, and for whom there is no "official" documentation of that name. That, combined with what I wrote above, makes the two brick walls I want to focus on now.

    I wrote a little to explain it at

    It involves Polish immigrants to NYC in the 1880s--too soon for the Ellis Island records, not among the earlier records that I can find. Lost in the swarms of immigrants in NYC, resurfacing in the 1920s with totally different surname...I can't be sure of the veracity of death cert responses regarding these people. Or, in one case, the statement, "I was adopted."

    I'd love to figure this one out!

  20. Eastern Kentucky, 1810. My 5th great grandmother, Elizabeth McCarty, widow {head of household} on 1810 Bath Co., KY. census with her 7 children. In 1811 she marries William Costigan in Bath. In 1823,her daughter, Leah, marries Jeremiah Powers. Her name is written as Leah Costigan, Costigan crossed out and McCarty written above, William Costigan was bondsman. Don't know who Mr. McCarty is or Elizabeth's maiden name or where they were in 1800. Leah says on 1880 her parents born in KY. and her half-sister, Nancy Costigan Hart says her mother was born in KY. on the 1900, but Elizabeth was born in the 1770's. Mr. McCarty died sometime after Leah's birth in 1805 and before 1810 census {there were 3 m and 2 F under 10 on the 1810} I do not know who any of Leah's siblings were, as most people have all the McCarty's assigned to an Augustine McCarty who also lived in Bath and was not married to an Elizabeth. One thing I have not done is look at the actual marriage records of McCarty children {besides Leah} after 1811, to see if William Costigan was bondsman.

    1. I have been playing around with the genealogy of Augustine McCarty for about 14 yrs, life has interferred with my progress and no one has found definite connections to any of the McCartys that were in Bath Co. at that time. I live in a county next to Bath County and as soon as some things get settled here would like to get to the court house and see if something has been overlooked by others. I am connected to Augustine thru three of his children. The answer has to e somewhere and with Elizabeth living as close as she did to him in the 1810 census, I would assume a connection between the two of them.

  21. I'm looking forward to both webinars. Two of my brick walls have something in common: both women re-married and moved from England to Canada. The first is my 3rd great-grandmother, Elizabeth Brown, formerly Starr, née Giles, who married, was widowed, re-married, had 2 kids and then moved to Canada all in between English Census years (1851 and 1861). Two of her children were born in England but the others were born in Canada before civil registration began. It's been hard to find her maiden name in Canadian records. (

    The 2nd is my husband's great-grandmother, Annie Louise Fradgley née Brown, who abandoned her first husband in England, came to Canada and raised a family 'out of wedlock' for several years. Only after her first husband died did she return to England to formally tie the knot with the father of her children -- I'm guessing because it would cause less speculation than marrying in Canada where they had been living as husband and wife for years. Finding evidence of both her and her 2nd husband's original trip to Canada (either separate or together) is proving challenging, as I'm not certain what name she was traveling under or what year she left England. Also, it seems the date/place of their marriage is not consistently stated in each birth registration for their children.

    Of course having the surname "Brown" in both cases, it's hard to prove I've found the "right" Brown, especially with helpful first names like George, Henry and my favourite, Charlie.

  22. Almost all of the above, Marian :) The tantalizing ones are where you have likely candidates for parents, but no documental proof, because of burnt courthouses (I've got a few of those), or a very common name (I've one or two like that, too). There's one family I have with an uncommon name that's so wildly and frequently misspelled it becomes laughable at times.

    My pet peeve is internet family trees that supposedly solved the brick walls I'm at, that turn out to be by nothing more than wishful thinking trees, with nothing substantial to support it (usually only a DAR or SAR application). Unfortunately, this information has found its way into countless other trees, including false evidence to back it up.

  23. Clare Turncliff GunningFebruary 13, 2012 at 8:56 AM

    I've hit a brick wall with my great great grandfather. He may have emigrated here between 1847-1850. Can't find any record of how he got here. He was from Bavaria, Prussia, or Germany depending which census. His parents were listed on his death certificate as Zang and Zang, no first names, no maiden name. So I guess he swam from Germany with one child under his arm and his wife on his back.

  24. The main brick wall I am working on right now is trying to verify the parents of my gr grandmother (Sealy Elizabeth Autrey Sample 1859-1907). I believe I know who they are but have found no proof. She just appeared when she married my gr grandfather. Some sources have him married to another sister of the family I believe is hers but ages and dates don't match. I'm coming to the conclusion that she was actually an alien sent to earth to study humans and just took her name from a family in the area.

