What is a genealogical “Brick Wall”? How many BWs do you have? Potentially, the more we know, the more BWs we have. If I’m adopted with no information provided, I have exactly one BW. On the other hand, if I’ve developed my complete ancestral genealogy to six generations, I have 64 BWs. Most of us don’t carry around that many bricks. It’s usually about that one or a few that we REALLY want.
At any BW, we are looking for two people, but actually, we are looking for one… the bearer of one surname. Let’s say it is the Whosit family we are looking for. We may find that Whosits are rare birds or there are flocks of Whosits everywhere. Out of all those, we are looking for THAT ONE WHOSIT!
Some may post on a genealogy bulletin board “Who’s it that has my Whosit?” If anyone responds at all, it is probably the wrong Whosit. “Well, skip that, I’m not interested in THAT Whosit.” Others, serious genealogists, will be gathering facts and clues and obscure documents that MIGHT be “my Whosit”. Anything we can rule out goes into the “Not My Whosit” file so we can really focus on our goal.
OK, so what is a Surname Study? How about a Whosit Surname Study (WSS)? The WSS is for those who are looking for ALL Whosits… all times, all places. How many Whosits are there in the world? What’s the Whosit name mean and where did it come from? Are there some Howsits or Whatsits connected to this bunch? The WSS people build broad sketches and theories that can be tested. WSS people work a lot with finding descendants of known ancestors. It’s actually fun to take a break from “where did my Whosit come from” to “where did all those Whosits go”? Build LOTS of Whosit lineages. What are the Whosit migration paths? How does it fit with historical trends? Nail down what we know. Create Whosit THEORIES that can be tested with evidence. Critique the theories. Compile evidence. Search databases such as census, gathering all instances of Whosits in a given year and a given vicinity.
Energize YDNA testing of Whosits. Collect matches. Seek participants whose test can answer specific questions. A YDNA test is like working on a mixed-up collection of jigsaw pieces and discovering that if you look at the back side you can sort pieces that belong to the same puzzle.
Think about how it is to solve a jigsaw puzzle. You build the edges. You build clusters. You may spend some time focusing on one piece or one connection, but then you step back… look at the big picture… go back to the loose piece box… work on a different cluster for a while. Even better, you work together with other puzzlers… actively paying attention to the needs of others and regularly communicating. You move around the table and give fresh eyes to a different cluster.
In genealogy, many of us are most interested in our own ancestry. Surname Studies take a lot of time concerning ourselves with “Not My Whosits”. It takes discipline and organization. It takes Left-Brain focus and it takes Right-Brain pattern recognition. It takes communication and collaboration. It takes recognition that there are puzzle clusters that have been done wrong, smashing pieces together. Sometimes it takes some disassembling to make progress.
Surname Studies are a lot of work. So what’s the payoff? By having established clusters from earlier times, we start to attack that BW from BOTH SIDES. Your isolated Whosit ancestor might fit a pattern of someone else’s lost Whosit descendants. While you are grappling with the Whosits in a location you believe to be yours, someone else may have already established that their Whosits migrated there and that your Whosits don’t fit.
Do you have a Brick Wall surname that is REALLY important to you? Are you willing to step back and take the time working with others? Are you willing to discover the joys of seeing the big picture and helping others even if you don’t get immediate satisfaction of your own quest for that one Whosit?