Sometimes it can’t be helped, while researching you come across a Brown line, a Wilson line or worse a Smith, Jones, or Johnson line. There it sits, blocking your way to more easily researched lines and relations. A daughter marries into a perfectly distinguishable Germanic Braun line, which will be anglicized into Brown sometime, somewhere, in the future, making it like a hundred or thousand other Brown lines. You have several choices:
- Skip It
- Postpone It
- Avoid It
- Post It
- Tackle It
SKIP IT or do something else
Everyone has two parents, four grandparents, eight grandparents, sixteen great-great grandparents, etc. Even if there is an illegitimate descent where one strand is unknown. Most people know four or five of the several lines. You don’t have to stick researching the hardest, most common surnames unless the first four are Brown, Wilson, Johnson and Smith. Allocate your time and resources to the records with the highest potential rate of return. Research the easiest lines first. If the Brown line is in the first sixteen or thirty-two surnames, you may never get to it. Because of the amazing volume of genealogical and historical information from both paid and unpaid sites on the Internet, there is almost always another path if you find a hard spot or even just slow spot on the first line of inquiry. With so much available online, right away, no waiting required, you can keep many multiple lines going at once. Even slightly difficult lines are left by the wayside. Just move on doesn’t sound a plan, but given the finite amount of minutes available, it can work.
POSTPONE IT or put it off.
Put if off, postpone it, research another line first. With so many digitized records available, move on to an easier option and leave the Brown line for later. After you have some genealogical chops, go back to it, when you have more knowledge, more experience, more money, or more time. When you come back to that line in a month or a year or a decade, scads of new information may be available and accessible. Some of it may be digitized original records and may just contain the clues you need. In addition, you will be that much more experienced in research and you will make better deductive choices if the information isn’t as airtight or solid as you may have wished and hoped. You may have more disposable income to send away for more documents for various hypotheses. You may have had a chance to hire a researcher from the area, had a trip to the area for feet-on-the-ground, eyes-on-the-records research yourself or been able to go to Salt Lake City to the LDS library to research in that area’s microfilmed records. Last but not least, serendipity may have struck, you may have come across just the clue, document or connection needed while researching something else.
AVOID IT or research a different branch or go another way.
Research a branch differentiated by surnames, given names, naming patterns, occupations and geography.
Check for a branch that married into the family with a less common surname. The Brown family I research from Reading, Pennsylvania has married into the Baum, Fegely, Fehl, Maicks, Rote, Rothenberger, Rowe, Simmat, Stoeckel, Wilson, Willson and Zeugner families. All of those families except the Wilson family would be easier and faster to research. Two web sites for a quick check of the relative scarcity of a surname are the social security death benefits index and the Find-A-Grave website.
Research a branch with given names of Conrad, Matthias and Jacob instead of John, James and William. A sibling or in-law with an unusual name may be easier to find, Harrison Carey or Gile Willson instead of John Rothenberger or Frank Wilson.
Research a branch with a discernable naming pattern. Every generation may have a Leander, Harvey, Valentine, Saraphina, Isabella or Mariamna mixed in with the other siblings, William, Thomas, Sarah and Mary. Perhaps the first son is named for the paternal grandfather so every other generation (excep the first son of the first son of the first son etc), comes William, Benjamin, William and Benjamin. This intergenerational pattern can be a big ancestral clue. A common sibling pattern of first son after the maternal grandfather, second son after the paternal grandfather, third son after the father (if that name hasn’t already been used), first daughter after the paternal grandmother, second daughter after the maternal grandmother, with the third daughter after the mother (if that name hasn’t already been used), leaves a pattern within the siblings names and some generational clues except when the first names overlap so middle names are honored. Another pattern revolves around the first son named for the first son of the first son, etc. which leaves suffixes like Jr. and Sr. or I, II, III, and IV after a variety of names. Another pattern includes the wife’s maiden name as the middle name of all or some of the children.
There may have been a common migration destination every decade. In the 1830s, a large group of neighbors and cousins from the Holstein Valley in Tennessee moved to Coles Co., Illinois. In the 1840s from the same area, a large group moved to Dade Co., Missouri.
Ancestors vs. Descendants
Connect with a researcher going in the opposite direction. Go forward to go backward. Search descendants to find ancestors. Go backward to go forward. Search ancestors to find descendants. If you are searching into the past, find someone who is bringing a line of descendants up to current day. If you are researching forward then find someone who is searching backwards to a specific ancestor.
Post a question on a message board, don’t import someone else’s problem. Write a query that is short, succinct and to the point. Be certain to include names, dates and places. Don’t get into which great great grandmother you are researching. Don’t offer probable or possible parents unless you are O.K. with someone else ascribing those parents and then linking them online using you as a source or worse not citing a source at all. It happens. Don’t contribute.
Searching for the parents of Matilda Nunn born 1816 probably in southwestern Virginia, died 1887 Marion, Smythe Co., Virginia. She married William Henritze in 1846 and they had seven children.
TACKLE IT HEAD ON!
If you have practiced all the avoidance options, played with various other surnames, posted some question and still not serendipitiously stumbled upon the family, start with the most appropriate census in the area, and diagram the families. Line out every local Brown family and reduce the pile down to the plausible families. Keep track, some will prove impossible to be related, some will be possible and others will be plausible. Narrow it down and then go after them one by one, hypothesis by hypothesis until you have proved or disproved each option. Search each of those until the link can be proven or disproven. Keep specific exact dated notes on each line, positive or negative.
The ideal family to research is a large, middle class, literate, religious family with simple, uncomplicated physical and political geography, unusual given names, and an uncommon, yet easy to spell surname. Discernible naming patterns, solid, stable, long-lived family life with no divorces, large quantities of married and unmarried children and siblings, and very little migration, are also a big help. The holy grail of research – clues everywhere. It also helps to have Germanic ancestors or descendants with their attention to detail in church records.
Further strategies are available in Research Suggestions for Common Surnames.