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Provider Post: 4 Tips for Brick Wall Research


When I interviewed Genlighten provider roots4all for a featured provider post I asked what advice she’d give to someone who was trying to get past a brick wall. She answered in detail and I thought her reply merited a post of its own.

Many thanks to roots4all for agreeing to be our first guest blogger! Her search tips are below.

Genlighten Co-Founder

Good strategists never attack one way and one way only. They don’t ignore the context of the person or event in question, and even though they might take a break, they never give up entirely.

Here are four quick tips to help you get beyond your brick walls:

Don’t overlook fine-tuning your research strategy. For American research, check the Handybook for Genealogists to make sure that you really are looking in the proper place. Many times researchers spend years searching in a topographically-correct location only to find out that the same area belonged to a number of different counties depending on the era.

Don’t ignore history. No one lives in a vacuum. If people seem to drop out (especially when you move past searching the census) find out what was happening in the local area and across the nation. Check official histories as well as searching for newspapers from the era.

Don’t ignore relatives. Genealogical searches start out with the researcher’s own emotions, traditions, and stories but eventually they will always involve other people—the children, grandchildren, and siblings of an ancestor. Beginning researchers often want to shoot directly back to Adam and seem to forget that family is the literal name of the game. It is unusual to have a solid lineal descent of only children. There are typically aunts, uncles and cousins in a family tree and their descendants will eventually matter to your research.

Don’t ignore family stories. Whether a tale is small or tall, there is often at least a little truth to it. It’s worth following up.

If you’ve tried and tried and tried and there is simply nothing showing up to help you in your search, take the time to carefully note the work you have done so that you can come back to that ancestor without having to retrace your steps. Then, move your focus to the next person piquing your interest. That does not mean ignoring your hard-to-find ancestor completely. It just means seeking for the lowest-hanging fruit first.

Genealogy is like gardening. If a plant tries to shoot its stalks or leaves toward the sun too quickly, it will have a weak unsupportive base and topple even if the wind is gentle. Having a solid base will keep your tree strong.

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