Monday, December 5, 2011

Chipping Away at a Brick Wall…

and over three decades, yes decades, later the wall is beginning to crumble.  Here’s how it happened.

Since I had enjoyed learning about my ancestors through my genealogy research, as a young bride, I was anxious to learn about my husband’s family.  My mother-in-law answered questions about her family, but my father-in-law didn’t want to talk about his.  After making attempts at finding out more over the course of several visits, my mother-in-law told me my father-in-law didn’t really know much about his family.  I was stunned to hear that he didn’t know who his paternal grandparents were, but was told his dad probably didn’t like to talk about it because of skeletons in the closet, so I quit asking.

My father-in-law has seen my enthusiasm for genealogy over the years and watched me sit with my mother-in-law labeling pictures.  I scanned family photographs and made a slideshow presentation we were able to view on their big screen TV before my mother-in-law passed from this life.  Perhaps all of these things and the passage of time made my father-in-law ready to tell me what he knew.  Plus he agreed to do a DNA test.

The main names I had were Joe Fowler, Johnny Strather (spelling of surname unknown) and Will Farley.  I first looked for census records on and located some entries for his grandfather and his two half-brothers for the years 1900 through 1930.  As he had said, they lived in separate households.  I also located World War I Draft Registrations for his grandfather and one of the brothers, John William Strother.   Other things he remembered such as name of one of the Johnny’s sons, that Johnny was a farmer and Will had a shoe shop, were verified in these documents.  He told me “Uncle Johnny” had a wife who died when my father-in-law “was just a kid.”  That explained the different names for his wife in the 1920 and 1930 censuses.   

Since I found more information on John Strother than the others, I focused on him by doing a surname search on the internet.  One of the many results that came up was an excerpt from a book published by Ed Strother in 2002.  The excerpt was about a man named John Strother who lived in Louisiana.  I was then able to find a website that had Mr. Strother’s contact information and the results of numerous DNA tests.  Coincidentally the first DNA results for my father-in-law had arrived in the mail from Family Tree DNA.  Although our results didn’t seem to match, I emailed an outline of what I knew about our Strother family connection and asked if he was familiar with any of it.  He was familiar enough with it to suggest a possible connection to the family in Louisiana.  The email address was still valid and I am now awaiting further information from a granddaughter of “Uncle Johnny” who has already emailed me quite a bit.

Just as in episodes of Who Do You Think You Are, this summary makes it seem much easier than it was and does not begin to relate how many hours of research were required.  And like the show, it was such a thrill to share what I’d learned so far with my father-in-law and the family at Thanksgiving.  

For more about what I’ve found on the other side of the brick wall, please read what I’m posting on my Fowler Family page.  It is truly a work in progress.


  1. Brick walls, we all have them. We have a love/hate relationship with them. We love that they make us think outside the box, make us stretch for any possible clue. They also help us learn so much as they come crumbling down. My brickwall took me 10 years to make a small dent in it. And, that was from a reader of my blog. You never know where you will find the next clue. But, that is the thrill - the hunt. It is one of the reasons we do this.

    I hope that you find all you are looking for on your FIL family, glad that he has consented to the DNA test. I could only wish some male in my family would consent. I get the polite no thank you.

  2. Betty,
    I ran across your blog searching for info about my family at Joyce Logging Camp. It looks like Joe and Maggie lived right next to my grandfather and his parents. I have a photo that appears may have been taken the same day in 1919, early 1920. My grandfather told us bits and pieces about growing up but I noted some similarities. I would love compare notes.