- 10 Steps to Busting Your Brick Wall
- Step One: Define the Brick Wall
- Step Two: Create a Timeline
- Step Three: Evaluate the Evidence
- Step Four: Search for New Evidence
- Step Five: Resolve Conflicts
- Step Six: Search for Social History
- Step Seven: Collateral Relatives
- Step Eight: Friends, Neighbours and Acquaintances (FAN)
- Step Nine: Crowd Source the Problem
Now that we’ve defined our brick wall, created a timeline, evaluated our existing evidence, searched for new evidence, resolved conflicts, and searched for social history, the next step in the Busting Your Brick Wall Challenge will be to research the collateral relatives.
Our ancestor’s collateral relatives have secrets to tell.
Who Are the Collaterals?
So just who should we be searching for when we look for collateral relatives?
- Siblings’ In-laws
- In-laws of aunts and uncles
- Spouses of nieces and nephews
- Spouses of children
- Parents of spouses of children
The list could go on and on.
Your ancestors probably knew all of these people well. They had family dinners together. They shared holidays and birthday celebrations. They danced at the same weddings and grieved at the same funerals. They were the witnesses at each other’s marriages. They helped out when the family was sick and they were sometimes present at the deaths. They called on each other for assistance and supported each other when things got rough.
Research the collateral relatives as if they were direct ancestors.
Dig deep into the records about the collateral relatives. Find their births, their marriages, their deaths. Look for them in the censuses. Find their military records. Find their land records, their wills and any other documents they might have left behind. Look for them in the records you already have for your ancestors. Were they mentioned in the will? Were they witnesses, godparents, or were they buried in the same family burial plot?
Spinsters and Bachelors
Pay particular attention to any collateral relatives that never married. This is often where you will strike gold! With no spouse or children of their own, they often left their effects to their collateral relatives and you might just find family relationships spelled out in their wills.
They were also the ones who came over to help when their family needed assistance in an emergency. They might have made over their land to their nieces and nephews or they might have helped to nurse an ailing parent or taken them in when they got old. They are often the strong silent type but don’t let that deter you from finding their records and telling their stories.
Still waters run deep.
Follow down those collateral lines to find their children and their children’s children. Try to find your present day third, fourth or fifth cousins. You never know who got the family bible or who has photographs of your ancestors and by connecting to other distant relatives, you might find the missing piece of the puzzle. Finding living people can be challenging with all the privacy laws and sealed records so you will need to get a little creative in your search. I’ve had excellent luck with burial records and obituaries. Once you’ve found people who are likely to still be alive, try doing searching for them on Google or even finding them on Facebook or LinkedIn. When you contact them, you should be prepared to sketch out the relationship so they don’t think that you are trying to scam them or involve them in some nefarious scheme. If you are lucky, they will refer you to that one person in their branch of the family who is in charge of all things related to their family history. You might just find out that that person has been holding the clue to your brick wall all along.
Researching Collateral Relatives on My Brick Wall
When I was researching my brick wall Brown family, I did some research on Joseph Unwin, the second husband of my great grandaunt Caroline. Joseph’s father was Robert Unwin and I obtained a copy of his will in the hopes that it might offer up some secrets. While I did not find out anything specific from the exercise, I did ultimately get in touch with several Unwin descendants during the research process. They were all incredibly helpful, checking through all their research looking for a mention of my ancestors and pointing me to other genealogists who were researching the family who might be able to help. If there had been anything to be found, I’m quite certain I would have found it. I’m happy to be collateral relatives with them all.