Is it possible to find a record on a family member if all we know is just a date, but not an exact name? It can be, depending on the circumstances.
I have indeed, with past family history puzzles, been able to connect people, as long as the parameters were narrow enough and the details fairly specific. I wouldn't attempt such a search for, say, a Jones family member. But with other, more unusual circumstances or locations, especially if I could factor in some limiting search terms, it has been possible.
In the case of my quest to connect some of my uncle's Eggert ancestors to the family of well-known New York City watch and chronometer maker Dominic Eggert, yesterday we ran across a hint that provided a possible date of death for the unnamed youngest brother of Dominic's son Charles. Of course, given that the detail was provided in a newspaper—heads up for possible editorial errors—we can't be totally certain. With the help of a calendar, even if the date were off by a few days, at least we could search for the surname Eggert, plus a death in the New York City vicinity, on or about September 22, 1883.
I decided to hedge my bets and factor in an educated guess. I thought if Charles were Dominic's son—which we've already seen reported—and if Dominic's was the household living next to Charles in the 1860 census, as we've already seen, who was the youngest man listed in that enumeration? A twenty five year old man by the name of Sylvester Eggert.
Assuming that Sylvester could be the possible youngest son of Dominic—after all, no other Eggert men were living in Dominic's home in either 1860 or 1850—I started my search with Sylvester's name. And a funny thing happened.
I don't know why, but when I search for a name on a genealogical website, I expect the results to refer to the same name I had just searched. I know; I'm funny that way. However, when I use Ancestry.com, lately I've seen results for other family members show up in my results. In this case, a search for the death of Sylvester Eggert on or about 1883 led me to something I had not been able to find directly, despite quite a bit of effort looking for it: I found Dominic Eggert's own will.
As it turns out, Dominic himself died early in 1872, not long after the 1870 census where, once again, he had appeared in an Essex County, New Jersey, household which included several surnames. The beauty of this discovery—at long last—was that this was a will which told all. Unlike some last testaments I've found, where the decedent left his property to his "beloved wife and children"—frustratingly leaving out any mention of their names—Dominic told all.
This 1872 document—and its many codicils attached over the years since the will was first drawn up in 1864—laid out the names of each of Dominic's children in order, adding in the mention of some grandchildren as well. Dominic was particularly careful to emphasize his concern for the care of his son Sylvester, which he repeated with each codicil added over the years.
As for my quest to determine whether it was Sylvester who was the youngest Eggert brother mentioned in Charles' obituary, I now had more than enough reason to call off the search. Not only were all the Eggert siblings listed, including the sisters' married names, but the executor named was the very man whose relationship I had been pursuing: my uncle's grandfather, John Eggert.