Unexpected Name-Change Brick Wall Busted!

The man who wasn’t 

John Charles Brown?

Secrecy, Genealogical Research, Hunches, and DNA Testing Lead to Answers

For 130 years – from 1880 to 2010 – John Charles Brown’s past was hidden in veils of secrecy.  John’s children and grandchildren didn’t know who his parents or siblings were.  It was the proverbial genealogical brick wall.  Therefore, since this was one of my most difficult family lines I could research, I researched it.


For many years, the first confirmed record found of John Charles Brown was of his marriage to Catherine Connors on 13 April 1887 in Idaho, when he would have been 27 years old.  This was followed by the 1900, 1910, and 1920 Census records, which all list him as being born in Illinois and both of his parents as being born in Pennsylvania.

John Charles Brown’s death certificate indicates that he was born in Ottawa, Illinois, on 24 December 1858, and lists his father as Michael Brown from Pennsylvania.  So far, these particulars are in agreement with the above Census records.  However, on the death certificate, John’s mother’s name is in error.  The witness, Charlie Brown (John’s son), accidentally records his own mother (John’s wife), Catherine Connors, as John’s mother.  Based on what I know now, I wonder if this really was an accident.

So we know all about John Charles Brown from age 28 onward, but where in the world was John from his birth in December 1858 through his marriage in April 1887…his first 28 years of life?


As I mentioned, John’s children and grandchildren knew very little about whom John’s parents or siblings were, but there were a few clues.  Cathryn Bilyeu Jensen, granddaughter of John Charles Brown, shared her memories of John with me in a phone conversation in December 2008.  She was always told by John and his children that:

•           John’s father was a tailor; John could remember his father sewing at the table

•           John was from Illinois

•           John ran away when he was 12 years old

Given the second-hand facts and stories shown above, for the last couple of years I have searched for more information on a John Charles Brown from Illinois, with a father named Michael from Pennsylvania, and a mother also from Pennsylvania.  I searched Census records with endless alternate spellings and misspellings and possible nicknames; I searched for tailors; and I searched for church records from Ottawa, IL.  [Because John Charles Brown was born in 1858, before birth certificates were recorded in Illinois, alternate birth records such as church records had to be relied upon].  Over those years, I did these and literally hundreds of other searches exhaustively to no avail.


As I learn of new databases from Illinois or Idaho, I often run searches for John Charles Brown in the event that I might get lucky.  Finally, on 9 August 2010, I ran a search on the FamilySearch website in a newly digitized database entitled “Idaho Marriages, 1878-1898; 1903-1942” for a John Brown with a spouse’s maiden name of Connors.  A record appeared that shows John Charles Brown’s and Catherine Connors marriage as expected on 13 April 1887 (confirmed by other marriage records). 

Most surprisingly, for the first time ever, this record includes the names of John Charles Brown’s parents:  Michael Brown and Lucille Faust.  See record image below.  

Click to Enlarge

After this discovery, I ordered the microfilm of the record to confirm that the names had been properly transcribed, and to see if there were other clues.  There were no other clues.  [As an unrelated aside, the bride’s mother’s maiden name is actually Diamond per many other records, even though this record shows Drummond.]  See image of microfilm below.

                                                                                                                                           Groom’s Parents:

Click to Enlarge

          Bride’s Parents:           Witnesses:


Given the above information, over the next few days, I proceeded to search for John Charles Brown’s newly discovered parents:  Michael Brown and Lucille Faust Brown.  I looked for them living in Illinois in 1860, both born in Pennsylvania, occupation listed as tailor, and who had a 2 year old boy named John Charles Brown born in Illinois.  Even with many different attempts at alternate spellings and such, they simply could not be found in Illinois, Pennsylvania, or apparently anywhere else on the planet.  Even with the new information, it was déjà vu.


