Brick Walls. Is it All Over? Have I Gone As Far As I Can?

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At some stage when you are researching your family tree, I think we all sort of find ourselves at that point where we reach a stage where we wonder if perhaps we will actually be able to research back any further. Maybe it is because we are researching one of our grandmothers and we have been unable to find a document that lists her maiden name, or perhaps we just can't find that elusive certificate that we need to locate that vital bit of information that is going to help us to trace back further. Maybe it is that our ancestor had a really common name, or moved around a lot, so we never know  quite where to find them. Or maybe, it is that we just haven't been able to seem to locate the information that we would need to hopefully try to research back beyond the start of civil registration (as in the case of the UK records before 1837). 

Whatever the case though, I think that it does happen, or will probably happen to all of us at some stage in our research.  However, I promise that you don't have to give up hope altogether. There absolutely could still be a way to continue with your research and it is a lesson that I have actually only just been taught again recently myself, when I was so happy to find a reference for one of my grandmothers that I had been searching for years. It turned out, that although her name was Lucy, she had been registered as Louisa, and so you really do seem to find all sorts of funny things that crop up that are unexpected in your research. 

But it got me to thinking about Brick Walls recently and about some of the best tips that I have learnt over the time of studying family history.  So, I thought that I would share a few of the things that have helped me, in the hopes that they might possibly also help with your Brick Walls. I hope that they bring you lots of luck. Happy Searching! 

1. Speak to relatives again. Ask as many questions as you possibly can and try to speak to as many relatives as possible. You might be surprised to find that one little clue that could help you with your research.

2. Try widening your search - work until the date ranges become impossible.

3. Try looking for marriages after children were born and births before marriages.

4. Try looking for children born under their mother’s maiden names.

5. Try wildcard searches for all possible spelling variations of surnames.

6. Try to say the surname out loud and spell it as it sounds and then search for it that way. 

7. If the name that you are searching is very common, try searching for other family members, such as siblings who may have had less common names and who will therefore be easier to find in the records, but will still be listed with your ancestor.

8. Try to look at witnesses on marriage certificates - they may be relatives.

9. Always look at the places of birth for all of the children on census returns, as this will give clues as to where to also search for possible documents relating to the family.

10. Always look at the neighbours in census returns and check the surrounding streets and neighbourhood for other possible relatives.

Tina Alsford is an English born professional genealogist and probate researcher, who now lives in Australia. Tina has a particular interest in nineteenth century England and specialises in London family history research. She is currently also a start-up blogger for Samara Magazine (an Australian online magazine for women in business).

by Tina Alsford © 2014, All rights reserved

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August 16, 2014
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