Ask the Genealogist


I have hit that nasty brick wall in two of my family trees and they leave huge holes in the posters—smack dab in the middle. I need parents' names and information on the following three people. PLEASE help me.
  1. Josiah Holiday, born 30 Aug. 1822; born, lived his entire life, and died 22 Oct. 1899 in Butler County, Pa. Married Elizabeth Aud Plotner, born 20 July 1830, and died 6 April 1902.

  2. John Nathaniel Pettit, born 1830 and died 1911?, lived in Kentucky.

  3. John's wife Julia Barger, born 1847 in Indiana and buried in Delaware, Indiana.

Your approach will be the same for all three of these searches.

I will assume that you have already searched GenealogyBank, and also reviewed the census for mention of them.

You need to sift through all your search returns and document:
  • Every record mentioning these people.
  • Extend that circle by documenting everyone that has their surname.
You want to look at all of the records created throughout their lives, since you never know which one will give you names/clues for extending your family tree back another generation.

Church records will be important to you. You will want to focus on the microfilm/online records at:

For example: here are their records for Butler County, PA. You can borrow them through their local FamilySearch centers. See:

Repeat this for other categories of records, such as: Land Records; Probate Records; and Vital Records.

Once you have done your initial survey for records mentioning these individuals, you want to enlarge the scope of your search by looking for everyone that has their surname.

Holiday, Pettit and Barger are distinctive surnames, so you will want to document and map each one.

Once you have done that, look at how the households are distributed in the county, neighboring counties, and states. Is there an obvious link, a connection between the groups? Are they all located in one area?

Let's take Josiah Holiday as an example.

What people named Holiday are living in Butler County in the 1820s? One household? Three? Ten?

You will need to document each one of them.

Where possible, begin to link these families when you determine that they are related.

You will track them using all of the records available to you: census, GenealogyBank, church, land, etc.

If you do not find the documented link from Josiah to his parents, keep extending and repeating this approach to the surrounding counties in a concentric circle. Keep moving out, east and north.

Since Butler County is in Western Pennsylvania, historically the area was often settled by New Yorkers. So, you will want to look north into New York. People migrated along the same routes we would go by car today. Notice the easy way down from Erie to Butler County (today's Rt. 79)—and in particular the direct routes from New York City (today's Rt. 80) and Philadelphia (today's Rt. 78/70) to Butler County, as shown in the above map.

As you extend your search you will want to look toward these areas. Use maps to see the big picture and ask yourself: why would they migrate to Butler County and how would they have gotten there? People generally migrated from east to west; and for short distances, from north/south.

Did his father or grandfather go there to claim a Bounty Land Warrant from the Revolutionary War or War of 1812? Think along the timeline of the generations.

With each household, you will need to thoroughly document that household. You are looking for connections to Josiah or his heirs. That connection may come with his grandchildren as families get back in touch with each other after being apart. Be thorough.

Start with this approach and let me know what you find.