Hit a Brick Wall? 4 Genealogy Tips to Break Through

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena provides four tips to help solve a problem every genealogist runs into: the dreaded “brick wall,” when you don’t know where to turn or what to do to find information on an elusive ancestor.

Do you ever find yourself frustrated by your genealogy research? Maybe you feel like you’ve looked everywhere and will never find that missing ancestor. Family history research is a careful process and it takes a lot longer than we would often like. Genealogical records are incomplete, transcriptions have errors, not everything is found online, and your ancestor had no control over how others spelled or misspelled their name.

photo of a brick wall in English cross bon pattern

Photo: brick wall in English cross bon pattern. Credit: Oula Lehtinen; Wikimedia Commons.

So yes, you will hit that genealogy brick wall, multiple times. How can you get over that persistent obstacle?

1) Take a Genealogy Research Break

You may be scratching your head and wondering why I’m suggesting that you take a break from your family history research before trying to break through your brick wall. It’s really very simple. We all benefit from stepping away from a problem for a time, whether momentarily or for a longer stretch. Putting your genealogy research away allows you time to ponder, as well as learn about new resources and methodologies.

How do you make the most out of your research break? Take some time to enhance your genealogy research skills by reading books that teach methodology or expose you to record sets you’ve never used. Some of my favorite genealogy books are The Family Tree Guidebook to Europe, The Genealogists’ Google Toolbox and The Family Tree Problem Solver.

Also during your research break, take advantage of webinars and other genealogy learning opportunities. Explore your local library or a nearby archival collection. By exploring different library and archival catalogs you can learn more about what family history resources exist for the place and time period you are researching.

To get started, conduct some searches on the FamilySearch catalog. Search on the name of the place you are researching, and continue your hunt by conducting a keyword search – for example, utilizing words that describe an ancestor’s religion or occupation.

2) Strategize Your Next Research Step

Where do you look for ancestral records now? What do you do if you can’t find an ancestor in records where you think they should be, like a census record? What do you do then?

Take some time to plan out your next genealogy research steps. One way to do this is to put together a Research Plan. A Genealogy Research Plan allows you to clarify what you are looking for, what you currently know, and where you go from there. To learn more about creating a research plan, see the article Think Like a Detective – Developing a Genealogy Research Plan by Association of Professional Genealogists president Kimberly Powell.

One question I get asked in regards to my genealogy research is: “How did you find that?” There’s no magical answer except that I use some basic tried and true research techniques, such as searching on different variations of an ancestor’s name (see Name Research Tip: Search Variations of Family First & Last Names). In addition to standard genealogy record sets, I also use resources like digitized books (see Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 2: Google Books & Internet Archive).

One of my favorite genealogy tools is to create a timeline for the ancestor’s life I’m researching, and then populate that timeline with dates, events, comments and sources. By creating that timeline, I can keep track of my research and see what gaps need to be filled. It also helps me to focus on what family history resources I may be missing (see Genealogy Timelines: Helpful Research Tools).

Enter Last Name

3) Try Something New

What resources do you use for your research? Instead of doing the same old thing, try using your favorite websites in a different way. For example, GenealogyBank is a great resource for newspapers – but did you know the site offers historical books and documents as well?

Now’s the time to go beyond just searching the same old way and instead try searching differently or utilizing a new collection. You can get some new ideas by checking out the GenealogyBank Learning Center.

Once you’ve explored a new way to use your favorite websites, start searching for genealogy websites you’ve never used before. Need some ideas? You can find website links specific to a topic or a place by checking out Cyndi’s List or Linkpendium. Explore online catalogs by searching on WorldCat or ArchiveGrid, or the catalog for the state archive or library you are researching.

4) Get Help from Professionals, Family & More

Ask a research professional (professional genealogist, reference librarian or archivist) for some assistance searching an online catalog or looking for new resources. There are so many opportunities to ask questions and get assistance with your genealogy searches; one of my favorite ways is to use the “Ask a Librarian” feature found on many library websites. This allows me to email or use a chat room to ask a question about a resource or collection.

In addition, GenealogyBank offers a toll-free phone number for free help from a Family History Consultant. Call 1-866-641-3297 (Hours: Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. ET) for help. Also, try looking for more strategies to break through genealogy brick walls in GenealogyBank’s Genealogist Q&A and brick wall blog articles.

Even problem-solving with a non-genealogist friend or relative can be useful. The non-genealogists around us will approach the problem from a different angle since they do not have preconceived notions of where to find information. Talk about your family history research problem with the non-genealogists around you and you may get a few new ideas.

