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My Genealogy Brick Wall: The John Townley Case Study

Devon Noel Lee with doubtful face and caption My Genealogy Brick Wall

Learning how to break through genealogy brick walls is often best to learn by researching over the shoulder of an experienced genealogist. Let's "Do It Together" and examine the case of John Townley.

Research Over My Shoulder As I Crack My Brick Wall

This is the first post in a multi-part series focused on sharing my research while also teaching you strategies for tackling your genealogy brick walls. Consider this a Research Over My Shoulder training series

Previously, I tackled a Research Over My Shoulder case study for G Winfield Underwood. (watch that series here). Since then, readers and YouTube fans have begged me to do another one. With the headway I've made on John Townley, let's do this!

Goals of the Case Study Series

With each video and blog show notes, I hope to achieve two goals:

  • Show you how I tackle a challenging genealogy problem, so you can do the same.

  • Receive feedback and answer your questions on my research methodology.

No genealogist is infallible and strong research conclusions benefit from feedback from other researchers. Peer reviewing is essential in academic research, so let's do it with my ancestor.

VIDEO: My Genealogy Brick Wall named John Townley

Watch the video.

A 10 Year Genealogy Brick Wall Problem

Recently, I resolved a genealogy brick wall on my paternal line. Until I broke through the wall, I want to bang my head or pull my hair out. I have been working on my genealogy dead end known as John Townley from Cincinnati, Ohio for over 10 years.


I did this only after I exhausted all online records, researched around records that were never created, and researched relatives that lived in the same place. (All things mentioned in a previous post defining genealogy brick walls.)

Let me introduce you to my genealogy brick wall case study for John Townley, He’ll form the backbone of a multi-part series of how I cracked the case. Let's get started with the beginning steps of tackling this brick wall.

Step One: Review What You Know

The first step toward tackling a genealogy brick wall is to review what you know.

Following this advice, I reviewed what I knew about my 4th great-grandfather John Townley.

John TOWNLEY (1802-1893)

  • Birth 1 Oct 1801 New Jersey, United States

  • Death 7 Aug 1890 Cincinnati, Hamilton, Ohio, United States


  • Eveline PORTER (1802-1893)


  • Eliza R TOWNLEY (1824-1900)

  • Asa H TOWNLEY (1825-1883)

  • Joanna C TOWNLEY (1827-1883)

  • Richard TOWNLEY (1837-1906)

  • Mary Jane TOWNLEY (1840-1912)

These details came from my Great Aunt Margie in conversations with my mother in the mid-1970s. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I began validating the John Townley family line.

↪️ Are you struggling to break through your brick walls?

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Quick Wins in US Census Records

Among the first records, I had explored to validate my family tree included census records, particularly those after 1850. These records are great because the identify everyone in a household by name.

John Townley appears in four census records from 1850 - 1880. Before his death in 1893. He doesn't appear in the 1890 US Census record fragments, though I did check.

Genealogy Research Table Showing Families Census Records 1850 - 1880
Census records for John Townley in this brick wall busting series. All census records appeared in Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio, USA.

I love using tables when trying to evaluate information in genealogy research. I'll want to put this in a genealogy research plan.

I have census evidence of John and Evaline (though I'm not sure where Evaline is in the 1870 US Census record. I would love to resolve that question.)

I have evidence of four children, Joanna will require other records to validate her relationship. We're off to a good start.

If you want tips on how to research your ancestors in US Census records, check out this video US Census Records - How to Research on FamilySearch and Ancestry.

↪️ Do you want to dive even deeper into genetic genealogy, writing family histories, and climbing your family tree? Join the

FHF Xtra Premium Membership and get a wealth of exclusive content.

Andy and Devon Lee with invitation to join FHF Xtra

Join The Brick Wall Busting Journey

I can’t wait to share with you the journey of searching for John Townley. Feel free to give feedback and discuss how you have used each technique to tackle your genealogy brick walls.

To ensure you don't miss any of the blog posts or videos in this series, be sure to sign up for our newsletter. You can do that when you get the free brick wall busting guide.

Additional "My Genealogy Brick Wall?" Show Notes

A reference for all blog posts and videos mentioned in the YouTube episode.

Brick wall with family tree overlay and title busting my genealogy brick wall
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