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Genealogy HowTo
Issue: Mar 3, 2013

5 Tried and True Tips
for Overcoming Your
Genealogical Brickwalls - Part 1

Sooner or later you are going to run into a brickwall when researching your ancestors. I have several brickwalls in my research. I decided to review the methods other researchers have used to overcome their genealogical brickwalls and design a method that might help me have success in breaking down brickwalls. This article summarizes the steps that I use as I search data on those hard to find ancestors.

In writing about these 5 Tips I have focused mostly on the research activities that can be done using just your computer, email, or the internet. Admittedly all genealogy records have not been posted online as yet. However, you would be amazed at how kind and helpful librarians and fellow genealogists are in providing to you, a complete stranger, resources that could help you further your genealogical research. Emailing those who are researching similar lines or the historical society of your ancestor's hometown can be surprisingly fruitful. For all of the steps below the genealogical networking you do with family, historical societies, libraries, and other researchers can reap huge genealogical rewards.

Here are the 5 Steps for Overcoming Your Genealogical Brickwalls

  • 1. Survey what others know about your elusive ancestor.
  • 2. Review the documentation you already have about your ancestor.
  • 3. Research the collateral lines of your ancestor.
  • 4. Read historical accounts about the area in which your ancestor lived.
  • 5. Trace the migrations of your ancestor.

1. Survey what others know about your ancestor.
Surveying means studying the pedigrees that others have researched. When you first started looking for data on your ancestor you probably did a survey to see if someone else was researching your ancestral lines. You looked for books written about your family name, or pedigrees that were posted online. You probably have not done another survey since that time. The great news it that during the interim others have been researching similar ancestral lines and may have posted their new found information online or may even have published a book.

At any one time there are probably a half dozen or more people researching your particular family. Even though they may be researching a brother or other near relative of the ancestor on which you are stuck, their research could possibly provide some clues about your brickwall ancestor from the sources that they have used. Of course the internet is not the only source of family pedigrees, one overlooked resource are the family histories and family trees located in the local library near where your ancestor lived. Email the library. Often they will have someone on staff that can research this for you for a nominal fee.

I have had considerable success using these online sites where I can find pedigrees that others have posted, as well as vital records that were once only searchable on location:

  • MyTrees.com - Free Search with meaningful results that help you determine if this is the ancestor for which you are searching. Free trial for uploading your family history or building it on the site or pay $10 for immediate full access to pedigrees, birth, death, marriage, military, and census records mostly from English speaking countries. Posting your family history is always free. Sign up for their NotifyMe service and they will send you an email when your ancestor has been added to their Ancestry Archive.
  • FamilySearch.org - Free Search includes many recently posted birth, marriage, death, census, and military records from all over the world. Some have viewable images of the resource. They do not have so very many pedigrees but it is still a great resource to use especially if your ancestor's name has many spelling variations.
  • RootsWeb.com - Free Search includes pedigrees and some birth, death, and marriage records that are separate searches.
  • Google.com - This is a great place to search for State or County Histories that have been posted by genealogical societies. Local histories list major events in the region that would have impacted the lives of your ancestors. They frequently have biographical sketches about people who helped to settle the region or were notable in some other way.

    If the name you are searching is unique enough put it in quotes and use it to search in Google. There may be a researcher that has posted a public web page with your ancestor's name in it or a book that Google has indexed where your ancestor is mentioned. There have been times where I have hit the jackpot when a search in Google provided a County History with my ancestor featured as one of the biographical sketches. If your ancestor has a common name put the name in quotes and add a place name or spouses name to the search.

  • Ancestry.com - Free Search with meaningful results. Free Trial and then pay $22.95 per month if you are researching U.S. records and $34.95 per month for World access. Records collections include pedigrees, birth, death, marriages, census, military, city directories, immigration records and a variety of other records.

Here is an example of the success I experienced on a recent survey: I had searched for 10 years for Phoebe Theda Martindale's father without success. I recently did another genealogy survey and found several researchers that had posted their Martindale pedigrees online and one in particular that had listed Phoebe's father's name as Elisha and his wife's last name as Holbrook. This was a great clue and I set out to prove or disprove it.

