Brick Wall Bertha: Step 1 – A Genealogy Case Study

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Last time, I told you that step one of brick wall busting is to review previous research. Well, do I practice what I preach? I’m going to show you how I am working through the process with an ancestor I have lovingly nicknamed “Brick Wall Bertha.”

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My ancestor Bertha Barton has been a brick wall ancestor for me for the past 28 years. I know so much about her life from 1873-1941 and absolutely nothing before that.

This year I am going to follow the pattern I’m teaching you, and have used successfully countless times before, to break down the brick wall surrounding Bertha’s origins.

I thought a case study might illustrate the steps I’m teaching you in the brick wall busting series.

Gathering Bertha’s Documents

I started by gathering all the documents that I have collected over time for Bertha. I also gathered the documents for her children and her husband, William Barton.

Her husband’s records are especially important because the records of her life evaporate before their marriage in 1873 in Missouri, but I have some records of his life before that time period.

Some of the places that Bertha’s documents were collected from:

  • Papers in the filing cabinet
  • Files on the computer
  • Family tree software, Ancestry tree, FamilySearch tree
  • Interview transcripts from my grandma Billee

How It All Started

I started researching Bertha when my grandmother, Billee, told me about her. Bertha was Billee’s grandmother on her father’s side and she grew up in the same neighborhood with Grandma Bertha.

Billee thought Bertha’s maiden name was Ruschek and that she was of German origins, although she never did explain to me whether that meant that Bertha was born in Germany or her parents were born in Germany.

Billee also told me that Bertha had a first marriage before she was married to William Coleman Barton. Bertha had one child, a daughter named Carrie, from her first marriage.

Setting Aside Assumptions

As I start this project, I need to remember that many of the “facts” I started with were from interviews with my grandmother decades after Bertha died. Much of that information may be correct, or partially correct. But if I have not found clues or evidence to back those claims up yet, they may lead me astray.

  • I have not found a single shred of evidence for Bertha’s maiden name of Ruschek or of her supposed German origins.
  • I have not confirmed that Carrie was Bertha’s daughter from a previous marriage and not W C Barton’s, although I have several indirect clues for this.
  • I have not uncovered the identity of Bertha’s first husband, although there are several pieces of indirect evidence that she HAD a first husband.

I am clearing my mind and starting over with the actual documents I have obtained over the years relating to Bertha and let them tell me her story

Re-Evaluate Everything

Next, I need to re-evaluate each document and piece of information about Bertha with fresh eyes.

What records do I need to re-evaluate for Bertha and her family members?

  • 1873 marriage record of William Coleman Barton & Mrs. Bertha Wesler/Wisler in Macon County, Missouri
  • 1880 US Federal Census household of Wm. C. Barton in Macon County, Missouri
  • 1890 US Federal Veteran Schedule for William C. Barton in Lake Charles, Louisiana (see a previous video or post about this record)
  • 1900-1940 US Federal Censuses for Bertha Barton in Oklahoma
  • Bertha’s death certificate, obituary, and cemetery records
  • homestead patents for land in Louisiana and Oklahoma
  • information on several children born to the couple that died as infants
  • documents on Bertha’s 5 children who lived to adulthood

Important Family Members’ Records

I will re-evaluate the records of each of Bertha’s children. But her eldest daughter, Carrie’s records are of most interest to me simply because she is a link to Bertha’s life before her marriage to William.

William C. Barton’s records are of high value to me because he was her husband and men tended to generate more records than women during this time period. So, any record I find for William may give me clues about Bertha.

The Research Report(s)

To keep every fact, transcript, source citation, and analysis straight on this project, I will create multiple reports. The main report will be for Bertha and will include all the documents that are about her, or give any clues alluding to her.

The records of William and Carrie may also be important to knock down the brick wall surrounding Bertha’s origins. I will create research reports for each of them.

Report for Bertha

I am working through each document for Bertha, evaluating what the document is, creating a citation, typing a transcript so I don’t miss any details, and then adding my own analysis and notes.

Report for William

The key record for William may be his rejected Civil War Pension Application File. It is a thick file with many letters, affidavits, and other documents that the Bartons sent to the federal government in an attempt to obtain a pension for William’s military service.

Because the file is so thick, it will require a research report of its own.

Future Research

One fantastic benefit of re-evaluating each document again is that you think of additional records to search for this ancestor in the future.

I thought of several record groups I have not yet researched for Bertha or William as I am reviewing their documents.

Since I am still just on the “review previous research” step, I make note of these future searches at the end of my research report.

The key is to NOT do the research now. Jumping ahead to that step may just add MORE BRICKS to my wall!

Making Progress

So as you can see, I’m well on my way on Step 1: Review Previous Research. Reviewing Bertha’s research requires me to also review her husband and her daughter’s research.

I’ve done a lot and I still have more to work on over these next few weeks before I share Step 2 with you. I hope you keep working on Step 1 as well.

I’d love to hear how your project is going. Let me know how your project is coming along in the comments below.

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