By Valerie LaRobardier
When genealogists hit what they call a “brick wall” on a family line, we often look for clues in unsourced family trees and message board queries that sometimes date back 20 years.
Desperate people do desperate things, and too often we are willing to accept the first answer that presents itself in an online search that matches, or closely matches, or somewhat closely matches, the names, locations and dates we have in mind.
But that can be dangerous. Although it takes longer and often leads to dead ends, research that has any value involves a thorough search and analysis. Knowing when to shift gears is also important. Too often, when no clear answer emerges, we continue the same aimless search, hoping something will pop up.
The better strategy is to research clues found in places such as message boards, or to assemble your own clues into a concise, clear post so you might connect with someone who has the missing piece of your puzzle.
You may be on the giving or receiving end here: If you are the beneficiary of clues, share what you learn on the message board. After all, you would not have learned what you did without following someone else’s trail markers.
As an example, let’s work our way through a query posted by Thomas Lawson to an Ancestry.com board devoted to Putnam County puzzles:
One of my ancestors, John W. Davenport (born 1779), a great-great grandson of Capt. Thomas Davenport, married Mary Snook. Their children are listed as niece and nephews in the will of a John or James Snouck from Fishkill. In another document John Snouck is listed as the son of a Matthew Snouck. Would that mean that John Snouck and Mary Snook are siblings and that Matthew is the father?
That seems like a reasonable conclusion. In a 1962 history of the family of Capt. Thomas Davenport, the Philipstown pioneer, we do find Mary Snook as John Davenport’s wife, and details about each of their children. The book is available at archive.org. Searching through it for Snook names we learn that in another branch of the Davenport family, a John Snook married Sarah Davenport, who drowned about 1817 in the capsizing of a sloop in the Hudson River near Cold Spring.
John Snook remarried but had no children with either wife. His will does name nieces and nephews that match John Davenport and Mary Snook’s children, leading us to conclude that John and Mary Snook are siblings, especially since their birth dates are 1781 and 1779, respectively.
As for Matthew Snook, one resource I cannot manage without is Frank Doherty’s Settlers of the Beekman Patent, which is at 13 volumes (Abot through Swift) and counting. The patent covered part of Dutchess County so there is much information about early families. The Adriance Library in Poughkeepsie has a set and the first eight volumes are at americanancestors.org.
A particularly useful feature is the list of “other and unplaced” individuals, which are records for people whom Doherty couldn’t fit into a family. Although it may be discouraging to find your ancestor there, you may also find clues that lead to a breakthrough.
In this case we learn in the chapter on the Nelson family that Justus Nelson and his first wife had a daughter, Frances Nelson (born 1759), who married Matthew Snook, and Frances’ half-brother Elisha Nelson was the husband of Frances Davenport, John W. Davenport’s sister.
Among the other and unplaced Davenports, we learn that Mary Davenport was a cousin of Andrees Schnouck of Dutchess County, who wrote his will in 1784. This Mary could not be the wife of John Davenport, because she was 5 years old, but it reinforces the numerous crossings between the families.
Let’s see what we can find about Andrees. The collection of Dutchess County probate records at familysearch.org is quite complete and I was able to locate a scan of his will by browsing through Wills 1751-1796 Vol. AA & A. He left legacies to his brother Jehonus and cousins Mary Devenport [sic] and Peter, John, James and Matthew Snouck. This cousin Matthew could be the one who married Frances Nelson, above.
I was not able to locate John Snook’s will that mentions his Davenport nieces and nephews, but I did find the 1823 will of James Snouck of Fishkill that mentions a daughter named Mary. Alas, she is “the late wife of Peter Snouck.”
As usually happens, after an afternoon of digging, we are left with more questions than answers. But with any luck, they are different questions. Considering the many Philipstown cemetery and family references in these records, as well as the Nelson surname popping up repeatedly, I would suggest the next research trip be to the Putnam History Museum in Cold Spring to review its surname and family files.
LaRobardier is a professional genealogist and president of the Dutchess County Genealogical Society. Hit a brick wall? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.