How are you going to get over your genealogy brick wall? We all come to a point where we feel “stuck.” The key is to take a break, regroup, and plan out your future genealogy research. Genealogy is a pursuit that involves continuing education, so take some time to learn something new every day – it will benefit your research and perhaps even your stress level!

How have you overcome your genealogy brick walls? Share your brick wall experiences with us in the comments section.

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Will You Mention Your Ancestors in Your Obituary?

Have you noticed how many obituaries include details about the ancestors of the deceased?

George Green’s obituary summarizes his life, compactly detailing his accomplished life in a paragraph or two – and prominently, we learn that he “had deep roots in Michigan.”

According to his obituary:

He was officially recognized as a direct descendant of a Michigan Sesquicentennial Pioneer, William Weaver, who came by ox car in 1835 from Hartland, Niagara County in upstate New York with wife, Mary Earl Willets and settled in what became Somerset two years prior to official statehood.

These are terrific genealogical details.

George Green’s obituary is a good example of a well written, informative genealogical biographical sketch.

obituary for George Green, Detroit News newspaper article 19 July 2015

Detroit News (Detroit, Michigan), 19 July 2015

Esther Mary (Blair) Crane’s obituary tells us in the opening sentences that she was a descendant of John Alden of Mayflower fame.

obituary for Esther Crane, Commercial Appeal newspaper article 18 July 2015

Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee), 18 July 2015

Esther Crane – I didn’t know her, but right away I know that she was my cousin because of her link to John Alden – and I want to know more about my newly discovered deceased relative. I want to make sure that she is included in our family tree and that her story is remembered and told.

Enter Last Name

I truly appreciate it when these genealogical details are included in an obituary, making it easier for me to trace the members in our family tree.

I can quickly see that Detroit native George Green had roots in Niagara County, New York, and that Esther was my cousin.

Don’t you wish that every one of your relatives’ obituaries gave this many genealogical details?

What does this say about your obituary?
What are your plans?
Do you want to have the details of your heritage included in your obituary?

Tell us what you’re thinking of including in your obituary.

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Tennessee Archives: 78 Newspapers for Genealogy Research

Originally part of North Carolina, Tennessee was admitted into the Union as the nation’s 16th state on 1 June 1796. It is the 36th largest of the United States, and the 17th most populous. So many volunteer soldiers from Tennessee fought for the young U.S. during the War of 1812 with Great Britain – especially at the famous Battle of New Orleans under the leadership of Andrew Jackson – that Tennessee earned the nickname “The Volunteer State.”

photo of the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville

Photo: Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville. Credit: Kaldari; Wikimedia Commons.

If you are researching your ancestry from Tennessee, you will want to use GenealogyBank’s online TN newspaper archives: 78 titles to help you search your family history in “The Volunteer State,” providing coverage from 1793 to Today. There are more than 3.7 million articles and records in our online Tennessee archives!

Dig deep into our archives and search for historical and recent obituaries and other news articles about your Tennessee ancestors in these TN newspapers online. Our Tennessee newspapers are divided into two collections: Historical Newspapers (complete paper) and Recent Obituaries (obituaries only). Note that GenealogyBank’s expansive collection includes rare publications that date back to the late 1700s and early 1800s, including Tennessee’s first newspaper: the Knoxville Gazette.

Search Tennessee Newspaper Archives (1793 – 1982)

Search Tennessee Recent Obituaries (1990 – Current)

illustration of the state flag of Tennessee

Illustration: state flag of Tennessee. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Here is a list of online Tennessee newspapers in the archives. Each newspaper title in this list is an active link that will take you directly to that paper’s search page, where you can begin searching for your ancestors by surnames, dates, keywords and more. The TN newspaper titles are listed alphabetically by city.

