Revisiting Old Research
February 26, 2021
I know I’ve said it before, but one of the best ways I’ve found to break through long-standing brick walls is by reviewing prior research. If it’s been a while, you may be surprised at what you find. I just tried that with one of my husband’s third great grandfathers.
Howie’s third great grandfather Bagwell Topping was one of my first discoveries when I began serious genealogy over twenty years ago. His unusual name intrigued me, and I spent months trying to research him. That meant hours in front of microfilm readers trying to find him in Accomack County, Virginia censuses and other vital records. Eventually I amassed a trove of documents outlining his life. The one thing I never did find was who his father was. Bagwell’s mother was fairly easy because she left an estate packet naming her son Bagwell as her only heir. His father wasn’t so cooperative. In spite of all my looking, I struck out when it came to a father for Bagwell.
Eventually, I moved on to other family lines, and Bagwell languished in a file cabinet. Occasionally, when I was making a trip to Salt Lake City or once when I took a trip to Virginia, I moved Bagwell out of the files and onto my active projects. That’s about as far as it got since I never found anything new about him.
Fast forward until last week when I thought about Bagwell for the first time in at least five years. I’d just finished one project and decided to make Bagwell my next. I dug out my old files and reviewed their yellowing pages. Surely, with my better research skills now, I could make some headway on Bagwell’s parentage.
I have to admit it didn’t take any new skills I might have gained in the last twenty years. All it took was a quick search on Ancestry – just to see what was new – before I began to dig into new research. Immediately, a tree popped up naming a father for Bagwell, and it wasn’t one of the ones I’d looked at years ago and discarded because the info just didn’t fit or provided no documentation. This looked like a solidly researched and sourced tree. One of the sources was a Chancery Court file held by the Library of Virginia that named Bagwell as the child of his father, a man named Levi Topping. The court file was available on the Library of Virginia website, and I accessed it. There it was – a record naming not just Bagwell and his father but also his mother. Twenty some years of looking were finished in just a few minutes.
Since then, I’ve looked for and found a few more records that help solidify Bagwell’s paternal line. Another brick wall lies crumbled before me, and really all I did was wait a few years (okay, more than just a few years). I think those of us who have been working on our genealogy for years sometimes forget that a brick wall from a few years ago may not be one today. In spite of the siren call of new research, it’s important to periodically go back and review your old research and then check out what’s new online. Genealogy is never really done. There’s always more to discover.
Researcher/Director at Large