This entry is part 11 of 11 in the series Bust Your Brick Wall Challenge

Now that we’ve defined our brick wallcreated a timeline, evaluated our existing evidencesearched for new evidence,  resolved conflictssearched for social historysearched for collateral relatives, and employed the FAN principle, the next step in the Busting Your Brick Wall Challenge will be to crowd source the problem by posting on various forums and social media.

Many hands make light work ~ anonymous
When a problem is large, such as in a genealogical brick wall, one of the best ways to make a break through is to crowd source the problem and ask for help. Everyone has different expertise and different approaches to solving a problem. What’s more, genealogists love a good puzzle, and love to help each other out. In my post on crowd sourcing one of my brick walls a few years ago, I described my challenge and posted it on every forum, social media account and Facebook group that I could think of.

Almost immediately, I had half of the answer and a new cousin. The rest of the problem took some time to solve but if you look at the comments on the bottom of my post, you will see that it was eventually solved when the great-granddaughter of my missing lady posted a comment. Her subsequent email gave me the clue that I needed to make the break through and I’m still working through the story. You can read all about Laura Williams on The Social Historian where I’m telling the story.

So how can you get started and where can you ask for help?

Write a Blog Post

Begin by writing everything you know about your brick wall ancestor. Use names, dates and references. If you’ve been following along with the steps so far, you already have a timeline so you’re half way there. Fill in the details around the names, dates and places in a blog post. You can’t expect other genealogists to help you with your puzzle if you don’t give them all the pieces. Make sure that your post is clear and concise and includes everything you know. Use references or footnotes if possible.

Ask for Help

Crowd Source your brick walls
via Pixabay

This seems self evident, but make sure when you are posting on forums and social media, that you actually ask for help. Make sure you are specific. We’ve all seen queries on forums and mailing lists that say something like:

My grandfather, John Smith, was from England and was born in about 1850. Any help would be appreciated.

No one is going to respond to that query. There is not enough information to even get started. Describe the problem in as much detail as is appropriate, including what you already know and what you are trying to find out. Link to the blog post you wrote that shows all of the facts that you already have and if possible, let people know where you’ve already looked to save them repeating useless searches.

Remember not to reference living people in your query. Doing so is against the rules in most forums and mailing lists to protect the privacy of others.

Facebook Groups

There are many, many Facebook groups for genealogy, covering almost every region and topic. Katherine Wilson has taken on the task of trying to keep up with them all and has compiled a listing of Genealogy Facebook Groups and Pages that you can download from her website. Gail Dever has a similar Canadian Facebook list that includes some French resources.

Some Facebook groups will be open while others will require that you apply to join but this is normally just to keep spammers away. Make sure you read the rules and regulations of the group, normally a sticky post at the top of the page to see if the post you want to share is appropriate to the group and meets their rules of engagement.

Share your brick wall question, perhaps linking to your blog post to provide more information. Make sure to use some type of relevant image that will attract attention. It is a proven fact that many people skip over text-only posts in their feed.


Your blog post will come in handy on Twitter where you are limited to only 140 characters in your tweet. Make them all count and link to your blog post to add more detail. Again, use a relevant image to attract more attention to your tweet.


Ask for help
via Pixabay

Most genealogists have registered on forums at one time or another. There are countless forums online on every imaginable genealogically related topic as well as many general purpose genealogical forums. If you signed up with the forum some time ago, make sure that the email address you signed up with is still valid. Post your query with as much information as possible. Some forums allow links while others don’t so make sure that you read the forum guidelines before you post. Do a Google search to try and find a forum relevant to your area of interest. For example, searching for ‘Sheffield forum genealogy’ will find a forum on the Sheffield Indexers website and searching ‘British army genealogy forum’ will find the British Army forum on Genealogy Specialists.

There are many experts who monitor these forums who are incredibly generous with their time and expertise. Who doesn’t want a team of experts working on their brick wall problem?

Mailing Lists

Mailing lists were one of the first ways that genealogists communicated with each other and although social media is now taking over the role that mailing lists used to play, there is still a vibrant and active community on over 30,000 genealogical mailing lists over on Rootsweb. These cover surnames, places, time periods and more. Try searching the archives to see if anyone has ever posted about your lost ancestor and then craft a query to the relevant group to see if anyone is holding the answer to your problem.

Important Note about Rootsweb Mailing Lists as of February 2018
RootsWeb is currently being worked on by Ancestry and many features are offline. Here is the status of the Mailing Lists: Mailing Lists have been functioning as normal, but the archives have been unavailable. We plan to make the archives available to you once we have WorldConnect available to you in a readable version.

Crowd Sourcing Etiquette

Thank You
via Pixabay

Always give as much information as possible, citing full names and dates. If you have a census record of your ancestor, it is helpful to mention the place and any reference numbers so that those responding have a good place to start looking. Always respond to anyone who answers your query and don’t forget to thank them for their efforts on your behalf. On social media, ‘like’ or ‘favourite’ the responses to show your appreciation as well as replying back to the individual or group with a thank you. If the comments or suggestions lead you to some new information, share it with the group. Everyone loves a success story, especially when they’ve contributed in some way.

Make sure you read some of the other questions posted to see if you can help with someone else’s problem. Crowd sourcing only works when one person asks a question and many people with varied expertise help them to find their answers. Be patient with new genealogists and take the time to lead them in the right direction based on your experience. You were once a newbie genealogist too, and had some basic questions.

Crowd Sourcing on My Brick Wall

I have not yet crowd sourced my brick wall Brown family because I’m still gathering information but when I’m ready, I’m certainly going to reach out to all of the Sheffield experts online to see if anyone can help. I know from my previous experience in crowd sourcing that it always helps to draw on the experience of others.

Brick Wall Challenge
Write a post about your brick wall challenge and share it on Facebook, in forums and in mailing lists. Don’t forget to share a link to your post in the comments below.

Image Credits: Pixabay

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