I have been searching, in vain, for my 3rd great grandfather, Samuel Brierton. All information I have says that he was born in Pennsylvania abt. 1800, parents were born in Wales and he then doesn't show up until he lands in Illinois in 1850 and I can track him successfully from there.

I've tried name variations and anything I can think of, census, military and even random emails to find the needle in the haystack, but all I seem to find is a vague connection to the Lee County, Dixon, Illinois Brierton family.

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    Welcome, Michelle! The more information we have to go on, the better. Can you give us his parents' names and any more details on their birthplace? And tell us exactly what sources you've consulted, so we don't repeat your work?
    – user104
    Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 18:16
  • Have you tried contacting any Genealogy Societies in Pennsylvania or Illinois?
    – AvieRose
    Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 18:40
  • Certainly! I have been unable to find his parents names. On the 1860 United States Census of Brown County, Illinois his birthplace is listed as Pennsylvania and his wife and children are listed, Henry being my connection. On the 1880 Census for Adams County, Illinois he lists his father's birthplace as Wales and his mother's as Scotland. He was married first to Mary Mann, who died in 1866 and is buried in Brown County, Illinois. They had 6 children, Henry, Thomas, Joseph, Sarah, Elizabeth & Georgiana. He later married a Mrs. Elizabeth Patterson in 1871, with no resulting children.
    – Michelle
    Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 18:58
  • AvieRose, thank you! Yes, I live in Illinois and have travelled around to various locations researching and have reached out via the internet to researchers in Penn. but no one can find anything. My family still lives in Brown County, Illinois where Samuel first settled. We believe that there is a connection in Lee County because there are letters from the "Dixon Brierton's" but I cannot find the proof to link them.
    – Michelle
    Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 19:01
  • 1
    @Michelle Welcome to GFH.SE! Per the FAQ, it's best if you don't sign your posts. Because your posts are always pre-signed with your usercard, there's no need to re-sign them. :P Again, welcome to Genealogy and Family History SE!
    – Luke_0
    Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 1:13

3 Answers 3


I started hunting through Ancestry with a few guesses in mind:

  1. If Samuel was born about 1800 (I found 1801), he would probably have set up his own household and married between 17 and 30 years of age. So he should have his own census records starting from at least 1830.
  2. There are a few common spelling variants for Brierton: Bryerton, Briarton, Bryarton and I used those as alternative search criteria
  3. I searched for him but also for Mary Brierton and Mary Mann. Sometimes names on census records had the wife's maiden name and sometimes her married name.

I believe I did find Samuel on the 1830 US Federal Census, located in Harrison, Virginia in the Western District but it's been transcribed as Samuel Beverlen. It makes some amount of sense because Mary Mann was born in Virginia and both her parents were from Virginia. He's listed as between 20 and 30 in this record but there is no date recorded on the page. It's within the realm of tolerance. This record lists 1 free white male between 20 and 30, 1 free white female between 30 and 39 and 1 free white person under 20 (I'd assume their first child).

How I would proceed:

I would actually start searching the census records with all the names of the children. For example, the 1870 US Federal Census made it easy to find the family listing in Illinois by searching for Georgiana (spelled Georgeana on the census by the way) because it's relatively uncommon.

Then I start to make searches or refine them based on what I find along the way. Georgianna is listed as 14 in that record so I know her approximate age and can use that information to know when to search for records containing her.

In the 1870 record, there's only Samuel, his 21 year old son Thomas, his 18 year old daughter Sarah and his youngest daughter, Georgianna at 14. I expect to see this since Mary died prior to this census and he'd not yet remarried.

He's listed as a farmer and has a real estate value listed so I know he's owned his own land. I can look for land deeds.

On this census, he's not listed either of his parents as of foreign birth but there's always a chance that's an oversight, but it's worth noting.

All three children are listed as born in Illinois, so I can hunt there for more information.

I use any alternate spellings of any names I find to search as well.

A bit of background for future use:

Wales used a patronymic naming system up until the 16th or early 17th century. Instead of sharing a family surname, children would be given the first name of their father as a last name. If John Jones had a son named Morgan, he would be Morgan Johns. You may also see "ab" or "ap" (son of) inserted - so Morgan ap John. This often became "Upjohn" later on.

The patronymic system did continue, in more rural areas, into the 2nd half of the 19th century, though.

There was also a tradition to add a sort of self identifier like a location or the profession of the person to the end of the name to help differentiate them but this wasn't usually found in formal documents. You do see it in some letters or such, though.

