17 January 2011

Brick Wall Success with 67 marker Y-DNA Test

Randy Majors recently shared his website and this story with me. It's a wonderful story that shows the qualities of good genealogical research, perseverance, and how together with DNA testing you can break those brick walls. I urge you to read the entire journey on his website as this is only a summary. Congratulations Randy and thank you for sharing with all of us!

He writes:

I recently wrote a narrative about how I broke through a long-time brick wall using a combination of traditional genealogical research methods and genetic genealogy. It's about my great great-grandfather John Charles Brown, or at least that's who we thought he was...

For 130 years – from 1880 to 2010 – John Charles Brown’s past was hidden in veils of secrecy. John’s children and grandchildren didn’t know who his parents or siblings were. It was the proverbial genealogical brick wall. Therefore, since this was one of my most difficult family lines I could research, I researched it.

The basic problem is that we didn't have any confirmed record of John's existence for the first 28 years of his life...from his birth in December 1858 to his marriage in April 1887. Birth certificates were not required in Illinois in 1858, so that simpler approach to determining his parents was not possible. But in that time-frame, John should have appeared in the 1860, 1870, and 1880 census at a minimum, as well as perhaps a state census or two...and that could have led to whom his parents were. And it did, eventually, but not how you might expect!

In summary, the steps I took over the last few years are these:

--- I researched all the traditional genealogical resources I could find (e.g. census records, vital records, church records, newspapers, and so on)

--- I talked with family members to find any information they had on John, and importantly, any stories or memories they recalled. I found it was critical to talk with the older living relatives who were alive at the time when John was still alive; he died in 1928, so there were still at least a couple of grandchildren living.

--- After hitting a brick wall on anybody knowing who John's parents or siblings were, I then dug deeper on trying to find additional sources including church records from where he was born, land and legal records from around the time of his marriage, newspaper clippings, and so on.

--- After uncovering plenty records since the 1887 marriage, but lots of nothing before that, I went back to the basics of what I knew or thought I knew. There were a few clues in the oral traditions from older family members so, on a hunch, I reduced the name searches in census records to first names and did some wildcard clues that used elements of the locations, occupations, birthplace of parents, etc., previously found. This led me to a specific family that I suspected could be John's family. (There is much more detail on this in my full narrative.)

The problem was that the family I found in 1860 and 1870 census records had a totally different surname. So continuing, I tried to disprove that this candidate-family with the different surname was in fact John and his family, but I couldn't disprove it. This compelled me that much more to try to turn my hypothesis into a certainty. I recalled that there was a direct male descendant of John Charles Brown whom I had made contact with earlier that year. He too knew nothing of John's parents or siblings and was equally baffled. After some time, he decided to have a 67-marker y-DNA test performed at Family Tree DNA. And the rest is history.

Check out the full narrative and what was ultimately discovered here:

Hopefully, this story offers some ideas that others may try on their brick wall ancestors!


txlynnage said...

This could be my own story! My great grandfather, very few know anything about, including his children. Unfortunately I have less to go on as all my census searches, my gggrandfather and his wife were never in the same census! I have had a dna test done on one of his direct male descendents...........looks like it's time to go back and take another look!Your story gives me hope!
Thank you!
Laura Flanagan

Kathleen Brandt, Professional Genealogist said...

Great story!