Have a brickwall? Some hints for solving …

Many genealogists are on Twitter and recently a new twitter chat has started called ANZAncestryTime  As you might assume, this is for those of us in Australia and New Zealand, but we have had others from around the world join us in our two chats that have been run so far. We also have a website relating to the chat.

This week, the topic was


Here are the questions and some of the replies that might help you in solving brickwalls in your family history.

Q1 Do you have any Brickwall Ancestors?

Virtually everyone on the chat could mention at least one ancestor who is a brickwall from parents through to ggggrandparents. Many were Irish brickwalls, or not being able to find how the ancestor got to Australia/New Zealand. Others were relating to illegitimacy in generations or incorrect paper trail or oral histories. Changes of name to get away from a situation or bigamous marriages.

But Fran @travelgenee said

I don’t usually think of any ancestors as brick walls. Just that I have not got around to exhausting the research possibilities yet.

Then Sandra @Samellco21 said

All my ancestors are from Prussia, Germany Poland so they all feel like brick walls at times

Mandy @sciencegirl_NZ said

I have one major brick wall that I’ve not been able to push through for 20 years. An ancestor born around 1750, perhaps in USA/Canada/Scotland/Ireland. Possibly John/Jean/Johann. McLean or possibly McNeil. I’ve run down so many possibilities.

Jane @chapja said

Yes a number of brick walls largely because of lack of available documentary evidence … gradually making some headway drawing on DNA evidence

Q2 What are some of the causes of Brickwalls in family history?

  • Bad research habits probably do not help. Going down rabbit holes, not using a research log, not planning the research – from Fran
  • Duplication of names in an area, making it hard to distinguish who you are looking for. Lack of records. Brick-wall is too far back for DNA to be useful – Fiona @fiona_memories
  • Poor handwriting leading to not so good indexing – Shauna @HicksShauna
  • Researcher inadequacy – I have it in full measure – Jill @geniaus
  • In my cases it’s either names missing from records, or common names in a big city – Alona @LoneTester
  • Getting locked into a thought process and not jumping the wall. Records which cease at a relatively early stage – Pauleen @cassmob
  • Not being able to verify if records actually relate to your person, incorrect oral history leading down the wrong trail(s) – Sue @tasteach
  • Thinking you have the correct person but you don’t. 2 people with the same name and birth date. Also illegitimacy and deciphering handwriting – Sandra
  • We do need to beware of falling into the name and place trap as if there might only have been one person possible. Good tip! – Pauleen
  • Lack of record availability, mistranscription,  lies. Some records just got destroyed years ago or have deteriorated – Hilary @Genemeet
  • sometimes unexpected behaviour gives you a brickwall that isn’t really there as you don’t have the substantive evidence to verify families moving across countries or the globe – and then you find they did – Ruth @ruthjots
  • My brickwall is gg grandfather, Conrad Deihl arrived NZ c1842. Of German origins. Where to start? No clues on any BDMs – Catherine @CathyClarke77
  • There are even a few ancestors I believe are taking steps to hide from me – I find the record but the key section is illegible or is missing completely – Dara @DaraMcgivern

There was quite a bit of discussion about rabbit holes – information that leads you astray. But often these can help with the social history of the area where your brickwall might live, or lead you to maps and perhaps employment opportunities in the town giving clues as to why someone may have left the area.

But Fran said

Problem with the rabbit holes for me is that I find something interesting in my Ipad and are not all set up to document and source. Then I can’t find it later.

Then a great discussion from this comment by Maggie @iwikiwichick

My ancestors’ complete disregard for their descendants… They could have left me more hints. That’s all I’m sayin’.

Jill then mentioned

We need to seek help to overcome our inadequacies – learn, learn, learn.

Q3 What strategies do you use to break down Brickwalls?