City Title Date Range* Collection
Athens Daily Post-Athenian 03/28/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Carthage Western Express 11/21/1808 – 11/21/1808 Newspaper Archives
Carthage Carthage Gazette 08/13/1808 – 07/01/1817 Newspaper Archives
Chattanooga Chattanooga Times Free Press 04/01/1995 – Current Recent Obituaries
Chattanooga Chattanooga Courier 02/10/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Chattanooga Chattanooga Daily Rebel 08/09/1862 – 08/30/1863 Newspaper Archives
Chattanooga Justice 12/24/1887 – 12/24/1887 Newspaper Archives
Clarksville Clarksville Gazette 11/21/1819 – 12/23/1820 Newspaper Archives
Clarksville Weekly Chronicle 02/18/1818 – 09/16/1818 Newspaper Archives
Clarksville Town Gazette & Farmers Register 07/05/1819 – 11/08/1819 Newspaper Archives
Clarksville Tennessee Weekly Chronicle 01/27/1819 – 06/07/1819 Newspaper Archives
Cleveland Cleveland Daily Banner 05/05/1998 – Current Recent Obituaries
Columbia Daily Herald 01/10/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Cookeville Herald-Citizen 04/12/1998 – Current Recent Obituaries
Crossville Crossville Chronicle 09/01/1996 – Current Recent Obituaries
Crossville Glade Sun 06/02/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Dayton Herald-News 08/28/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Elizabethton Elizabethton Star 04/08/2014 – Current Recent Obituaries
Erwin Erwin Record 02/16/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Greeneville Greeneville Sun 09/14/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hartsville Hartsville Vidette 07/06/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Jackson Jackson Headlight 01/27/1900 – 01/27/1900 Newspaper Archives
Johnson City Johnson City Press 06/30/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Jonesborough Herald & Tribune 02/01/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kingsport Kingsport Times-News 01/10/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kingston Roane County News 10/31/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Knoxville Knoxville Register 08/10/1816 – 10/22/1839 Newspaper Archives
Knoxville Negro World 10/15/1887 – 11/26/1887 Newspaper Archives
Knoxville Knoxville News-Sentinel 01/01/1940 – 12/31/1982 Newspaper Archives
Knoxville Knoxville Journal 04/01/1888 – 12/31/1896 Newspaper Archives
Knoxville Knoxville News Sentinel: Blogs 06/01/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Knoxville Press and Messenger 01/08/1873 – 12/15/1875 Newspaper Archives
Knoxville Knoxville Gazette 12/07/1793 – 10/29/1806 Newspaper Archives
Knoxville Knoxville News Sentinel 01/04/1991 – Current Recent Obituaries
Knoxville Knoxville Gazette 09/01/1818 – 09/01/1818 Newspaper Archives
Knoxville Knoxville Enlightener 03/23/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lafayette Macon County Times 10/08/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
LaFollette LaFollette Press 11/21/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lebanon Lebanon Democrat 07/06/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lenoir City News-Herald 09/27/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Maryville Blount Today 02/01/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Maryville Daily Times 12/12/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Memphis Commercial Appeal 01/01/1968 – 12/31/1969 Newspaper Archives
Memphis Commercial Appeal, The: Web Edition Articles 05/19/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Memphis Memphis Triangle 11/17/1928 – 07/27/1929 Newspaper Archives
Memphis Commercial Appeal 06/27/1990 – Current Recent Obituaries
Memphis Memphis Daily Avalanche 01/01/1866 – 04/30/1869 Newspaper Archives
Memphis Tri-State Defender 08/03/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Memphis Memphis Evening Post 04/27/1868 – 05/31/1869 Newspaper Archives
Mt. Juliet Mt. Juliet News 07/06/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Murfreesboro Murfreesboro Union 06/06/1939 – 06/06/1939 Newspaper Archives
Nashville Nashville Clarion 02/16/1808 – 08/29/1821 Newspaper Archives
Nashville City Paper 01/09/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Nashville Nashville Scene 11/23/1995 – Current Recent Obituaries
Nashville Colored Tennessean 08/12/1865 – 07/18/1866 Newspaper Archives
Nashville Nashville Pride 01/02/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Nashville National Banner and Nashville Whig 09/16/1834 – 12/30/1836 Newspaper Archives
Nashville Tennessee Gazette 02/25/1800 – 05/30/1807 Newspaper Archives
Nashville Nashville Post 01/21/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries
Nashville National Banner and Daily Advertiser 01/01/1834 – 09/15/1834 Newspaper Archives
Nashville Impartial Review, and Cumberland Repository 01/18/1806 – 08/16/1806 Newspaper Archives
Nashville Murfreesboro Vision 01/15/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Nashville Nashville Republican 01/16/1835 – 01/16/1835 Newspaper Archives
Nashville Nashville Examiner 09/29/1813 – 05/25/1814 Newspaper Archives
Nashville Nashville Republican 08/07/1824 – 10/16/1833 Newspaper Archives
Nashville Nashville Gazette 05/26/1819 – 02/14/1827 Newspaper Archives
Nashville Review 11/10/1809 – 05/03/1811 Newspaper Archives
Newport Newport Plain Talk 07/01/1998 – Current Recent Obituaries
Oak Ridge Oak Ridger 02/17/1997 – Current Recent Obituaries
Paris Paris Post-Intelligencer 07/05/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Rogersville Western Pilot 08/19/1815 – 08/19/1815 Newspaper Archives
Rogersville Rogersville Review 12/16/1998 – Current Recent Obituaries
Sevierville Mountain Press 10/03/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Shelbyville Tennessee Herald 12/19/1817 – 03/08/1820 Newspaper Archives
Spring Hill Advertiser News 05/14/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Sweetwater Advocate and Democrat 06/12/1998 – Current Recent Obituaries
Tazewell Claiborne Progress 11/18/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wartburg Morgan County News 12/19/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries

