Site hosted by Build your free website today!

GHN Hints and Tips

1st Article in a Series of GHN Hints & Tips

The Brick Wall

You are not alone. The truth is that every search has a brick wall. The question is not “if” you will ever hit the brick wall; the question is “when” will you hit the brick wall.

To prepare for the inevitable ripple in the stream of gathering information I have the following suggestions. These suggestions should be followed even when a search is going well. There is no easy answer of how to get around any particular brick wall.

Make a list of all your information. For each bit of information indicate what is supportable and what is family legend. Also remember that a census record is different than a birth certificate. A census record only states that a person or family lived at this address, this is the name that they are known by and among other things this is where they said their parents where born. Remember these records predate modern proofs that we have been accustomed to. There was even a time before drivers licenses. I have discovered more than one person who lost both parents at an early age and literally did not know where their parents where from. They simply answered “something” maybe because they didn't want to explain why they didn't know.

Go back one generation at a time.

Remember this is research. Keep highly detailed records of exactly what record groups have been searched. Note every variation of a name spelling. Note the crayola page numbers on census pages. Be as detailed as possible. When you get to the brick wall you will know how you got there. If you are lucky you may simply on the wrong track, backing up a step or two might put you on the correct path.

When possible broaden your search by checking a variety of records before moving back another generation. Build a checklist for each generation, it could include census, military, military pension, vital records, all forms of court records, land records and newspapers. Simply following a family from one census to another can lead you to a family that may not be yours. For example; in some communities Jr. and Sr. were used only to distinguish between two men with the same name even if they were not related. When the older Sr. died the use of Jr. was discontinued for the younger man. If a younger man with the same name then appeared in the community, related or not, the previous Jr. became Sr. and the new younger man became Jr.

When things are not clear expand the search by creating a picture of the community. Who were the neighbors? Were there others with the same surname in the community? Compare family naming practices. Are there unique middle names that are actually related surnames? Who was named in whose wills? If the court house burned, maybe the newspaper didn’t. Check the records of the county institutions, poor farm, orphanage, jail, prison and hospital. Finding and reading local histories involved in problem is always helpful. Not all of these histories are academically correct but they can provide clues about a communities problems,it's churches and politics.

Make sure that you only go back to recheck a previously searched record for a very good reason. Looking over and over again will probably not make it so.

Be willing to discount family legend when the verification fails to happen. Discount means to see it as less that completely factual. This is difficult for many families. Great Grandpa Bill was “with Custer” or was “a pony express rider” are family legends that many families take pride in. To discount them means that someone stretched the truth. I, as most genealogists, believe that there is some truth in even the most not provable family legend. The problem is to separate the stretched from the truth. So if there is such a legend in your family and you are not willing to see it in a new light, don’t even start the search.

Think creatively. Be a detective. It has been my experience that it is highly unlikely that someone could disappear from all public and private record for very long. I have not been able to find an occasional character for 10 or 12 year period but I am sure that sooner or later the lost Benjamin will show up. In order to find him I must look at records not previously searched and logically probable. Maybe Ben went to Texas after the Mexican War? I can hope that he will appear in search of fortune rather that on a role of prison inmates.

Reprinted with the kind permission of: Ralph Komives

Ralph Komives Website

Document Searches in Washington, D.C. Area and Annapolis, MD.

Problem searches and common names a specialty.

Research at: DAR Library, National Archives, Library of Congress, MD State Archives

More Hints & Tips

This Page is Maintained with Love and Dedication by

The Genealogy Help Network Team

|Main Page | Relationship Chart | Links | The Library | Reference Books,Lookups&Queries |