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Brick Wall Solutions - Searching for Smiths and Browns

by Mary Geiger

When talking recently to a friend about searching on World Vital Records, I said that I never search for my main family lines of Smith and Brown as they always produce way too many results.

My grandfather Neil Smith was born in North Barnawartha, Victoria in 1879 and he, along with one brother whom I thought was his brother George, were the only ones to come to Queensland. His parents were Scottish immigrants, Alexander Smith and Ann McLeod, who had migrated separately and married in Indigo Creek, Victoria in 1858.

I have been able to find the marriage of Alexander and Ann and the births and deaths of most of their ten children – Agnes Roy (1860), Elizabeth (1861), Catherine Ann (1864), Margaret (1866), John Alexander McLeod (1869), David (1872), Isabella (1874), George (1877), Adolphus Neil (1879), and Evelyn May (1881). Tracking the six girls in the family did not prove a problem; however my grandfather’s three brothers, David, John Alexander McLeod and George, proved much more difficult. I knew from my grandfather, Neil, that one brother had gone to South Africa and finally, through his sister Elizabeth’s obituary, discovered that this was David. However, every search I did for John and George always ended without positive results.

Thinking that it was George who had come to Queensland, I searched through countless George Smiths in the death indexes but had no luck finding my George Smith amongst all the others of the same name. Likewise, I could not find John Alexander McLeod Smith in Victoria which I had expected to be relatively easy given his fairly distinctive name. After more than ten years searching I still had no results.

John Alexander McLeod Smith - 1915 Queensland State Electoral Roll (Archive Digital Books Australasia)
So now to the point of searching on World Vital Records for a name like Smith. As I was looking for Smiths in Victoria on World Vital Records my friend brought up their Archive Digital Books Australasia Collection and asked for another name to add to Smith – in an attempt to narrow the search. We then entered ‘Alexander Smith’ in the Keyword Search and bingo up came John Alexander McLeod Smith in the Queensland State Electoral Roll for 1915! He had enrolled in the Ayr Division of the Bowen District, at the Inkerman Mill, on 3 July 1914. This demonstrated very clearly for me that you don’t have to use just a single name in your keyword search but can narrow your results by using a combination of two words.

Discovering John in Queensland naturally lead me to other records – including the Commonwealth Electoral Roll for Queensland for 1913 when he was recorded as a labourer at Nelson in the Cairns area. When time permits I intend to search earlier electoral rolls too since his brother Neil came to Queensland circa 1906.

All this information had been available for many years – I had even been part of the team responsible for publishing the 1913 electoral roll for Queensland but had never looked for my John Smith. The Archive Digital Books Australasia 1915 electoral roll has also been available at the Queensland Family History Society library since 2008 – all I had to do was just look in the right place.

Further research of the Queensland Birth, Death and Marriage indexes showed that John Alexander McLeod Smith had died in 1917 – one brick wall demolished but now back to Victoria (or perhaps all other states of Australia) to search for George Smith who unfortunately didn’t have any other given names.

Brick Wall Tips

  • be persistent with common names
  • don’t assume – I wrongly assumed it was George Smith who came to Queensland
  • don’t search on what you believe to be true but broaden your search
  • try stretching searches beyond what you think is possible – don’t just stick to single keywords