Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Tuesday's Tip: Brick Walls

I have run into so many brick walls during my family history research that I should have a flat nose!  Sometimes the wall has held me up for a few weeks, sometimes a few years.  In some ways it is natural that our research peters out on some branches.  We don't have the seemingly infinite resources of the WDYTYA production team so are unable to travel the world following up documents unearthed in some obscure archive by an obliging local archivist.  No, for us mere mortals, we usually have to accept that most of our research will (unless we are very lucky) wind up somewhere in the 18th Century.  What is galling is when matters appear to reach a conclusion far sooner - say in the mid 19th Century.

Over the years I have found that there are a few common causes of brick walls:


  • Mistakes made on original documents (eg misspellings, wrong age etc)
  • Mistakes made by the modern day transcriber (eg mistaking a copperplate "T" for an "F"
  • Our own difficulty in reading original documents (due to poor quality of the document or archaic script)
  • Searching in the wrong place for an ancestor (our ancestors were often more mobile than we imagine).
The good news is that most brick walls can be broken down simply by learning a few new search strategies, applying a little lateral thinking and doing a little studying.  Patience is also a virtue in the demolition process - leaving a problem and coming back to it later will sometimes reveal an answer, and sometimes new documents become available online.

I have put together my ideas for breaking down brick walls in a new article on Hubpages.  As always, I welcome any feedback or additional ideas.  

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