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Using Descendancy Research for Clues to Bust a Genealogy Brick Wall

Descendancy research in genealogy may help you find overlooked branches of your family tree to climb. It also enables you to tackle brick walls as you look for clues hiding in records of your ancestor's children and grandchildren.

Devon Noel Lee pointing to video title Clues in Death Records

Watch this research plan development process in action in this video.

Researching My Brick Wall's Descendants

If you want to bust through your genealogy brick walls, you have to learn not only to SEARCH for genealogy records but also how to RE-search them. Part of the research involves investigating the clues from the descendants of your target ancestor.

On the researching plan for my brick wall ancestor John Townley, I have a secondary goal of validating John and his children's relationships.

In the previous post "Clues on Death Records for My Genealogy Brick Wall," I shared how I found a possible name for John's father. The clues appeared on John's death certificate and internment records.

The working hypothesis is now that John's father’s name is Effingham Townley.

According to the 1850 - 1880 census records and the death records, John was born in New Jersey. These records do not identify a city or county.

Before I can research in New Jersey, I still need more clues. Clues that will help validate Effingham as John's father. I also need evidence to find a specific location for John's birth.

I know that at some point, John moved from New Jersey to Cincinnati. Let's search and research the children of John Townley to gather more clues.

Sample background information for genealogy research plan
John Townley's family, as included in the research plan

Clues from Children's Birth Places

John's children's births occurred before counties in New Jersey and Ohio began officially and consistently recording births. Therefore, I have to look for alternative clues to where John and his family originated in New Jersey before researching John in the Garden State.

Table of genealogy facts for a genealogy research report
Clues from home sources and census records

When I combine the currently invalidated birth dates for John's children and the birthplaces identified in the census records, I have a major clue.

Joanna was born in New Jersey around 1827 while her next sibling, Richard, was born in Ohio in 1837. Sometime between 1827 and 1837, the Townley family moved to the West.

Did you know that during this period that "The West" was Ohio? It's okay if you didn't. Being raised in Texas, that was nothing something I heard about until I was an adult.

All of this information comes from what I already have in my genealogy research plan. Now, I need to begin researching what I don't know.

Descendancy view of John Townley on FamilySearch
Descendancy view of John Townley on FamilySearch

Using Descendancy Research to Recognize Naming Traditions

When we pause to look at the names of children and grandchildren, we may pick up clues to the past as each generation inherits their ancestors' names.

Using FamilySearch, I can leverage the power of descendancy research to quickly evaluate potential naming traditions.

What am I hoping to find?

The internment record for John Townley identifies his father as Effingham. Suppose the name Effingham is passed down to one of John's descendants. In that case, naming traditions might establish the validity of the relationship recorded on the interment record.

List of names inherited by descendants of John Townley
Watch the video linked above to see who is related to whom

The descendants of John Townly have inherited many family names. The one that stands out is John Effingham Townley.

Now, let’s look at how John Effingham Townley received his name.

Effingham** -> John -> Richard -> John Richard -> John Effingham

I recently discovered Effingham, particularly Effingham Townley, is not a common name. However, this particular family's habit of passing down the names of ancestors gives me a clue. SOMEWHERE on the family tree of either Martha Boyd or John Richard Townley, there is an Effingham.

I will use this naming tradition pattern as a potential clue for John's connection to an Effingham Townley.

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Validate John’s Relationships with His Children

In my research plan, I have a secondary goal of establishing the relationship between John and his children. I have conducted a reasonably exhaustive search of his son Richard, which brought me to this research question.

As I research John's children, I'm looking for:

  • where his older children were in New Jersey

  • where his older children lived before moving to New Jersey

  • if any record identifies where John was born in New Jersey

  • if any records identify John's parents. (In the video Researching Catholic Church Marriage Records on Find My Past, I discovered it is possible to see grandparents named these records.)

Be sure to watch this video for how I evaluated John's daughter Eliza. In the video and this post, I'm not going to share all of the details, but there is one highlight I have to tell you about.

Brick Wall Opening Clue in Descendancy Research

The most helpful record for John Townley’s children is the interment records from Spring Grove Cemetery for his eldest son Asa Townley.

Internment record for Asa Townley buried in Spring Grove Cemetery
Internment record for Asa Townley buried in Spring Grove Cemetery

What details do you notice?

  • Asa age at death and death date. (Use this calculator to find his birthdate)

  • Parent’s names: John and Evaline Townley

  • Relationship to Owner was not identified

  • Burial ordered by John Townley and Alfred Speer.

  • Birthplace - Elizabeth, New Jersey

Let's Process These Clues

John Townley, my 4th great grandfather, died in 1893. His son, Asa, died in 1883 and was buried in space 1, lot 60, section 100.

The plot owner is John Townley and is the only John buried in this 20 person plot, which also includes his wife and other children.

Who is providing the information to the record keeper?

Alfred Speer is Asa’s brother-in-law and married Asa’s youngest sister. It’s not likely he knew the age or birthplace of Asa first hand.

John is Asa’s father and would have first-hand knowledge of when and where Asa was born.

What can we infer from this record?

If Asa was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, what does that tell us?

We can not infer that John was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

We can infer that John Townley at least lived in Elizabeth, New Jersey, at the time of Asa's birth.

What should we do next?

We could look in Elizabeth, New Jersey, for Asa's family, particularly in the 1830 Census, to see if we find a place of origin.

We should also update my research plan with the results of my investigation.

If you encounter a genealogy problem that's more complicated than you can tackle, check out the professionals at Legacy Tree Genealogists.

Record My Findings

Once again, I will follow the genealogy research principle of updating our research plans after we search for each document.

Click on the PDF above to see the updates I made to my plan. You'll notice that I didn't include every detail about the children (else the file would become too large to share).

However, my next step in my journey to discover the identity of John's parents will lead me to early US Census records. Stay tuned.

Additional "Using Descendancy Research for Clues " Show Notes

Continue learning about descendancy for your genealogy quest through the following blog posts and videos.

Brick wall with family tree overlay and the words- clues in from descendants.
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