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Posted: August 30, 2012 7:00 p.m.

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Blakeslee: Breaking through brick walls

What are brick walls in the genealogy world? Are you at one today? As family researchers we all hit a brick wall at one time or another. Brick walls are when we come to a point in our research where we are stuck, can't go any further, having tried everything. What do we do about breaking through that brick wall?

Let's explore a few options:

• Write down in story format what you have already learned such as...grandpa was a farmer who lived such a county and state...he married...on...and had 10 children... Get the gist of the story and fill in the blanks. As you write, you will be able to review and organize your work. With this method, you will find holes in your story that you need to do further research on.
• Do a source check. This will help you to identify which resources you have overlooked. Make a to-do-list of records you have forgotten to check. A few columns back, I listed all the resources you will need and a website for you to go to print out a check list at
• Create a chronological timeline of your brick wall ancestor. You should include every life event as well as major historical events that may help shed a light on the living situation of your ancestor. By doing this step, you will see gaps in your research. Get a blank sheet of paper and write down every year of your brick wall ancestors life and start filling in.
• Study sideways. Try tracing the lives of your brick wall ancestors siblings, cousins, neighbors, in-laws, slave owners, coworkers, etc.
• Consider alternative scenarios. Throw out assumptions about your ancestors that you think aren't accurate. Think about the "what if" questions to form new research theories that you can investigate and prove.
Don't make common assumptions like:
• A man's wife or widow was the mother of his children.
• If a marriage record is not found, the children are probably illegitimate.
• Men in the same county, close to age and the same last name are brothers.
• A Jr. has a father with the same name.
• Normal age of death in your ancestors time is 60 plus.
• Ancestors who were born and died in the same place never moved.
• A female with the same last name as her father was unmarried.
• If your ancestor disappears from the records, that he moved.
• A male name or a female name indicates that they are male and female.
Possible mistakes made:
• Don't forget your living relatives.
• Don't trust everything you see in print.
• We're related to someone famous.
• Genealogy is just names and dates.
• Don't accept family stories as fact. You need to prove/disprove.
• Check your spellings.
•Documenting your sources.
• Do not start your genealogy at the country of origin.
To conclude, success in breaking through your brick wall are:
• documentation
• using new tools
• being persistent and don't give up
• patience
• practice
• a little bit of luck.

If you are hitting one of those brick walls and have any questions or concerns, you can email Ellen at

Ellen Blakeslee is a professional genealogist living in Covington. You can email her at with any questions or concerns.

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