  25. On my biggest brick wall, I would answer something else. He died young at age 35 and just didn't have time to get an established record trail. To complicate matters, he is an immigrant with a very common name and due to his moving around, missed taking part of a census in 1870. So other than a gravestone, death notice information from his children, and one census record in 1880, I have little information on him.

    All my other brick walls are mostly geographic in nature meaning it will take a visit to the area of their births to look at non web transcribed records to knock down the brick walls.

    I am signed up for Wednesday's seminar. I'm looking forward to it.

  26. I can't find the parents of a male ancestor, where he came from or when he came over.

  27. I have two brick walls both in mid 1700s New England. One is a Native woman "raised" by an English minister in CT. I'd like to know who her parents were. The other is a man of color who appears suddenly in 1750s Upton, MA. The first Toney that I know of. I'd like to know his background as well.

  28. Having a female ancestress Susan Madison purportedly born 1818, in MASS, VT, NY all places posted on census. tombstone says 1818 birth died Iowa have data from children down. Found George Madison living near here in 1880 census in Iowa, believe can be younger brother, Found a William Madison one county older which can be older brother.

    Contacted Mattison Association, posted for 30 years, blogged about this. Expanded research to Saratoga and Washington Co. NY from Rensselaer where she lived in 1845 1850 1855 until moving to MCHenry Co. Ny town of Nunda where boys joined CW. dying in Iowa in 1881. Marriage not located but have husband and his lineage.

  29. Jesse Wright, b 1730 , Mass married New Gloucester, Cumberland Co. Maine 1756
    Death 1784, cousin found marriage record for Cumberland Co. Maine, area was Mass originally. Wife Abby Cook 1739-1784, daughter Hannah Wright b Lewiston Androscoggin Co. Maine 11 March 1781 m Abraham Dorrison Young 26 April 1803 same place Me.

    Looking for information on Jesse Wright and wife Abby Cook

  30. My mother was born in a homeopathic hospital (for unwed mothers) in Boston in 1913, and the Parent's names on her birth certificate are "within quotes" with no street addresses - her mom as Manchester, NH and her dad as "VT" - but no luck in finding either of them in 1910 or 1920 census data, so I assume they used made-up names. I think I know her mother's first name and her married name at death in a Concord, NH institution. Any suggestions on how to go about finding more data and verifying it? I have tracked my dad's roots back to early 1500s in England and would like to do the same for mom (both are deceased)

  31. I’m in two categories: can’t find name of male ancestor and civil registration started late.
    I am searching for the parents of Henry Simmons.
    According to his obituary, which appeared in the Garden Grove (Iowa) Express: He was born in Goshen, NY on May 11, 1804. At the age of 14 he left home and went to New York City where he remained 38 years chiefly engaged in the mercantile business.
    In the spring of 1856 he moved to Republic, Ohio.

    I checked his death record in the huge liber in the county courthouse in Leon, Iowa. It says he was born in Goshen, NY. (Those records there for that time period do not show parent’s names.)

    According to the family bible, he married Louisa Bloodgood 12 Aug 1835. I have not been able to find a marriage record in printed sources, but they baptized two children at Trinity (Episcopal) Church in NYC. My aunt wrote to Trinity Church and they said they had no records giving the name of Henry’s
    parents. I found the family in the 1855 state census of NYC. It says he was born in Orange Co.

    I've checked _Early Records of the Presbyterian Church of Goshen 1767-1885_ and found nothing. Ditto for the Episcopal Church in Goshen.

    In the 1810 NY census for Orange Co., I found several Simmons families, but none appeared to be in Goshen. Henry had only one son, John. He was probably named for Louisa’s father, especially since he was named John Bloodgood Simmons.

    I checked Eardeley’s will abstracts on line at NEHGS, but didn’t find any Simmons man in Orange Co. naming a son, Henry, as heir. Also, the printed abstracts of Orange Co. wills didn’t reveal anything. A check of land records by an online acquaintance who lives near Orange Co. didn’t reveal anything.

  32. I have a brick wall, that I have worked on for the last 20 year's. I am searching Missouri, trying to find information on my mother's, mother.

    I have not found her birth, marriage or death certificate's!

    I cannot find my aunt's birth certificate, Helen Lorraine Tuthill born 08/13/1924, to verify my grandmother's name.

    My mother is Louise Tuthill born 02/28/1926. She used the name of Mary Louise Tuthill her entire life. Her birth certificate lists my grandmother as "Cath Tuthill".

