Brick Wall Bertha: Step 2 – A Genealogy Case Study

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Last time, I told you that step two of genealogy brick wall busting is to make a timeline. Let’s take a look at how our case study “Brick Wall” Bertha’s timeline is coming along.

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If you missed the overview of Brick Wall Busting Step 2, or if you’d like to review Step 1, you can find the links below.

Now let’s jump into Bertha’s timeline.

Opening Bertha’s Report

To work on the timeline for a Brick Wall Bertha, I first needed to pull up the report that I created during Step One: Review Previous Research. Because I previously decided that her husband’s and her daughter’s information was so important to the research for her, I also needed to pull up the reports I created on their previous research.

Dates to Include on the Timeline

Obvious Dates

Some of the records for Bertha, William and Carrie give exact dates for events:

  • The earliest stated date I have on a record for Bertha is her marriage date to William Barton in 1873 in Missouri
  • One of the best finds from William Barton’s rejected pension file was that Bertha had written a letter stating the exact date he died. This is great because I do not have another record of his death: no death certificate, no burial record
  • The US Censuses from 1870-1940 give exact dates of residence for the Bartons

Calculated Dates

Many of the records for Bertha and William just give their age, but if you know the date of the record and the age that the person was in that record you can quickly do a simple math problem and calculate an approximate year of birth.

The US Federal Censuses give us calculated birth dates for Bertha, William and their family members

Extended Family Dates

Many of the Barton children’s records give birth, marriage, and death dates. These are included on the timeline.

Duplicated Dates

Bertha’s origins are so disguised at this point that there are really no records that agree on her date and place of birth. The timeline includes every possible birthdate and place.

She has a ridiculously long list of possible birthdates and places and a variety of places where her parents may have been from. But at this point, we are not going to pick a winner for the birthplace or date.

Birthdate section of the timeline for Bertha

We need to keep all of that information and all of the clues on the timeline because we do not have any document at this point that can confirm or refute any particular birthdate or place. As crazy and chaotic as the timeline looks right now, it needs to stay that way for this step of the brick wall busting process.

No Exclusions

There are a few documents collected for William Coleman Barton over the years that I am unsure if they really belong to him. However, since I have collected them, I am going to keep those for now. I am going to put them on the timeline. I’ve made a note in my report for Step One that I am no longer sure that those documents match him. We will get to the discarding stage later.

Adding Details to the Timeline

As explained in the Step Two overview, you can make your timeline in any form that that feels good to you. That may be in a table, in a spreadsheet, or in a report format.

I prefer to make timelines in a report format. I simply open another document and label it as the timeline for the brick wall ancestor. I open my report from Step One on another screen or on a split window. That way I can work with the report and timeline side by side.

Report on the left, Timeline on the right

As I go document by document, I simply copy and paste each item into the timeline chronologically. One thing I love about using footnotes for my source citations is that as I copy and paste into my timeline, all of the citations come over with it.

If a record, let’s say a death record, gives me three or four different dates/entries for my timeline, I just copy and paste that four times into my timeline and all the data is there for me.

For the main data entry, I keep the entire transcript and analysis in my timeline. So for example, if I’m pasting over the 1880 census, the 1880 timeline slot in my timeline is the main entry for that census.

The calculated birth dates for each household member from that census would be entered on the timeline at the birth year, with the source citation and the information for that individual given in the census, but not the full transcript and analysis.

For example, if the 1880 census stated Bertha was born in 1850 in New York to German parents, that information plus the source citation footnote would be entered in the 1850 time slot on the timeline.

I add enough details to the timeline entry that reminds me all of the clues or facts that that particular record gives for that particular date. If we take a look at the census again for the approximated birthdates, it not only gives me the approximate date but it also gives me a place, and in some census years it gives me information about the parents like where they were born. I put all of that on the approximated birthdate entry on my timeline because that all pertains to the birth.

Making Progress

The end of Bertha’s timeline will be pretty neat and tidy. The beginning of her timeline, not so much. But that is perfectly ok for now. We often have to make a mess with our genealogy analysis before we can sort it all out and make sense of it.

I am going to keep plugging away at my entries on the timeline for brick wall Bertha. I hope you’ll join me again here in a couple of weeks for Step 3 of Genealogy Brick Wall Busting.

Let me know how your own brick wall ancestor timeline is coming along in the comments below. What is the messiest part of your timeline that you just can’t wait to get fixed up and tidied up in the future step? I look forward to hearing about your project.

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