2. Review the documentation you already have collected about your elusive ancestor.
It has happened to me on more than one occasion that I have missed some detail in a research resource. One time I failed to notice that the address on a letter that I was given was the address of the grandmother of the biological father of the adoptee I was helping. Using the address I was able to locate the adoptee's biological grandparent in the 1930 census. Fortunately the family lived in the same place in the 1920's and living within the same household was the biological father of this adoptee. What a find that was!

In the instance of Phoebe Martindale, I reviewed the documentation including census records that I had on Pheobe. I had previously noticed that there was an Elisha Martindale age 68 living with Phoebe and her husband Joseph Lockwood in the 1870 Census but I hadn't wanted to jump to the conclusion that Elisha was Phoebe's father. My mistake was that I had miscalculated how old this Elisha would have been at Phoebe's birth. I had calculated it as 52 years old which I felt made him too old to be her father. The correct calculation would have been 32 years and so my miscalculation caused me to not investigate more thoroughly Elisha. 10 years ago I had tried to find out who Elisha was and why he was living with Phoebe but I was unable to find more information.

3. Research the collateral lines of your ancestor.
Collateral lines usually means an ancestor's siblings. A siblings birth, death, marriage, or census record might provide the names of parents while your brickwall ancestor's record did not. Collateral lines can also mean the children of that elusive ancestor.

In the case of Phoebe I did not have a clue about the names of her siblings so I started researching all of Phoebe and Joseph's children. Phoebe's oldest child was named Lucinda Lockwood. She married a Charles Smith. I thought using such a common name in the Google search would yield too many meaningless results. That it would be just a waste of time. I was wrong!

As it turns out Lucinda's husband was "The late Hon. Charles Smith, former representative... to the Nebraska General Assembly, an honored veteran of the Civil War, and during his life one of the best-known and most substantial farmers in Richardson county, the proprietor of a fine farm in the precinct of Nemaha".

In his biographical sketch which was published in the 1917 "History of Richardson County Nebraska" was a paragraph about Lucinda's parents which read "On March 11, 1869, Charles Smith was united-in marriage to Lucinda Lockwood, who was born in Allegany county, New York, January 16, 1850, daughter of Joseph and Theda (Martindale) Lockwood, natives of that same state and members of old Colonial families, the latter of whom was a granddaughter of Sheldon Holbrook,...." Here was my proof that Phoebe's mother's last name was Holbrook. But what about her father? Was his first name really Elisha?

I returned to step one above "Survey what others know about your ancestor." Then I searched at FamilySearch.org to find someone whose father's name was Elisha Martindale and mother's last name was Holbrook. This search turned up Polly Cordelia Halliday's death record which lists her father as Elisha Martindale and her mother with the last name of Holbrook. Polly was born in New York as Phoebe was.

You will need to repeat these first 3 steps until you have exhausted the collateral lines investigation. If you still have not confirmed the identity of that brickwall ancestor, then move on to steps 4 and 5.

This article has been divided into 2 parts. In Part 2 of "5 Tips for Overcoming Your Genealogical Brickwall" I will explain:

  • Step 4. Read historical accounts about the area in which your ancestor lived; and
  • Step 5. Trace the migrations of your ancestor and their neighbors.

Watch for the second installment of this article in the coming weeks.

In the meantime for more ideas about busting those brickwalls you'll want to read the article from the latest Family Tree Magazine entitled "9 Tricks To Make Genealogy Breakthroughs". March/April 2013 Family Tree Magazine. Family Tree Magazine also provides the opportunity to purchase the magazine in electronic form for downloading at this link.March/April 2013 Family Tree Magazine Digital Format.

Another book that is getting good reviews is The Troubleshooter's Guide to Do-It-Yourself Genealogy. I have been told that the book cover looks slightly different than represented here in case you are looking for it at the library. The reviews said it was a helpful book for knocking down some of those genealogical brickwalls.

Copyright ©: 2013 Cindy Carman. All rights reserved.
No printed reproduction of this article may be used without the express written permission of the author. Links to this article are encouraged.