    My grandfather's name was Louis Bernard Tuthill, born in St Louis, Missouri, 01/11/1896 - Died in East St Louis, Illinois, 02/03/1926

    I cannot verify where he was buried. Obituary states he was taken to Friedens Cemetery, they have no marker or record. Checked Find-A-Grave.

    After Grandfathers death, My mother Louise and her sister Helen were raised by his sister, Stella Etta Tuthill. They moved to California in the early 1930's.

    My mother was told that her mother's name was Pearl Katherine Clark. I have spent the first 19+ year's looking into Clark's in Missouri.

    Her age was listed as 21 years on my Mother's birth certificate, which would have placed her year of birth abt.1905. Name listed as Cath Tuthill.
    Family story was that she died of cancer 3mo's after my mother's birth.- that would put date around May,1926.

    St. Louis,MO City Directory has a Cath Tuthill - Shoe worker listed in 1928.

    Tuttle/Tuthill lines in America list year of death as 1930.

    Obit for Louis Tuthill - St Louis Globe Democrat, Microfilm#G-1926-3 (4 Feb 1926) listed her maiden name as Katherine (nee: Coffey) Tuthill.

    Thank You so much for this webinar!
    Any suggestion's would be much appreciated!

  33. I once wrote a whole series of blog postings on why people have brick walls. They are still on my blog at Slovak Yankee.

    I would like to see an advanced class. That means someone's brick wall is there after all the known genealogical research has been done. No tax, probate, deeds, military, census, church, or whatever records exist. Just nada.

  34. Almost all of the above; no problems with misspellings - how many ways can JONES, BROWN, GREEN, LONG be spelled? If I could find proof that Hudson WEB(B)ER 1811 - 1850+ was the son of Chandler WEBBER - Madison County, New York it would be wonderful.

  35. Looking forward to the webinar. My brickwall is to find information on my great, great Grandmother, Johannah or Joanna White. She is in the 1870 Census with her husband, 3 year old son and I think her mother, Eliza White,age 50, who was listed as the housekeeper. In this Census she was 23 years old and listed as insane. She was taken to a Asylum sometime in 1870 to 1878. Her husband stated in his Civil War Pension application papers that he had divorced his wife before he married his second wife on October 24, 1878. I went to Madison County Courthouse in Wampsville, New York to look for records and they told me that I couldn't see the records because of Privacy Laws. I know that her maiden name was White but as there are many Whites in the area at this time I am unable to find which ones are her parents. I am also unable to find a death certificate because I am not sure where to look as she was taken away to a hospital for the insane and I haven't a clue as to when she died. This was kept very quiet in the family until I started doing my family tree and found the information on the census records. I questioned my grandmother and she admitted that Johannah was put into a hospital but did not remember what one.

  36. Another brickwall topic could be that of frequent international travellers. Families which have a head whose work takes them and family to a different country every few years. The main problem with these is that records tend to be non-specific, (birthplace ENGLAND, place of marriage BRAZIL) etc. This is particularly frustrating with Census records.

  37. Another brickwall topic could be that of frequent international travellers. Families which have a head whose work takes them and family to a different country every few years. The main problem with these is that records tend to be non-specific, (birthplace ENGLAND, place of marriage BRAZIL) etc. This is particularly frustrating with Census records.

  38. Marian, such a wonderful webinar! I am always amazed at how much I learn and the new information you present! Even information I know is presented in an interesting, fun way. Enjoyed your webinar very much! Thank you for doing them!

  39. It's fun - and somewhat reassuring - to read everyone's brick wall.Mine is set in Philadelphia 1810 - 1860 , two Shoemakers named Henry Kraft , one from Hanover - the other from Wurttemburg , and plus , they each had a wife named Barbara , and a daughter that married men with the last name Simpson ......

  40. My brick walls are mostly from too common names: James Duncan, James Murphy, William Hutchison. What's worse is their wives have the same names as well. My other brick walls are from female ancestors from 1860-1880 - not being able to figure out the maiden name.
    Also, if I was free to travel about whenever and wherever I wanted I'm sure I would break some of those brick walls!

  41. Male names that are too common: James Duncan, Joseph Murphy, William Hutchison - and they all have wives with the same names!
    Also, female ancestors from 1850-1880 that have nothing indicating their maiden name or parent's names.
    I'm sure if I could travel about wherever/whenever I needed I could eventually break the brick walls!

  42. There are no records on my gggrandmother, born in NY or VT around 1818, named Sarah King. The only way I have even her last name is on her children's death records. No marriage records, nothing until the 1850 census, by which time she had 8 kids. This was in western NY state.
    Her husband's parents are also a brick wall.