Brick Wall and Inferential Genealogy

, Brick Wall and Inferential Genealogy

The mystery of my 5th great-grandfather Effingham Townley, likely of New Jersey in the mid to late 1700s is giving me a headache. He’s a brick wall tracing my line back to him as a descendant. However, a will for an Effingham Townley dying in 1828 and naming a son John Townley is the brick wall from him tracing down the family line. Could inferential genealogy bridge the gap?

Inferential Genealogy is giving me a headache. Anyone willing to help me examine a situation?

I found a will for an Effingham Townley for 1828. On a ‘mostly’ sourced Family Tree, I mapped out all of the Effinghams from a specific county in New Jersey. There are a few other Effingham Townley’s floating around but not from Essex County.

, Brick Wall and Inferential Genealogy
Can Inferential Genealogy break down my brick wall?

The tree, upon which this diagram was based, does not follow John Townley, son of Effingham and Rhoda.

I have an ancestor John Townley who migrated from New Jersey to Cincinnati, Ohio. A death record indicated that John’s father was Effingham. Census records and death records for John’s children say his origin is New Jersey. John’s son Asa Townley’s interment record, ordered by John – the father, said Asa was born in Elizabeth, Essex, New Jersey. Given Asa’s siblings (thus John’s other children) are from New Jersey, I infer that they were from the same New Jersey town given their births are around 1790. I’m hesitant to extrapolate a birth location for Effingham from the same town as well. EXCEPT, when I searched for Effingham Townleys in New Jersey in the mid-1700s, I found a number of men with this name. So, I sketched out the relationships to see the likely candidate for John Townley’s father.

I searched for Effingham Townleys in FamilySearch that had source information. I found a number of men and their families already constructed in the tree. I discovered a few things:

  • The Effingham-George-Effingham-Charles-Col Richard line is a line that was approved by DAR for admission as George (between the Effinghams) was a patriot.
  • There are additional written family histories that have George’s lineage to a Col Richard Townley (pre-Revolution).

In reviewing the DAR reviewed line, I quickly ruled out the men on this line as my 4th great-grandfather’s line.

  • Effingham, son of George, would be too young to be my John Townley’s father.
  • George’s father, Effingham, is deceased before my John is born in 1801.

There were three other Effinghams in Essex County. Knowing my John’s birthdate of 1801, I could rule out a few more men.

  • Effingham Sr is not a candidate as he is deceased before John’s death.
  • Effingham Jr could be the father, but his children are largely born in the 1720s, so it’s more likely that he’s not the father of John, who moved to Cincinnati.

Once again, assuming my original analysis that places John Townley, born 1801 in Elizabeth, New Jersey-based upon his son’s death record (of which John provided the information), then the most likely candidate for John’s father is Effingham, son of Richard, who married Rhoda.   Now, my readers, I need your help. Inferential genealogy, as defined on the FamilySearch Wiki, is “how family historians can accurately deduce ancestors’ identities and many aspects of their lives by digging below “surface information” in genealogical records and combining information from several sources. Useful in many situations, an inferential methodology is especially helpful where records do not state relationships.”   I have a number of questions. Can you answer them?

  1. Do I have enough negative evidence to rule out who can’t be John’s father?
  2. Do I have enough combined evidence to make the case of John (b 1801, died in Cincinnati) is the same John mentioned in Effingham Townley’s will of 1828 in Elizabeth, New Jersey?
  3. What evidence makes this theory is probable?
  4. Where are the flaws in this theory?

In short, am I doing inferential data wrong?

I hope those of you who are moving beyond the beginner basics will come to know how tricky inferred genealogy can be, but that there are possible ways to break through perceived brick walls. Hopefully, we discuss the analysis process we can all benefit from learning together, and perhaps someone will weigh in on my analysis thus far.

If this post was over your head, remember What is Family History?

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

4 thoughts on “Brick Wall and Inferential Genealogy

  1. Wendy, THANK YOU for the feedback. I love the support and the suggestions.

    Currently, the dates do line-up, but I like your suggestion that if I discover years shifting, then my theory may fall apart. I'll keep that in mind.

    Accounting for all the children will be my next step, along with 'trust but verify' the documents that are supporting the diagram above. If I discover new Effinghams or Johns, I'll have to account for that.

    I think, but not convincingly, that my Ohio Townley line is from in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The men on the chart are all from Elizabeth. Genealogy classes seem to suggest in that time period these families in that one area would all be related, and the question is to map out how. So my question becomes, I have I enough evidence to link my line to this one?

    I'm basing this theory on John's son's interment record which John ordered, as he outlived his son. That's the only document for John and his children that have ever mentioned a place in New Jersey from which they came. Is that enough to press forward into Elizabeth, New Jersey and investigate the family of Townleys that I uncovered?

    Finally, at which point can I say the John Townley I have traced in Cincinnati, Ohio is the John Townley listed in Effingham Townley's 1828 will?use I like to be right and I don't feel certain that I can be without substantial evidence.

  2. We spend more time in inferential genealogy than we are aware, I would guess. I like this mental challenge of yours. While I think you are probably correct in your conclusion, I will throw out some ideas. First, how accurate are your dates? A variance of a year or two might change the assumption that Effingham s/o George was too young to be John's father. Next, have you accounted for all children and all Effinghams? In the DAR genealogy courses that I took online, residence is a big consideration when identifying multiple people with the same name. If I read correctly, your line was in the same place, a strong indication that you have the right family.

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