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Breaking down a brick wall, part one

This is the first of a two-part article detailing how to work through a "brick wall" step by step. I will be using an example from my own file.

I am currently investigating the life of James Simmons, born 14 Aug 1764 in South Carolina. I am most interested in knowing who his parents were. However, before I can work on that I need to know where in South Carolina to start looking. That is my brick wall.

I start out by listing all the things I know about James and his life. I actually know quite a bit and I won't list everything here, but will refer to specific pieces of information as we go along. The next thing I need to do is define my research objective. In this case, I want to know where in South Carolina James Simmons was prior to his migration to Mississippi. I do know that James migrated to Mississippi between 04 Jun 1797 (the birth of one of his sons in South Carolina) and 20 May 1801 (the death of his wife in Mississippi). I also know that he had another son born in South Carolina in 1794.

The first place to start is the census records. I need to find every Simmons in the state of South Carolina for the 1790 census year. I have to look at every Simmons, because I do not know whether or not James was a head of household in 1790.

His first known son wasn't born until 1794, and I do not know when James and his wife Ellenor Lee were married. James could have been living with his parents or perhaps with an older brother or other relative. I really don't mind looking at every Simmons, because hopefully one day I will be able to tie them all in together anyway.

When I look at the 1790 South Carolina census index, I find two James Simmons listed. There are 24 Simmons total. There are also two James Simons listed and 15 Simons total.

There is one James Simonds and four Simonds total. It is very important to consider all possible name variations for both the first and last names. My next move is to assume that my James, at age 26, is listed as a head of household, so I will look at the list of James first. This is the most logical way to go and will cut down on a lot of work if I am right.

I will not be able to rule out any of the James at this point because the ages of the household occupants are only listed as a total number of those males and females age 16 and older and those under age 16. My main objective is to list the counties where all of the different James' lived. I will then concentrate my efforts only in those counties.

Next week, we work through the other steps in the investigative process. The Norman Family of Lincoln County will be having their family reunion August 5-7, 2005.

They have a nicely planned itinerary of events.

Please visit for all the details.

Web posted on Thursday, June 2, 2005


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