  • Put them aside for another day when I can look at them with a fresh eye. Revisit, revisit, revisit – Jill
  • Timelines to see what is missing and whether some record could actually fit in the timeline – Sue
  • Timelines… lots of timelines showing the interactions between multiple family members as they may give clues to your brick-walls. I even wrote a guide to creating them – Fiona
  • Still waiting to knock down those brickwalls. But patience and coffee are both a necessity – Alona
  • Planning, for me is probably the best way to actually advance my research. Problem is that it is so enjoyable to do random google searches to see what you can find – Fran
  • Increasingly sharing the problem amongst expert colleagues as used to be putting into a drawer for years… – Ruth
  • Checking out lateral lines to gain more clues eg witnesses at marriages of siblings – Sue
  • Researching siblings can often open up a lead to knocking down a brickwall – Jennifer @Jennifer_Jones0
  • My main strategy now is genetic genealogy, and the more matches I identify the more successful the strategy becomes. So, I’m making some progress on my mother’s line, but my Dad’s, where no known cousins will test, is falling behind – Dara
  • Leave it and come back later when new records become available online – Hilary
  • Also making sure that you have checked every piece of documentation that you have or could have.. ie buy the birth certificates of siblings etc. Look for potential wider family in the area. Who else was on the ship from the area/country – Fiona
  • Try thinking outside the box how would it have sounded given any local accent – Hilary
  • Searching across states, looking at all branches/descendants of the family, DNA testing. Using Grenham’s surname distribution maps for Ireland – Pauleen
  • Process of elimination, tracking all possibilities, thinking laterally, looking at the wider community (FAN network) – Maggie (Family, Associates, Neighbours =FAN)
  • Making a surname variant list can help and when you find a newspaper article check how the OCR-ing has transcribed the typed name, to add to your variant list – Fiona
  • Recheck regularly the information you already have. I always seem to miss some little vital detail. Also researching extended family and neighbours can help – Sandra
  • With DNA matches for brickwall person, make connections to them via email, Facebook, blog etc and work together, your brickwall might be a known person to them – Sue
  • Writing a blog post about the brick wall can help and others make useful suggestions too – Shauna
  • Trove has been a major source of info helping me to trace ancestors movements within Australia – Jo @jobee_71
  • Providing a solid base for building backwards by building across and forwards to connect DNA matches and include collateral lines – Jane
  • Think who is the best person to do a DNA test to help with your research – Hilary
  • Test all the senior citizens in your family before it’s too late – Jill
  • DNA has helped me confirm my Aus and NZ connections when used in conjunction with traditional research methods – Sylvia @Historylady2013

Final word from Jill on this question

Strut your stuff – don’t hide your ancestors in the closet – make them visible so cousins can find you

Q4 Has DNA ever helped you to knock down Brickwalls?

  • Without DNA we probably would have never found Stephen’s father. Descendants in USA helped us track back to Ireland and locate the family member that migrated to NZ – Fran
  • DNA has found new cousins and reunited lost ones. It has proved my aboriginal line – Jill
  • Lots of connections made using DNA and disproving paper trails and oral history on my dad’s side, on mum’s side DNA=paper trail – Sue
  • DNA helped me find out who my g grandfather was – Sharn @SharnWhite
  • Yes. I now know who my paternal grandfather was. No more missing branch – Sandra
  • Not as yet but hope to reveal more about a GG Grandfather – an English line of my family with few known relations – Ruth
  • My mother has a DNA match to a bunch of siblings whose family is limited to Wexford, and it’s a decent match, not down to tiny fragments. But the documents run out and we haven’t yet made the link despite years of trying – Pauleen
  • Not so much a brick wall, but it proved a relationship that some people certainly questioned – Alona
  • DNA has helped identify an ancestor’s missing siblings. Hoping it will identify some wayward fathers (and a mother) – Maggie
  • Yes, led me to the right Andrew Thomson in Lanarkshire. Now if I could just work out if he died in Australia or went back to Scotland (or let’s face it, just about anywhere else in the world) – Fiona
  • Not at all but that’s my fault. I really haven’t done anything with my DNA results. Also my family won’t get tested as they’re suspicious of DNA, even the younger ones – Jennifer
  • Just last month I confirmed the maiden name of my GGG-grandmother through DNA matches, and an Australian marriage and death cert. – Dara
  • Yes DNA has helped me too. I’ve broken through a couple of big walls by combining with paper trail – Sally @SallyBloomfiel7

