- 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 Ten: DNA Research
- Step Nine: Crowd Source the Problem
Brick walls. We all have them. That one group of ancestors that just don’t want to be found. That one branch of our family tree that we keep coming back to, much like the way a child can’t seem to stop poking at a loose tooth, even though it hurts. They are the gap in our otherwise full family tree, the missing piece in the puzzle of our ancestors.
Step One: Define the Brick Wall
Before we can hope to solve a problem, we have to understand it. We need to understand the challenges that we need to overcome in order to reach our goal. Write one post about your brick wall ancestors that describes the challenges you’ve encountered. Are you faced with a common surname and a highly populated town (like I am)? Did they just disappear without a trace? Did the court house burn down? Are there missing records? Sometimes a well defined problem can create its own solution.
Step Two: Create a Timeline
By arranging your genealogical data in chronological order, the answers to puzzling questions can suddenly seem to leap off the page. New relationships between people, places and events will reveal themselves. You will be looking at the lives of your ancestors as they lived them, surrounded by their extended families, the places in which they lived and the world around them.
Step Three: Re-Evaluate the Known Evidence
The first rule of genealogy is to start with what you know so work your way through the evidence you have. You might find something new that you missed the first time around or you might find new meaning in the data you have if your experience has grown since you first recorded the information.
Step Four: Search for New Evidence
Now is the time to look for new evidence. Perhaps new records have been released since the last time you searched for this family or maybe your genealogical research skills have gotten better. Think of all the record types that could relate and search for them. Just because your ancestor wasn’t wealthy doesn’t mean he did not leave a will and just because the family identified as one religion doesn’t mean you won’t find them in the records of a church of another denomination. Don’t leave a stone unturned or a record unread.
Step Five: Resolve Conflicts
If you have uncovered conflicts in the existing or new evidence, now is the time to resolve them. Do you have a record for the wrong person or is there a logical explanation?
Step Six: Research the Social History of the Time and Place
Looking through the lens of the past enhances our understanding of how people lived, worked and played in their daily lives. If you are not sure how to research the social history of your ancestors, head on over to The Social Historian for some examples.
Step Seven: Get to Know the Collateral Relatives
Sometimes the aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, nieces, nephews or in-laws are holding all the secrets. If you can’t go through your brick wall, try going around it!
Step Eight: Friends, Acquaintances and Neighbours (FAN)
Just like you, your ancestors had friends, acquaintances and neighbours. Maybe they have stories to tell so research them all and learn their stories. There just might be a story they share with your ancestors.
Step Nine: Crowdsource the Problem
Ask for help! There are tens of thousands of genealogists out there, all with different expertise and different approaches. Try asking for help on social media or in a forum, like I did with my missing ladies.
Step Ten: Use DNA
Check out those genes! If you haven’t had your DNA tested yet, send for the kit today. Autosomal DNA will identify matches up to the 5th cousin level. Read about my Ancestry DNA results for some inspiration. If you haven’t had any luck with your current company, get tested with another or upload your results to Gedmatch to compare with more people.
10 Steps to Bust Your Brick Wall Challenge
My own personal brick wall is my Brown family and I’ve been on a mission to finally break through that brick wall. I haven’t found my Brickwall Browns but I’m making steady progress as I follow these 10 Steps to Bust Your Brick Wall.