A few thoughts and tips on brick walls

+30 votes
I have a few thoughts on brick walls, that I'd like to share.  Granted, a lot of this will be pretty basic, but it may help someone.  So, here we go.

1) Brick walls are said to be the bane of any genealogist.  However in some cases, it that old family rumor or story.  I had one in my family, a Polk family,  Every obit for every family member said that X person was related to President Polk.   And I spent a lot of time trying to prove that to no avail.   I eventually came to the conclusion that the story was just that, a story.

Sometimes old stories and rumors can be quite helpful.   But in other cases, can be traps that will waste tons of your time and lead you nowhere.  Just be careful and be willing to explore other possibilities.

2) Just because it's a source and printed in a book, doesn't mean it's correct.  I have an ancestor, Nancy Humphreys.  There are tons of genealogies on ancestry that have her parents as William Humphreys and Mary Summers or Melb.  That is based on an old Daughters of the Revolution application that pops up as a source..     Recent DNA evidence and other factors which are too numerous to go into here, have proven this lineage false.   Her father is named William, but that' is the only part of the lineage that is right.  Everything else about it is completely wrong.

But too many people are taking it as gospel and trying to go back further and they will get nothing for their efforts.

2nd example, there is a book, called, The basye Book, By Otto Basye.  it is a well researched, but not perfect history of the Basye family in America.  It has the parents of one of my ancestors as Randolph and Sarah Sandlin.

A signed affadfavit in Randolph Sandlins war of 1812 pension, directly contradicts that and names him as the stepfather.  It also give a totally different name for the mother.

Sources are the bedrock of genealogy but, in some cases they are flawed.  Much like Family Stories.

3) Start Over - With all those bad family trees and sources floating about, sometimes, its just best to simply START OVER.   Take the family you are researching and having problems with and if you can, completely start from scratch.   Disregard everything else, that's been said or written about the family

Then you say, Ok, I don't know anything about this family, what can I find out by using sources.   In some cases, it may be quite helpful as may cause you to challenge conclusions that have been made previously that might be incorrect.

4) What's in front of the wall.   Simply put, if you can't find out what's behind the brick, wall, learn all you can about what's in front of it.  Not just your direct lineage, but all the brothers, sisters cousins and everyone else descended from the person you are stuck on.   Information gleaned from this can be very useful, especially when doing DNA research.   Sometimes naming patterns show up, certain names pop up more than others.  They might be significant.

5) DNA - In the last several months, using dna connections on ancestry have given me a number of valuable clues to several brick wall.   In one case, the DNA proved that the family everyone thought was right, was in fact wrong.   It takes patience and time to sort though all the people in your matches and their associated trees, but it can pay off big time.  

Related to one of my points above when researching DNA, keep your mind open.   Forget what you know,  and concentrate on what you can prove or where the evidence takes you.

6) To quote George of the jungle, "Watch out for that tree"

 As I touched above, there are loads of bad and incorrect trees floating around.   I found one of a GGG grandfather just last night that had another wife and 5 or 6 extra kids that I had never once heard of or found in any single bit of research I've ever done.   If you find a lineage online,  don't just copy it,  Verify it  or at least try to.  Too many people have blindly copied trees and found themselves facing brick walls, they will never be able to solve.


in summary.

1) Be careful of family stories, online trees and sometimes sources.  They can lead you to a brick wall, that actually has nothing behind it.   Always verify and try to find collaborating information.

2) don't be afraid to start over or challenge previous conclusions, made by you or others.  Especially when facing a brick wall. Be critical.

That's all for today.  Hopefully this will help someone.

asked in The Tree House by Craig Albrechtson G2G6 Mach 6 (63.3k points)
retagged by Ellen Smith

5 Answers

+17 votes
Best answer

Some excellent points and a great topic for discussion as we ALL have brick walls to some degree. My thoughts on the subject:

  • Carefully examine and question any assumptions you're making. These can sometimes be very subtle but may lead you astray.
  • Ignore primary sources at your peril. These can certainly have errors (and frequently do) but if your interpretation flatly contradicts a primary source you need a good explanation as to why it's wrong.
  • Be flexible and objective in your thinking. You may have to abandon long-cherished beliefs or confront unpleasant realities.
  • Records can be hard to interpret, especially when not drawn from your normal comfort zone. Experienced researchers in a particular domain might well be able to extract more than you.
  • And finally, always remember you can get wonderfully knowledgeable and free help here on Wikitree!
answered by Matthew Fletcher G2G6 Mach 6 (66.4k points)
selected by Craig Albrechtson
+15 votes

We appreciate your thoughts on this topic Craig,  as I am sure many of us have run into some type brick wall in our quest to connect our ancestors. Well done!!

answered by Dorothy Barry G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
You're very welcome.   Sometimes even the most basic things can breeze past us.  So I thought I would put that out there, for everyone's benefit.
+10 votes
These are some awesome tips.

One family rumor that I'm trying to find a connection for is that my grandma's side has a lot of Cherokee Indian in it. I always thought that was weird because we're all as white as can be, and so far I haven't found any Cherokee.

It is somewhat a distraction, as you said, but also makes the process more fun as I play the role of an investigator trying to solve the mystery.
answered by Joshua Smith G2G2 (2.1k points)
This seems to be a common rumor: Having Native American ancestry (and even more specifically, Cherokee). A lot of times I've seen where this rumor gets started because someone has jet black hair, and perhaps slightly more tanned skin.

In a lot of these cases, it turns out to be false, that it was actually German ancestry, or even eastern European ancestry, which was the origin for the dark hair and more tanned complexion.

It sounds romantic, to be descended from Cherokee, but a lot of these are just stories, unfortunately, based on how someone looked.
+9 votes
#4 has been a huge help to me several times. In order to find out more about the person I'm truly interested in, it really helps to find out all I can about everyone else around him.
answered by Dennis Wheeler G2G6 Pilot (388k points)
+1 vote
I've run into a few brick walls, myself, and one of those involves the Doyles from as far back as the 1700s.  I leave it and come back to it later every now and then. One of the Doyles was born in Boston, Massachusetts between 1825 and 1835 to John and Margaret Doyle. Her youngest child, Mary Wright, married Arthur H. Kemp in 1876, in Boston, Massachusetts. Maybe I'm looking at it from the wrong angle.
answered by Tanya Kasim G2G4 (4.6k points)

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