A few hints about DNA tools to use

My favourite DNA tools are clusters, and chromosome mapping to see who matches who – Seonaid @genebrarian

I build my DNA matches trees on my computer. I mark each link so I can see who goes back to whom. Make sure the trees are correct – Margaret @MargLBailey

I like creating those quick and dirty trees using DNA matches and their trees, then using Jonny Perl’s WATO tool to hypothesize where dad fits – Sue

We need to start a campaign so everyone who did an Ancestry DNA test uploads to a site that will allow to do our chromosome mapping – so powerful – Jill

I’m using DNA tools like DNA painter and Ancestry’s colour coding to help knock down brick walls – Sharn

Not done enough testing yet but hoping to get 2 uncles to do Y DNA to help with missing father and uncertainty – Hilary

my new DNA match helped me find an error today – Hilary

The last five minutes of the chat related to a lot of tips about brickwalls

  • I found a missing ancestor through a google book search – Sharn
  • My tip is never give up – keep reviewing it every so often – Shauna
  • Local histories often contain information about families – Sharn
  • Chill. Don’t get too worked up. Put them aside for another day – there is plenty more research you can do – Jill
  • Persevere, keep records of research, think around the brickwall, get tested for DNA, connect with other relatives – Sue
  • Blogging is a great way to find information when people contact you. And social media – Sharn
  • Ask the hard question? We all talk about how great interviewing collecting from older relatives. Once they are comfortable then ask the hard questions. You will be surprised how much they will spill the beans – Fran
  • Don’t forget you can always share your Brick Wall with BrickWallBusters on Brick Wall Hour @BWBHour run by @DanielGenealogy

Final word is from Carmel @crgalvin

Don’t become a brick wall for your descendants, write, film and record.

Readers: What are some of your hints for breaking down brickwalls?

I’m confused!

Anemone123 / Pixabay

Who is my Charlotte Bryant, my great great great grandmother? 

Known records in Tasmania – click on the links to see the actual documents

  • 1855:  Charlotte age 51, a widow and cook (page 203-204) departed London on 1 October 1855 on the ship La Hogue then transferred to the steamer Tasmania in Sydney and finally arrived in Hobart Town on 19 January 1856 with daughter Caroline aged 17.  There was also a ticket for a Charles Bryant but this was crossed out. They were brought out on the application of R. W. Nutt and costing £22 per person.
  • 1856: Less than a year later, Charlotte had an application for her daughter Esther Julia and her husband Robert George Winter as well as his parents to come to Tasmania. They left London on 7 October 1856 on the ship Woodcote and arrived in Hobart Town on 29 December 1856. Cost was £32 per couple. Did Charlotte pay for this or did the immigrants?
  • 1859: Daughter Caroline married William Chandler a gardener age 24 at St Georges, Battery Point on 22 October 1859. One of the witnesses was R.G. Winter – Caroline’s brother-in-law.
  • 1863: Charlotte is the informant on her grandson William Charles Chandler’s birth on 18 February 1863. Charlotte’s address is Government Gardens as her son-in-law William Chandler is now working as a gardener at Government House.
  • 1865: Charlotte is the informant on her grandson Robert Henry Chandler’s birth on 11 March 1865. Charlotte’s address is Government Domain.
  • Between 1865 and 1877 other children are born to the couple and the informant is always Caroline Chandler at Government House.
  • 1883: Charlotte died in Tasmania on 1 May, 1883 aged 78. She was a widow and died from decay of nature. She died at 41 Elizabeth Street, Hobart, the residence of her son-in-law, Robert Winter, who owned a piano forte manufacturing company.

So, why am I confused? 

Now I start to look at the records back in England. Naturally the first one to look for would be the 1851 census where Charlotte should be about 47 years old and Caroline about 13. Esther might be there too, depending upon when she married Robert Winter.  From the arrival information in Tasmania, Charlotte was born in Sussex.

