Brick Wall Tips and Tricks for 2018

Webinar: Brick Wall Tips and Tricks for 2018

Date/Time 9 January 2018 at 8 PM Central US Time


This presentation is geared at advanced beginning and intermediate level researchers. Our focus will be on getting past those impasses in your research. We will look at some common research pitfalls, terminology that can be confusing, ways to organize your research process, the importance of looking at “everything” and more. This presentation is not geared towards one location or time period, but is more focused on methodologies that can be applied to a variety of research situations. Questions can be submitted by live attendees before the presentation and will be incorporated as much as possible and practical. There will be discussion afterwards for those in the live session.


How You Hear It In Your Head

Most genealogists “hear” the names of their ancestors in their head. Not in the sense of “hearing voices,” but by “hearing” that pronunciation in our head of a name that we may never have actually heard spoken aloud. My grandfather’s first name was Cecil and there was only one way it was ever said “See sull.”

It was years later before I learned that the name was often pronounced as “Seh Sill.”

From a research standpoint this can present problems, particularly with last names.

Especially ones like Taliaferro–because it is usually said in such a way that it rhymes with “Oliver.”

Try to discover how that “new name” was probably pronounced. Because how it was pronounced makes a difference in how it gets spelled.

It Isn’t Only Immigrants Who Appear on Manifests

Immigrants looking to settle in the United States were not the only ones to cross the ocean on a ship and appear on a manifest. Depending upon the time period, passengers could also be:

  • merchants and other businessmen
  • soldiers returning to the United States
  • native citizens returning from a trip abroad
  • immigrants returning to the US from a return trip to their homeland

I even found a manifest entry for a cousin who was a Red Cross nurse in Europe during World War I. If a passenger list entry is recent enough (generally late 19th century or later), it may give significant details about the passenger.

Fudging One Piece of Information Is All It Sometimes Takes

Census enumerators are sometimes given a slightly incorrect detail or two to make a family situation appear different than it is. In this 1930 enumeration the husband’s “age at first marriage” is incorrect–probably to make it look like he was the father of all the children. The oldest child was the wife’s by a previous marriage.

There is not really anything in this enumeration to suggest that either–the gap in ages of children could easily be explained by an infant death, miscarriage, etc. This is why looking at more than one record is imperative.

In the Newspaper Well After Death?

Some weekly newspapers would publish a “days beyond recall” or a similarly titled column containing items from issues that had been published decades before. Just because your relative died in 1855 does not mean he might not be mentioned 40 years later. It can happen.

My relative died accidentally in 1855 and several decades later in a retrospective column his death was mentioned.

The Whole Manifest-Read the Whole Thing

Names of immigrant passengers on a ship may put in separate areas of the manifest. Most of the time they aren’t (especially since they are travelling together), but it can very easily happened as it did with this 1869 list of arrivals into New York City. The parents are listed separately, then much later on the page are the minor children, the father’s brother, and the father’s mother.

Never hurts to read the whole thing.

Years Can Easily Be Off

This World War I draft card for Malerbi Alighiero indicated he was born in 1916. It’s clearly an error on the part of the registrant. It’s easy for a clerk (or anyone else) to make an error such as this. Transcribe the document as written and use the word “sic” to indicate that there is clearly an error:

The card for Alighiero indicated he was born in 1916[sic]

That way someone knows you did not make a transcription error.

And if you think a World War I draft registrant could have been born in 1916, a review of world history is in order.


Pros and Cons and the “Genealogical Rear End”

Every record and finding aid has limitations. When using a source or a finding aid, it can be easy to get caught up in what it tells us and how it helps us. But it is to our advantage to not just focus on the pros of what we are using. We should think about the “cons” of that material as well.

  • How can it be wrong?
  • Could it provide biased information?
  • Could it be incomplete?
  • And so on.

Being aware of the “cons” does not mean that we ignore the “pros.”

But if we are only aware of the ways a record can be right or can help us we may get “kicked in the genealogical rear end” by the negatives we are not considering.


When Was the Last Time You Read a Research Guide?

When was the last time you read a genealogical reference book or other item to increase your knowledge and understanding of genealogical research methods and sources? Blogs and other materials can be helpful, but sometimes it’s nice just to have a book. I purchased a copy of the new edition of Resbooksearcher’s Guide to American Genealogy,

There are other good books out there, but I only mention ones with which I have actual experience and which I have actually purchased and used. Sometimes just a re-reading of something I’ve read before gets me to thinking.  Sometimes one can get used library editions on Amazon (see links below)  Ebay or for low-cost–other times not so much.

Do You Contact FamilySearch Tree Submitters?

While they don’t always respond and they may not know any more about the family than you do, it still may be worth contacting individuals who have submitted/corrected entries on your family members on FamilySearchYou may make contact with others who share an interest in the same family as you. This may be helpful when you are “the only one” working on a family or you have had difficulty making contact with relatives. 

You do not have to put your own tree on FamilySearch to use the trees or to contact the submitters–you can search all you want, but will have to make an account to contact some submitters. You do not have to make corrections or tree additions yourself. Not everyone responds, but I have connected with others who had a collateral interest in the family and this can be a good way to potentially obtain pictures or information that you do not have.

Yes ,the trees have errors and they are not perfect. I’m painfully aware of that. Yes, not everyone will contact you back. Responses reminding me of these two facts will be deleted and will not be posted as comments.

Some people allow you to see their actual email and others must be contacted through FamilySearch.