Brick Wall Case Studies #23: Finding the family of an adopted man's biological mother

The birth and death information for an adopted man's biological mother had been located. Creative searches in the census records, as well as marriage records and state census records identified her family members.

What We Knew

  • George Clesson St John's birth certificate listed his mother as Hilda Larrigne. He was illegitimate and not raised by his mother and didn't meet her until his teen years.
  • George in his lifetime said that his mother's name was Hila Lavigne and that she was born 23 August 1903 in Cohoes, New York.
  • Hilda died listed as Hilda Bridge in 1973 in Oneida County, New York. Her death certificate had been obtained but her parents were not listed.
  • Hilda had lived with several men but it was uncertain whether she had married any one of them and no marriage record had been located. She hadn't been located in the census records previous to 1930. The names of her parent were unknown.

Records We Located

  • We looked for Hilda in the earlier census records. We found her in the 1920 census in New York. She was living as a servant in a household. She was listed as born in New York with parents born in Canada.
  • We looked for Hilda in the 1910 census. We did not find any Hilda Lavigne or any other known variation. We looked instead for just the first name Hilda born between 1901 and 1905 and living in Cohoes, New York. We located a Hilda of the right age living in Cohoes, the name was indexed as Lavigue but in looking at the document itself, the surname was Lavigne and the indexer made an error. Hilda was listed with her parents, Clovie and Exonine Lavigne, both born in Canada as well as her siblings.
  • We looked for a marriage of Clovis Lavigne to see if the maiden name of Exorine could be found. We assumed they were married in New York as listed on the 1910 census Clovis was listed as immigrating before he married. We looked at the New York marriage index and found Clovis Lavigne married to Exerine Guilbault on 8 Jan 188 in Cohoes, New York.
  • Once we located the marriage record we were able to locate Clovis in the 1875 New York state census and in the 1880 federal census with his parents John/Jean Baptiste Levigne and Delia Beaudette.
  • Now that the family has been located, more research can be done to extend the line further back.


The parents of Hilda Lavigne were Clovis Lavigne and Exerine Guilbault who were both from Canada. The documents and sources we gathered are found on the person page of Hilda Lavigne and her family members in the FamilySearch Family Tree, ID LZ57-7SN.

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