Clues on Death Records for My Genealogy Brick Wall: The John Townley Case Study

Death records can provide a lot of clues to break through genealogy brick walls. After validating his death date, I can piece together small details that point me in the direction of discovering my brick wall's parents.

Three Records for John Townley

On the researching plan for my brick wall ancestor John Townley, I found three death records.

I also found probate records and land records following his death, but I’ll discuss those records in future posts. Stay tuned.

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

Evaluating John Townley's Death Register

When I began working on John's case in 2010, I only had access to John's death record index. Since I can't recreate what the index looked like back then, I'll show you what you may find when you access records today.

On FamilySearch, you can see that I added this source in 2013. Back then, I only had access to this information. What can I see in the image below?

Index found on FamilySearch

Notice the entry provides:

  • Name

  • Death date

  • Death place

  • Residence at time of death

  • Age at death

  • Birth year

  • Birthplace

  • Burial place

  • Father’s name

This record helps validate the information available on handwritten family group sheets created in the 1970s.

The index provides a potential name for John’s father as Effingham. We can infer that Effingham Townley likely lived in New Jersey around 1801.

Notice all the words I’m using to indicate that I have clues rather than proof? Proof comes later.

In these registers, we do not know the identity of the informant. As such, we can't know if the name Effingham is accurate with any degree of certainty. So, we’re going to keep this as a clue.

How Do I Know This Death Record Identifies My Ancestor?

Since the death record is light on relationship details, how do I know it identifies my ancestor?

Remember how I highlighted my direct ancestor Richard Townley in my genealogy research plan? (If not, go back and read this blog post.)

On the digital image, I noticed a familiar residence. The address 82 Van Horne appears in the research of Richard Townley.

This was the golden ticket that confirmed this document belongs to my ancestor. Now, I just need more proof for the biographical information.

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Evaluating John Townley's Find A Grave Page

On Find a Grave, I found a memorial page for John Townley. While this profile has a lot of information, I need to focus on my research questions.

  • Who are John’s parents?

  • Can I validate John's death?

The gravestone does provide evidence of John's death date and his relationship with his wife, Evaline.

This entry also identifies the father's name as Effingham, but I can not validate the source of this information. Since I already have that clue from a death register, I'm going to ignore it from Find A Grave.


We also need to pay attention to the overlooked clues found next to the word "Plot."

In the video linked above, I walked through the process of using additional clues on Find A Grave to discover other individuals buried in Section 100, Lot 60. They include the following:

Notice I have identified eight of the fifteen persons buried in this plot. It's time to turn to cemetery records to finish completing this chart. However, before I do, I must update my research plan!

Evaluating John Townley's Interment Record

On Find a Grave, I found a memorial page for John Townley. While this profile has a lot of information, I need to focus on my research questions.

On this internment record, I noticed many intriguing details:

  • Details correlating with the death register

  • The final residence as Van Horne

  • The identity of the informant - Richard Townley, who is the son of John.

Once again, the name of John's father is Effingham. This time, I know the name of the informant. Richard Townley might know the name of his father's father as Effingham Townley. While Richard could be misinformed, the strength of the clue has become more reliable.

Beyond the cemetery internment record, I used the Spring Grove cemetery website to further identify the people buried in Section 100, Lot 60. To view those details, open the PDF file below as the table are too large to fit in this blog post.

View the Updated Research Plan

Record My Findings

It's time to follow the genealogy research principle of updating our research plans after searching for each document.

Eventually, I will write a soundly reasoned and coherent conclusion after analyzing and correlating the evidence while resolving any conflicting information.

For now, I can move on to the next record identified in my research plan. Stay tuned.

Additional "Clues on an Ancestor’s Death Record " Show Notes

Continue learning about death records and other resources for your genealogy quest through the following blog posts and videos.

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