Newsletters

Select Newsletter by Issue or Topic:

Genealogy HowTo
Issue: Mar 3, 2013

5 Tried and True Tips
for Overcoming Your
Genealogical Brickwalls - Part 1

Sooner or later you are going to run into a brickwall when researching your ancestors. I have several brickwalls in my research. I decided to review the methods other researchers have used to overcome their genealogical brickwalls and design a method that might help me have success in breaking down brickwalls. This article summarizes the steps that I use as I search data on those hard to find ancestors.

In writing about these 5 Tips I have focused mostly on the research activities that can be done using just your computer, email, or the internet. Admittedly all genealogy records have not been posted online as yet. However, you would be amazed at how kind and helpful librarians and fellow genealogists are in providing to you, a complete stranger, resources that could help you further your genealogical research. Emailing those who are researching similar lines or the historical society of your ancestor's hometown can be surprisingly fruitful. For all of the steps below the genealogical networking you do with family, historical societies, libraries, and other researchers can reap huge genealogical rewards.

Here are the 5 Steps for Overcoming Your Genealogical Brickwalls

  • 1. Survey what others know about your elusive ancestor.
  • 2. Review the documentation you already have about your ancestor.
  • 3. Research the collateral lines of your ancestor.
  • 4. Read historical accounts about the area in which your ancestor lived.
  • 5. Trace the migrations of your ancestor.

1. Survey what others know about your ancestor.
Surveying means studying the pedigrees that others have researched. When you first started looking for data on your ancestor you probably did a survey to see if someone else was researching your ancestral lines. You looked for books written about your family name, or pedigrees that were posted online. You probably have not done another survey since that time. The great news it that during the interim others have been researching similar ancestral lines and may have posted their new found information online or may even have published a book.

At any one time there are probably a half dozen or more people researching your particular family. Even though they may be researching a brother or other near relative of the ancestor on which you are stuck, their research could possibly provide some clues about your brickwall ancestor from the sources that they have used. Of course the internet is not the only source of family pedigrees, one overlooked resource are the family histories and family trees located in the local library near where your ancestor lived. Email the library. Often they will have someone on staff that can research this for you for a nominal fee.

I have had considerable success using these online sites where I can find pedigrees that others have posted, as well as vital records that were once only searchable on location:

  • MyTrees.com - Free Search with meaningful results that help you determine if this is the ancestor for which you are searching. Free trial for uploading your family history or building it on the site or pay $10 for immediate full access to pedigrees, birth, death, marriage, military, and census records mostly from English speaking countries. Posting your family history is always free. Sign up for their NotifyMe service and they will send you an email when your ancestor has been added to their Ancestry Archive.
  • FamilySearch.org - Free Search includes many recently posted birth, marriage, death, census, and military records from all over the world. Some have viewable images of the resource. They do not have so very many pedigrees but it is still a great resource to use especially if your ancestor's name has many spelling variations.
  • RootsWeb.com - Free Search includes pedigrees and some birth, death, and marriage records that are separate searches.
  • Google.com - This is a great place to search for State or County Histories that have been posted by genealogical societies. Local histories list major events in the region that would have impacted the lives of your ancestors. They frequently have biographical sketches about people who helped to settle the region or were notable in some other way.

    If the name you are searching is unique enough put it in quotes and use it to search in Google. There may be a researcher that has posted a public web page with your ancestor's name in it or a book that Google has indexed where your ancestor is mentioned. There have been times where I have hit the jackpot when a search in Google provided a County History with my ancestor featured as one of the biographical sketches. If your ancestor has a common name put the name in quotes and add a place name or spouses name to the search.

  • Ancestry.com - Free Search with meaningful results. Free Trial and then pay $22.95 per month if you are researching U.S. records and $34.95 per month for World access. Records collections include pedigrees, birth, death, marriages, census, military, city directories, immigration records and a variety of other records.

Here is an example of the success I experienced on a recent survey: I had searched for 10 years for Phoebe Theda Martindale's father without success. I recently did another genealogy survey and found several researchers that had posted their Martindale pedigrees online and one in particular that had listed Phoebe's father's name as Elisha and his wife's last name as Holbrook. This was a great clue and I set out to prove or disprove it.