*Date Ranges may have selected coverage unavailable.

You can either print or create a PDF version of this Blog post by simply clicking on the green “Print/PDF” button below. The PDF version makes it easy to save this post onto your desktop or portable device for quick reference—all the Tennessee newspaper links will be live.

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Getting Genealogy Records Online: My Clean-Up Plan

Looking at my genealogy research notes and files accumulated over the past 50+ years, I am wondering: what should I do with all this stuff?

montage of family history papers from the Kemp family

Photo: Thomas Jay Kemp

I have five four-drawer file cabinets packed with notes, clippings, letters, photos and the like.

While my children and extended family are interested in our family history, they are sprinkled across the country – and just aren’t prepared to transport and ingest this much material into their homes and busy lives.

So – what to do?
I have started to tackle my messy genealogy records problem, one file folder at a time.

Getting Started

I am taking the time to go through the file cabinets, item by item.
My goal is to become as “paperless” as possible by digitizing all this genealogy research material and putting it online.

My main “backup” sites for my family history are two of the online family tree sites: FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com. I also use Scribd and Pinterest.

I am finding one immediate benefit from doing this. I haven’t looked at many (most?) of these files for years. Looking at these genealogy records and research notes again now, I can reevaluate the information with the knowledge about the family gained over the years. I can quickly make sure that the most accurate information is in my twin online family trees.

I am finding that some of the details – perhaps a complete date, a stray fact or a footnote – did not make it online. Now I can take the time to make sure that online genealogy record is complete.

Enter Last Name

Letters

I have saved letters from distant relatives and genealogists wondering if we are related. What should I do with them?

Reading through these letters again, I am deciding if they have genealogy value – and as long as they don’t mention living people, I am scanning them and putting them online.

On FamilySearch I can upload a multipage letter as one PDF document. Click here to see an example of a two-page letter I uploaded to that site written by a cousin. Other sites do not permit you to upload PDF files, so I converted her letter to the image .JPEG format to upload it and preserve it online.

For longer items like the handwritten cookbook of my great-grandmother Marcia Amanda (Young) Richmond, I uploaded the PDF file for the entire cookbook to Scribd.com. Click here to see my great-grandmother’s cookbook for some good family recipes.

Note: You can also upload and share family recipe articles on Pinterest. GenealogyBank has a shared Old Fashioned Family Recipes board you can join to share your family recipes.

Photographs

I scan and put every photo I can online in order to make it easy for the family to find these images of our ancestors – and I put them on multiple sites.

For example: this photo of my great-grandmother Marcia Amanda (Young) Richmond is on Pinterest, FamilySearch and Ancestry.

photo of Marcia Richmond

Photo: Kemp family papers

This “Summer Clean-up” of my files is making sure that the online copies of my family history are more accurate and complete.

By scanning and uploading the documentation to multiple websites – and double-checking the personal information I have entered into my online family history – I will make it easier for the family to find and know about their history.

And – importantly – I will be able to reduce the thousands of genealogy records and notes that I’ve saved down to the core enduring historical material that the family will want to preserve.

What plans are you making to preserve and pass down your family history information?

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Truly Personal Obituaries from the Recent Obituary Archives

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over nine years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” In this blog post, Duncan searches GenealogyBank’s recent obituaries collection and discoveries some truly interesting – and sometimes funny – passages in some of these obituaries.