After searching based on many other variations of the above apparent facts, I then proceeded to perform more obscure searches.  On a hunch, I dropped the surname from the search and searched just for first names Michael and Luc* (a wildcard search since I didn’t know if she would be listed as Lucille or perhaps Lucy), living in or near Ottawa, Illinois in 1860, occupation tailor, who were both born in Pennsylvania, and who had a two year old boy named John Charles born in Illinois.  There was only one match: a Michael Baumgardner, married to a Lucinda, occupation tailor, both born in Pennsylvania, and having a two year old boy named Charles who was born in Illinois.  See this 1860 Census record below.

Click to Enlarge

This 1860 census record has ample near-matches to what we know of John Charles Brown from the facts and stories gathered over the years:

  • The family in this 1860 census record is living in Ottawa, Illinois — John Charles Brown’s apparent birth place per his death certificate.  Incidentally, Ottawa is a town with a population of only 18,000 people in the year 2000…it was much smaller in 1860.
  • In this 1860 census record, there’s a two year old boy named Charles in the household who is listed as born in Illinois; census and death records for John Charles Brown state that he was born in 1858 in Illinois, so this fits.
  • The parents’ first names on this 1860 census record are Michael and Lucinda [later found to be named Lucetta]; this is a very close match to the parent’s names listed on John Charles Brown’s marriage certificate:  Michael and Lucille.
  • Both Michael and Lucinda in this 1860 census record are listed as being born in Pennsylvania (in about 1821 and 1824, respectively), matching what John Charles Brown had always stated as his parents’ birthplace.
  • And to put a cherry on top, the father in the 1860 census record, Michael Baumgardner, is shown with an occupation of “tailor”.


With this fantastic – and surprising – Baumgardner find, I felt I was beginning to form a decent circumstantial hypothesis that this Charles Baumgardner is the boy that later became John Charles Brown.  I needed to work on substantiating or refuting this, so I began by looking for other family trees online for a Michael Baumgardner who married a Luc* Faust.  I found a tree on Ancestry.com entitled “Godfrey/Fry/Baumgartner/Miller” by a Chuck Godfrey which shows a Michael Baumgartner, born 1821 in Pennsylvania married to a Lucetta Faust; he shows this family living in Ottawa, Illinois in 1860.  No parents, children, or siblings are listed for Michael Baumgartner and Lucetta Faust in Chuck’s tree, so no more can be ascertained.  I sent an e-mail to Chuck to find out where he received the information on the Ottawa Baumgardners; the information was from a Walker Baumgardner of Gainesville, Georgia, who had in turn received the information from a cousin in Ohio.  Based on that information, it is believed that Walker’s great great Grandfather, John Baumgardner, is an older brother of Michael Baumgardner.  This Baumgardner family came from Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, which was later confirmed as Michael Baumgardner’s birthplace per his Civil War Pension file.

So, I had some corroborating information from Chuck and Walker regarding Michael Brown and Lucetta Faust, but they didn’t have further information on their son Charles Baumgardner.  I needed to find more historical records on Charles to see whether or not they supported my hypothesis, so I began by searching across multiple Census records, which ultimately included the 1850 Federal, 1860 Federal, 1865 Illinois State, 1870 Federal, 1875 Kansas State, 1880 Federal, 1885 Kansas State, 1900 Federal, and 1910 Federal Censuses.  The son Charles Baumgardner was living with the Michael and Lucetta Baumgardner family in all the right places at the right times, until 1880, where he was no longer listed with the his parents (his parents were living in Reno County, Kansas in 1875 through at least 1885).  Instead, in 1880, Charles Baumgardner is found living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, age 22, unmarried, occupation farmer, stating that both of his parents were born in Pennsylvania.  In that record, he is living with 35 and 31 year old farmers named Robinson, one unmarried and one married male, both from Canada.  I later determined that the 31-year old J.C. Robinson was the husband of Charles Baumgardner’s older sister, Emma Jane Baumgardner.

Another piece of circumstantial evidence that John Charles Brown and Charles Baumgardner is the same person is that Michael and Lucetta’s children’s names include Harvey and Emma, names which John Charles Brown chooses to name two of his children.

