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  • Writer's pictureDevon Noel Lee

Same Name Genealogy Brick Wall Research Methodology Explained

Advanced Genealogy Research Methodology Same Name Elimination Strategy

Don't you hate it when your ancestor has a name that many people have in common with him or her? Sometimes you need to research every person with the same name to know when one is your ancestor.

There isn't a name for what I'm about to teach you; however, my friend Amy Johnson Crow says, "this is just good research."

Same Name Rule Out Methodology Basics

In what I'm calling the Same Name Rule Out Method, you're trying to exclude people who could not possibly be your ancestor, leaving one likely candidate.

You exclude people because:

  • They are not the right age.

  • They are not in the right place.

  • They are not doing the right things.

  • They are connected to entirely different people through established documentation.

After you finish this research, you will filter down to a handful of possibilities or only one person.

Video: Researching Same Named Individuals to Solve Genealogy Brick Walls

Watch this research process in action in this video.

How I Set My Same Name Rule Out Parameters

To find the most likely son of Effingham Townley, who died in 1828 in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, I need to set some boundaries.

First, I'll search heads of households named John in the 1830 and 1840 US Census records. Ideally, these Johns will live in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, but the nation was expanding west at that time. I won't rule out Johns based on location.

Second, I would include multiple spelling variations of the name John and Townley.

Third, the Johns had to be of a certain age to be Effingham's son.

Determining a Birth Year For A Brick Wall Ancestor

I consulted his siblings ' documentation to develop a likely birth year of John, son of Effingham. Additionally, I considered the order in which the siblings' names appeared in Effingham Townley's will dated 1828.

In the will of 1828, Effingham's children are listed in the following order: Richard, Abby, John, Jane, and Caleb. Effingham's will also identify a son named William, who is deceased.

Many wills record the names of heirs in birth order. Thus, Richard's birth should likely happen before John's birth, while Caleb's birth occurred after.

Richard's birth likely occurred in 1794, based on information in his death register entry. Caleb was born in 1805 and 1806, according to documents I've saved to the FamilySearch family tree.

According to William's gravestone, he died in 1827, a year before Effingham. The stone also indicated that his birth year was about 1796

At this time, little evidence exists for Abby and Jane, other than their appearance on their father's will. However, in the FamilySearch online tree, their undocumented birth years are 1798 and 1802, respectively.

For the moment, I will consider these birth years to help isolate a likely year that John was born.

After considering the birth order from the will and the likely birth years of John's siblings, I suspect his birth falls 1798 and 1802.

With this age range in mind, I can consult the 1830 census.

If you want your own genealogy research plan template, get a copy of my Research Plan Template, print it out, or use it online.

Searching for Potential Candidates to Rule Out or In

Using the 1830 US Census database, I cast a wide net for John Townleys. I came up with a list of about 20-25 names, which you can see in the Updated Research Plan.

I focused on any John Townleys in the 20-29 and 30-39 age ranges.

In the video and research plan, I demonstrated my decision-making process for why I ruled out each possibility.

When you're analyzing the possibilities, make sure you know the question you're asking to ensure you make the correct conclusions.

I made the mistake of evaluating the 1830 John Townleys to the 1840 Census record that I found for my direct ancestor. Instead, I needed to focus on which John Townley COULD be Effingham's son.

After I determined which one could be Effingham's son, I then could compare the 1830 census to the 1840 census entries.

Suppose you make a mistake, no worries. Instead, stop and reevaluate your work.

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Consult More Than One Recordset in Same Name Rule Out Analysis

If you only rely on one record set, you might not have confidence in your results. So for my research, I layered land records alongside census records.

Land records have the added value of including spouses in many transactions. For example, knowing the spouses can help separate men of the same name in the same place.

In the video and research notes, I featured the John or Jonathan Townleys in land records in Essex County, New Jersey. Thankfully, only one John has a relationship with Effingham Townley, along with his wife's name was not included. The other four men could not be Effingham's son.

Applying Occam's Razor to Genealogy Theories

In the end, I had two possible Johns who could be Effingham's son.

It's time to apply a little logic to our conclusions, in this case, Occam's Razor.

Occam's Razor simply said, "the simplest explanation is likely the most accurate."

In genealogy, Occam's Razor doesn't always apply. However, use this theory first until you have evidence that disproves that theory.

If you have two men of the right age to be a relative, choose the closet. Of the two potential sons of Effingham, one lived in Elizabethtown, New Jersey in 1830, while the other lived in New York City Ward 11.

Since the John in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, would be living in the same town as Effingham's sons Richard and Caleb, the simplest explanation is that John is Effingham's son.

I Solved My Genealogy Brick Wall

Leveraging the power of the Same Name Rule Out Method to my genealogy brick wall research along with all of the other research, I'm confident I have broken through my barriers. Now all I have to do is to write up my final genealogy conclusions.

UPDATED Genealogy Research Notes - Click here to view and comment on the notes I've gathered thus far.

Review the John Townley Brick Wall Series

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