Tuesday, April 4, 2017

This Is What a Brick Wall Looks Like

In a Facebook post elsewhere, I mentioned that beginners to genealogy might not really understand what a so-called 'brick wall' is. It is a term often used but rarely defined, for good reason. These brick walls can come in many shapes and sizes, can be physical or missing records, or as in this case, one illegible part of an otherwise good record, most likely because of some damage and the passage of time.

My maternal grandfather is JOHN FRANCIS BURKE. His father, my great-grandfather, is JOHN RICHARD BURKE. *HIS* father, my 2nd great-grandfather, was always known to me as JOHN RICHARD BURKE, but honestly, I have had difficulty validating that beyond a reasonable doubt. I have no records of any of my grandparents' families, including names, so getting a good picture of them has been difficult.

I thought I was secure in my knowledge of my 2nd great-grandfather BURKE's name until I came onto this Massachusetts birth record. It is hand-done and quite old. Presumably, there has been some damage to the original document (probably water damage to the original ink), thus making his first name illegible.

Look at the last line of the record. He was born 16 Feb 1866 in Lancaster, Massachusetts. His mother is Bridget Head and his father is John Burke; both those names are validated. His, however...

Can you figure out what it might be? Was it erased? Is that water damage? I do not have access to the original document, so if you have a clue, leave a comment. It is a tough one to get over, this brick wall!


  1. Here is a link to the original. The old copy you used may have had items from the back side of the page bleed through. The original is clean and he was not given a first name yet, not rare but not common either. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-6LCG-7N?mode=g&i=595&cc=1536925

  2. That is interesting. Considering there are several birth entries like his on that page, it makes more sense that he had not been named as anything else. Thank you for checking.