After the 1880 census record, I could not locate a single record of a man with the name Charles Baumgardner (including many alternate spellings) whose details match those known; and remember, before the 1887 marriage record, I could not locate a John Charles Brown record that fits – even though he should appear in the 1860 and 1870 Census records, at a minimum. 

So, I could not locate a Charles Baumgardner after the 1880 Census, nor a John Charles Brown in or before the 1880 Census, with one exception: there is one other John Brown, born 1858, in the 1860 and 1870 Ottawa, La Salle County, Illinois Census, the son of a Thomas and Elizabeth Brown who were both born in Ireland; Thomas’ occupation is shown as “clerk in store”.  I had explored this family as the possible parents of John Charles Brown for over a year.  But not only do the parents’ names, birth locations, or occupations not match what we know of John Charles Brown, but also I had ordered the baptism certificate for this other John Brown, in which he is shown as born 20 June 1858, a full 6-months before the 24 December 1858 birth date of Charles Baumgardner a.k.a. John Charles Brown.  Based on all of this conflicting information, I increasingly ruled out this other Brown family.

Accordingly, if my hypothesis is true, then the next record of Charles Baumgardner is in Silver City, Idaho, where he is listed as J. C. Brown, a registered guest at the Idaho Hotel, per the 5 November 1881 issue of the Owyhee Avalanche newspaper.  Further records from 1883-1886 show J. C. Brown or John Brown around Jordan Valley on the Oregon/Idaho border, and near Silver City, Idaho.  Finally, as we already know, our confirmed John Charles Brown is found in this same vicinity in his marriage record dated 13 April 1887 with bride Catherine Connors.

Based on all of this circumstantial evidence, I believed the odds were quite favorable that Charles Baumgardner and John Charles Brown are one and the same man.  But I wished there was a way to prove it.


What about DNA testing?  If I could find a living direct male descendant of John Charles Brown, I could see if he was interested in having a y-DNA test done.  He could use FamilyTreeDNA, the leading genealogical DNA testing firm who has tested over 200,000 people’s y-DNA across over 100,000 unique surnames. This living direct male descendant’s y-DNA test results could be matched against all these other people who had ever tested with FamilyTreeDNA, and we could see which surnames he matched with!

I remembered that back in January 2010, I had contacted Dan Brown, a paternal grandson of John Charles Brown.  I had given him access to my private online family tree on Ancestry.com, and over the following weeks we had exchanged information about John Charles Brown’s family.  In sticking with family tradition, Dan also didn’t know who the parents or siblings of John Charles Brown were.  I shared my theory on John Charles Brown really being Charles Baumgardner, and he became increasingly curious to get to the bottom of it. Over the next couple of months, Dan decided he would like to get a DNA test done and see if that could prove or disprove whether John Charles Brown was really a Baumgardner.

In early October 2010, Dan sent his cheek swab into FamilyTreeDNA and on 23 November 2010 he received notification of the results of his y-DNA test.  I assisted him with reviewing the results and it settled the matter once and for all.  The results of his DNA test show that Dan Brown has several very close Baumgardner matches, and one exact match!  Also, equally important, Dan has absolutely no matches whatsoever whose surname is Brown. This proves that Dan Brown, and his paternal grandfather, John Charles Brown, are really Baumgardners.

The closest matches that Dan Brown has are with men named Barry John Baumgardner and Robert Sidney Baumgardner, who show their direct paternal line ancestors as being from Germany and Switzerland, respectively.  What the match means is that Dan Brown and Barry and Robert share a common great great Grandfather (we don’t know how many “greats”) very likely within the last 8 generations.


So what caused Charles Baumgardner to change his name between June 1880 in Albuquerque and November 1881 in Silver City, Idaho?  And who are Michael Baumgardner’s parents and where did they come from?  And how is Dan Brown’s Baumgardner line related to Barry or Robert’s Baumgardner lines?  And did Charles Baumgardner’s parents and siblings know what became of him and who he was after 1880?  Who knows if we’ll ever have answers to these questions, but one thing is for certain:  we can stop searching for Brown ancestors.

