Thursday, September 30, 2010

Breaking Down Brick Walls: Part One

The theme for the 98th Carnival of Genealogy is: "Document Analysis! Show us a document that helped you break down a brick wall on your family tree. Discuss the information that appears on the document and how it contributes to your family history."

The term "brick wall" can be used to define almost any barrier we arrive at in our research, but is often used in genealogy circles to describe those ancestors for whom we know nothing about their parents.  There might as well be a brick wall beyond this ancestor, because we can see nothing beyond them.  Since we don't know their parents, it usually means we also are uncertain about when they were born.

Every branch of every family tree reaches a brick wall ancestor.  (Note: I'm going to ignore any comments from people who claim to have traced a branch of their tree back to 'Adam.'  We likely have different standards of reliable 'evidence,' so there's no use even trying to have a discussion.)  As I said, every branch.  Every time a wall is broken down, we have two more brick walls, because everyone has two parents.  It's a hydra.  (Pedigree Collapse is the only thing that can decrease your number of brick wall ancestors.)

Using this definition of "brick wall," I, personally, have only managed to knock down parts of three on my family tree.  I have found the research of other genealogists online, and in libraries, that helped extend the generations my immediate family knew about.  However, I didn't break down these walls, someone else did before me; thankfully, they wrote the information down for me to find.  These walls are mostly on my maternal side, as my paternal brick walls mostly lay in countries where English is not the spoken language, and the online records are sparse.

One brick wall I may have knocked down half-way, is that of Jane Goldfinch.  As I blogged about in July, I found the will of a Barnard Goldfinch, who looks very likely to be Jane's father.  I still don't know her mother, though, so the wall isn't completely cleared away.

Here's what the will looks like:

And here's the transcription.

Another half-wall toppled does reside on my paternal branches.  My paternal great great grandfather Selig Dudelsack arrived in the US in 1890.  My family knew the name of his mother, Gertrude, or Gitel.  We believe her surname was, "Slupsky," though this hasn't been verified.

In this case, finding the name of Gitel's father was the most simple of my genealogical breakthroughs.  All it took was a trip to a cemetery.  Some documents are carved in stone.  It turned out Gitel made the trip to America with her son, and is buried next to him.

Translation of Hebrew: Gitel daughter of Reb Simcha Zelig died on the 16th of Av 5666. [August 6, 1906]

The tombstone doesn't provide a surname for the father.  The family came from Poland or Russia, and may not have had a surname until sometime between 1821 and 1844.  It's possible neither her father, nor Gitel, were born with one.

I did learn that Gitel named her son, Selig, after his grandfather. Selig's tombstone indicates his full Hebrew name was, "Simcha Zelig," too.

I will devote an entire post to the other wall I have chiseled away at.

Part Two

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