• Carla | The Redbud Genealogist

Brick Wall Series | Part 2

How many nights have you stayed up too late searching through a document because you thought that elusive ancestor could be just one more page away?

Me too. So often that I’m a little embarrassed that I even brought it up.

The goal is to work smarter not harder, right?

In Brick Wall Series Part 1, I gave you some great starter tips for breaking through your toughest genealogy cases.

Here are more tips to give you some ideas of things to try in breaking down your brick walls.

See #1-#4 in the Brick Wall Series Part 1 here.

5. Narrow down the list of records to search through

Easier said than done, right? Maybe not…

Vital records, tax records, wills and probate records, census records, military records... there are a lot of types of records to look through.

To find out what type of records were taken at the time of your ancestors life, start with a search online. Sites like familysearch.org or ancestry.com have a list of their collections.

If you have a rough time frame or place to start, then FamilySearch.org is probably the better resource for this.

So let's say your ancestor was born in 1845 and lived until 1910, you would expect to find them in the following United States Federal Censuses: 1850 1860 1870 1880, 1900, and 1910 - yes, i intentionally skipped the 1890 census. Good catch! Nearly all of the 1890 US Federal Census records were destroyed by fire and/or water damage from putting out the fire.

You may also expect to find your ancestor in state census records if they lived in participating states in between the federal censuses years.

State censuses are another good way to track the movement of American ancestors. They are becoming more popular, but many people still are unaware of their existence.

So if that person lived in Kansas at some point in their life, you might expect to find them in these other census records: 1865, 1875, 1885, and/or 1895.

Not all states conducted their own censuses, so be sure to check here if the state you're researching in conducted them.

6.) Make an appointment with an archivist (Video call or on-site visits, if possible)

An archive is NOT the same as a library.

In a library you can search for things yourself because everything is classified in a system.

In an archive not everything can be classified and an archivist may be the only person who knows what is in the "miscellaneous" parts of a collection that pertains to your ancestors time.

Another reason is that some archives are not for public use or display... and they are largely not fully digitized.

As a genealogy community, we are digitizing as much as we can, as fast as we can... but digitizing records generally isn't typically funded and relies heavily on volunteers.

An archivist or librarian may be able to help you identify and locate records from your ancestor's areas and time or items from within their collection. You will need to provide some detail pertaining to what you're looking for.

Some may charge a fee so you'll want to ask about this up front. If they don't charge fees but are donation-based, you should donate to their organization to help sustain and support them. It doesn't have to be a large amount.

Remember this: you're both human.

Empathy, manners and just being polite but direct can get you a long way.

Also, ask questions that aren't too narrowly focused or too broad. Don't expect them to understand where you are in your research or what you're looking for if you don't ask or state clearly what you're trying to find!

Even if there are no records pertaining to your ancestor, you may still get a few suggestions to move your research forward.

7.) Research the people closest to them

If your elusive ancestor is still missing, you may try researching their children or siblings. Sometimes people moved in with close relatives - mostly sisters or daughters - whose last names may have changed with a marriage.

In some of my early research, I found a group of men who had served together in the military. When they received bounty lands they all moved to roughly the same area in Illinois.

Many of the names of today's creeks, small towns and groves are named after these men.

My point is this: don't just assume it's family.

Neighbor's were part of tightly knit communities, particularly in the early days as people moved west into the interior of the United States.

They relied on each other far more than we do today.

Go beyond birth, marriage and death records. Contact me today for a quote and get the right information for your tree.


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Member of Association of Professional Genealogists,

National Genealogical Society,

Oklahoma Genealogical Society,

International Society of Genetic Genealogy, and 

Boston University Genealogy Studies Program alumni.

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