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Turn Your Brick Wall into a Yellow Brick Road


Genealogy is tough. If it were easy, anyone could do it, right?

But it is not easy. It’s hard. It’s highs and lows. It’s hit and miss. And it's definitely not an impatient person's game! We can work for years, chipping away as we check every resource, even the least likely to yield valuable information.

So, what do you do? How should you approach the seemingly unattainable goal of getting beyond the wall?

What if we don't think of it as a brick wall?... What if we think of it as a yellow brick road? It's a journey: it's not necessarily an easy one, but it is worth it! Now, let's get an itinerary and road map for the adventure.

There are things you can do to continue to make progress:

Manage your expectations: As we all say, "If you can’t handle disappointment, find another hobby." We love genealogy for the challenge. It's a puzzle, and we like that. If we easily found answers for every query, we would be bored. We would make grumbly comments about it all being low-hanging fruit and move on to something that would entertain our brains longer. We love research BECAUSE we don’t always find what we seek. When you view a brick wall for the puzzle that it is, any progress forward is rewarding. Any progress. That includes checking a courthouse for deeds and finding nothing. Nothing is always something in genealogy research.

Systematically review your research: Use a checklist to make sure you searched everything, from obvious things like census records to the less thought of family records like old drivers licenses or bank statements or yearbook inscriptions. (Ever thought about checking who’s listed as a secondary on an account or who was being written checks each month or reverse searching that old address or looking at old recipe cards/books for names of close friends and family or asking a fraternal organization if your ancestor listed a "next of kin" or "referred by" in their membership application?) Think outside the box. Think of all the resources available to you... then methodically, slowly go through each one mining the data therein. Every tough-to-research ancestor I have gets a checklist in their research folder. Seems elementary, but I have success in doing that. It forces me to slooowwww down and do better quality research.

Seek help: Ask a fellow researcher to review your work. Give them a list of everything you’ve searched and ask them to critique it. It's easier to look at things objectively when it's not your research... so an outside opinion can really help. Suggest a round table workshop for a genealogy meeting, swap research with a fellow genealogist, and help each other think of more resources.

Don't give up: Keep thinking. Keep trying. Continue to imagine that person's life: What did they do each day? Who did they interact with? What was important to them? How easy was it to travel? Eventually, you will think of something to research. And occasionally re-search (search again) any databases that can be updated (especially online resources.) Ask anyone you can. Don't be shy. Case in point: last week I was contacted by a DNA match who just wanted to say hi and ask if I had anything interesting. Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I have an original letter written by her 4Xs great grandfather to his niece (my ancestor) in 1885. You never know what you will find or how randomly you will find it. So don't give up.

Keep moving forward. Change your brick wall into a yellow brick road and go find that ancestor.

Want that checklist? My most recently acquired favorite is Thomas Magentee's free checklist (in three different file formats! oh my!)


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