2. Review the documentation you already have collected about your elusive ancestor.
It has happened to me on more than one occasion that I have missed some detail in a research resource. One time I failed to notice that the address on a letter that I was given was the address of the grandmother of the biological father of the adoptee I was helping. Using the address I was able to locate the adoptee's biological grandparent in the 1930 census. Fortunately the family lived in the same place in the 1920's and living within the same household was the biological father of this adoptee. What a find that was!

In the instance of Phoebe Martindale, I reviewed the documentation including census records that I had on Pheobe. I had previously noticed that there was an Elisha Martindale age 68 living with Phoebe and her husband Joseph Lockwood in the 1870 Census but I hadn't wanted to jump to the conclusion that Elisha was Phoebe's father. My mistake was that I had miscalculated how old this Elisha would have been at Phoebe's birth. I had calculated it as 52 years old which I felt made him too old to be her father. The correct calculation would have been 32 years and so my miscalculation caused me to not investigate more thoroughly Elisha. 10 years ago I had tried to find out who Elisha was and why he was living with Phoebe but I was unable to find more information.

3. Research the collateral lines of your ancestor.
Collateral lines usually means an ancestor's siblings. A siblings birth, death, marriage, or census record might provide the names of parents while your brickwall ancestor's record did not. Collateral lines can also mean the children of that elusive ancestor.

In the case of Phoebe I did not have a clue about the names of her siblings so I started researching all of Phoebe and Joseph's children. Phoebe's oldest child was named Lucinda Lockwood. She married a Charles Smith. I thought using such a common name in the Google search would yield too many meaningless results. That it would be just a waste of time. I was wrong!

As it turns out Lucinda's husband was "The late Hon. Charles Smith, former representative... to the Nebraska General Assembly, an honored veteran of the Civil War, and during his life one of the best-known and most substantial farmers in Richardson county, the proprietor of a fine farm in the precinct of Nemaha".

In his biographical sketch which was published in the 1917 "History of Richardson County Nebraska" was a paragraph about Lucinda's parents which read "On March 11, 1869, Charles Smith was united-in marriage to Lucinda Lockwood, who was born in Allegany county, New York, January 16, 1850, daughter of Joseph and Theda (Martindale) Lockwood, natives of that same state and members of old Colonial families, the latter of whom was a granddaughter of Sheldon Holbrook,...." Here was my proof that Phoebe's mother's last name was Holbrook. But what about her father? Was his first name really Elisha?

I returned to step one above "Survey what others know about your ancestor." Then I searched at FamilySearch.org to find someone whose father's name was Elisha Martindale and mother's last name was Holbrook. This search turned up Polly Cordelia Halliday's death record which lists her father as Elisha Martindale and her mother with the last name of Holbrook. Polly was born in New York as Phoebe was.

You will need to repeat these first 3 steps until you have exhausted the collateral lines investigation. If you still have not confirmed the identity of that brickwall ancestor, then move on to steps 4 and 5.

This article has been divided into 2 parts. In Part 2 of "5 Tips for Overcoming Your Genealogical Brickwall" I will explain:

  • Step 4. Read historical accounts about the area in which your ancestor lived; and
  • Step 5. Trace the migrations of your ancestor and their neighbors.

Watch for the second installment of this article in the coming weeks.

In the meantime for more ideas about busting those brickwalls you'll want to read the article from the latest Family Tree Magazine entitled "9 Tricks To Make Genealogy Breakthroughs". March/April 2013 Family Tree Magazine. Family Tree Magazine also provides the opportunity to purchase the magazine in electronic form for downloading at this link.March/April 2013 Family Tree Magazine Digital Format.

Another book that is getting good reviews is The Troubleshooter's Guide to Do-It-Yourself Genealogy. I have been told that the book cover looks slightly different than represented here in case you are looking for it at the library. The reviews said it was a helpful book for knocking down some of those genealogical brickwalls.

Copyright ©: 2013 Cindy Carman. All rights reserved.
No printed reproduction of this article may be used without the express written permission of the author. Links to this article are encouraged.

