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A Plan to Break Down Your Brick Wall


Mary Hay Reoch (about 1894)

Do you have a plan? I know you have a brick wall (or perhaps many of them), I do. Some may be solid, but you can continue to chip away at them. Others may not be. Too often we flit from one problem to another without having a plan. Here's one of my favorite assertions...there is a difference between researching and surfing.


My major focus this year is to prepare for the research trip in October working on two families...the Johnstons of Rossinver Parish in County Leitrim and the Moags of Annihilt in County Down. For those two families, I have a working plan document. That doesn't mean I won't work on other families as well. I'm very easily influenced by contact from a DNA match or a prompt for the 52 Ancestors project....and down the rabbit hole I go. I'll survey the existing records and then determine a research question or objective. I'll also try to limit the amount of time I spend on the problem, especially if it is a collateral line.


I've written on creating a plan in the past. Rather than repeating the information you can read it here. But keep in mind the process outlined below. You can find a PDF of the Research Process here.

If you're just putting names into a search engine, you're surfing, not researching. Search with a purpose...that means limiting your search to a time and place as well as a specific type of record based on what you already know. The picture above was in my great grandmother Rachel Johnston Mackey's photo album and was the only picture with anything written on the back. It was simply marked Reoch. The only connection to that name was the middle name of my great grandfather's sister, Joanna Reoch Sprague who died at the age of 1 month. Since my great grandfather was James Hay Sprague (Hay being his mother's maiden name) I though the connection would be there, but I have both his maternal and paternal lines back a couple of generations with no Reoch in sight. Back in the 1990s I had the picture dated and was told it was from about 1893 (although the hat was a bit out of date). The photographer wa and Amos in Leith (Midlothian, Scotland) where my great grandfather was born. Researching the name of the photographer I found that the photography studio became Pettigrew and Amos in 1894, so pretty close.


What's the Plan? I searched my DNA match list for someone with the name Reoch in their family. I found a person and wrote to them. She responded that an uncle had more information on the family and she would have him contact me. That took a few months. When we connected, I sent him a copy of the picture and he responded that he had the same picture...her name was Mary Hay Reoch the wife of John Reoch, a plasterer from Ballyshannon, Ireland. Mary Hay was the name of my 2x great grandmother...was this the same person who possibly remarried after the death of her husband in 1876? My database showed that she had pre-deceased her husband, but was that wrong? I hadn't found a death record for her. The interesting connection was that my great grandfather, James Hay Sprague lived in Ballyshannon and was also a plasterer (a stone mason) when he married my great grandmother, Rachel Johnston Mackey in 1892.


The gentlemen who identified the picture, was also able to tell me that John Reoch and Mary Hay appeared in the 1871 Census in Middlesbrough, Yorkshire, England and that Mary Hay Reoch died in Portsmouth, England. That's quite a bit to work with to develop my plan!


Happy Hunting!



Interested in researching in Ireland? October 2023 will be my last group research trip and there are still a few spaces left. Registration forms are here.

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