Brick Wall Case Studies #12: Finding the parents of a New Jersey man with no vital or census records which listed his parents

William didn't have a birth or death record and his marriage record didn't list his parents. He wasn't with his parents in the census records either. By studying families with his surname in the area where he was born and using census records and probate records we identified to which family he belonged.

What We Knew

  • William S Van Arsdale was born in 1834 in New Jersey and he died 1 Nov 1892 in Chester, Morris County, New Jersey. He was buried in Chester. He died in a hunting accident, but there was no death certificate recorded.
  • A newspaper article about William's death only talked about the hunting accident and his death date. It didn't state his parents.
  • William S. VanArsdale married Sarah A. Welsh 8 Jan 1857 in Tewksbury, Hunterdon County, NJ. On the record of marriage, his parents are not listed but he noted his residence as Bedminster.
  • William and Sarah had been located in the census records with their children in 1860, 1870, and 1880.
  • A possible William S Van Arsdale of the right age was in the 1850 census living with the Abraham Stout family in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. None of the people in this census record had his same surname.

Records We Located

  • Because we knew that William Van Arsdale was born in New Jersey in 1837, it was likely that his father was listed in the 1840 census in New Jersey. We looked for families with a head of household with the surname Van Arsdale and a son of the right age to fit William. There were 3 possible families: Abraham Van Arsdale in Montgomery, Somerset County; Elias Van Arsdale in Frankin, Somerset County; and Malachi Van Arsdale in Bedminster, Somerset County. Malachi was particularly promising because he was living in Bedminster and William had listed Bedminster as his place of residence when he got married.
  • We learned more about Malachi Van Arsdale. Malachi was found in the 1850 census in Bedminster, Somerset County, New Jersey, with his wife Margaret. A marriage record was located for Malachi Van Arsdale and Margaret Briggs in Somerset County in 1833. This marriage date was one year before William was born.
  • There was a probate record for Malachi Van Arsdale in the Somerset County probate records in 1856. Malachi's widow, Margaret, requested that the estate of her late husband be settled. Signing as a witness to the document was William S Van Arsdale.
  • Other children of Malachi and Margaret were identified. William appeared to be the oldest son in the family so it would be logical for him as the oldest son to be a witness on the probate record of his mother. One of the children had Stout as a middle name, the same surname as the family William had been living with in the 1850 census.


Though we didn't locate a document that stated it directly, all of the documents and clues gathered about William and Malachi indicated that William Van Arsdale was Malachi's son. The documents and sources we gathered are found on the person page of William Van Arsdale and his family members in the FamilySearch Family Tree, ID M6J7-LZD.

Need help finding more records? Try our genealogical records directory which has more than 1.3 million sources to help you more easily locate the available records.

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