Wales, after the protestant reformation, was reduced to a small number of baptismal or first names and then, through use of the patronymic system, it has resulted in a surprisingly few Welsh surnames but it can cause complete havoc in research because none of the people in a single village with the same last name may actually be related!

www.uk.genealogy.org.uk has a lot of genealogy information on Wales. (http://www.uk-genealogy.org.uk/wales/index.html)

We do know Samuel's parents must have arrived before 1801 or he wouldn't have been born in the US, so I'd search probably 1780-1801, as sparse as those records are, for immigration or naturalization records for them. If there's a historical society in PA, somewhere near any listed location, I'd check there. It also pays to research general immigration waves to the US from foreign countries and what was happening in the world at the time. Most Welsh immigrating to the US were farmers or miners and a huge center of Welsh immigration was Pittsburgh, PA. So I'd probably focus searches in the Pittsburgh PA area to start with for Samuel's parents. I'd also use that as a place for immigration searches.


There's a whole lot of gut instinct and poking around involved in genealogical research and a lot of asking yourself if something you found makes sense. I always caution people to rely on REAL records for proof (not family lore or other people's family trees) but to be open to the fact that records are not perfect and there will be errors. The older the records are, the harder to find, the harder to read and the more errors or "liberties" you will find.

Also, keep searching. New records come online all the time and new people show up with their own searches that can intersect yours. It pays to keep hunting.


I may be able to give you a little (a very little) background on the "Dixon Briertons". One of my Cleaver cousins (Samuel Cleaver) moved from Columbia County, Pennsylvania, in the 1830s to Dixon, Illinois, and married a Minerva Brierton there in 1845 (they're listed in the Illinois Marriage Index). Some on-line family trees list Minerva's father as Henry Brierton, but without source citation. I didn't find a Henry Brierton in the 1850 Lee County census. There is a Joseph Brierton, listed as b.abt.1797 in Pennsylvania.

In researching the family of Samuel and Minerva (Brierton) Cleaver, I noticed a number of other surnames in the Dixon/Lee County area that were familiar to me from my Pennsylvania research, in a few cases evidently from the same families, although I haven't encountered Briertons in Pennsylvania (yet).

Apparently, there was a minor but significant migration from Columbia and Northumberland Counties, Pa., to Lee County, Ill. in the 1830s. It's possible that something similar occurred with Brown County. You might want to check other families in the area with Pennsylvania roots (especially if there are any such that your Briertons married into). Brown County histories may provide information as to where in Pennsylvania some of these families originated.

However, that said, I noticed (from a Google search on "Samuel Brierton born 1801") that there appear to be a number of on-line listings (mostly on pay sites) that include a possibly-matching Samuel Brierton, except that some list him as b. in Maryland. At least a few of these projects appear to be owned by people also claiming descent from Samuel, so possibly one or more of them have some actual documentation.

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    Correction - Beers' "Historical and Biographical Annals of Columbia and Montour Counties", p.540, lists an Elizabeth Garrison b. Dec. 8, 1801 who married Joseph Brierton and died in Illinois. Elizabeth was reportedly the granddaughter of Elizabeth Fortner, from a family that also intermarried with the Cleavers in Pa. It seems a good bet that this Joseph and Elizabeth (Garrison) Brierton were the same Joseph and Elizabeth listed in the 1850 Dixon census. So, it appears that at least one branch of the Brierton family at least passed through Columbia County, Pa. on their way to Dixon, Illinois.
    – cleaverkin
    Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 5:07

Samuel Brierton and Joseph Brierton are brothers. Joseph is oldest child of 12 born to Henry Brierton (Wales) and Rachael Brierton. Rachael is a decendent of Scottish parents both born in Penn., USA. I have found no proof to confirm this. Another parents are John Brierton (England) and Jane Brewster (England). Also not confirmed. Henry came to USA and settled in Mass. and later moved to Penn where he married Rachael. John and Jane were married before coming to America. Also settled in Mass. and later moved to Penn. I am a descendant of Joseph Brierton. There is an article that tells of Joseph in Dixon, Lee Ct, IL. I do not know where it came from as I have not been able to locate it again. I will be glad to share the information I have collected . I have done all the work myself. I use the reference library and have joined ancestry.com. including foreign countries.

  • Welcome to Genealogy.SE! Thanks for your answer. A few questions: Is this your own research? If so, do you mind explaining a bit of how you found it (e.g., birth certificates, censuses, tax records, etc.)? Thanks again and welcome to the site. :)
    – Luke_0
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 1:54
  • Mary, I'm very excited to hear that someone else has Samuel and Joseph as brothers! I could never find a listing of Henry's children, do you have anything?
    – Michelle
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 16:07

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