Solutions: A Sampler
from genealogists and family historians who overcame research
following brickwall solutions stories are excellent examples
of how genealogists and family historians have used inspiration
and hard work to find solutions to their genealogy problems.
These stories show how making educated guesses, revisiting
known information, doing on-site research, paying attention
to the smallest piece of information, interviewing friends
and family, maintaining an open mind and staying abreast of
the latest technology can help break through genealogy brickwalls.
This advice, along with numerous research techniques, have
resulted in great successes for our readers.
Family Chronicle’s latest special publication,
500 Brickwall Solutions to Genealogy Problems, contains
these stories and hundreds of others which will astound and
inspire. All stories shown here are Copyright
2003 Moorshead Magazines Ltd.
Were Always on Her Mind
Muldoon-Staley’s brickwall kept her up all night, until
she revisited the information she already had.
Rewards Those Who Never Give up
Alison Forte’s brickwall was solved by persistence and
good luck at the Family History Center.
Unlikely Source to Knocking Down Brickwalls
Networking worked for Agnes Rysdyk.
Barbara Sutphin Witwer’s brickwall solution lay in the
recollections of her relative, Alvin Weaver.
an Open Mind
Bob Nichols shows how an educated guess was the key to his
Family Lore With Newspapers
Rebecca Kenneison turned to the local newspaper for the story
about her distant relative’s untimely end.
Good deeds returned rewards for Tina Marie (Patterson) Hansen.
Kim Policastro’s quest for her grandfather’s father,
a man he had not seen in 70 years.
Connection Between Variations in Spellings
Vickie D. Peterson finds family in the 17th century.
Out on a Limb
Judy McAuliffe solved her brickwall by trying something new
on the Internet.
Muldoon-Staley solved her brickwall by referring to
a file folder she kept containing cemetery transcriptions
of people she thought might be related, but she was
not sure how.
Were Always On Her Mind
My brickwall story involves the Baine family on my father’s
side. It was strange to hit a brickwall with this family because
they had been in Hamilton, my home town, since at least 1871,
but I was having less trouble researching my other families
who lived much farther away.
From the 1871 census, I learned that my third great-grandparents,
John and Mary Baine, were born in Ireland, both around 1835.
At the Hamilton Public Library I looked up funeral records,
cemetery transcriptions and city directories, but I found
too many couples named John and Mary Baine to pinpoint which
were my ancestors. I recorded all the information I found,
even though I wasn’t sure which of, or if any of, the
people I found at these sources were related to me.
A few months went by and I continued researching my other
families, but the Baines were always on my mind. I took a
chance by assuming that John and Mary Baine were buried in
the Hamilton area. I called the Catholic cemetery and found
more information that had not yet been transcribed. One of
the John Baines that seemed to fit had passed away in February
1902. I was sticking with this person because his age and
other information sounded right.
All night I couldn’t sleep, wondering where to look
next for confirmation of my hunch. I got up and went straight
to my file folder. There was a section at the back of the
file folder where I kept the information I had collected on
the many Baines I found in funeral records, cemetery transcriptions
and city directories. This was where I stashed the information
I had on people who I thought might be related, but I was
not really sure how. Pieces from all these sources fit together
to give me the confirmation I needed. The funeral records
listed a John Baine whose death information matched that of
the cemetery. Looking at the city directories is what really
made it clear. The one address similar throughout all my different
sources of information was listed for both John Baine and
his family, but also members of the Hinchey family. John and
Mary’s daughter Johanna married Edward Hinchey.
Since then I have found many other sources to confirm what
started as a hunch. From census records, death registrations
and newspaper obituaries, much has been discovered about both
my Baine and Hinchey families.
I hope my story will help people to realize that it’s
important to write down everything you find that could relate
to your family, even if at the time you aren’t really
sure how. By piecing together bits of information from different
sources you may overcome a brickwall in your research.
Forte found her ancestor through a bit of luck —
when distracted while scanning through a microfiche
of birth indexes she hadn't planned on checking, she
came back to find the name she was looking for right
in front of her.
Rewards Those Who Never Give Up
My research hit a snag when I started trying to put together
my grandfather’s family. As you’ll see I didn’t
use a highly technical or fancy research technique to solve
this mystery. Perhaps it was just a little bit of good fortune.
