Getting Around the Brick Wall
Last week I was asked for some hints on locating a specific person who was born in about 1800. This made me think about what general hints I would give to someone who has obviously done some research and is looking to learn more about their family tree.
Don’t avoid commercial genealogy websites
Searching for a specific person or a family on some of the subscription genealogy sites may not reveal all of the information that they have and these sites do a very good job of tempting you to pay money for that extra piece of information. However you can still learn a lot of information by looking at the freely available information and then with what you have learnt you can do a more focused search and most likely find the relevant information freely available elsewhere.
One of the earliest genealogy websites is managed by the Church of Later Day Saints (Mormons) and they have amassed a very large genealogy library long before the internet existed. On the down side, there is some click through to partner websites where you will have to pay to view records and the family trees are often less complete then other sites. Making up for this is the amount of information that is available and you will often gain a lot of additional information on familysearch.org. Take note that the freely available information is mostly transcripts of records and not actually the original record.
Look at the extended family
A lot of people get stuck on finding information directly related to the person that they are searching for. When you have hit a brick wall it is time to extend your research and start considering potential relatives. I know what you are thinking, how do you know if they are relatives if I don’t have enough information to start with? People with the same or similar surname living in the same or neighbouring towns are usually a very good start. Sometimes it is hard to prove the connection but it is still worth exploring even if the result is that you discover for certain that they are not related. One of my own examples is, I considered a potential family and then ignored them because there wasn’t enough information, years later with just one tiny piece of new information I found that same family again and it included my known ancestors parents, siblings and grandparents.
I know this message gets old, but I am convinced that all of the people telling you to make sure you record all your sources and to write those stories down are like myself. We are all people who didn’t record everything and don’t know the sources of some of the information in our family trees. Sometimes we are lazy, other times we are sure that we will come back and do that later and somehow we end up with unproved information or only half a memory of a story that a now deceased relative shared with us.