When I examine my "brick walls" they all have something in common:
- Mary Chamberlain Wallace 1814-1866 whose parentage seems certain but not fully proven;
- Deborah (---) Wallace c. 1750-c. 1830, mother of the above and a person you'll be reading quite a bit about in the next few days;
- Polly B. (Dudley) Learned 1787-after 1850;
- Sarah (Yeaton) Heard c. 1760-after 1823; and
- Patience (Hartford) Stanton c. 1740-after 1820
All are women and all lived predominantly during the time period 1750-1850. None have a death record. I have marriages records on all but Deborah. I have birth records for none. Only two live long enough to be enumerated separately in a U.S. census: Mary, twice and Polly, once. None leave any probate records. None have husbands who leave any probate records. None have parents that leave any probate records (so far as I have found). They don't seem to show up in church records. Deborah's baptism may exist. Patience is baptized as an adult. However, none of them have their children baptized at all. Only Polly's children's birth records appear in town records. Mary Wallace's children appear in a diary of the doctor who assisted in delivering them.
In general, the main reason for the lost ancestors during the time period of 1750 to 1850 is the mass migration of families east to west beginning in 1763 with the end of the French & Indian War. Most records were kept at a local (town or county) level and one needs to know where. The census is only a guidepost once every ten years and only gives the head of a household by name. Without the where, locating land, probate, court records is nigh unto impossible. Newspaper records have helped considerably to bridge the gap in knowledge during this time period, most keenly between 1800 and 1850. Even then, only one of the women above has a husband whose death is given in a newspaper.
The use of military records can help, but those records with the most genealogical information are pension records which only a few American Revolution soldiers lived long enough to get. None of the women have husbands that received pensions for either the Revolution or the War of 1812. Family Bible records, when extant, are like winning the lottery. None of the women have such records that have appeared in print or have been made available to me.
What is left? Court records are a largely unexplored (and unindexed and not yet online) source of information for this time period. Diaries by others can also be a boon in identifying individuals. When I look to see who is no longer on this list who lived during this time period, newspapers, diaries, and pension papers are the main reason they no longer remain brick walls.
So how are we to continue knowing that there is either (a) a lack of records or (b) a lack of indexing across geographical areas? Certainly with enough will power and person hours, (b) can be remedied. This might result in a large amount of discovered ancestry. Such discoveries generally generate a cascade of discoveries (such as, if A is B, then C must be D). So perhaps instead of digitizing records on to the Internet, it might be better if genealogists created:
- State-wide probate indexes;
- Statewide lists of town vital records;
- Statewide lists of church records per town;
- County level indexes of court records;
- County and state level indexes of gravestone and cemetery records.
These things will add more to knocking down brick walls than the digitalization of some other records (such as passport applications or WWI draft cards).