Monday, January 05, 2009

Who Are Our Brickwall Ancestors, and Why Aren't We Blogging About Them Regularly?

Tombstone Tuesday. Wordless Wednesday. The carnivals. Memes and challenges. As a group, we Genea-Bloggers are pretty good about posting our ancestral stories and photographs on a regular basis. BUT...why aren't we blogging on a regular basis about our brickwall ancestors?

Oh, I realize that many of us have mentioned them in passing. We'll write about someone and say "He/she is my brickwall ancestor," but we won't give very many details.

What if we were to blog about them on a regular basis? Maybe not every week, like Tombstone Tuesday or Wordless Wednesday, but once or twice a month. Not in carnival style, because that would mean a lot of work for one person to put it all together. We wouldn't have to designate a certain day of the week or date of the month. It would just be nice if we could all commit to writing a detailed post once or twice a month about a brick wall ancestor, and include the following:

1. A title of "My Brickwall Ancestor: [Name], [dates, if known]"

2. List what we want to know: "I want to discover solid evidence of who Levi E. McCLELLAN's parents and siblings were, and when and where he died and was buried."

3. A chronological list (timeline) of known information. For instance:
1850 Federal Census - living in China Twp., St. Clair Co., Michigan as the head of the household. Levi "McCLENAN," age 27, laborer, born in New York.

The following were also living with him:

Probable wife Clary McCLENAN [Clarissa Mary CLEVELAND], age 18, born New York

Unknown household member Elizabeth FISH, age 14, born Canada

Probable mother Rachel McCLENAN, age 53, widow, born Ohio

Probable niece Emy McCLENAN, age 5, born Ohio, attended school within the year

Probable brother Rubin [sic - Reuben] McCLENAN age 28, laborer, born Ohio

I could then go on to list other census information (1860, 1870, 1880 Federal Census; he's deceased in 1890 Union Veterans Census) or documents (1862 Enlistment in Co. C, 27th Michigan Infantry; 1866 Civil War Veteran's Pension Index Card; 1880 Detroit City Directory) in which I've found Levi, in chronological order and with details.

4. List positive and negative searches in detail. Obviously, any information in the timeline would be from a positive search. But we could list where we've searched and found no information, or our attempts to trace collateral lines. In this example, I would say the following:

I've attempted to obtain Levi's death record (I know he was deceased by the time the 1890 Union Veteran's Census was taken) in the following places, with no results:

Michigan State Death Records 1867 - 1897 on FamilySearch's Record Search, using Levi as a first name and McClellan, McLellan, McCollum, McClenan, McLennan as surnames. I've also used the "Exact & close match" and "Exact, close & partial" filters. I've searched for deaths for all Levis in Michigan between 1880, when he was last known to be alive, and 1890, as well as all those with the initial L.

I would then go on to tell how I've searched online obituary and cemetery transcriptions for the area.

5. List any possible resources you can think of that you haven't checked. In the above example, I've ordered Levi's Civil War Pension Record, which I hope will provide me with more information. You can also list your suspicions. In the same Army company in which Levi served during the Civil War, there was a man named William J. McCLELLAN. I would then describe my attempts to find out more about this individual, whom I suspect is a brother or cousin to Levi.

As a Genea-Blogging community, we would agree to post helpful comments to each other's Brickwall Ancestor columns, but refrain from vague recommendations. In other words, the following would not be helpful: "Miriam, have you checked [name of resource, database or website]?" Obviously, my post will list what I have or have not checked! I would hope that you would instead say, "Miriam, I know about this [name of resource, database or website], and I've checked [this information] for you. Here are the results."

Yes, this is a lot of work. It means we need to be organized! But think about this: How many times have you told yourself that you'd give anything to break down a particular brickwall? Anything? Invest time organizing, analyzing, checking our sources, and writing about our challenging ancestors? Hunt down every detail to death until we know we've come to the very end of what we know to do? And (yikes!) keep track of our searches? But isn't this what doing quality research is all about?

Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak brought genealogy synergy to a whole new level with her Unclaimed Persons project. Why aren't we tapping into it? It occurred to me--after consulting with Henk van Kampen about Dutch resources, Anna-Karin about my Swedish line, and Janet Iles about resources for Markham Twp, York Co., Ontario, plus having Colleen McHugh find and send me the above-mentioned 1850 census record for Levi--that we have some fabulous research skills and knowledge to learn from and share with each other! We need to be utilizing these! Wouldn't it just be fabulous if we could knock down a bunch of brickwalls in 2009? I hope you'll join me.
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