Genealogy is often a puzzle in logic, an exhilarating trail of mysteries, and detective work. It is a journey into the past which is a fulfilling and a thoroughly enjoyable experience until BAM! one slams into that immovable brick wall. As genealogists we know these roadblocks are inevitable. Challenging, these walls can seem impenetrable but occasionally they are transparent and you are able to see through to the possibilities on the other side.
I smashed through a wall of glass this week! I had become stalled as I crept out on a branch of my husband’s maternal family tree. I knew the names of his 3rd Great-Grandparents and their provenance but could not forge back another generation. Mary Jane Burgie lived in Collingwood, Simcoe, Ontario, Canada and married a man named John McGinnis. I had found them in several Canadian census records after they were married and knew they had eight children. I found birth dates on those census records and death dates on their tombstones but try as I might I could not find any of their vital records online. Genealogical research at a distance has become far easier as more and more information is digitized and released online however it is still impossible to find everything you require on the internet and breaking through brick walls can be trying when you are not on site in the communities, provinces, states, or even countries of our ancestors.
What steps do I follow when I am unable to search a locality’s resources firsthand?
1. I find a message board for the most specific, narrowed locality I can and I post a query. It is amazing who may see your inquiry and be able to either help to obtain the information you are in search of or already possess it.
2. I research the resources and repositories available in the area specifically local libraries, museums, and archives have been most helpful in my personal experience.
3. I determine what records these repositories may hold. Most often the local libraries have access to newspaper archives and many now have indexes to obituaries and even birth and marriage notices.
Those are the steps I followed while looking for further information on the Burgie and McGinnis families. Though I have yet to receive a reply on the message boards for both the Simcoe area and for the surname Burgie in Ontario I did discover that the Collingwood Library has an obituary finder on their website. After a quick search I found Mary Jane Burgie and John McGinnis along with others of the same last names in the vicinity. Now I had reference numbers for the obituaries but no way of accessing them.
I am an experienced researcher and I know the goldmine of information obituaries often hold. I have ordered newspaper notices and documents from libraries and archives in the past often at great expense but I’ve learned it never hurts to ask for information and I have encountered many people I call “genealogy angels”. “Genealogy Angel” = A person, whether an independent researcher, family member, or library/archive staff member, who takes the time to run with your inquiry and provide you will information–for free digitally through an email or for just the cost of postage through the regular mail–out of the goodness of their heart! I composed a quick email to the Collingwood Library detailing some of the information I already possessed about May Jane Burgie and John McGinnis, information I was hoping to discover, and references to the obituaries I was already aware the library possessed.
“It could not hurt to ask” is a fabulous philosophy! Two days later I received two emails from a “genealogy angel” at the library. She had digitized the obituaries I had referenced and had taken the information from those obituaries and run with it to conduct research herself. I discovered the names of Mary Jane Burgie’s parents, Joseph Burgie and Mary Whalen, the names of their other children and their spouses and the circumstances of Joseph and Mary’s deaths. I found out where they were born and where and when Mary Jane and John McGinnis were married. Unfortunately, I still only know the name of John McGinnis’ father but I also was given the church information I require to search out his birth registration.
It may seem a minimal amount of new knowledge to some but it has already lead to a wealth of new data, fascinating facts, and new avenues of inquiry for further research! Take another look at your brick walls perhaps some are more transparent than you might think!