I had been able to find my grandfather Fred’s birth
entry in the English birth indexes and I had sent for his
certificate, which revealed who his parents were, his date
of birth and the address where his family lived when he was
Fred was born in 1905 and his parents, William and Elizabeth,
were married in 1902. I looked through the birth indexes from
1902 to 1912 for George Thomas, which was the name of Fred’s
brother. I sent for all the birth certificates for Georges
that I could find. My mother wasn’t sure if George was
his name, but I decided to start there. I was hoping it would
lead to a new discovery. Unfortunately, one letter after another
kept coming back with the same results; it wasn’t the
George I was looking for. I kept trying to think where I could
look next but found I was always getting sidetracked with
other lines that were progressing nicely.
Several years passed and I still hadn’t got anywhere
with this problem. I volunteer at the FHC and while there
on my shift I decided I was going to give it one more try.
I pulled open the drawer of the birth indexes and I noticed
that there was only the third-quarter of the 1908 indexes,
followed by 1911, 1912 and so on. I was going to start at
1911, when I hesitated for a minute and the next thing I knew
I was going through the 1908, third-quarter index.
I was putting the fiche into the reader, when I was called
to the aid of a patron. When I returned to my fiche I had
forgotten where I was. I stared at the screen and found I
had left it at the Thomas surnames. I was about to move to
G, because the fiche was left on W, when I saw the name George.
It said William George. Could it be? I read on, “Devonport
5b 298”. That was the right registration district. It
made a lot of sense as his father’s, grandfather’s
and great-grandfather’s names were all William.
I sent for the birth certificate and received a response.
I couldn’t open the envelope fast enough. There before
my eyes were the words “William George Thomas, born
23 August 1908”. To the far right of the certificate
were listed the parents. The names were right. I had found
my mother’s uncle!
My roadblock was removed by just being at the right spot at
the right time, which is not a fancy or technical research
technique at all. I am so glad I didn’t give up and
decided to try one more time. Now the doors are starting to
open. I am determined to carry on.
Unlikely Source To Knocking Down Brickwalls
A brickwall came tumbling down, but I can’t lay claim
to my knocking it down. A librarian in Dutchess county, NY,
came upon the information and passed it along, not really
realizing what a find it was for me.
For years we have been looking for my husband’s third
great-grandfather’s parents and his birth records. He
shows up in the 1800 census in Orange county, NY. His death
certificate stated he was born in Holland, but I’ve
found death certificates aren’t always correct. A fire
in the local Orange county courthouse destroyed records that
could have been helpful.
In the 1790 census, a man with the same surname was a reverend
in Dutchess county. He had a son listed in the right age bracket,
who could have been our ancestor, but no records of his birth
or baptism were there, though only some of the reverend’s
children were listed.
What the librarian found was a book that had a country doctor’s
record of his daily visits to his patients. In 1790, he treated
the reverend and his wife and family and one of the names
listed was my husband’s ancestor from Orange county.
This bit of information put his ancestor in Dutchess county,
the right age for the 1790 census and is the only proof the
Reverend could be my husband’s fourth great-grandfather.
A very big brickwall was knocked down.
Agnes Rysdyk, NY
In the early 1990s, while visiting an elderly relative, Alvin
Weaver, he told me a story of a man who attempted to walk
cross-country to his son’s home several miles away.
Apparently, the man got caught in a fence he was trying to
cross, fell and was found dead almost two weeks later.
Several years later when I was more interested in obtaining
some family history, I decided to visit Alvin again and ask
him about some of the family. His mother was a sister to my
husband’s grandmother. Their maiden name was Kieffer
and their mother was Sarah Kreider. Although Alvin was now
in his 90s, his memory was very keen. As well as remembering
details, he also remembered dates by relating them to other
events. For example, he knew my husband’s great-grandfather
died during the flu epidemic in 1918. Alvin also was able
to supply some stories and details about my husband’s
mother’s side of the family. He was full of stories
about people in the area. Again he told me the sad story of
the man who died after getting caught in a fence. I asked
what the man’s name was and he told me Daniel Kiefer.
Somehow in my note taking, I wrote Kreider instead and then
placed the note in my miscellaneous file, as I was not yet
researching the Kreider family.
It was such a joy to visit with Alvin that I went several
times over the next couple of years. A few times he would
repeat a story or fact, but for the most part he gave new
information. Some stories related to the families I was interested
in and some related to people he had known in the same communities
where relatives lived.
In researching the Kieffer family, I became confused at times
because I had four different spellings in the same general
vicinity. Church records, census records, newspaper obituaries
and stone markers at the cemeteries didn’t always agree.
