Are Your Brick Walls Really Made of Brick?

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Are your brick walls really rock solid, or do you just needfresh eyes looking things over for you?  Sometimeswhen the same person examines the same problem again and again, vital clues andinformation can be missed.  The followingsuggestions will help you look at your research with “fresh eyes.”

1. Discuss theproblem out loud either with yourself or with someone else.  Sometimes dissecting the problem, especiallywith someone who is not personally involved in the research, can help.  Questions will be asked and you will need toexplain how you have already attempted to break through a seemingly solid brickwall, and why you took a particular approach.  Just hearing the information out loud canoften lead you to the next step.

2. Try thinkingoutside the box for ideas and clues that have may have eluded you up tothis point.  Have you looked at recordsbeyond marriage, birth, and death certificates?  Probate and land records are often helpful.  Ask yourself; were my ancestors members of aunion or guild?  Did they participate inan organized religion?  Were theypolitically active?  What were theirinterests, hobbies, or pastimes?  Lookingto these other sources may jumpstart your research and help “flesh out” yourancestor’s life.  Don’t look specificallyfor just your ancestor’s name, but also look at the local community’s archives,newspapers, libraries, clubs, organizations, and churches.  If nothing else, it will help place yourancestors in the proper historical and cultural context and give you anappreciation for their everyday lives.

3. Imagine all thevariations in spellings of your surname.  Just when you thought your surname couldn’t bespelled yet another way, lo and behold, you might happen across a record with analternate spelling.  Look for transposedletters, letters that may look similar in old handwriting styles and names thatsound similar.  Also consider nicknamesof your ancestors when researching them; you never know whether they—or perhapsa middle name—became your relatives’ preferred forms of address.  And who knows—the story behind a particularmoniker might lead you to other lost relatives.

4. Let go of what youknow—or think you know.  Familylegend may be a strong motivating force for painting a family picture but tryingto fit the puzzle pieces together based on stories passed down throughgenerations does not always work.  Familylore may have Aunt Katie sailing into New York harbor from the old country—andit’s a great story—but perhaps it was really Philadelphia where she docked and latertook another boat to arrive in New York.

5. Remember thatpeople often reinvented themselves.  Thiswas true for many immigrants who came to North and South America, and other coloniessuch as Australia or some African nations, looking for a fresh start.  When you leave your past behind, something totallydifferent often takes its place.  Thepremise of a fresh start also holds true for people who are born, live, and diein the same country.  Perhaps your familydidn’t actually own the general store in that small town, but rather someone fromyour family worked there as a clerk.  Therecan be truth in the shadows, but a total reinvention may also have occurred.  For instance, one immigrant who wanted to makean entirely fresh start in America chose a new surname at random out of thetelephone book.  Luckily for the family,they knew about this change and embraced it as part of their heritage.

6. Look to theprofessionals for assistance.  All ofthose certificates, pictures, and notes you have compiled from your research, alongwith other records and correspondence passed on to you by your family, canbecome overwhelming without good documentation. can help you sort things out andhelp you access the 90% of records collections that are available only to “boots-on-the-ground”genealogists.  Hiring Genealogists.comcan save you both money and countless hours of frustration.  It is a rare amateur genealogist who possessesall the skills, resources, and time needed to transform those brick walls intopassageways to the past.

by Victoria Kinnear and Jim Heddell © 2014, All rights reserved

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July 14, 2014
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