BRICK WALL BOTTLENECKS
October 31, 2010
Can you just waltz through a brick wall? I do not know anyone who can do this, but I have seen it done in the movies, by ghosts. Ghosts are not real and movies are not real life. However, family history is.
Solving what we call a ‘Brick Wall Bottleneck’ in genealogy combines both of the above: real life and passing through brick walls. How would you break through a brick wall in genealogy? Do you remember the song, “I never promised you a rose garden”? Well, that song always comes to mind when I search for an answer for a long time and find nothing. I am sure there are brick walls in New England research, but it is much more common when conducting research in the South. Many of their records were burned during Sherman’s march through the South, from natural causes, fire or floods. Records were kept in wooden buildings which sometimes caught fire. Some records were destroyed by the Union military during the Civil War. Others were lost during the Civil War when county governments tried to hide their records from destruction by the enemy. Often these were kept in caves where they were destroyed by humidity and mildew. Sometimes the records were not recovered until a couple or three years after hiding them. During the Civil War, keeping records for some war-ravaged states was rare. Conquering brick walls can be accomplished in many ways. Here is one of my challenges.
One way to find records after the end of the war is to hunt for sheriff’s censuses. These were often taken in the year ending in five. In one case in Washington County, Arkansas, I found the couple on the 1865 sheriff’s census with five extra children, some with different surnames. They were too old to be the couple’s children born after the 1860 census. I must identify the parents of each child.
To find them, I need to hunt records compiled during the time they lived with their parents, and follow them in records after their maturity. The federal census was taken in 1860, before the children were born. The 1865 sheriff’s census does not give their parents’ names. Moreover, it was a half century before the state recorded vital records. I do not find the surnames listed in the probate records, but then those were stored in a cave from 1861 to 1864 when they were returned to their rightful place in the courthouse. The exception is for probate and will record books A and B for 1833-1886, which were stolen and never returned. The information I need may be in these books.
I checked deed records and hit another brick wall. People with that particular surname did not own or sell land.
Therefore, I checked the only record that just might record the men paying taxes. There was one of the men with the surname of two of the mystery children, but not of the other three.
With the brick wall penetrated, I stopped my research for the unidentified parents last month because I thought I had spent enough time on this particular brick wall for one month. This month I began searching in contiguous counties for the man having the same surname as the two mystery children. Sometimes changing surnames or counties helps to revive interest in the prior searches. In addition, I might find a clue to help with the other problem, or I might find a clue to their whereabouts by rereading what I have so far collected.
In any case, in conducting southern research, there are always bottlenecks. Brick walls just happen. With lots of hard work, they can be conquered, but it may take a long time, lots of patience, and reviewing information already collected. It is not a rose garden, but the hunt for the elusive ancestor is the most fun part of family history.
Brenda Kellow has a bachelor's degree in history, teaches, and lectures on genealogy. Before retiring to publish her family’s histories in 2007, Brenda held certification as a Certified Genealogist and as a Certified Genealogical Instructor. Send reunion announcements, books to review, and genealogy queries to: TracingOurRoots@gmail.com.