– Randy Majors (randymajors at gmail dot com)

great great Grandson of Charles Baumgardner a.k.a. John Charles Brown

August – November 2010

24 thoughts on “Unexpected Name-Change Brick Wall Busted!”

  1. David E Dillman, if you read this, please contact me! You're the first Dillman I've run across since I started blogging, and I'd like to talk to you about our common surname. You can reach me at my blog, indianadillmans.blogspot.com or via e-mail at dillmangenealogy@gmail.com

  2. Loved the tale and result, hope it inspires many others to persevere and use DNA testing,we have brickwalls in our search in Australia but we will keep going. Thanks for the story.

    I knew a woman once who was called Swan but her Danish grandfather had tried to enter Australia as Mr Petersen instead the authorities misunderstood his accent and caled him Peter Swan odd things happenand names get changed for al sorts of reasons

  3. Thank you for this very enjoyable case study. You really followed up all leads, even the ones you thought would have negative results. You checked all your sources and looked for further verification.
    There was a lot of anti-German sentiment in the US even as early as 1880. A 2nd cousin of mine did not know that there was "any German" in his family, even though both his maternal grandparents were born about 1860 in Wisconsin to German-born parents. My great-grandfather told his German-speaking wife not to speak that "dirty German language". She died in 1909 so this would have been before WWI.

  4. Randy, I've known Baumgartners who were Jewish so I did a search at http://www.dogpile.com for jew* harassment new mexico and found info at this link: http://www.cabq.gov/humanrights/public-information-and-education/diversity-booklets/jewish-american-heritage/jews-in-new-mexico It mentions some families (no Baumgardners) who were German-Jews who usually went "back East" to Philadelphia to get their brides. Maybe your Robinson brothers had changed their name from Jewish sounding names to "americanized" names. It appears that it was not legal for Jews to live in the New Mexico Territory befor 1848. Maybe the Robinsons had arrived there before that time.

    I found a little info on Jews in Idaho at: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0009_0_09466

    maybe John Clarles Baumgardner changed his name because the family of the girl/woman he fell in love with didn't like Jewish people?

  5. What a great story. I had something similar with my grandfather on my mother's side, who when he came to Canada in about 1907, chaned his surname from Spong to Clarkson. No one in Canada knew the truth and he did his best to keep it that way. My mother and her siblings never officially learned the story. All I knew was a suspician of the name Spong that my brother had, that he talked about the Manchester area of England, that his father had run a pub and that he himself had served in the Boer War, where he was injured.
    I was able to find a Spong family in the British census where the father listed his occupation as a pub owner and the name of his oldest son was the same as my grandfather. I was able to find more on a British site for soldiers from the Boer war, and he was listed due to his injury. This gave me his military number, which then enabled me to obtain a transcription of his complete military record. Since he had been shot through the cheek, my brother could remember seeing the scar (he died in 1956) Subsequently, a cousin found a letter he had written to his sister in Englend, under her married name, to verify his identity under his new name, so he could obtain insurance in Canada. So we finally had him identified, about 50 years after he passed away. Since then, we have been able to go backwards on his Spong history in England and Ireland and identify two generations back.

  6. Excellent work, Randy, and a great read as well. My GGGrandfather has a somewhat similar pattern to your Charles. He variously told census takers that he was born in Louisiana, then Missouri, … but was recollected by my grandmother as having had an accent "from the old country". When I found him in Northeastern Kansas at the time of the Civil War, he is married to a young woman from Prussia, and they start their brood of kids. He is buried in that state beneath a Civil War headstone for his service.

    I also went to Family Tree DNA to leave my DNA profile for matching. A large surname group exists, but none match closely enough to be related to my line. DNA matching is like fishing, … leave the hook in the water in hopes you get a strike! I've advised my nephew, brothers and male cousins as well in the event I'm not here to see the match in person. Hopefully we'll catch Henry one of these days, as you did Charles.

