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What is a Genealogy Brick Wall?

Although genealogy is mostly fun, interesting and engaging, there are frustrations involved with researching family history too. You'll often hear both amateur and professional genealogists talking about brick walls, but what are they - and how can they be broken through?

Dealing with your Genealogy Brick Walls

In genealogy, a brick wall is a dead-end. It describes the point in the research process where you can go no further. Sometimes a brick wall will be in finding out who someone's parents were, and other times someone just disappears from all public records and you cannot trace them on census records, passenger lists or on marriage or death certificates. Brick walls are a source of frustration for all researchers but we all have them.

Breaking down a Genealogical Brick Wall

So you've been researching for a while, tracing various family lines, and suddenly you start to struggle. This is something very common, especially when you get before 1841 and the start of census returns, or before 1855 in Scotland when compulsory civil registration of births, deaths and marriages started.

There are a few things which you can do which may help you work around the brick wall by thinking about different records and strategies.

  1. Accept it - A brick wall doesn't mean you have done something wrong, or that you are a poor researcher. If records have not survived, you're not going to find them, however hard you try. Rather than get frustrated performing the same searches again and again, park this stem of research and move on to something else.

  2. Return periodically - the main genealogy websites like Ancestry, FamilySearch or FindMyPast are adding new record sets every week, and you never know when something will be added which gives information about that very person you thought was a brick wall.

  3. Newspapers - the British Newspaper Archive has local newspapers dating back to the 1700s and is worth searching. Many local newspapers contained both general information about local events, but also announcements of marriages or deaths. Often, family members are mentioned too.

  4. DNA test - a DNA test might help in situations where you have an unknown parent, or where you suspect an ancestor may have been adopted. After taking the test and waiting for your results to process the site will return a list of other test-takers who match your DNA to varying degrees. Looking at your closest matches might provide new avenues for research.

  5. Fresh pair of eyes - just like with proofreading an important document before you hand it in, having someone else look over your research and double check your work might reveal some other avenues for research. Any professional genealogist would be happy to help with this sort of work.

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