The Process of Breaking Down a Brick Wall

Second in a multi-part series

Here’s a synopsis of how I achieved my #1 research goal: finding the parents of my great-grandfather, Richard Gines of Shreveport, Louisiana.  Bear in mind that eahcof these steps took months or even years to complete and some ran concurrently.

Step 1:  The  Neophyte Phase.  I was new to genealogical research and had fairly easily made my way through the generations up to my great-grandparents and with respect to the next generation, I had not had much difficulty, either.  But getting past Richard Gines in Louisiana was proving difficult. In this first phase, I concentrated specifically on finding the father of Richard Gines.  I looked almost exclusively for people named Gines [remember this was my neophyte phase!]. Occasionally, I’d come across someone named Gaines, which seems to be thought of as the most likely variation on Gines.  Google, and other search engines, for example, will ask, “Did you mean Gaines?” if you search for Gines. Once in a while, my relatives have been listed in publications or records as Gaines; but it doesn’t happen that often.

To find Richard Gines’ father, I embarked several times on a study of collateral relatives.  As I mentioned in the prologue post, I
had made an assumption that the Ed Gines I had found in Bossier parish was Dick’s brother.  So I tried to find a father for Ed–also to no avail.  I then tried to compile a database of all blacks in the Deep South (LA, MS, AL, GA, SC) named Gines after 1870. Although it’s not complete and is not all that well organized, I have the semblance of such a database.

I used all the  “usual sources” to get there: census records, land records, military records, church and marriage records, tax records, ships’ manifests, deeds, slave bills of sale, etc.  My thought was that I could simply “connect the dots” of birth dates and places and that would lead to the imminent discovery of Richard Gines’ parents.   It didn’t work.

Step 2:  The Learning Phase.  At some point, I began to engage in a broader study of the history, geography, and sociology of Louisiana.  My original naive hope was that I would find the Gines name mentioned in one of the research materials.  That only happened only infrequently and in circumstances that “obviously” had nothing to do with Richard Gines. But it was during this phase that I got the hints that I would need to put it all together eventually.  For example,in a census record, I discovered a Caroline Gines in Catahoula Parish, aged 73 in 1910.  While I couldn’t make a connection to Richard Gines in Caddo Parish, I kept thinking about Caroline Gines and wondering where she had come from.

Then I found some tax records transcribed from Tensas Parish in 1899,  That listed a Rebecca Gines and a “Don” Gines [who I now know to be Dorsey Gines, son of Milford and Rebecca Gines] on Marydale Plantation in Tensas Parish and Elijah Gines and Caroline Gines on Evergreen Plantation.  [Yes, the same Caroline Gines as in the 1910 census!].  Again, no direct connection, but I kept these things in mind.

After thinking about the Tensas Parish tax records for a considerable period of time, I decided to look into those particular plantations.  I read several books about the planters in Tensas Parish.  I discovered that the Tensas planters were often the same people who owned plantations in western Mississippi.  Given the number of folks named Gines in that area, perhaps the slaves in western Mississippi were related in some fashion to those in Tensas Parish.

Significant Locations for Gines or Guynes Surname in Lousiana and Mississippi

Significant Locations for Gines or Guynes Surname in Lousiana and Mississippi

Key for unidentified jurisdictions:
Louisiana: 1-Madison Parish
2-Franklin Parish
3-Richland Parish
4-Catahoula Parish
Mississippi: A-Claiborne County
B-Copiah County
C-Pearl River County

Step 3:  The Spelling Bee.   When I was  about ready to concede defeat, several occurences came together to give my even more clues.  First, cousin Karen Burney related that she had met some one whose name was “Guynes.”  Second, I found a death certificate for one Egans Gines.  This latter individual had been born in Tensas Parish.   Putting the two together, “Tensas parish” and Guynes, led to the discovery of many black people named Guynes in Louisiana.  This led me to want to study further the geography and history of the Mississippi Delta region. I then began to come across people, mainly white, who were  named “Guynes.”

I tried to track “Guynes” slaveowners.  There were several, concentrated around Copiah County, Mississippi, in the southwestern part of the state, but not that many in Louisiana.  But as I continued to look closely at Tensas PArish, I began to find what appeared to be variations on the name Gines.  As I have described before, I found people identified as Gynes, Gions, Giones, Guynes, Gion, Guins, Guines and even a Gaynes.  They all appeared to be related and were concentrated  in an area surrounding Tensas Parish, which area includes parts of western Mississippi.

Most of the apparent variations I had not considered because most don’t occur in a Soundex search.  But there they were.  And I wasn’t sure how to deal with them.  Then the next bit of evidence fell into place.  I discovered that the Louisiana State Archives had a death certificate for one Ed Guynes, black male, born about 1843 in Bossier Parish.

At first, this did not strike me as significant, although interesting.  The  date of birth, 1843, was far earlier than I had placed any sibling of Richard Gines. The more I studied it, however, the more interesting it got.  Ed Guynes’ spouse was named “Adelaide” on the death certificate.  Ed Gines on the 1880 census had a wife identified as “Adlade.”

This was eventually interesting enough to cause me to set up an intermediate hypothesis: that Richard Gines’ parents and siblings would be found in Tensas Parish.  So I went back there to look for collaterals.  But this time, I was armed with a good knowledge of the name variants as well as  a knowledge of the plantations in the parish.  I began an intensive search in Tensas Parish, looking for men named Dick and running all the spelling variations. This yielded a lot more Gines people under various forms of the name. It also produced a certain feeling in my mind that I had located Richard Gines’ parents in Tensas Parish, even though I still didn’t know specifically who they were.  I had one lead in which I had only a little confidence.

But I could sense that I was so close, so close! I couldn’t let what I had slip away. I decided to make one major push on this issue. I decided to go page by page pf the census records for 1870 for Caddo, Bossier, and Tensas Parishes, searching for every known spelling variation.  That is what I did . . . and that’s how I found George Guion!

I could have searched page by page at the beginning five years ago, but I wouldn’t have known what I was looking for or where reasonably to search.  I would have been seeking a family named Gines and I would have not found them.  It was only when I had learned many other things in context that I was ready to find the answer.

Next: What Makes You So Sure You’ve Knocked Down A Brick Wall? (Remember “The Wrong Longs?”)


One Response to “The Process of Breaking Down a Brick Wall”

  • Susan Neese says:

    Awesome work and deductions, Sherlock! And roads well traveled by many of us! Some leading to astonishing discoveries, and some to more brick walls. But by sharing your experiences, you have probably helped countless novice genealogists more than you know, and have refreshed the resolve of some who have their own brick walls to smash. Thanks!

August 2009
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