Last week I started a two-part column detailing the step-by-step process of working through a "brick wall." So far we have made a list of every James Simmons and every other Simmons in South Carolina for the 1790 federal census. This week, we will finish up.
Now begins the arduous task of investigating every one of these James and eliminating them one by one. I will start by trying to find established genealogies for each one using their home county as a starting point. Another tactic would be to try and find marriage licenses for all of the James I found to see if I can find the one that married Ellenor Lee. I could also do a search of Lee families in all of the counties where I found Simmons. This would be hit or miss because I do not know where Ellenor was born (some sources have her born in North Carolina, but I haven't been able to verify this). If I can't positively identify my James, then I have to go back and do the entire process over for all of the Simmons I found. I compare and contrast all of the information I have gathered, and then I can put together a table of sorts linking as many of them as I can, which will further assist me in the process of elimination.
If it looks like I am getting nowhere, there are other avenues to take. South Carolina was one of the original colonies so there are many colonial records available. I am in the right time period to investigate these records. I could make a trip to the South Carolina Archives in Columbia and search the records they have there.
If I wasn't able to travel, I could contact the South Carolina Archives by email and have them do a cursory search for me. I could then order copies of anything that looked promising. Here are some of the things the South Carolina Archives has that I would be interested in:
Combined Alphabetical Index to Colonial Land, Court and Legal Records 1694 - 1800
State Land Grants and Plats 1784-1868
South Carolina Will Transcripts 1671-1868
County Estate Papers 1785 - 1920
Audited Accounts for Revolutionary War Services 1778-1804
I would also take a look at the Family History Library (FHL) card catalog (available online) to see what is available through them. The FHL is the largest genealogical repository in the world.
One of the most important things to remember is to keep a detailed record of everything you do. This will keep you from duplicating your efforts.
I am still working on this brick wall. I have already done many of the things I have listed, but I still have a lot more to do. Sometimes it can take months of research to just find one little tidbit of information. As soon as I discover where James Simmons came from I can start working on figuring out who his parents were. When I finish up with this brick wall, I will want to know something else, and then the entire process will start over again.
I encourage you to e-mail in your brick walls, and we will try and work through them step by step. Different dilemmas need different game plans.