Every family historian has at least one brick wall. Some walls are higher and more well-constructed than others. In my family tree, I have two ancestors whose ancestral hometowns I have been searching for since I started climbing the tree in 1976. One of them was my Irish great-grandfather who sailed into Boston in 1881. His name: John Smith. Yup, that's right, the ubiquitous John Smith. Now, he had been blessed with a middle name, Joseph, but that only narrows it down a tad from all the others, and only if the middle name had been stated or recorded on the document. I usually find him listed as John J. Smith.
I was very fortunate to have started this when most of John's ten children were still alive and lucid. They were very willing to talk about the family and gave me as much information as they could remember. From the beginning, they had told me that he had been born in County Leitrim. As I learned how to use an LDS Family History Center, I searched through the indexes of Leitrim biriths, but without any more identifying information about him, it was impossible to identify him from all the others. But over the years, I've collected plenty of detail such as his full birth date and his mother's maiden name, which is the opposite of Smith: She was born Catherine Guckin or Gookin; I've seen it documented both ways. This name becomes important to this story.
Recently I was online comparing my Personal Ancestral File (PAF) records against the familysearch.org pilot site. This is where all the work that's being done by the anonymous army of indexers throughout the world ends up. Until this point it had been a rather hum-drum pursuit, only finding little tidbits of information here and there, but nothing of real import. Then, as I searched for John's sister Bridget, there it was: She was christened in the town of Ballinamore, County Leitrim in 1867. If not for the fact that her mother's maiden name was listed, I might have passed it by as just another Smith, but there it was. It was a great Eureka! moment.
Of course, this has opened up new avenues of research, as I can now post this information on Rootsweb and other genealogy sites. I can look in the Family History Library card catalog to see what additional church records might exist for the year John was born. I did check the record group Bridget was in for the other siblings in the family, but she was the only one. That, however, has been typical of any of my ancestors who have been scooped up by extraction or indexing - only one gets caught in the net of the record group, but one is all it takes.
The photograph is of John holding my dad, so this picture must have been taken around 1936. In my next blog, I hope to put together a mini-bio of John Joseph Smith.