Brick Walls – aka 'The Dead End'

With another busy work project behind me, I had the pleasure of getting out in the world and attending two genealogy talks this week.  One was on DNA and will be the topic of a future post as I need to let the information settle in.

The other talk was “Strategies For Tackling Your Genealogy Brickwall” by Jake Fletcher of the popular blog – Travelogues of a Genealogist (link).  The talk was a part of the Chelmsford (MA) Genealogy Club.


Over the hour, Jake discussed his go to methods for trying to break down a brick wall including reviewing your documentation with a fresh set of eyes after a while to Researching their occupation, to knowing the geography of a region as county lines often changed.

Another area to look at; Cluster and FAN research – Family/Friends, Associates and Neighbors.  Look at those around your ancestor, their neighbors in city directories, witnesses to records such as land deeds and probate items.  Jake even suggested documenting the names of neighbors five pages before and after their name on a census record to get a better understanding of people they may know and bump into.  Perhaps the close friend who was witness to a marriage had the favor returned by the ancestor you are looking for which could open up a new hint to move on.

He also suggested the use of a research log or journal. As you do your searching, list what you search for, where you search for it, what keywords you may have used and what you found.  You may have found nothing for that matter, and you should list that as well.  Sometimes nothing is the same as finding something – but that is a topic for  a different day.

His Log includes columns for Date, Repository / Website, Title of Collection, Keyword Search, and Results.   I have tried this in the past and I will tell you it is hard to do.  When you do the searches, you need to break from the results and record what you have, and if your anything like me you want to just keep on clicking to see what that record looks like.  I use spreadsheets on  google drive for this purpose but I do think, I want to switch to a paper one to log notes and then transcribe it at a later time.

I also think that the term brick wall can be scary.  Walls keep people from passing.  It is that simple.  Don’t ever give up though.  Genealogy can be like a maze – there is bound to be a way to get through it and some may harder than others, and who knows what the next left turn will bring.

My Hungarian ancestry for instance.  The records have always been there at the Family History Center on microfilm but they were just that far out of reach at the time.  Now, with several of them online and better access to the Family History Center [and more knowledge of]  I am able to travel down that path as far as it will take me.I am fortunate that I don’t (yet) have anything I would consider a brick wall.  While I do have several unfinished ends, I don’t feel that I have researched any of them well enough to place them into that category.  Perhaps though that is what makes it a brick wall in the first place?  Something that gets in the way of your research to make you move on to something seemingly ‘simpler’.

For now though, I will continue to consider my Brick Walls to be nothing more than a bump in the road – some which may be nothing more than a spring pothole.

The Chelmsford Genealogy club meets the first Tuesday of the month at the Chelmsford Library, 25 Boston Road, Chelmsford MA.  Their Next meeting will feature Rhonda R McLure speaking on New England Research. (Link)(Facebook)

Episode 2 is Finally Here!

Join us on another great episode of Discovering Your Past!

In this episode, my wife Susan Young chats with Deb Sweeney from (and Episode 1,) about creating a research plan.

Then, I discuss some hints and tips for recording a family interview after I had a chance to sit down with my Mother, Claire Young.

We hope you enjoy!

Links Mentioned in this episode include:


Research Plans:

Do-Over Update

Well it is the start of week 6 I believe and I am begining to fall behind.

But that’s Ok in my book.

Since the last update I was able to complete a family interview with my mother. The experience was great and I learned a lot of little things, mostly about the history of Atlantic City.

I have since spent some time listening to the interview and pulling out the details into a spreadsheet.

One of those details was the story of a small plane crash my father was in shortly before he and mom met.


My Father was lucky enough to survive this with only a broken finger.

I used this story to research what I could about the incident. I searched many newspapers of the area based on the date my mother had thought. I had a break through when I found the NTSB accident record [link] with the date almost a year later. I was able to find this using the tail number of the aircraft.

I now need to search more newspapers with the new date as a major item is different between my mothers account of the story and the accident report. The Co-Pilot of the plane had died. I have kept a fairly accurate search log thus far along with a list of sources.

There is still a ton of work to do on the interview but to break things up I also began re-translating some of the Hungarian family records of my Mothers Father. Again keeping notes in the log and creating the sources as I go.

As of yet, I have not entered a single name into the software but like I said before. That’s Ok.

Week 5 was about creating a toolbox and I have been doing that all along. I have syarted to compile some of it here on the DYPast Blog [Link] and I will continue as I go.

Onto reading about this new do-over week in a short while but first, 10 more minutes of the Interview.

To find out more about Thomas MacEntee’s Geneabloggers Do-Over Project, follow this [Link].