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What is a Brick Wall?

By Jan Edwards

Definition of a brick wall: If you hit a brick wall or come up against a brick wall, you are unable to or make progress because something stops you. What are some things that stop you?

Many times a brick wall is caused by the methods we use in research. We don’t begin with ourselves and work back, documenting and sourcing each and every person and finding as much as we can on each.

Many times a brick wall is caused by the methods others research (too fast, too little proof and very little sourcing). A lot of he said she said!

Many times a brick wall is caused by tree grabbing: finding a tree with common information, going back as far on their tree and “claiming” their brick wall as yours. So many times when I help someone I go out online and see how many others are searching for the same exact “brickwall.” It’s a very common practice in today’s method of research.

Many times a brick wall is caused by trying to go back to fast. For some reason everyone is in such a huge hurry to go back as far as they can as fast as they can. I could understand that I guess if there was gold at the end of the rainbow or if it was a race to win.

Many times we have brick walls because we just don’t know enough information on the earlier generations. Staying focused on just direct line will cause a brick wall! Many times through a sibling or even a grandchild a new clue will be picked up!

Many times we have a brick wall because we want all records indexed and searchable online. Hmmmm, not much to say about this. Except it’s the modern way!

Many times we don’t want to put in the extra time and money to locate and pay for documents not online creating a brickwall. Such a truthful statement! Such a small amount of records are digitized and online! Yet the courthouses and archives are loaded! Learn and have a desire to locate records that are NOT online!

Many times a brick wall is created by wrong information on a document we do find. A record or document is only as good as what the informant gave. Census, deaths, obits, even births, can lead you on a wild goose chase!

Many times a brick wall is created by family. Things happen in a family that sometimes they don’t want known like a child born out of wedlock or a marriage that didn’t last, adoption.

Many times a brick wall is not really a brick wall but the indexer had a tough time reading the torn, water spotted, sloppy handwriting in foreign or old script. Let’s face it, half the time that we don’t find something online is because of human error anywhere from the writer to the poor indexer trying to read what the writer wrote!

Many times a brick wall is caused by assuming you know something you don’t. “My family NEVER did this or that or went here or there.

Many times a brick wall is caused by fire, loss of records. Big bummer, it happened.

Many times a brick wall is created by false information. I have a great great grandmother that stays the same age and is never born in the same state on 5 different censuses. I wonder if she thought, "Well young, man that’s just NONE of your business!

Many times a brick wall is caused by common names in the same areas. How do you claim a William Jones married to a Mary Smith with 6 kids named William, Mary, Elizabeth, Nancy, George and John?

Many times a brick wall is caused by inexperienced research and researchers. Just not knowing the how to will cause a brickwall, or the why and why not!

Many times a brick wall is caused by assuming an Initial stands for something. This will get you every time if you are not careful. Never assume anything. Let me repeat myself. Never assume anything.

Many times a brick wall is caused by closing our minds to how a name might be spelled. NO, we spell it Daniels not Daniells. My family NEVER spelled it Lacy. it was always Lacey.

Many times a brick wall is a brick wall because of adoption, family troubles, no record recorded, parents die and neighbors take the little child. A child placed in an orphanage. Records sealed. Records lost. Records Falsified.

Many times a brick wall is caused when someone changes identity, moves and becomes “someone” else. or gets on a ship as one name and gets off as another.

Many times a brickwall is a brick wall. You have made it successfully back far enough records are sparse or completely non existent.

So what do you do if you hit a brick wall? Well we have choices. We can quit. Move on to the laundry, yard work and dusting we have ignored for years or we can learn that…

Every brickwall I have has made me the researcher I am. It’s the hard, tough research that will make you “get out of the box” and learn different methods. Try and figure out why you have a brick wall. Is it for any of these reasons listed?

Three hours of online research does NOT and can NOT be considered a brickwall. I was helping someone in the family history center not too long ago that said, “Must be a brick wall; I have looked for a couple hours. It’s just not there.”

Here’s one for you like the movie soundtrack from “Frozen,”“Let it go, Let it go.” Sometimes we have to do just that for a while. New records are put online each and every day. Things that were “Lost” are “Found.” The amazing indexing going on is causing a brick wall collapse daily for many.

I love this little graph, and this.

When you can’t break down one wall, move on to another!

Never lose perspective of family history, and may your walls go tumbling down!

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