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
- Re-examine everything – try to get concrete evidence not just the knowledge of other people. Locate original records.
- 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.
- Incorrect data – question and verify all the time. Transcription errors, hearsay, certificates – check for proof of everything, verify in two sources preferably in three
- 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
- Age variations – older to enlist, marrying someone older, didn’t know how old they were, age at death can be problem due to informant
- 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
- Finding family stories in newspapers- family notices, church activities, land sales, military etc
- Social history – how family lived and how different their world was, create a timeline, institutions and asylums
- 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
- Know your boundaries – local histories, geographic boundaries changed, research last known town your ancestor was in
- Create a timeline – date, type of record, location
- Other researchers and sharing your research – share with relatives, use other people’s research as a guide – verify it for yourself
- Ask for help – librarians, family history societies