Brothers, whom I knew were brothers, each chose a different
spelling even to the present generation. Perhaps they were
all separate families after all.
While visiting one cemetery to take pictures of stones, I
met another woman there and we talked. Her maiden name was
Kiefer and she proceeded to direct me to the front part of
the cemetery where her relatives were laid to rest.
“Momma always said these two were the first to come
to America.” These two were Daniel and Barbara Kiefer.
After getting her address and telephone number, taking pictures
of the stones and making notes of what she had told me, I
decided it was time to visit Alvin once again.
Yes, Alvin was familiar with Center Cemetery where Daniel
and Barbara Kiefer are buried. In fact, his grandfather and
grandmother, Jacob and Sarah Kreider Kieffer, are also buried
there. He also told me that many more of the extended family
are buried there as well. He was not sure just how this Daniel
and Barbara fit into the family, but he thought that they
were probably connected in some way.
“I remember my Grandmother (Sarah Kieffer) took me to
a funeral the year I had the accident with my hand. She said
Daniel Kiefer was my grandfather’s (Jacob) brother and
it was very sad because he had died in a field and his body
was not found for several weeks.”
Now I had more questions. “Was the man’s name
Kreider or Kiefer?”
“Oh, it was Daniel Kiefer,” Alvin said.
“What year did you have the accident where you lost
some fingers?” I asked.
“That would have been in 1908 in the springtime of the
year. I still had the cast on my arm,” said Alvin.
Armed with this information, I searched the local newspapers
and located an obituary for Daniel Kiefer in July 1908. With
an exact date now, I wrote for a death certificate. There,
very plainly written, were Daniel’s parents’ names
Daniel and Barbara Moon Kiefer. The obituary listed the sons
of Daniel. Putting all this information into my history gave
me the opportunity to connect the families of Kieffer, Keiffer,
Kiefer and Kufer surnames in this locality. And, in connecting
this family, I obtained stories and information about others.
Alvin Weaver died on 25 September 1997 at the age of 101.
I still miss visiting him and hearing his stories. Not only
did I learn interesting facts about family that I was researching,
but I realized that we need to listen very carefully to all
the things our older relatives tell us and not leave any stones
unturned. So I’ve also learned to ask more questions
about names, relations, places and events.
Sutphin Witwer, PA
An Open Mind
My third great-grandfather was a Seminole War veteran and
farmer by the name of Emanuel D. Mott. From two family Bibles,
I knew immediately upon commencing my family history research
that he was born in East Florida on 16 March 1800 and died
in Jacksonville, FL on 28 October 1858. Emanuel was unique
in that he was born a non-Spanish, native Floridian of such
vintage as that of the Second Spanish Occupation of Florida
(1783-1821). There were factors in my favor: the excellent
record keeping by the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine
of non-military inhabitants of East Florida and Emanuel’s
somewhat-rare surname. However, I still could not prove his
I did find Emanuel in the Spanish land grant records. These
were grants that the US would honor, with proof, after Florida
became a territory in 1821. These records and testimonies
proved his early life in, or near, St. Augustine. Several
possibilities existed: the Jacob C. Mott family of Long Island,
NY that had invested in land and citrus crops in Mandarin,
FL; a Matthew Mott who arrived in 1793 from VA; the widow
Hannah Mott who came prior to 1786 from SC and a Jonas Mott
of London who arrived in the 1760s when Dr. Andrew Turnbull
settled his Smyrna Colony.
Despite some promise in each of the four Mott families, none
provided a proven, direct connection to my Emanuel. However,
one of the four had to be that of my ancestor. I read and
re-read the Spanish records of the Basilica written by the
priest, but the name of Emanuel (Manuel in Spanish) just did
not appear. Years went by and hours were spent on old East
Florida Papers of Spain’s Second Occupation; but no
further proof of Emanuel’s family emerged.
Finally it dawned on me to revisit the Basilica’s records
for children baptized on or immediately after Emanuel’s
known date of birth. I found him and opened up the trail of
his ancestry back to 16th-century England. Emanuel was there,
not as Emanuel D. Mott, but as Manuel Joséf Resoy,
the illegitimate son of Manuel Resoy, a Cuban Army soldier
and Anna Maria Mott (spelled “Moot” in the record).
Manuel’s date of birth matched exactly the date in the
two family Bibles.
Never take too literally the exact name or spelling of the
name of the person for whom you are searching.