Writing an obituary can be a painful and unexpected event. It can also be a healing one. More and more families are rejecting a dry, formulated writing style for their loved one’s obituary, taking instead a more personalized approach. It is challenging to compact a person’s life into a few lines. It is even more difficult to try to convey that person’s unique sense of being onto the printed page. Here are some marvelous examples of more personalized obituaries; I found these while browsing in GenealogyBank’s Recent Obituary Archives.

passage from Donna Smith's obituary urging people to be kind to one another

Humorous Life Philosophy

Sometimes an obituary shares a person’s philosophy.

Donna Smith’s obituary passed on this humorous life philosophy:

Do what’s right and do what’s good. Be kind and help others. The world can always use one more kind person. And if you can take it one step further, please do it for people grandpa’s age.

Donna Smith

obituary for Donna Smith, Salt Lake Tribune newspaper article 18 December 2014

Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah), 18 December 2014

Jokes Help

The family, or even the person themselves, may try to lighten up the situation by making a joke.

In his obituary, Aaron Joseph Purmorts’s family stated that he:

died peacefully at home on November 25 after complications from a radioactive spider bite that led to years of crime-fighting and a years long battle with a nefarious criminal named Cancer, who has plagued our society for far too long. Civilians will recognize him best as Spider-Man, and thank him for his many years of service protecting our city. His family knew him only as a kind and mild-mannered Art Director, a designer of websites and t-shirts, and concert posters who always had the right cardigan and the right thing to say (even if it was wildly inappropriate).

Aaron Joseph Purmort

obituary for Aaron Joseph Purmort, Star Tribune newspaper article 30 November 2014

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), 30 November 2014

Unusual Final Requests

Others leave behind unusual requests in their obituaries.

B. H. Spratt’s family suggested:

In lieu of flowers, tune-up your car and check the air pressure in your tires – he would have wanted that.

B. H. Spratt

obituary for B. H. Spratt, Florida Times-Union newspaper article 23 October 2011

Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Florida), 23 October 2011

Lisa Schomburger Steven’s family asked:

that you spend time with your children, take a walk on the beach with your loved ones and make a toast to enduring friendships lifelong and beyond. That is what Lisa would wish for you.

Lisa Schomburger Stevens

obituary for Lisa Schomburger Stevens, Charlotte Observer newspaper article 19 December 2005

Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), 19 December 2005

Tom Taylor Jr.’s family stated:

One of his last requests to his good friend Scott, was to contact the Cremation Society to ask for a refund because he knew he weighed at least 20 percent less than when he paid for his arrangements.

Thomas J. Taylor Jr.

obituary for Thomas J. Taylor Jr., Sun News newspaper article 27 August 2008

Sun News (Myrtle Beach, South Carolina), 27 August 2008

Tom Brady Fan

To make an obituary more personal, family members sometimes add a line about a person’s passions or strongly held beliefs.

Enter Last Name

Patricia M. Shong was a fervent New England Patriots fan. Her family stated this wish in her obituary:

She would also like us to set the record straight for her; Brady is innocent!

Patricia M. Shong

obituary for Patricia M. Shong, Worcester Telegram & Gazette newspaper article 24 May 2015

Worcester Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Massachusetts), 24 May 2015

Patricia’s defense of Tom Brady put a smile on everyone’s face, as reported at the end of her obituary.

obituary for Patricia M. Shong, Worcester Telegram & Gazette newspaper article 24 May 2015

Worcester Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Massachusetts), 24 May 2015

Another Football Fan

Michael Sven Vedvik’s family did their best to lighten things up by saying in his obituary:

We blame the Seahawks lousy play call for Mike’s untimely demise. Mike was greatly loved and will be dearly missed.

Michael Sven Vedvik

obituary for Michael Sven Vedvik, Spokesman-Review newspaper article 5 February 2015

Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington), 5 February 2015

The Dog Ate It

Norma Brewer’s obituary contained this humorous remark:

Norma Rae Flicker Brewer, a resident of Fairfield, passed away while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. She never realized her life goal of reaching the summit, but made it to the base camp. Her daughter, Donna, her dog, Mia, and her cats, came along at the last minute. There is suspicion that Mrs. Brewer died from hypothermia, after Mia ate Mrs. Brewer’s warm winter boots and socks.

Norma Brewer

obituary for Norma Brewer, Connecticut Post newspaper article 31 January 2015

Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, Connecticut), 31 January 2015

Losing a loved one is never easy. Helping others to see that person the way you did can help ease your sorrow at their passing. You may even consider helping your family out by writing your own obituary!

Do you have a touching or funny obituary you’ve come across in your genealogy research? If so please share your obituary finds with us in the comments.

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