So in the 1851 census the following people are found living at 41 Barclay Street which must be nearly opposite St Pancras Gardens and the St Pancras Old Church in Somers Town.

  • Charlotte Bryant – head – unmarried – 46 years old – dressmaker – Sussex, Arundel
  • Julia Bryant – daughter – unmarried – 23 years old – house servant – Middlesex, St Pancras
  • Henry Bryant – son – unmarried – 18 years old – jeweller – Middlesex, St Pancras
  • Caroline Bryant – daughter – 12 years old – scholar – Middlesex, St Pancras
  • Charles Bryant – son – 7 years old – scholar – Middlesex, St Pancras

But this Charlotte is unmarried and a dressmaker not a widow and cook as mentioned in her arrival information. But she does have children Julia, Caroline and Charles who we know of from Tasmanian records.

About a kilometre away is another Charlotte Bryant – an unmarried servant – cook aged 50 born in London living in Charlotte Street, St Pancras area now Fitzrovia.

Next is the marriage of Esther Julia Bryant and Robert George Winter in 1852 at St Pancras. Caroline Bryant is a witness. Esther’s father is Henry and is a surgeon. Esther and Robert are living at Barclay Street when they got married.

In October 1851, Henry Bryant is married to Matilda Webb – father is Henry and is a surgeon. Henry is full age and they were married in parish church St Saviours, Southwark. A witness was Ann Drewett.

Going back 10 years to the 1841 census we find living in Tottenham Place, Marylebone.

  • Charlotte Bryant age 35 – not born in the county
  • Henry Bryant age 9 – born in the county
  • Caroline Bryant 3 – born in the county
  • Emily Bryant 1 – born in the county

Still no husband mentioned but on the bottom of the previous page of the census is H Weight age 35, surgeon who was born in the county. Could this be the father of the children?

Could Charlotte’s maiden name actually be Bryant?

Using LivingDNA

Because my ethnicity is basically British and Irish, I thought it would be interesting to find out exactly where in these countries my ancestors came from.

Here are the top results for my parents, my brother and myself. I had to pay extra to get the results for my parents and brother as they hadn’t tested with LivingDNA, instead I uploaded their raw data from Ancestry instead.


  • North Yorkshire 15.5%
  • Northern Ireland and SW Scotland 14.9%
  • Cumbria 13.2%
  • Devon 11.6%
  • South Central England 10.7%
  • South East England 9.5%
  • South England 8.6%

Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, and Somerset (South Central England)

Kent, Sussex, Essex (South East England)

Hampshire, Dorset (South England)


  • Devon 29.8%
  • Ireland 24.8%
  • South Central England 11.9%
  • South England 11.5%
  • Northumbria 8%

The rest are 3% or lower including Orkney and Shetland Islands at 1.5%


  • South East England 20.6%
  • Ireland 17.2%
  • Northern Ireland and SW Scotland 15.1%
  • Central England 12.5%
  • North Yorkshire 9%
  • Northumbria 7.1%
  • South Central England 7%

But Devon only 1.8% and Orkney Shetland 1.7%


  • Devon 32.8%
  • Northern Ireland and SW Scotland 13.5%
  • Northwest England 12.8%
  • Ireland 6.3%
  • Lincolnshire 6.3%
  • Northumbria 6%

So looking at these results:

  • I got the Devon genes from dad while Philip got the Irish genes.
  • Philip got the North Yorkshire genes from mum while I got the Devon genes.
  • Interesting the difference one generation can make with all the movement in England and Ireland.

We also have shared matches now on LivingDNA.

Mum  274,  Dad 179,  Philip 218 ,  Sue 209

So another job for me to do is work out where these matches connect within our family. The LivingDNA website is gradually adding other useful tools and will be great once you can add to a tree and look at a chromosome browser to triangulate matches.

Readers: Have you uploaded your raw DNA to this website? It is especially useful if you have a lot of British heritage and have paid the fee to unlock the county ethnicity.

Check your tree!

