Take, for example, William Joseph Davis (c. 1782-c.1863) and his wife Mary (c. 1780-c.1872). They are the parents of Adoniram Davis (another good name!), who, along with his wife Louisa, were the parents of Minnie (Davis) Scott, the wife of John Galloway Scott. They were farmers who spent their adult years and raised their family in Malahide Township, Elgin County, Ontario. As you will notice from their estimated birth dates, I don't have birth or death records for either William or Mary. I also don't have their marriage record. Therefore, I have no primary documentation about who their parents were or even what Mary's birth name was. This is what genealogists call a "brick wall"; in other words, we may not be able to extend the line back any further unless secondary records can give us some persuasive evidence either in establishing this information or in showing us where to look. The records I do have include the 1842 Malahide Township census, the 1851 and 1861 federal censuses, an 1891 census for one of their adult children, a death record for the same child, a marriage record for another child and a brief mention in a book of local history (Discovering Your Roots in Elgin, James L. McCallum, 1999). Watch how names can help build a case for establishing relationships.
The 1842 census for Malahide Township is pretty limited. It only records the name of the head of the household, in this case William Davis. It tells us that he is a farmer and has been in Canada for 31 years (this is good to know), and also that he is originally from the United States. There are eight people living in this household, but we don't know anything more (names, ages, relationships etc.).
The 1851 federal census is a lot more helpful in filling out the rest of the family. It tells us that William Davis is a farmer from the state of New York, and that he is 68 years old. He is a Baptist, as is his whole family. He is living with Mary Davis, his wife, who was born in Nova Scotia and is 51 years old. Next there is a list of children: Joel Davis, a preacher, age 23, Adoniram, (our ancestor) age 21, Ursula, age 18, Euseba, age 15, John, age 15, Edwin, age 8, and Louisa, age 21. All of them are listed as being born in Canada. (Nova Scotia was not part of Canada at this time). There is no place on the census to record relationships, but 21 year old Louisa Davis is probably the Louisa who married Adoniram, so she would be William's daughter-in-law, not his daughter. This means that Adoniram and Louisa were married before 1851. Now we know the approximate ages and birth places of William and Mary, but we still don't know Mary's maiden name. We do, however, know the names and approximate ages of six of their children.
In the 1861 federal census, William again confirms that he is a Farmer from the United States. His age is illegible. Polly Davis (Polly was a common nickname for Mary at that time) is now 61 and is still listing Nova Scotia as her birthplace. The only one still living in their household is Edwin Davis, now age 18, still single, and employed as a labourer.
William and Mary disappear off the census records at this point. However, in the 1891 federal census, there is a David F. Davis in Malahide, East Elgin who is 67 years old, which would have made him 27 years old at the time of the 1851 census. He states that his father was born in the United States and his mother was born in Nova Scotia, while he himself was born in Ontario. This suggests very strongly that he is another son of William and Mary Davis, who by 1851 was no longer living with his birth family. In 1891 he is living with his wife, Mary E. Davis, who is 69 years old; interestingly, she was born in Ontario, but both of her parents were born in the United States. They are also living with a child, Agnes Davis, who is 16 years old and single. I'm not sure she is their child--Mary would have been 53 when Agnes was born, which is quite old; also, David F. and Mary are both Baptists, but Agnes is listed as a Methodist. She is part of the family, however, and not a servant.
|Tombstone for Adoniram and Louisa Davis,|
Orwell Cemetery, Yarmouth Township, Elgin, Ontario.
From the Elgin County Genealogical Society Website.
Finally, I have a death record for a David Flint Davis of Malahide, who died on March 3, 1912, at age 89. This puts his birth at about 1823, which is within a year of the birth date that David F. Davis gave on the 1891 census, and it records his parent's names as William Davis and Mary Sibley. These two Davids seem to be the same person. So now we have a potential birth name for Mary Davis, and also we have the name Flint given to someone who is perhaps the eldest son. Flint is not a Christian name, nor is it the name of any famous figure from that time. Where did it come from? I'm guessing it's a family name. It's also not that common, which in this case is a good thing.
Finally, what about Discovering Your Roots in Elgin? It tells us that the brothers William, Andrus, Daniel, Simeon and Joseph Davis were the first settlers to reach Malahide Township,and they settled there in 1810, when William would have been about 28 years old. This is roughly consistent with the information William gave in the 1842 census, when he stated that he had been in Canada for 31 years, which would put his arrival in Canada in 1811. No families are mentioned; we don't know if any of the brothers brought wives or children along. It sounds like they were all bachelors. Interestingly, they settled in just before the War of 1812.
It turns out that there were tons of Sibleys in Nova Scotia around the time of Mary's birth--the Sibleys are an old American family that have spread out a lot, and some of them wandered into Nova Scotia in the 1700s. There have been a few intermarriages of the Sibley and Flint families over the years, and maybe one of them will lead to Mary's family There is a very long book called The Sibley Family in America that I found on OpenLibrary, and I'm hoping that will help me track them down more precisely.
But what about Amaryllis? Well, she helped me solve another problem. Remember how William and Mary's son Adoniram Davis married a woman named Louisa? I do have a marriage record for them, but it's more like an index--it just gives their names, where they live, and the names of the witnesses. The date is impossible to read, but it's an 1850 register. Again, we can't identify Louisa's parents.
"Adoniram Davis. Malahide. Louisa Norton. Yarmouth. Witnesses: William Davis, Joel Davis."
However, on the 1861 census, Adoniram and Louisa have some children. The census shows that Amarillas (sic), Ursula, and William Davis, ages 8, 6, and 1, are part of the household now. It also tells us that Louisa was born in the United States. Just for fun, I decided to search some early American census records to see if I could locate any Louisa Nortons of the right age in the right place (in the 1901 census, she gives her birthdate as July 23, 1826, and she also specifies that her birthplace was New York). And I did!
The 1850 U.S. federal census shows a William and Amarillus (sic) Norton, farmers, of Granville, Washington, New York, with a 24-year-old daughter Louisa (along with many other children). William and the children are all born in New York, while Amarillus was born in Connecticut. Louisa obviously named her first daughter after her own mother, and because the name is so rare, it allowed me to feel confident linking the two families. And although we haven't had an Amaryllis in the family for a while, my husband's grandmother went by her middle name of Norton throughout her life--and so that's where her name came from.
All I know is, if my kids ever have children, I'll be able to point out that we haven't had an Adoniram in the family for a while.