Family Lore With Newspapers
My mother, my aunt and their cousin all told stories about
their grandmother Guy’s brother, Job, who had, according
his gravestone, “Departed this life by a kick from a
horse” at the age of eight. The stories varied, from
the sparse to the fanciful.
So at the record office at Lewes in Sussex, I decided to check
this. I knew, from a photo of the gravestone, when this event
had taken place and, from family lore, where (Chalvington).
I found the film of the Sussex Express newspaper that covered
the relevant weeks and soon found it: “Chalvington:
Child killed by a kick from a horse.”
There it was, the whole story taken from the inquest, including
quotes (or the clerk’s rendition thereof) from the boy’s
mother. It was nothing dramatic, just a tragic accident, but
it was satisfying to have a few facts.
A few hours later, I packed my papers and drove to the churchyard,
through fields where my line had worked for generations.
It was an amazing experience, finding that grassy grave, with
Job on one side and his parents on the other. It was when
I knew I was hooked on family history!
Kenneison, Surrey, UK
Marie Hansen's ancestor George Patterson, husband of
My brickwall has been one that has lasted since the beginning
of my research. According to every document and census I found
my third great-grandmother was Alice Ellen Armstrong. But
I did not know her mother. She was the daughter of Wheeler
Cuffe Armstrong, yet there was another interesting problem;
Ellen first appeared living with Wheeler’s parents,
simply as one of the children. Her age did not match up with
being John and Eliza’s child. In a family history written
for a local township, I discovered a relative who said she
was Wheeler’s daughter. According to family legend,
she was an illegitimate child. The Armstrong family was a
very wealthy family in Peterborough county, ON, and any notes
on them had their son as never married and no children.
I later tracked down Ellen’s death certificate, which
listed her as the daughter of Wheeler Armstrong. I found Wheeler’s
will which had him leaving his property to her eldest son
Wheeler Patterson. In 1861, Ellen married a George Patterson.
George and Wheeler worked together settling the lands of northern
Peterborough and Haliburton county. There was never any mention
of Ellen’s mother’s name. I searched for birth
records, but being in the early 1840s, records are hard to
My first break came when I decided to transcribe a set of
marriage records for Peterborough county. As I went through
the records I came across the marriage record for George Patterson
to Ellen Armstrong. Again, her father’s name was Wheeler
C. Armstrong. This time a mother’s name was listed:
Mary Ann. Mary Ann’s last name was so badly written
I only knew it started with a D. At least, I thought, this
was a start.
However, for years I couldn’t get past it. I even tried
using a scanner and graphic programs to isolate her last name
and at least get an idea. I consulted fellow genealogists.
We came up with the possibilities of Dwyer, Dever, Duire and
Dwven! Frustration had reached its peek and I had all but
I joined an Internet site called Helplist Canada. Using the
resources I had at home, I could help people around the world
with local genealogy questions.
I started helping a gentleman in Australia research his family
in Peterborough. He asked me if there was anything he could
do for me. I thought this was unlikely as he was in Australia
and all my research was in Peterborough county. I sent him
the information and sure enough months later he had spoken
with another gentleman via e-mail who researched old letters
of the Peterborough county pioneers. The gentleman told him
in one of the old letters from the Armstrongs there was mention
of the maid who had a child by Wheeler. Her name was Mary
She being Catholic Irish and the Armstrongs being Protestant
Irish may have something to do with her being omitted from
the family history or was it because she was the maid? From
there my friend in Australia also discovered her baptismal
record in Asphodel township in Peterborough county. Something
I had searched high and wide for!
In helping others, it is not just rewarding in itself but
also can unearth those lost ancestors!
Marie (Patterson) Hansen, YT
with determination to help her grandfather find out
more about his own father before it was too late, Kim
Policastro convinced the Veterans Administration to
help her overcome the usual delays and red tape.
When my grandfather was nine months old his maternal grandparents
took him from his parents. His mother had two more children
with her husband and then left him. None of the children had
any further contact with their father’s family as they
grew up. My grandfather looked his father up as a teenager
and visited him at his place of employment. That was the extent
of their relationship.
Fifty years later I began working on our family history. I
asked hundreds of questions about my great-grandfather, but
got very few answers. Grandpa remembered that his great-grandfather’s
name was Samuel Zane Wilson. He had lived in Martins Ferry,
OH in 1922 when my grandfather was born and he had served
in the army during WWII.
