Problem solving those brickwalls

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Everyone hits a brickwall at some stage. Sometimes all you need to do is take a break and work on another family line.

But if you want to keep persevering you need to be strategic, methodical and do your homework. Develop a research plan with a specific aim. Draw up a timeline to see where the gaps are, that might then help to solve the problem. Re-examine how you got to this point in your research and maybe, go back to square one.

Tips for breaking down brickwalls

  1. Re-examine everything – try to get concrete evidence not just the knowledge of other people. Locate original records.
  2. Search all available sources -Passenger lists, military records, phone books. New records available all the time so re-check. Note sources used whether you got information or not.You don’t want to have to recheck if you have already read that source.
  3. Incorrect data – question and verify all the time. Transcription errors, hearsay, certificates – check for proof of everything, verify in two sources preferably in three
  4. Name variations – fluid and phonetic before 1850, some names Anglicised, used middle names, start a new life with different name, match details in a variety of sources, try alternate spellings, cross check by middle names, aliases
  5. Age variations – older to enlist, marrying someone older, didn’t know how old they were, age at death can be problem due to informant
  6. Collateral lines – broaden your search – siblings, parents, cousins, aunts etc can be key to unlocking your brickwall ancestor, wider view of history, put in context
  7. Finding family stories in newspapers- family notices, church activities, land sales, military etc
  8. Social history – how family lived and how different their world was, create a timeline, institutions and asylums
  9. Granny wouldn’t but Granny did – keep an open mind, birth under mothers maiden name, don’t make assumptions, don’t look at life through modern eyes
  10. Know your boundaries – local histories, geographic boundaries changed, research last known town your ancestor was in
  11. Create a timeline – date, type of record, location
  12. Other researchers and sharing your research – share with relatives, use other people’s research as a guide – verify it for yourself
  13. Ask for help – librarians, family history societies


Using maps in family history

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Our second lecture this week was on the value of using maps in family history. I am very inquisitive regarding where my ancestors came from, so am always using Google Earth to pinpoint locations. As mentioned in the notes though, there can be some problems with place names and locations in the 21st century compared to those in the 19th century and further back.

This lecture was by Imogen Wegman who is a PhD candidate at UTas and is a landscape historian. Here are my notes.

Who do you believe?

  • The records or family knowledge or heirlooms
  • Using a map might help prove, disprove the information you have gathered

Place names

  • sometimes towns straddle borders
  • often change or move counties
  • often spelt phonetically until 1850’s
  • remember dialects or accents might change sound of name – use this British Library site to help with these
  • important to use map of the time period you are searching
  • also check landowners in lots of locations


  • often change – parishes, regions, counties
  • current English counties established since 1974
  • since 19th century, maps are more consistent and reliable
  • during war, borders change, eg what was Poland might now be Belarus

Looking for maps

When searching on internet, use keywords such as

  • historical maps county name
  • digitized maps county name
  • also check for enclosure (landowners names) and tithe maps
  • UK – ordnance survey map – National Library of Scotland

Places to find maps online – this list copied from the course Map Collections page – thanks to Imogen

For Australian searching

Trove Maps

Land Information Systems Tasmania (LIST) Map

NSW: Historical Land Records Viewer

Queensland: Mapping Research and History

Northern Territory: Historic Map Index

South Australia: Map Sites

Victoria: Land

Western Australia: Maps Online

(None are known for the Australian Capital Territory.)

University of Melbourne Map Collection – Geographic Links
This is a collection of Australian and international links.

United Kingdom and Ireland

National Library of Scotland (including England Ordnance Survey)

The Irish Ancestral Research Association: Maps


My Readers: Are there any other map collections you know of that might be useful for family historians? Maybe American or European collections?

If possible include the URL in your comment and I will then add to this post as a link for others to use.

Conducting your research

Dadaw 'n Me
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In the family history course this week, Dianne Snowden spoke to us about how to conduct our research. Here are the notes I made while listening to the video. I have also included a few links to sites on the net which might be helpful.

Remember to follow the basic principles for family history

Steps for conducting your researchElwell[1]

  1. Write down what you know
  2. Decide what you want to learn
  3. Choose a record or source of info
  4. Obtain and search the record
  5. Use and record what you have learned

Look for online finding aids to help with your research. Familysearch has many aids for helping with handwriting

Have an aim for each research task

  1. What do you hope to find out?
  2. Where are you going to look? – Repositories and records – Primary/secondary sources

Document your sources

  • Any statement of fact must have its own source
  • Sources will record location of the fact and also record details that might impact your evaluation of the fact

Tips for researching

  1. When searching, often better to put in less information
  2. Too many results, then refine search by adding more words
  3. Spellings in early records is flexible
  4. Names can be spelt many different ways
  5. Names can be changed
  6. Reading difficult handwriting, compare with sequence of letters you know.  Familysearch online help
  7. Never assume family relationship with person of same name
  8. Many records have similar info eg birth registration/church records, address in electoral roll/post office directory
  9. Children registered in Tasmania with f or m


Start with Chapman Codes but also keep your own list

Once you have info, you must then evaluate it.

  • Original source material generally more reliable
  • What processing has the source material undergone – eg transcribing which might not be accurate, re-copied from tree to tree
  • Truthfulness of record will depend on purpose and motivation of creators eg ages on marriage certificates, obituaries especially to cover convict records
  • Most reliable informants have first hand knowledge of events
  • Veracity and skill of record’s creator will have shaped content
  • Timeliness adds to a document’s credibility
  • All known records should be used
  • Case never closed on a genealogical conclusion.

When searching don’t just rely on Google as your search engine. You can also use customised search engines – often Google based. Try out some of these others: I put in Francis Colgrave (my gggrandfather) and found many resources I had never seen before

Genealogy in time

Cyndislist which has search engines for many countries of the world

Genealogy search help based on Google has nine search engines to suggest

Digital trends gives some great sites to search

My readers: Which search engine or genealogy site have you used that gave lots of great information?

[1] Barry J Elwell Family Treasures: 15 Lessons, Tips, and Tricks for Discovering Your Family (Cedar Fort Publishing, 2012)

Getting ready to research

William SMITH and family

So I have now looked through the filing cabinet, folders, computer program to find everything I already have on William SMITH and his family. I have decided to put together two folders. There will be some duplicate items in them.

The first folder will be a storyline of William SMITH from his birth in 1840 through to his death in 1913. Included in this will be all his whaling journeys, marriage, family life and birth of children through to his death and burial. This is what I will be aiming to add to as my major research in the family history course.

The second folder will be about William SMITH and Sarah Ann TEDMAN family. Again lots of births, marriages and death with a separate pocket for each child born to them.

Readers: Are there any repositories and records you would recommend I search to find information about Captain William SMITH, master mariner?


Interview test run

Because I haven’t been able to organize a time to meet Glenn yet, I thought I had better do a test run of an interview with my father. I went through Paul Thompson’s questions, typed out a big long list of them chunked into areas like early family life, schooling, early adult life etc.

Before starting the interview I showed my dad the questions and said I would be asking about some of these things. I think that helped him know the sorts of things I wanted to get from the interview. It allowed him to chat for a while on a topic rather than giving just short, stilted answers.

To record the interview I took my iPad to mum and dad’s house and we sat in the dining/kitchen area while mum was in the lounge room watching the cricket and Sydney/Hobart yacht race. I had downloaded the app Soundcloud, which allows 180 minutes with their free version.

I recorded in two sections: first dad talked about his own life mentioning he had already written about a lot of these and they were on his computer if ever i needed them. The second and shorter section was dad talking about his parents and grandparents.

Here are the two recordings: