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Five ways to break down the family search brick wall

Published on 25 Sep 2013 14:58 : 2 comments : 5213 views

Don't despair if you come across a brick wall. Read our five top tips on Genes Reunited on how to overcome your obstacles in your family history search on.

Building your family tree and discovering your ancestors is a fascinating hobby. The more you dig, the more you unearth. And how satisfying it is when you come across more information. Even a nugget of information like a date of birth or an address can be satisfying.

The course of searching for your family history can vary from being very difficult to quite easy – depending on how much information is obtainable. However, it is inevitable you’ll reach a brick wall. Every genealogist will face the problem of being stuck finding information on a relative or indeed relatives. Frustrating as this may be, this is not a sign that you should stop and give up your search. Remember, you have reached a brick wall, not a dead end. Here’s five ways that will help you hammer that wall down brick by brick. 


1. Catalogue your current findings making sure you  re-read all your records

Yes, we’re starting with the basics here, but this is a quick and simple solution to finding those lost answers you’re desperately seeking. Organisation and reviewing the facts and files you possess is key. On many occasions you’ll find the information you, as a family researcher, are looking for has been in your hands all along. Information that you found a few years ago may include names, dates or other details that now provide clues to the new facts that you've since uncovered.  You may have kept the names and dates from that old census record, but did you also keep track of other information such as years of marriage, place of birth and parental origins? It’s worth going back over your records to check if there are any vital details or dates that you’ve previously missed. Or, perhaps, you misread a name or misunderstood a relationship? If you haven't already, be sure to go back to the original records, making complete copies and transcriptions and recording all clues - however unimportant they may seem right now. This will require you to take your time and read everything (I know, but nobody said genealogy search was a short course!). 


2. Search other family trees available online

The answers you seek may be on another family tree. The more information you collect the more contact details you’ll obtain. Your collection of ever more distant relatives will be enhanced by Genes Reunited where you can search and view for other members’ family trees. Genes members can contact each other to share information. We’ll tell you if there are other members searching for the same names as you. You can then make contact if you want to – perhaps they’ll already have done some of the legwork! As you enter more names onto your tree on the site, you may find that they match names in other peoples' trees – and discover that those other people are your relatives.


3. Try researching a new branch of your tree of focus on a different ancestor for awhile

Stuck on research for one of your ancestors? Well, just research another. When you can't find a birth record for your ancestor that lists his/her parents, maybe you can locate one for a sibling. Or, when you've lost a family between census years, try looking for their neighbours. Don’t dismiss the possibility that you can find a lot of information on one ancestor by following the timeline of another. You may be able to identify a migration pattern, or a mis-indexed census entry that way. This is often referred to as cluster genealogy, where researching the lives of an ancestor's cluster (including extended family, friends, neighbours and business associates) leads to a more complete and more accurate picture of the ancestor's life. This research process leads you to discover some interesting information about your ancestors that you may not have discovered before. 


4. Post a question on the community boards and see if another member can help you

Maybe it’s time to ask another member for help? The community boards are thriving with member activity and a great place to go if you’ve hit a brick wall. It’s not a record set in the usual sense, but you will find a mine of information here. If you have come to a dead end in your research, put a question to the Community. Genes Reunited members are very knowledgeable and will happily help you try.  If you are looking for a living relative you could try posting on our Find Living Relatives community board. 


5. What’s in a name? A lot

Your brick wall may be something as simple as looking for the wrong name. Variations of last names can make research complicated, so be sure to check all spelling options. Just because you have a common surname like Smith or short name such as Bush, Green and Mead doesn’t mean it escaped from being misspelled. Check different spellings. Change Smith to Smyth or Smythe and an ‘e’ at the end to make Bushe, Greene and Meade. Not only can the surnames be different, but the given name may be different as well. It’s not uncommon to find records where people are recorded under initials, middle names and even nicknames. Get creative with name spellings and variations and cover all the possibilities. 


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by June on 19 Oct 2013 21:36 :
was wellsman or harvey ever lived number 1 or 4 ROCK AN NOOR PLACE HASTING BETWEEN 1930 AND 1950
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by Kenneth on 20 Oct 2013 08:31 :
How does one proceed if illegitimate and father,s name unknown