After the Brick Wall Falls, by George G. Morgan

Holder familyYou may remember my column in the 3 September 2007 Ancestry Weekly Journal titled The Joys of Genealogical Collaboration! (Or, Brisco Holder is Found). It was there that I was able to proclaim that my great-uncle, Brisco Washington Holder, had at last been found. Through help from one the listeners to our The Genealogy Guys Podcast, Brisco’s death certificate was located in Missouri. He had died in the City of St. Louis on 17 May 1949, and not in “the mid-1920s,” as the family stories were told. Great-uncle Brisco had been my outstanding brick wall for almost twenty years, and it was the mystery of his fate that has prevented my writing a book about that Holder family story.

Now that the brick wall has fallen, I have new locations and a new life span to research. The initial shock of the discovery and the “happy dance” elation have worn off, and I am ready to research Brisco with renewed zeal. It is easy to just dive in and search every venue possible. However, I realize that I need to outline a research plan that builds on what I know. That plan can develop further as I learn more, but I have to organize my search if I am going to effectively locate additional information. Here is my research outline, along with what I have researched in the last month.

1. Organize everything I have about Brisco into chronological sequence and reread it all as if I’ve never seen it before. This was the starting point to renew my research. I’ve acquired many clues and a good bit of documentary evidence over the years. Now it is time to reexamine all of it in an orderly manner, and to make a full, fresh set of notes.

2. Create a simple timeline from all the evidence. My timeline for Brisco includes the date, place, description, and source citation for every solid fact. Hypothetical or undocumented information items are notated as such. These notations will prompt me to look for evidence that either proves or refutes the item.

3. Define what types of facts I want to learn. In this case, I want to trace Brisco from Rome, Floyd County, Georgia, in April 1906, to Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa, in September 1918, to St. Louis, St. Louis County, Missouri, in May 1949. I want to locate his places of residence, occupation, and any other data that can be located.

4. Compile, by time period and location, the types of records or other evidence that may help fill in blanks. These may vary over time and by location, depending on what I want to learn.

What Records Should Be Investigated?
There are literally scores of different record types that might be checked. The following is a list that I have compiled for my search for more information about Brisco.

  • City directories. I want to check city directories in Rome, Mason City, and St. Louis. I checked the broken sets of directories for St. Louis and some other Missouri and Iowa locations while at the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne.
  • Newspaper obituaries. I will check for obituaries or funeral notices in both St. Louis and Rome.
  • Military service records. Brisco completed a WWI draft registration in Mason City. I have checked with the National Personnel Records Center for any military records, and there are none.
  • SS-5. Social Security was implemented in the late 1930s, and I will write for a copy of Brisco’s SS-5 application. Since he did not die prior to Social Security, I suspect that he did have a Social Security Number and that, if I’m lucky, that will place him in a specific location halfway between his WWI draft registration and his death. I may even learn the name of an employer and an occupation.
  • Voter registration records. The last voter record I located in the past was in April 1906 in Floyd County, Georgia. I now want to locate these records in all the places that I know he lived. These may tell me the time spans during which he lived in these places.
  • Religious records. I know that Brisco was a member of the First Presbyterian Church in Rome. I plan to search records of Presbyterian congregations in each of the places he lived and perhaps the membership records will help me trace his migration path.
  • Census records. I have already searched the censuses in years past. However, with new information I will search again and use as many variations as possible. 
  • Land, property, and tax records. It is possible that Brisco owned property at some time, and a search of those records may reveal some details. He may also have paid property taxes, or even intangible taxes in some places.

I’ll certainly search in the states and counties where I know Brisco lived, based on the other evidence I have uncovered. However, he seemed to be a nomad of sorts. I therefore plan to search in other states in something of a “corridor” between Georgia and North Dakota, and I’ll start sending out form letters and e-mails to help locate or eliminate record repositories.

What Else?
While I obviously have a lot of additional facts to learn about Brisco’s life, I now at least have the right time frame and some geographical directions to investigate. In the meantime, I located the cemetery where he is buried in northwest St. Louis County. Brisco never had a grave marker. I ordered a gravestone for him, and some of my first cousins have contributed to its cost. The stone should be installed within the next month, and I plan to visit his grave. The stone will read:

Brisco W. Holder
26 March 1877 – 17 May 1949
“Never Forgotten”

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George G. Morgan is the best-selling author of The Official Guide to and How to Do Everything with Your Genealogy, both of which are available in the Ancestry Store. George and Drew Smith produce The Genealogy Guys Podcast each week. George is also now teaching online genealogical workshops for Pharos Tutors and for the Continuing Education Division of the University of South Florida in Tampa. Visit his company’s website at to view his schedule of upcoming conference events.

6 thoughts on “After the Brick Wall Falls, by George G. Morgan

  1. If Brisco died of TB, you may want to check sanitoriums and other facilities for treating TB.

  2. Brisco W Holder – SSDI (

    Name: Brisco W. Holder
    SSN: 339-16-4739
    Born: 26 Mar 1877
    Died: 17 May 1949
    State (Year) SSN issued: Illinois (Before 1951 )

  3. I encourage you to consider including his entire middle name on the gravestone.

    Keep us posted on your research – I have enjoyed following your search.

  4. Have been in touch with Rome, GA, library. They were the nicest of folks and a great help to me.

  5. George mentions using a timeline and creating a list of sources to check out after the brick wall falls down. I have a Timeline form as well as a U.S. Records Checklist form on my forms page on my website here:

    The Timeline form has 40 lines on the front (for 40 years), and so I copy it front to back on one page to get 80 years’ worth of lines (about an average lifespan). I use an additional page if the person I’m researching was known to have lived longer than 80 years.

    The great thing about using the Timeline form is that not only do you see how things happened in chronological order, but you also see where there are gaps where you have no information or resources for that time of the person’s life. It makes you wonder why and get creative about finding sources to cover those time periods.

    I use these two forms a lot to help break down brick walls.

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