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Situations that Seem to Create Genealogy Brick Walls

Ever wonder why sometimes you can find answers and sometimes you can’t? Why is that? Do you wonder “is it me? Am I not doing good research?” Well, the truth is that we all feel that way. And it does help to know that it is not you! Certain situations are simply more problematic for researchers than others.

Here are 10 situations that can be more likely to result in research roadblocks than others. See which of these apply to your toughest genealogy mysteries. Use this information to understand that it’s NOT YOU, it’s the situation. Then, look for ways to work around the roadblocks. (Check out other blog posts for more help, too.)

Scarce or Inconsistent Records 📜 When you've been tirelessly scouring through archives, online databases, and local repositories, and still come up with little to no evidence relevant to your ancestor, it's possible you've encountered a situation that may lend itself to be a tough research problem just because the records are few. Sometimes, historical events, natural disasters, or poor record-keeping have left us with limited information, making it a bit tougher (but not impossible) to move forward.

Multiple People with the Same Name 📛 Ah, the age-old problem of John Smith, Mary Johnson, or any other common name in your family tree! If you have several individuals with the exact same name in the same location, during the same time frame, it can be challenging to determine which records belong to your specific ancestor. It's like trying to find a needle in a haystack! If this is you, there is a great strategy to untangle these people found in the Brick Wall Buster Cards.

Lack of Vital Information 🗓️ One roadblock we face is the absence of vital information, such as birth, marriage, or death dates, and locations. Without these key details, it can take more work to connect your ancestor to the right records or other family members. It is helpful to find out when these records started for your location. (See blog post about finding local records here

Migrating Ancestors 🚶‍♂️🚶‍♀️ If your ancestors were frequent movers, tracing their path can be a genealogical “connect the dots.” Long-distance migrations or multiple moves across different countries might lead to incomplete records or even different spellings of surnames. Many times, people migrated in groups. Turn your attention to those neighbors and others around your ancestor to help link them from place to place. Also, researching the history of the area can reveal WHY people migrated in or out of the area and WHERE they went.

Lack of DNA Matches 👥 DNA testing has revolutionized genealogy, but sometimes you might not find any significant DNA matches, especially as you go back further in time. This can indicate that your ancestral lines are harder to trace or that your DNA relatives simply haven't tested yet. Be patient and seek experts to help you gain all you can.

Missing Census Data 🏠 Census records are a goldmine for genealogists, but unfortunately, not all records survived or were kept meticulously. If you can't find your ancestor in any census, don’t assume it’s because you’re not searching well - it could be that they may have been missed, intentionally or accidentally. Tracking your ancestors neighbors could help determine if your ancestor’s neighborhood was missed altogether or if maybe just your ancestor is absent.

Seemingly Altered Names ✍️ Names can be spelled differently or even changed entirely due to various reasons, such as immigration, phonetic spelling, cultural adaptation, or family disputes. If you suspect your ancestors names evolved over time, it can be an additional hurdle in your research journey but it’s not an impossibility to solve. Don’t give up.

Confidentiality and Privacy 🔒 Sometimes, access to specific records may be restricted due to privacy laws or the sensitive nature of the information involved. This can make it difficult or impossible to gather certain details, especially for more recent generations. It may be beneficial to seek a family member who has the knowledge you need and would be willing to share what they know with you.

Scarce Local Historical Context 🏛️ Understanding the historical context of your ancestor's location is crucial for effective genealogy research. However, if the area lacks well-documented history, it can hinder your ability to fill in the gaps in your family tree. Try researching the immediate surrounding towns and counties to help fill in the gaps.

No Oral History or Family Stories 🗣️ In some cases, there might be no oral history or family stories passed down through generations. Without these valuable anecdotes, finding clues or starting points for your research becomes more challenging, but you can use area history and extended family history to help navigate this.

Remember, it’s not you! And encountering a brick wall in your genealogy research doesn't mean you should give up or feel discouraged. It's a natural part of the process, and even professional genealogists face such challenges. By recognizing these indicators, you can manage your expectations, explore alternative research avenues, and make the most out of the information available.

So, take a deep breath, embrace the mystery, celebrate the victories, and keep digging! The journey itself is a remarkable adventure, and with each puzzle you solve, you bring your ancestors' stories back to life.


Need help with genealogy research and problem solving, check out Brick Wall Buster Cards.


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