Was reading the feed in my Facebook groups and came across an interesting post in Louise Coakley’s private group about Using DNA for Genealogy in Australia and New Zealand. PS Remember to answer questions if requesting to join.

As I have many trees on Ancestry.com, I thought I would check out some of these posts about an in depth guide to Ancestry. There are 11 parts to this guide so far and the first one was about trees.

My trees

I have 7 trees I am owner of on Ancestry. My main tree is Wyatt family tree and that is where I add in all my matches as I work out where they are in my tree. So I use matches from myself, but also my mother, father and brother.

Because I had no idea of my father’s side of the tree until recently, I also began one labelled DNA Wyatt Dad Kevin. This is a lot of mirror trees based on dad and his half brother Kevin’s common matches to try and work out where they all intercept. But I wont be using this much now as I have now got dad’s side of the tree back a few more generations since a new close DNA match appeared a few weeks ago. This tree is private and not searchable.

When I was trying to work on dad’s DNA and whether he had Samoan ancestry, I asked a couple of his Smith cousins to test and I created trees to match them as well. I don’t add to these unless DNA matches ask for information through the messaging system. By the way, no Samoan and these are now half cousins as well.

I have done the same for a few of mum’s cousins who have tested at my request, so I have 3 trees created for them. Two are public and linked to DNA tests, one has now been made private but searchable as the person has now died who did the test for me.

Next step

So I went into my DNA matches list to see what the trees were like for my matches. I only looked at those up to and including 4th-6th cousin.

DNA matches tree types


Out of 340 matches I checked

  • nearly 50 % have a linked tree I can look at, but some of them may only have a few names of parents or grandparents or might even all be labelled ‘Living’.
  • nearly a quarter of my matches have no tree at all but if they are high up in my matches I might still be able to work out where they fit on my tree. In fact, I have worked out 9 of the 81 matches that have no tree.
  • an unlinked tree just means the owner of the tree hasn’t linked their DNA to the tree yet. I have 59 unlinked and 12 that are unlinked but also private. From those 71 matches, I have worked out how 6 of them link into my tree.
  • out of the 20 linked but private trees, I have 4 with common ancestor mentioned and I have proven these to be connected correctly to my tree.
  • I also have two that say the tree is unavailable but clicking on those words takes me to their page and a tree I can click on. One I have matched and is added on my tree, the other I have a good idea where it links but not proven yet.

As I mainly work on my parents DNA match lists, I probably have, in reality, a lot more matches added to my tree than I have from my match list. As I work out where the person fits in my tree, I add this in the note section of their profile page. As my parents are one further generation closer to the ancestors, I usually add these notes on their matches rather than mine.

From this image you can see I know where the person fits in my tree (the orange star), they fit into three family lines on my mother’s side and the ancestor couple we have in common is George and Martha Davey nee Colgrave.

Readers: If you have a tree on Ancestry, does it have your DNA linked to your name on the tree? Is your tree public, or private? If private is it also searchable? Do you use the notes section and the colour coding for your matches?


Ancestor fan tree update

Just before Christmas, I uploaded my tree as a GEDCOM to the website DNA Painter.

I used the tool called Ancestral Trees. This created a fan type tree, showing which of my grandparents I had found and added to my tree. Dad’s side of the tree was always very bare while mum’s was well covered up to 3x grandparents and even further out.

Make a comparison now on dad’s side.

November 2019

Visual showing where I need to research the ancestors

June 2020


So my tree is complete now up to 3x grandparents on both sides of my family. Next step, get the 4x grandparents sorted and add to the tree.

DNAPainter also has some other great tools which I often use: 

  1. WATO – What are the odds? Using DNA centimorgans to work out where you might match in a tree using the results of matches that you already know.
  2. Chromosome tool – allows you to build up your chromosomes and show which ancestor you received them from. Takes a bit of working out and can’t use results from Ancestry
  3. Shared cM tool – great for working out how a person is related to you by inputting their cM in the tool


Readers: How do you keep a record of how many of your direct ancestors you have found?