Hitting a brick wall in your genealogical research is incredibly frustrating and can be really disheartening. Did you know that even the professionals and experts in the field hit brick walls, too? Breaking through these brick walls takes work, determination, and a little strategy. Here are a few strategies pros use to tackle troublesome brick walls.
Really look into your brick wall. What is it? Write down your question or your problem to help clarify and focus your brick wall. Here are some examples of brick walls: “The records I need have been destroyed.” “I can’t figure out how I’m related to this certain person.”
If you’ve hit a brick wall, review what you already know. Go back and comb through the research you’ve already completed that relates to your brick wall. This helps ensure you haven’t overlooked something like a clue, an answer, or an open window. It also refreshes your understanding of your findings so you know exactly what you do know and what you don’t. Maybe you misunderstood something the first (or second or third) time through; go through your work again.
Create a research plan for yourself and map out how you plan to tackle your brick wall. Making a research plan will help you avoid aimless research and will tell you what you need to figure out and what you need in order to figure out. Make lists of the records you need to search, places you can find these records, and then cross off each one as you complete it.
Some record keepers in years past were actually not the best record keepers. In fact, many of these record keepers misspelled names, wrote down wrong dates and information, and other major mistakes that can lead you astray or right into a brick wall. Because of these errors, you might need to research outside the box, meaning you need to try unconventional research methods. Try spelling names every way you can think of, try searching first names as last names and vice versa, or similar methods. Another idea is to think of places that might have the information you need. Do you have a death certificate but no birth certificate? Reach out to the known funeral home to see if they might have the info you need.
Cluster research or cluster genealogy is a technique many genealogists use to expand their knowledge about a specific ancestor by researching the person’s “cluster.” Researching your ancestor’s “cluster” can potentially lead to hidden answers. Include researching siblings, friends, coworkers, cousins, neighbors, and other relatives. This can give you a more complete and accurate look into the ancestor’s life you’re researching.
Do you have a friend, family member, or colleague that loves researching genealogy? A new set of eyes on your research and on your brick wall could potentially notice or uncover things you may have overlooked. They may have different methods or ideas on researching and tackling your problem. If you don’t have a friend that can help, you can always search on genealogy groups on Facebook or other forums. You can also look into hiring a professional like the pros at Price Genealogy to help you break through your brick wall.