The first step to breaking down a brick wall is to gather up everything you have already collected and review the information. Not only that, you need to put the data in as many different formats that you can. The more ways you rearrange your data, the more likely you will see something that you didn’t notice before.
The example I used in the lecture was my ancestor Mathew Patton of Augusta County, Virginia. The problem I had with Mathew is that there were THREE Mathew Pattons in the same county at the same time and all three were generating records. My brick wall was to separate the records out to the correct Mathew. I put every single reference to Mathew Patton in an Excel spreadsheet. I actually included all Pattons because I wanted to see if there were any correlations between the Mathews and any other specific Pattons. I started out by using an abstract book. The Chronicles of the Scotch-Irish Settlement in Virginia (3 volumes) by Lyman Chalkley has extracted court records from Augusta County. My spreadsheet has 357 entries (The Pattons were pretty active record generators!).
Because I have my data in a spreadsheet, I can sort the data by date, document type and/or person. I had newspaper articles that gave me exit dates for two of the Mathew Pattons. One migrated to Kentucky and one migrated to Alabama (mine). I also knew when my Mathew Patton married and when he died because I have his marriage record and his probate. With these added known dates I was able to include and exclude certain events on my spreadsheet and slowly I was able to separate the three men. I still have a couple of court records that I am not sure who they belong to but the majority have been sorted out. Once I knew which documents went with my Mathew I learned a lot more information about him.
One thing I want to add. I used a book of court record abstracts to assist me in narrowing things down but I am sure you know by now that I also had to request actual copies of the original documents. Indexes and abstract books are merely a tool. No, I didn’t order all 357, only the ones that I determined pertained to my Mathew.
Your collected data needs to be in an organized format or you will get confused and you will miss something. Tomorrow I will be talking about a couple of tools you can use to keep your data organized.
Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis