Brick Wall Case Studies #19: Finding a man and his parents when only his initials and last name were known

G W Gray appeared in the census with his wife and children, but his full name hadn't been idenitified yet. State census records, witnesses listed on a marriage record, census records, and Civil War draft registration records identified his full name, parents, and siblings.

What We Knew

  • G W Gray appeared in the 1870 census with his wife, Caroline Hancock Gray and four children in Cottonwood County, Minnesota. He was listed as born about 1842 in Illinois.
  • Caroline remarried Samuel Baldwin and was found with him in the 1880 census along with 2 daughters. Caroline died in 1912 in Rochester, Minnesota.
  • The marriage records of the daughters didn't list names of their parents.
  • In the census records, the daughters listed their fathers place of birth as sometimes United States, sometimes Iowa, sometimes Massachusetts.
  • No death information had been found for G W Gray in Minnesota, though records were being kept at the time.

Records We Located

  • There was a state census taken in Minnesota in 1865. We looked in this census and located George W Gray with wife Caroline and some children. This identified the first name of G W as George.
  • We located a marriage record for George Gray and Caroline Hancock in Olmsted County, Minnesota in 1862. The marriage was performed in 1862 in Farmington. One of the witnesses to the marriage was Alvin Gray.
  • We located Alvin Gray in the 1860 census and the 1865 census in Farmington, Olmsted, Minnesota. He was the right age to be a brother of George.
  • We located a Civil War draft registration for Alvin while he was living in Farmington. He listed his birth place as Tennessee. Next to him on the list was William Gray who was 2 years younger and born in Iowa.
  • We located Alvin Gray in the census of 1850 in Jefferson County, Iowa, living with his parents Alfred and Elizabeth Gray. He had a brother William born in Iowa, and a brother George born in Illinois. So the information fit perfectly with Alvin, George, and William all being brothers and the ages fit with the known records.
  • Ancestry trees listed George Gray as marrying Sarah Werts in 1879 in Kansas and he was found living with her in the 1880 census, he being born in Illinois and of the right age.
  • George Gray died in 1922 in Missouri. His death certificate listed his father as Alfred Gray, which tied in the George Gray that married Caroline Hancock as the same George Gray that married Sarah Werts. Possibly George and Caroline divorced since they both had married someone else by 1880.


The first name of G W Gray was George Gray, as listed in the census and marriage records. He had brothers Alvin and William, which helped us to identify that his parnets were Alfred and Elizabeth Gray of Jefferson County, Iowa. The documents and sources we gathered are found on the person page of George Gray and his family members in the FamilySearch Family Tree, ID KHPS-GZS.

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.

Related Topics