Blog post

Saturday, October 3, 2009

I have no brick walls!

I have no brick walls! It's a bold statement, I know. Does it mean I'm such a fantastic researcher that I am not stuck on anything, anywhere in my tree? Certainly not!

The 'brick wall'
Take the case of my GGG grandfather, Richard ROBOTHAM. He was born in Derby (or so I believe) in around 1819. He married Isabella SMITH in 1839. In the 1851 census they were to be found living together with their four children, and a servant. By 1860 the couple had three more children. However, in the 1861 census I found Isabella and the couple's seven children, but no Richard. Where was he? Had he died? Or was he just away that day?

In 1864 Isabella and her seven children, aged from 4 to 17, made the long journey to Australia where they settled. Richard was not onboard the ship with them.

What happened to Richard?

I found a few possible death entries at around the right time and place, but never had enough confidence it was the right person to justify sending off the money for the certificate. As far as I was concerned, Richard was missing, presumed dead. I would think about it more later... whenever later was.

The breakthrough!
The breakthrough came unexpectedly last night when I was playing with the Australian National Library's online newspaper site again. I found this marriage notice in The Argus newspaper for 20 April 1882:

STANNUS-ROBOTHAM.-On the 1st inst., at Prahran by the Rev. John J. Mackenzie, Wm. Stannus only son of the late Captain Wm.Stannus, Belfast, Ireland, to Kate, the fourth daughter of Mr. Richard Robotham, Heathcote.
It was that final word that made me sit up and take notice. Heathcote. A place of residence, implying that he was alive and residing there. That, and the absence of the words "the late". Quick googling confirmed that Heathcote was in Victoria, as I suspected. Another possibility was suddenly clear to me... what if Richard was missing from the 1861 census, and not to be found with his wife or children on the ship, because he had gone on ahead!

Victorian death certificates can be searched and bought online. I found his death certificate (he died 1902, aged 84) first try and downloaded it right away. Australian certificates give a lot of detail, and there was more than enough information to confirm that it was the right person.

Indexes for passenger lists to Victoria, Australia are also online. While I waited for my credit card to process for the death certificate I found a 41 year old Richard Robotham travelling on the 'Red Jacket' to Australia in 1860. I took down the details of the microfiche and added it to my 'to do' list for next time I visit the library. It really was that quick and easy once I knew where to look.

This experience just confirmed for me that I have no brick walls! While I do have quite a few ancestors who are still a mystery to me, I don't consider any of them to be 'brick walls'. There is not one for whom I could honestly say that I had exhausted all possible avenues of research.

(By the way... yes, I do feel rather silly that it didn't occur to me Richard may have already have been in Australia. At least I didn't waste my money buying those wrong UK death certificates!)


  1. Congrats on your find. Your viewpoint on brick walls is an interesting one. I agree, we'll never exhaust all possibilities, but it definitely gets harder!

  2. I have hit a brick wall so thick I think I may need a new car, or a new bank account to figure it out.
    Of course it leads back to Ireland and basically no hope of me finding out what I look for.
    Sometimes I just have to accept that there may not be a record of what I am looking for or enough money to go and search for a needle in a haystack.
    Then a many months later I start the search again seeing if something new has magically popped up. Those walls can't keep us down for long.

  3. I dont use the word brickwall, nor do i have one, or ever will. Sooner or later information is found about the person, sometimes it just takes a bit longer that we would have hoped.