My first experience of a genealogical brick wall was, and to some extent still is, with Thomas Brown. Thomas is my great-great-great-grandfather and originally hailed from Ireland. Quite where in Ireland I don’t know.
He was born in 1831 meaning he was a young boy still when the Irish Potato Famine swept the country. My history knowledge is shamefully shocking but Google informs me that many Irish people left the country as a result of the famine. It’s entirely plausible then that this was the reason Thomas found himself in the quiet pocket of Scotland my ancestors called home. I don’t know when he left Ireland, I don’t know if he travelled with anybody (such as family), I don’t even know how old he was. What doesn’t help me here is his name: Thomas Brown. It’s not exactly an uncommon name. It’d be like trying to search for a John Smith in England. The only clue I have about him is the family tale of his nickname ‘Tipper’. Apparently he was not known as Thomas but as Tipper, referring to his rumoured birthplace of Tipperary. I have searched for clues on Ancestry but there’s too many variables that stop me from being able to say “yes, that’s him right there”.
The first definitive trace I have of him is his marriage record. He married Marion Denniston in 1851 and they had 12 children together. In the censuses after their marriage, Thomas is shown to be a farmhand or a labourer until his death in 1885. (On a slight side step, the Denniston name appears on 2 separate lines of my paternal family tree. It’s possible the two are unrelated to each other but it would make for a great genealogy story if I discovered they were!)
While I don’t know much about Thomas, very little in fact, he is an important figure to me. Without him, the Brown name would never appear in my family tree and the landscape of my family tree would be very different. The current living generations of my family still carry the surname. It was my grandmother’s maiden name, her brother is a Brown, his son and his grandson are Brown’s. There is a large family tree of people, all with the name Brown, and right at the very top of it is Thomas ‘Tipper’ Brown.
Update: while checking that I had gathered all the information I possibly could, I found a few of Thomas’ children while at the archives last week. On a single record, his daughter Jessie’s birth record, I noticed that it required different information from each parent, including where each was from. No other birth record I’ve ever come across has asked for that information so you can imagine my joy when there in beautiful cursive writing it said “Thomas Brown, labourer, 25 years, Tipperary”. TIPPERARY! Confirmation at long last of where Tipper Brown came from!