Genealogy Brick Wall: But, I’ve Looked Everywhere, Part 2

Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega gives 10 more tips for overcoming the frustrating brick wall that all family historians eventually hit. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”

In yesterday’s article, Genealogy Brick Wall: But, I’ve Looked Everywhere, Part 1, I provided 10 ideas about what to do when you feel genealogically stuck and aren’t making progress with your family history. In Part 2, I’m providing 10 more ideas to help you learn more about your family history when it’s not going as well as you hoped – when you’ve hit that genealogy brick wall.

  • Ask Four People. There’s the saying that two heads are better than one, but what if you did one better and sought out four people to share your genealogy brick wall with? Narrow down your brick wall to a 1-2 sentence question that provides the name, dates, and location for your ancestor. Then pose your question to a librarian (in the place your ancestor lived), a historical society member (where your ancestor lived), an archivist, and a genealogy society member. Why? Each person has their own specialty and a different approach to researching. What that means for you is they may each provide you with different ideas that you may not have come up with on your own.
  • Consult Lineage Society Resources. You may not be a member of a linage society, but someone in your extended family may be – and they may have provided information about your shared ancestors. If you have a Revolutionary War ancestor, one source you can consult is the Daughters of the American Revolution Genealogical Research System.
  • Subscribe to the Local Newspaper. Is your ancestor from a small town? You might want to look into subscribing to the local newspaper. This will not only provide you area news, but you may also learn about unknown-to-you family in the area, including those who have recently died.
  • Contact Book Authors. Does the area you are researching have a newer local history book? Contact the author and ask questions about their book and suggestions for relevant archival collections. Authors do a lot of research prior to the writing of their book, making them great local experts.
  • Explore the Local University Library. What universities are near where your ancestor lived? Have you searched their online catalog for local history collections? Do they have a digital collection? University digital collections can include local history items that might be of use to your research. The library might also have an “Ask a Librarian” chat where you can ask a reference question about their collection.
  • Read a Book. What genealogy guides exist for the area you are researching? Whether it’s a how to research German ancestors book or a research guide for the state you are researching, invest in that guide and read it for new resources and methodology.
  • Search That Familiar Website by Location. The next time you search your favorite genealogy database website, browse the records by location first, rather than conducting a search on a name. Become familiar with what records they have for the place your ancestor lived and then search that specific record set.
  • Automate your GenealogyBank Search. Use GenealogyBank’s Save/Alert feature to save your search and alert you by email when new content matching that search term is found.
  • Go Offline. Not everything is online and the records you need may require a trip to a physical repository. Use an archive catalog, such as ArchiveGrid, to find documents that are not online. Keep a research to-do list with possible archival records. Then you have the list for when the opportunity arises to travel to the archive or when you want to hire a researcher.
  • Step Back. I’m a huge believer that sometimes the best way to solve a brick wall is to give it a rest. Start a new research project. Take a break. When you’re ready to come back to your research you may have learned a new technique that helps you find that brick wall ancestor. Maybe a newly available database or digitized book solves the problem. Perhaps a recent DNA match confirms your suspicions. In some cases, taking a break is the best answer.

Over the last two blog articles, you’ve read my 20 suggestions for what to do when you’ve looked “everywhere” and can’t find the information you need about your ancestor. Now I want to hear about what you’ve done that helped you find information. Did you try some “old-school” genealogy technique that worked for you? Did you hit the streets and knock on the doors in your ancestral neighborhood? Use the comments below and share your success stories.

2 thoughts on “Genealogy Brick Wall: But, I’ve Looked Everywhere, Part 2

  1. This is a long shot. My late husband’s grandma left Romania at the age of 7 or 8. She came to the UK. She said goodbye to her two brothers on a bridge in Jassy but never saw them again. She put adverts in the papers and tried and tried but no luck. She thinks they may have gone to the USA. I have pictures of her and her brothers and their mother, taken in Jassy. How can I publish these pictures? We are Jewish. I live in Israel. My husband tried to see what he could find but this was before Facebook. I would love to try again now that we have social media.

  2. Corinne, you may want to try posting on a social media website as well as creating a website or blog with photos and names. That way when someone searches those names online, they will come across the website. Good luck!–Gena

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