Monday, August 13, 2018

Dealing with an Impasse in Research

When I come upon an impasse in a family history search I often fall back and consider possibilities.  I prefer to call it an impasse — just a little hitch in progress until I figure out the next step, the next place to search for a solution. 

First, I consider all the records I have — civil (census, birth, death, etc.), parish, undocumented family records, and any others — and ask myself
  • Have I carefully reviewed every document for every scrap of information?
  • Have I missed anything in those documents and, if so, what?
  • Did I misunderstand or misread some record or some information given to me?
  • Was any of the information I received transcribed from another document/record else and, if so, how many times had it been transcribed from the original (knowing that every transcription allows for further misinformation to be passed along)?
  • Which information that I've received might be inaccurate?  Undocumented family records are high on this list.
Next I consider the possibilities.
  • If there was a feet to register the birth to create a civil document, might the event have been registered later than it actually happened and given a date within the registration deadline?  I can imagine this could happen if the registrants didn't have money to pay the fee at the time of the event.
  • If a child was born out of wedlock, might that have prevented the baby from being baptized/christened?  If so, there would be no parish record for the event.
  • If a child was born out of wedlock, was his surname listed as the mother's maiden name, or the father's surname?
  • If the child was born out of wedlock, was the child's birth require civil registration?
  • If the parents moved (or the county boundaries moved) between the time of their marriage and the birth of any of their children, which locations would need to be checked?

My Current Impasse
I am unable to find a birth or baptismal/christening record for William Doyle. 

Andrew and Elizabeth (Laws) Doyle married on November 14, 1863, according to their U.K. GRO marriage record.  By the same record they had both been living in North Seaton and married in the parish church, Woodhorn Church (St. Mary the Virgin, according to FreeReg transcriptions), in Northumberland. 

According to family records, their first son, William, was born on March 3, 1863, in Bedlington, Northumberland, 8 months before his parents were married.   However, also according to family records, his parents married on November 11, 1861 (instead of the date given on the civil record).

Considerations and Questions regarding this family
  • Did Andrew and Elizabeth forget the actual date of their marriage or did they fudge the 1861 date so William would have appeared to have been born after they married?  I find it hard to argue with both a civil and church document that give the same date of November 14, 1863.
  • If he was born before they married, would his civil registration be as William Laws or William Doyle?
  • Where were they living when William was born?  I began with a search of Northumberland then expanded it to Durham (though all information I have suggests they did not leave Northumberland until they emigrated).
  • Did his parents even register William's birth or have him baptized/christened?  

Further Thoughts
It's unfortunate that Andrew and Elizabeth and their family appear in no U.K. Census record.  They married, had children, and emigrated between the 1861 and 1871 censuses.  They do not appear in the 1870 U.S. Census:  Andrew arrived in late 1869 but was not a citizen.  (There is a 30-year-old Andrew Doyle in Philadelphia in 1870, apparently in a boarding house.  There are no identifiers other than a name.  My Andrew would have been 34 in 1870.)  His family didn't arrive in the U.S. until October, 1870.

U.K. GRO birth registration indexes tell me the probable birth locations of William's younger siblings were Morpeth in 1864, Alnwick in 1866, and back to Morpeth in 1868.  At FreeReg I can find no indication that there were parish records of their births.  (That is not to say that there aren't any since FreeReg has not yet transcribed all parish records.)

My biggest concern is this:  Does the lack of a birth record for William Doyle negate the relationships to parents, grand-parents, etc.?  William is listed as the son of Andrew and Elizabeth in the 1880 U.S. Census.

What do you do when this happens to you?  Do you have any other search strategies?


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  1. I found this post interesting and thought-provoking. I agree that "impasse" is a better way to think of missing information than "brick wall." "Impasse" suggests that you're still in the process of finding the approptiate route to your destination, whereas "brick wall" is a man-made obstacle that stops you dead in your tracks. My thoughts about William are that all indicators point to his being Andrew and Elizabeth's son until there is documentary evidence to confirm it or evidence to the contrary. However, there's a risk in basing members of a patralineal line on "all indicators." I'll be really interested in hearing the thoughts of your other readers!

    1. Thank you, Liz. I don't think I can call this a brick wall yet because I have documents to reevaluate and more research to do. I grew up never questioning William's place in the family. I'd like to find a birth document for him but as another reader said in a comment, we are not always able to find birth documents. It will be interesting to see how this research progresses.

  2. You're doing the right things at an impasse. You're considering all the possibilities; imagining every type of scenario. This should trigger a thought that will hopefully lead you in the right direction.

    1. Thanks, DiAnn. Yes, I'm hopeful doing the above will reveal something I've missed or some direction to follow.

  3. I go through each of the records again and check for possible new collections (FamilySearch is really busy digitizing and making available online). When this doesn't pull up new information, I step back and leave it for a while. Often we are too close to see what we are missing. Good luck with your William Doyle.

    1. Searching for new records is a great idea, Cathy. Thank you. In fact, it just occurred to me to see if I can find Andrew's will which, I am certain, will name William as his son. There are other records to try to find, too. I hope not to have to let this rest for a bit but I may have to.

  4. A very disciplined approach to a brick wall which I found very helpful, as I have failed to,find any record of my grandmother’s birth, c.1884, and have yet to identify her mother.

    1. Oh, Sue, isn't it frustrating to have such a recent birth, in 1884, and not be able to find some record! I hope some set of records or other resource comes to light so you can find her birth record.

  5. Very good post!
    I don't know how many times I was stuck, only because I overlooked a small tidbit of info on a record I had sitting in my file all along! Check Check Check!

    1. Thank you, Dianne. I'm sure I sometimes overlook some small bit of helpful information in a document. I hope that's the case this time.

  6. My Great- Grandfather was born 1857 Pyrford Surrey. In 1899 he wrote a family history saying his birth was never recorded. The 1860 census lists a 3 year old in the family with a different name. He was baptized with his known name in 1868. I have never found any birth record for his known name or the 1860 census name. I have not found any other paperwork with the 1860 census name. He did not mention the name switch in his 1899 family history. Sometimes records don't exist.

    1. Thank you, Anonymous, for reminding me that sometimes records don't exist. If that's true in this case and there is no birth record, I'll have to resort to other records. That's an interesting experience with your great-grandfather. Strange things happen with names in some of my family lines. One daughter's name was recorded as "Birdie" in a county birth record but forever after she was known as Bertha. Who know why they would use a nickname on a birth record....


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