So I began at Martins Ferry. There was an entry in the city
directory for Elsie Wilson, my great-grandmother, but not
for Samuel in 1924. I wrote to the NARA for his service record.
While I waited for that answer, I checked with Ohio vital
records for a death date and came up empty. I checked courthouse
records in Martins Ferry for deeds, wills or any legal action
but found nothing. I talked to some of the older members of
the local historical society who lived in the area during
the time Samuel had lived there. One man thought he might
have been a mechanic during the 1940s, but wasn’t sure
he was the right guy.
In the meantime the answer on his service records came. They
had been among the records lost in a fire. They were able
to forward a copy of his Final Statement, which gave me his
rank and induction date as well as where he joined the service.
A helpful file clerk had attached a note that he had a Veterans
Administration claim number that may be of help to me. Maybe
Samuel’s records could be accessed through the Veterans
Administration. By using his claim number I was able to use
another route to find out about my great-grandfather.
I wrote to the Veterans Administration and explained the situation.
My grandfather was 74 at the time and had never been able
to find his father’s final resting-place. He wanted
closure and I was determined he was going to have it. After
I explained that all I wanted to know was where Samuel was
buried the Veterans Administration became very cooperative.
I received a copy of the Application for Burial Allowance
that had been completed by the funeral director in Fairmont,
WV and was signed by Samuel’s sister and a copy of his
death certificate. Samuel passed away on 20 June 1949. He
was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Fairmont, WV. After two
years of letter writing and phoning local veterans’
offices, I had found my great-grandfather.
My grandfather was able to stand at his father’s gravesite
and say goodbye.
Connection Between Variations In Spellings
My grandmother, Maude Conkwright Perry, died in 1946, and
my grandfather died when I was nine years old. I was never
able to trace my grandmother’s line back because when
I started doing this research; the only census in Oklahoma
which was indexed and available was the 1850 census and I
had no way of knowing where her family came from. In the meantime,
I wrote down every Conkright and Conkwright I could find in
every record I came across. As indices for each census came
out, I did the same. I also moved a lot. I lived in several
different states and had access to several different libraries
and historical societies. Everywhere I went, I wrote down
anything related to anyone with any of these spellings. This
was pre-computer days, but I kept all this data in the hopes
that someday something would come along that would help me
sort all this data.
Then I came across a note in a Kentucky historical journal
that said that all Cronkrights, Conkwrights, Cronkhites and
Cronkites were related. I started piecing together all the
data I had gathered from all over the US and was able to trace
the line back to New Amsterdam to Harck Syboutszen and Wyntje
Theunis, who were married in 1642. They were Dutch and their
sons went by the Dutch patronymic Herricksen, however, they
acquired the surname Kranckheyt, spelled numerous ways later
in life, most likely as a way to appease the English. The
will of their son, Jacobus, allowed me to link all the descendants
So not only have I found her line, but I almost have enough
documentation to prove that all Cronkhites, Cronkites, Conkwrights
and Conkrights (and many other spellings) are all descended
from the same couple.
D. Peterson, OK
sending e-mails to three random people with the surname
she was researching, Judy McAuliffe found out about
a published genealogy of her ancestors.
Out On A Limb
My Treichel line was a real difficult one. All that I knew
took me as far back as my grandmother had been able to tell.
She didn’t know from what town or village the Treichels
had originated, only that they came from Prussia. She could
take the family back as far as her immigrant grandparents
who were my second great-grandparents.
On a lark, one day, I decided to be radical. I went to my
web search browser and plugged in the name “Treichel”.
I received several commercial websites, each associated with
a person named Treichel. I decided to pick the first three
and send them e-mail messages asking them about their family
names. One of the three was a nuclear physicist working in
Switzerland, but he took the time to reply to my letter. He
said his father, living in Berlin, was interested in family
matters and he would give him a call soon. It wasn’t
long after that I heard back from him. He told me that his
father had a book about the Treichel family and he wanted
to know which Treichel family I was searching. I wrote back
about the information of my immigrant Treichels that my grandmother
had given me. Within a couple of days, he wrote back to tell
me they were in the book. It even said that my second great-grandfather
had “ausgewandert nach America”.
Many letters and conversations later, I now have a major breakthrough
in my Treichel line and now know exactly where they lived
in West Prussia. All because I thought I would go out on a
limb and contact a stranger.
article appeared in our May/June 2003 issue.
500 Brickwall Solutions to Genealogy Problems