Tuesday, May 7, 2013

My Brick wall solution

Inspired by James Tanner's recent blogs posts about Brick Walls, I thought I'd put together a couple of posts on the subject. In this first one I want to tell you one method I use to break down a brick wall.  I do nothing.  Well, to be more specific, I wait. Let me explain how this works.

The first family I got interested in tracing were the Highett family.  My grandmother, Dorothy Voila Highett, was born in Melbourne in 1901.  She knew a bit about the Highetts (even though she had been bought up by her maternal grandparents, the Alway family), and the stories she told were what got me interested in family history.  It was very easy to trace back to her great-grandfather, John Highett, who arrived in Van Diemen's Land (as Tasmania was then called) in 1830 in company with his brother, William.  Skipping over their time in VDL, John moved to what is now called Victoria in 1836 – just one year after the first settlement of Melbourne. You don't have to do a great deal when you arrive that early to make it into the history books, and it really helps when your brother William, who came over to Melbourne from VDL in 1838, became the first manager of the Union Bank in Victoria and a general pillar of the community.  This means that William and John got an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.  The family also got an entry in Burke's Colonial Gentry.  Both of these sources said that William and John were born at Weymouth in Dorset in 1807 and 1810 respectively.  Back in the pre-internet days I went to the Dorset County Records office to find their baptisms.  The ONLY entry for anyone named Highett in the registers was for the baptism of John son of Joseph and Elizabeth Highett on 27 Sep 1809 in Melcombe Regis.  Joseph and Elizabeth (maiden name Harding) match the known names of John and William's parents, but the 1809 date doesn't match.  And there are NO baptisms of any of the other siblings of John and William, or anything relating to Joseph (baptism, marriage, etc). The latter didn't worry me, as Burke's said that Joseph was born at Rodmede in Wiltshire, and Melcombe Regis didn't worry me as it is one of the parishes in Weymouth.  But I was still left me with two interpretations for the lack of other Highett baptisms: either the 1810 date for John's birth was wrong and heavens knows where everyone else was baptised, or there were two sons named John and this one baptised in 1809 was baptised in a hurry because he was sickly and subsequently died, and all other children of Joseph & Elizabeth were taken back to their home town of Rodmede to be baptised, including a second John in 1810. The problem was I could (at that time) find no reference to the Highetts in Rodmede either.
William Highett (sadly, I have no picture of John)

Now Highett is obviously not a common name, so I looked for other people of that name in the IGI (as it was then) and found a smattering of them, but lots of them in Burbage in Wiltshire. Purely because the name was so rare I recorded everything I could find about the Burbage Highetts, and also posted my interest in the descendants of Joseph Highett and Elizabeth Harding on various mailing lists. After that I could proceed no further.

Time passed.  I focused on other families instead. 

Then one day I got an email from someone who had been researching the Harding family. Not only had Joseph married Elizabeth Harding, but Joseph's sister Hannah had married Elizabeth's brother, William Harding.  I hadn't known about any of Joseph's siblings. William and Hannah had no children of their own, but had their niece, Sarah Highett, living with them who was mentioned in their wills, along with Joseph Highett (stipulated as being the brother-in-law of William Harding), Elizabeth Highett nee Harding and lots of other members of the Highett family. I went back and checked the Burbage Highetts, and the families seemed to match.  Further checking of wills, land transactions etc convinced me I had the right connection. Rodmede had been a red herring.  I eventually found that Joseph's father was living in Rodmead (note the different spelling) at the time of his death, but had been born and baptised in Burbage, as were all his children.  I could now proceed to trace the Highett family back further.

The moral of the story is to post your interests in mailing lists, or blogs, or any where that will "stick around" and can be found in a Google search, and you may one day make contact with someone who will have the information to help you break down your brick wall.

By the way, I never have found a baptism for William or a 1810 baptism for John.  Two of their sisters Sarah (born 1812) and Mary (born 1817) where not baptised until 1822 (in Middle Chinnock, Somerset), so perhaps Joseph & Elizabeth just didn't feel any compulsion to get their children baptised.

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