Genealogy 101: Breaking through the brick wall

The Barriere Genealogy Club meets every first and third Friday of the month, 6 p.m. at the Barriere Library

While researching your family tree, when you suddenly can’t get any further on a particular branch, it is known as hitting a ‘brick wall’.  Getting past that brick wall can be complicated and time consuming.  However, there are ways to break through that brick wall and find the information you are looking for.

Step one, go over the source material you have collected so far, perhaps when you started, you disregarded something as unimportant, that now actually is a clue to what you are looking for.

Step two, if the person you are looking for shows up on one census but not a previous census, check for their neighbours or a sibling.  You may be able to find a mis-indexed census entry that way, or even uncover a migration pattern that way.

Step three, check for name variations, especially for the last name, but also for the first name of the individual.  The farther back you go, the more often names can get spelt differently.  This isn’t necessarily intentional on the part of the person doing the census, and indeed, could be recorded correctly by the census taker, but transcribed incorrectly because of a difficulty in reading the census taker’s handwriting.  Also, if the record you are viewing is the original and is handwritten, double check that you are reading the handwriting correctly.  Not only could there have been an error in spelling, perhaps they took down the nickname – such as Bob, instead of Robert, or Jack instead of John – or the middle name instead of the first name and middle initial – Jane, instead of Martha J.  I once spotted an extra person on my tree that way, having accidently spelt the name wrong in the search bar and hitting ‘enter’ before I noticed… and still got a ‘hit’ on the search!

Step four, if there are county or town boundaries near where your ancestor lived, be aware that the county or town boarders may have be moved from one census to the next, which would mean the record you are looking for is now under a totally different town or county name.

This is were historical maps can come in handy, especially for areas that have had a lot of conflict – you could even have an ancestor living in one country that is partly (or completely) invade by another country, and now, even though they haven’t moved at all, they are now in a totally different country.

The Barriere Genealogy Club meets every first and third Friday of the month, 6 p.m. at the Barriere Library.  All are welcome to come, and if you have a laptop, bring it, as the library only has two computer terminals, but they do have wireless access.


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