Newsletters

Select Newsletter by Issue or Topic:

Genealogy HowTo
Issue: Mar 3, 2013

5 Tried and True Tips
for Overcoming Your
Genealogical Brickwalls - Part 1

Sooner or later you are going to run into a brickwall when researching your ancestors. I have several brickwalls in my research. I decided to review the methods other researchers have used to overcome their genealogical brickwalls and design a method that might help me have success in breaking down brickwalls. This article summarizes the steps that I use as I search data on those hard to find ancestors.

In writing about these 5 Tips I have focused mostly on the research activities that can be done using just your computer, email, or the internet. Admittedly all genealogy records have not been posted online as yet. However, you would be amazed at how kind and helpful librarians and fellow genealogists are in providing to you, a complete stranger, resources that could help you further your genealogical research. Emailing those who are researching similar lines or the historical society of your ancestor's hometown can be surprisingly fruitful. For all of the steps below the genealogical networking you do with family, historical societies, libraries, and other researchers can reap huge genealogical rewards.

Here are the 5 Steps for Overcoming Your Genealogical Brickwalls

  • 1. Survey what others know about your elusive ancestor.
  • 2. Review the documentation you already have about your ancestor.
  • 3. Research the collateral lines of your ancestor.
  • 4. Read historical accounts about the area in which your ancestor lived.
  • 5. Trace the migrations of your ancestor.

1. Survey what others know about your ancestor.
Surveying means studying the pedigrees that others have researched. When you first started looking for data on your ancestor you probably did a survey to see if someone else was researching your ancestral lines. You looked for books written about your family name, or pedigrees that were posted online. You probably have not done another survey since that time. The great news it that during the interim others have been researching similar ancestral lines and may have posted their new found information online or may even have published a book.

At any one time there are probably a half dozen or more people researching your particular family. Even though they may be researching a brother or other near relative of the ancestor on which you are stuck, their research could possibly provide some clues about your brickwall ancestor from the sources that they have used. Of course the internet is not the only source of family pedigrees, one overlooked resource are the family histories and family trees located in the local library near where your ancestor lived. Email the library. Often they will have someone on staff that can research this for you for a nominal fee.

I have had considerable success using these online sites where I can find pedigrees that others have posted, as well as vital records that were once only searchable on location:

  • MyTrees.com - Free Search with meaningful results that help you determine if this is the ancestor for which you are searching. Free trial for uploading your family history or building it on the site or pay $10 for immediate full access to pedigrees, birth, death, marriage, military, and census records mostly from English speaking countries. Posting your family history is always free. Sign up for their NotifyMe service and they will send you an email when your ancestor has been added to their Ancestry Archive.
  • FamilySearch.org - Free Search includes many recently posted birth, marriage, death, census, and military records from all over the world. Some have viewable images of the resource. They do not have so very many pedigrees but it is still a great resource to use especially if your ancestor's name has many spelling variations.
  • RootsWeb.com - Free Search includes pedigrees and some birth, death, and marriage records that are separate searches.
  • Google.com - This is a great place to search for State or County Histories that have been posted by genealogical societies. Local histories list major events in the region that would have impacted the lives of your ancestors. They frequently have biographical sketches about people who helped to settle the region or were notable in some other way.

    If the name you are searching is unique enough put it in quotes and use it to search in Google. There may be a researcher that has posted a public web page with your ancestor's name in it or a book that Google has indexed where your ancestor is mentioned. There have been times where I have hit the jackpot when a search in Google provided a County History with my ancestor featured as one of the biographical sketches. If your ancestor has a common name put the name in quotes and add a place name or spouses name to the search.

  • Ancestry.com - Free Search with meaningful results. Free Trial and then pay $22.95 per month if you are researching U.S. records and $34.95 per month for World access. Records collections include pedigrees, birth, death, marriages, census, military, city directories, immigration records and a variety of other records.

Here is an example of the success I experienced on a recent survey: I had searched for 10 years for Phoebe Theda Martindale's father without success. I recently did another genealogy survey and found several researchers that had posted their Martindale pedigrees online and one in particular that had listed Phoebe's father's name as Elisha and his wife's last name as Holbrook. This was a great clue and I set out to prove or disprove it.