    Dave Dillman

    • FTDNA provides an option to assign a beneficiary for your DNA. If you should pass, your beneficiary can take over the project. We have a few 12 marker testers who died before we knew about this option. We can't upgrade them.

      So – everyone – designate a beneficiary for your DNA project while you can.

  7. Randy – That's a wonderful story. I had a very similar brick wall with my grandfather which was finally broken when I received a letter from a relative who knew the secret. My GF had left his first wife and child, run away with my Grandmother, and started a new family under a new name. I have been in touch with descendants of his first family but we haven't done any DNA testing yet. Your story has inspired me to follow up on that before it is too late.


  8. Excellent research and process. The name Baumgardner will be a whole lot easier to research than Brown :)

  9. For several years, I have used your exact procedure searching censuses, etc, for women who have married/remarried and their new surname is completely unknown – putting in search perameters for first name (and even initials)only, age, place of birth and parents' place of birth. An uncommon first name creates quicker results. This procedure can also be used for young children whose mother has been widowed and remarried, and indexing errors have them placed under wrong surnames.

  10. Randy,

    This is such an amazing story of sticktoitiveness that major congratulations are in order. HEAR, HEAR! Your use of every single scrap of evidence from obscure or rarely used resources should be an example to all genealogists.

    The fact that you have even used DNA testing to confirm your hypothesis is fabulous.

    I would like to have your permission to clip a paragraph or two to publish a blog post on DNAnews.org, with a link to your original post.

    Looking forward to further details that I know you will find on your BAUMGARDNER family.

  11. Everyone, thanks so much for sharing my enthusiasm about this find, and for the kind words as well!

    By searching forward through his siblings' family lines over the last few weeks, I found the names of some of Charles Baumgardner's (aka John Charles Brown's) living descendants. Then, using Facebook, I've just made contact with one of them — a descendant of Charles's/John's older brother Harvey Baumgardner. It will be great to hear what her family line knew of what became of Charles/John, and exactly when he dropped off the radar — and who he was known as at that time.

    More to come…(hopefully!)

  12. Fun story! I grew up in Idaho and completely understand why he changed his name. No one could spell it or would even try. Unless he was with a group of similar immigrants in a small town, he was better off going with something short & easy. Also as a very young man, it's better to blend in rather than calling attention to yourself & finding conflict you didn't want. If you kept your head down and worked hard, nobody bothered you.

  13. Great story! Thanks for sharing it. Maybe it wasn't a scandal, but rather a simple desire to have a name that sounded more "American".

  14. Great research story!! I have a similar issue in my husband's tree and am having to draw conclusions based on circumstantial evidence. Makes me feel like a detective (although sometimes not a good detective!) :)

  15. Fine job of research and writing, Randy. I'm convinced. It would take a fantastic coincidence, like a Baumgartner who fathered a son out of wedlock in the line since John Carles Brown, to shake the conclusion.

  16. Excellent, excellent job!! I love when the brick walls are finally overcome. One gets a wonderfull feeling of accomplishment. Thank you for sharing.
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

  17. This is a great story! I specialise in using unusual sources that overcome 'dead ends', and I often find that a name change occurs when someone has committed bigamy, or deserted a wife, child or an illegitimate child, or spent time in prison or a mental asylum. My Web site describes some of the records that I have used.

  18. Kudos for your persistence.

    I bet Claudia is right – some secret surrounding the surname Baumgardner…

  19. Wow That was quite a quest and finds. Two reasons I can think of were he had a falling out with his family and did not want to be found or perhaps there is a scandle associated with his Baumgardner name…

  20. WHAT A STORY!! Congratulations on your rewarding find! Your perseverance inspires me to retackle a couple brick walls of my own!! Thanks for writing, and thanks for joining the geneablogger community!

  21. Welcome to the Geneabloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "Back to the Homeplace"
    and "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories"

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