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Busting the Family Heritage Brick Wall

Sometimes in our travels we encounter a roadblock - a dead end - and we can't go forward.  Oh, we can go back, but then we're not making progress.  So it is occasionally with researching our family heritage.  We can't seem to find that person, uncover that fact, or locate that record.  We've hit a roadblock, or as more colorfully said, we've hit a brick wall!  Do you have a brick wall you're trying to bust through?  If so, try one of these tactics:

Go sideways.   Sometimes going around, or temporarily in another direction, can lead you to your goal.  Instead of focusing on a single ancestor, work on parallel paths by researching their siblings or cousins.  Looking for information on their family, as if they were in your direct line, could lead you to the ancestor you seek.

Is / is-not.   A common problem solving technique is to list what the problem "is", and what it "is-not".  The fan makes a noise when I turn it to low, but not when set to high.  With your brick wall, list what you know and what you have tried and ruled out.  Seeing the gaps, or what is not there, may give you a direction to pursue.  For example, Great Uncle John is in the 1910 census, but not in the 1920 census.  Could he have died?  Maybe I should check the death records.

Look again.   Go back and double check the source of previously retrieved information.  Perhaps you missed something, or made an error in reading it.   Or similarly, question any old assumptions - such as a family legend.  While there may be a kernel of truth there,  be open minded about the legend or you may spend a lot of time trying to prove something that just isn't so.  A fellow researcher was always told when growing up that their family descended from Jesse James.  In assisting her with researching this, it soon became clear that this wasn't the case, but she was unwilling to let go of the legend and pushed on none-the-less in a futile effort.

What's in a name?   Consider variations in the spelling of surnames.  Make a list of possibilities, taking into account  phonetic variations and misspellings - either accidental or how an uneducated person might spell it.  Smith could be Smyth, Smit or the like.  Once you have your list, go back and re-check some of your earlier sources.

Grapes anyone?   Just like a bunch of grapes, people and communities often kept together.  This "e;clustering"e; effect can be useful.  For example, when people migrated, families from the same community often relocated to the same area.  So if you can't determine where Great Great Grandpa Wesley lived prior to showing up in Knox County, Ohio, see if you can determine where a neighbor came from.  The neighbor may have been from the same, prior community, thus giving you a place to go look for Grandpa Wes.  Similarly, look at the nearby people in a census - there might be an unknown relative living close by.  Another technique is to look at neighboring grave markers in acemetery.  Families tend to "bunch" up there, too!  You may find a new cousin that will break open a whole new research path.

Out of sight!   Like many troublesome problems, sometimes the best tactic is put it aside for awhile - let your subconscious work on it for bit.  You may get a spark of an idea when you least expect it.

In the end, you want to have fun in learning about your family heritage.  So don't beat your head against that brick wall!  Enjoy and don't forget to showcase your memories in heritagescrapbook albums.

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