Brick Wall Case Studies #2: Discovering the family of a woman living in Ohio from an unknown place in New Jersey

Online trees listed who Catherine's family was, but there were no sources to prove it and no document located that named her parents. Census records, probate records, newspapers, and researching her siblings gave the answers.

What We Knew

  • Catherine Robbins married her husband Jacob Bowman on 14 October 1824 in Wayne County, Ohio. The marriage record didn't list the names of her parents.
  • Catherine was found in the 1850 census in Williams County, Ohio, with her husband Jacob and several of their children. She was listed as age 44 and born in New Jersey, making her birth year about 1806.
  • Catherine was found in the 1860 census in Wayne County, Ohio, with her husband and children. She was age 54 born in New Jersey. In the 1870 census she was living as a widow in Wooster, Wayne County, Ohio, with some of her children, and she was age 54 and born in New Jersey, still making her birth year about 1806 in New Jersey. She did not appear in the 1880 census.
  • There was not a birth record available for Catherine in New Jersey in 1806. There was no indication in the records located to a specific place in New Jersey where Catherine lived. There was no death record for Catherine as they were not kept at that time in Wayne County, Ohio, but the census records indicate that she probably died between 1870 and 1880.

Records We Located

  • We searched the Wayne County probate records. We found a document for Jacob Bowman where Jacob's estate settled after his death. His wife Catherine was listed, as well as some of their children including J.R. Bowman and Kate Bowman.
  • Because we knew that Catherine Robbins was married in Wayne County, Ohio, in 1824, we looked for men named Robbins living in Wayne County in the 1820 census. We located two men named Robbins, one was Isaac Robbins and the other was Amos Robbins. The 1820 census only names heads of household. However, there are tally marks indicating the ages and gender of others in the household. Isaac Robbins had a daughter in the household that fits Catherine's age, but Amos did not, indicating that Isaac Robbins likely was the father of Catherine Robbins.
  • We found that some of the old newspapers for Wayne County were digitized by the Wayne County Public Library. In searching for people named Robbins in the newspapers, we located an article published in 1878 that talked about a birthday celebration for Mrs. Susan Van Nostrand. The article mentioned relatives that attended her birthday party including her brother Christopher Robbins, her sister Mary A Betts, her niece J.R. Bowman, and her nephew Kate Bowman. Because Mrs. Susan Van Nostrand's brother was named Christopher Robbins, this identified her maiden as Robbins. Therefore, the sister Mary A Betts has the maiden name Robbins as well. J.R. Bowman and Kate Bowman are the known children of Jacob Bowman and Catherine Robbins, and niece and nephew to Susan Robbins Van Nostrand. So Catherine Robbins now has 3 siblings that have been identified from this newpaper article: Susan Robbins Van Nostrand, Christopher Robbins of Franklin County, Ohio, and Mary A Robbins Betts of Seneca County, Ohio.
  • We located marriage records for Susan Robbins, Christopher Robbins, and Mary Robbins, all in Wayne County, Ohio, in the same time period that Catherine lived. This indicates that the family was very likely living in the Wayne County area at this time. In looking at the 1810 and 1820 census records, all of these siblings are the right age to fit into the Isaac Robbins family of Wayne County.
  • We searched for Mary A Robbins Betts in the census records in Seneca County, Ohio, and found Mary Betts in the census with her husband and children. We also searched the records and found a death record for Mary A Betts that listed Mary's parents as Isaiah Robbins and Mary Belben. Note that information on death records is created by people who knew the individual and not the individual themselves, so they are at times not completely accurate. We made the assumption that the name Isaiah Robbins was written incorrectly and was meant to say Isaac Robbins. We concluded that Isaac Robbins of Wayne County was likely the father of Catherine and the death record for her sister Mary seemed to confirm this was correct.


We used marriage records, probate records, census records, newspapers, and death records to determine that Catherine Robbins' father was Isaac Robbins of Wayne County, Ohio. Three of her siblings were Christopher, Susan, and Mary. The documents and sources we gathered are found on the person page of Catherine Robbins in the FamilySearch Family Tree, ID 2SZL-4Y5.

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