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Do You REALLY Have a Genealogy Brick Wall?

There’s a certain thrill in uncovering your family history. But sometimes, despite our best efforts, we hit a roadblock—a brick wall, if you will. It's that frustrating moment when it feels like you've turned over every stone and exhausted all possible resources.

Sometimes, though, we THINK we have a brick wall when we really don’t. It’s easy to come to that conclusion. To make sure, here are some insights on how to recognize when you've reached that point and offer you some practical tips on how to move forward. You may well have a true brick wall if you have done all of these things. If you have NOT, these suggestions may solve your mystery.

A woman studying a genaelogy brick wall checklist

1. You’ve exhausted all online sources. We live in a digital age where online resources have revolutionized genealogical research. You've likely scoured numerous websites, databases, and archives. However, if you're still left empty-handed, don't lose hope! Take a breath and consider expanding your search horizons. Look for niche websites, specialized forums, or even social media groups dedicated to genealogy. Engaging with like-minded individuals might uncover valuable leads or alternative perspectives that you haven't explored before.

2. You cannot find any living relatives. Searching for relatives, even distant, can offer resources to solve a genealogy question. If you are able, locate any living relatives who may have information about the ancestor in question. You may be surprised to find family members who are not particularly interested in genealogy but who have pieces of information handed down to them nonetheless.

3. You completed checklists and research guides. Checklists and research guides are invaluable tools that provide structure to our quest for information. If you've diligently ticked off each item on the list, but the elusive breakthrough remains elusive, it's time to think outside the box. Explore unconventional sources like old newspapers, local historical societies, or university archives. These hidden gems might hold the missing pieces of your puzzle.

4. You consulted an expert. Seeking the guidance of an expert can be a game-changer. Consult with professional genealogists or local historians who possess specialized knowledge and experience. They might offer fresh perspectives, suggest lesser-known resources, or introduce you to alternative research methodologies. Remember, collaboration can often be the key to unlocking new avenues of exploration.

5. You’ve examined offline records and microfilm. Online sources have become the go-to for many genealogists, but offline records and microfilm can still hold invaluable information. Local libraries, historical societies, courthouses, and archives often house hidden treasures waiting to be discovered. Take the time to dive into these physical records, microfilm collections, or even rare books. You never know what surprises might be lurking in the dusty pages of the past.

6. You verified that you have a burned courthouse or missing records. A burned courthouse or missing records can feel like an insurmountable obstacle. However, it's important to reassess your strategies rather than giving up entirely. Seek alternative sources that could indirectly shed light on your ancestors' lives. Consider exploring land records, tax documents, or even local newspapers from neighboring towns or counties. Sometimes, lateral thinking can help you fill in the gaps left by missing records.

7. You’ve tried substituting sources for critical data. When critical data seems elusive, it's time to get creative. Expand your research beyond traditional vital records. Investigate alternative sources such as military records, immigration records, or even personal diaries and letters. Look for indirect connections or circumstantial evidence that can provide valuable insights into your ancestors' lives. Sometimes, it's the small details that open up the biggest doors.

8. You’ve conducted cluster and collateral relative research. Broadening your research can be a powerful tool in overcoming brick walls. Take a step back from direct-line ancestors and explore their extended family and friends. Delve into their lives, trace their migration patterns, and analyze their interactions. Often, the key to unraveling your own family mysteries lies in the stories of those surrounding them. Embrace the connections and expand your research network.

9. You’ve reached the very, very end of written records. Reaching the very end of written records can be disheartening, but it's essential to embrace the uncertainty. Keep an open mind and remain curious. New records may surface, archives may become more accessible, or technology may advance to uncover previously hidden information. Stay engaged with the genealogy community, attend conferences, and follow the latest developments. You never know when a breakthrough may be just around the corner.

If you have all nine of these conditions, you may have a true brick wall. It may be challenging to find additional information, but it's important to remember that new information or resources can emerge over time. It's worth periodically revisiting your research or reaching out to relevant organizations that might have access to alternative sources or insights. Additionally, advancements in technology and digitization efforts may provide new avenues for research in the future.

Remember, though brick walls may feel daunting, they are not insurmountable. You can can keep the spirit of discovery alive through perseverance, thinking creatively, collaborating with others, and exploring unconventional sources. Don't be disheartened by the challenges you face. Embrace the journey, savor the process, and keep digging deeper. Your ancestors' stories are waiting to be uncovered, and you have the power to bring them to life.


If you need help working on any of these nine genealogy brick wall strategies, check out the Brick Wall Buster Cards site or sign up for a coaching session.

Solution for a genealogy brick wall


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