2. Review the documentation you already have collected about your elusive ancestor.
It has happened to me on more than one occasion that I have missed some detail in a research resource. One time I failed to notice that the address on a letter that I was given was the address of the grandmother of the biological father of the adoptee I was helping. Using the address I was able to locate the adoptee's biological grandparent in the 1930 census. Fortunately the family lived in the same place in the 1920's and living within the same household was the biological father of this adoptee. What a find that was!

In the instance of Phoebe Martindale, I reviewed the documentation including census records that I had on Pheobe. I had previously noticed that there was an Elisha Martindale age 68 living with Phoebe and her husband Joseph Lockwood in the 1870 Census but I hadn't wanted to jump to the conclusion that Elisha was Phoebe's father. My mistake was that I had miscalculated how old this Elisha would have been at Phoebe's birth. I had calculated it as 52 years old which I felt made him too old to be her father. The correct calculation would have been 32 years and so my miscalculation caused me to not investigate more thoroughly Elisha. 10 years ago I had tried to find out who Elisha was and why he was living with Phoebe but I was unable to find more information.

3. Research the collateral lines of your ancestor.
Collateral lines usually means an ancestor's siblings. A siblings birth, death, marriage, or census record might provide the names of parents while your brickwall ancestor's record did not. Collateral lines can also mean the children of that elusive ancestor.

In the case of Phoebe I did not have a clue about the names of her siblings so I started researching all of Phoebe and Joseph's children. Phoebe's oldest child was named Lucinda Lockwood. She married a Charles Smith. I thought using such a common name in the Google search would yield too many meaningless results. That it would be just a waste of time. I was wrong!

As it turns out Lucinda's husband was "The late Hon. Charles Smith, former representative... to the Nebraska General Assembly, an honored veteran of the Civil War, and during his life one of the best-known and most substantial farmers in Richardson county, the proprietor of a fine farm in the precinct of Nemaha".

In his biographical sketch which was published in the 1917 "History of Richardson County Nebraska" was a paragraph about Lucinda's parents which read "On March 11, 1869, Charles Smith was united-in marriage to Lucinda Lockwood, who was born in Allegany county, New York, January 16, 1850, daughter of Joseph and Theda (Martindale) Lockwood, natives of that same state and members of old Colonial families, the latter of whom was a granddaughter of Sheldon Holbrook,...." Here was my proof that Phoebe's mother's last name was Holbrook. But what about her father? Was his first name really Elisha?

I returned to step one above "Survey what others know about your ancestor." Then I searched at FamilySearch.org to find someone whose father's name was Elisha Martindale and mother's last name was Holbrook. This search turned up Polly Cordelia Halliday's death record which lists her father as Elisha Martindale and her mother with the last name of Holbrook. Polly was born in New York as Phoebe was.

You will need to repeat these first 3 steps until you have exhausted the collateral lines investigation. If you still have not confirmed the identity of that brickwall ancestor, then move on to steps 4 and 5.

This article has been divided into 2 parts. In Part 2 of "5 Tips for Overcoming Your Genealogical Brickwall" I will explain:

  • Step 4. Read historical accounts about the area in which your ancestor lived; and
  • Step 5. Trace the migrations of your ancestor and their neighbors.

Watch for the second installment of this article in the coming weeks.

In the meantime for more ideas about busting those brickwalls you'll want to read the article from the latest Family Tree Magazine entitled "9 Tricks To Make Genealogy Breakthroughs". March/April 2013 Family Tree Magazine. Family Tree Magazine also provides the opportunity to purchase the magazine in electronic form for downloading at this link.March/April 2013 Family Tree Magazine Digital Format.

Another book that is getting good reviews is The Troubleshooter's Guide to Do-It-Yourself Genealogy. I have been told that the book cover looks slightly different than represented here in case you are looking for it at the library. The reviews said it was a helpful book for knocking down some of those genealogical brickwalls.

Copyright ©: 2013 Cindy Carman. All rights reserved.
No printed reproduction of this article may be used without the express written permission of the author. Links to this article are encouraged.

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