- 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
Now that we’ve defined our brick wall, created a timeline, and evaluated our existing evidence, the next step in the Busting Your Brick Wall Challenge will be to search for new evidence.
Create a Research To Do List or Research Log
There are many ways to create a research to do list for your genealogy. The most important thing is to create one. You can do it the old fashioned way by using a pen and paper or you can create your to do list in Excel, Word, Evernote, or even in your genealogy software program if it supports that.
Your to do list item or research log should include:
- The ancestor’s name
- What you want to find out
- Where you will look
- Any details that you will need to know about the person or family
- A date that you made the search
- Any notes about finding the source
I use RootsMagic and it has both a To Do List feature and a Research Log. I like to create a to do list item for each thing I need to look for, assign it to the person and add a repository. I use the repository short name in the task so that all my Ancestry tasks sort together. When I’m ready to research that thing, I use the built in option to transfer that task to my research log for that person where I can make a note of what sources I checked and what the results of my search were.
If you prefer to use pen and paper, you can find research log forms in PDF and Word format on the Family Search Wiki page for research logs. Make sure you record your searches even when you don’t find anything. For static resources, such as books, you won’t want to search that resource again. For resources such as databases, you might want to check back later in case there have been any records added.
Work Your Timeline
Step your way through your timeline and look for missing information. Do you have all of the basic information about each person and family?
- Baptism or Christening
Are there any specialty records you should consider looking for?
- Land Records
- Military Records
- Hospital Records
- Poor Law or Workhouse Records
- Parish Chest Records
- City Directories
- Employment Records
- Emigration Records and Passenger Lists
- Tax Records
- Newspaper Records
- Legal Records
- Naturalization Records
- Adoption Records
- Business Records
- Funeral Home Records
- Voter Registration
- Slave Records
- School Records
- Books, magazines and periodicals
- Notarial Records
Each person and family is different and your family may not have all of the records on the preceding lists, and they may have other records not mentioned. Think about every situation in which your ancestor’s name might have been recorded somewhere on some list or record and make a note to look for that record if you do not already have it.
Just because you have your ancestors’ civil marriage certificate, doesn’t mean that you should not look for the church record of their marriage and the record of when banns were called if that is applicable. If you have their obituary, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t send for their death certificate or that you should not try to find their burial record or the funeral home record. Each source about the same event may have additional or possibly even conflicting information. Look for all the evidence about any event in the lives of your ancestors.
If you can’t find your ancestor’s census record in one database, search another one. Their name might have been transcribed incorrectly or an image might have been missed. If all else fails, browse the census images in your ancestor’s location to see if you can find them the old fashioned way.
Use indexes and abstracts to help find the records you are searching for but don’t neglect looking for the original record. These frequently have more information than the index or you might find that the copy contained an error.
Handwriting and Other Languages
As you research your ancestor, don’t let old style handwriting or records in another language stand in your way. There are many resources online that will help you read old handwriting such as the paleography tutorial on the UK National Archives website. A great resource for Latin words can be found on the Family Search wiki. Google Translate will help you translate almost any language, even Latin.
As you uncover new evidence, in addition to recording it on your research log and in your genealogy database, don’t forget to update your timeline and certainly don’t forget to cite your sources! Revisit Step 3 and be sure to work the Genealogical Proof Standard with everything you find.
Finding New Evidence on My Brick Wall
Checkout my first post on finding new evidence for my Brickwall Browns and then work your way through the next six posts as I work my way through the Brown timeline.
My brick wall dealt with the Melville side of my family. I was able to trace them back to Peel, in Carleton County, New Brunswick, but no further. It was as if they just appeared there, out of nowhere. In an attempt to expand my search and in hopes that maybe they had passed through Pier 21, (Pier 21 is Canada’s equivalent to the United States Ellis Island), the facility through which many immigrants to Canada had passed. In hopes of learning something, I reached out to the Scotiabank Family History Centre at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 to see if they could help me. Unfortunately my ancestor hadn’t passed through Pier 21. But the reference service manager did do some searching, and she was able to uncover that my Melville ancestor had once used the surname Melvin, and his marriage record under the Melvin name, listed his father and mothers name. Wow, she was able to take me back another whole generation! It never occurred to me that he would have changed his surname. Now I know that it can be somewhat common. I thought I would be able to go back even further, could my Melvin ancestors possibly be related to the famous Melvin’s from Chester, Nova Scotia as reported in the book “Palmer Groups”? Alas, I was quickly to learn that I had just replaced one brick wall, with another! But isn’t that what we do, just push through one brick wall so we can get to another!!
Great story and congratulations on getting through the first obstacle! I keep telling myself that it wouldn’t be any fun if it were easy, but I sure do wish my ancestors had at least left some breadcrumbs. Or that after a few years of exhaustive search, you could download the ‘cheats’ like you can for video games and get a hint on where the answer is hiding, LOL.