Overcoming Brick Walls: Establishing A Plan Of Attack

Every researcher will eventually run into that ancestor that seems impossible to get to passed.  This is your brick wall ancestor. Overcoming a brick wall takes patience and a good strategy.  No matter how tall or how wide the brick wall is, you can break it down.

genealogy, ancestral brick walls, family tree

Figuring Out What You Know

The first step to breaking down that brick wall is to figure out exactly what facts are known.  The best way to do this is to create a timeline of the brick wall ancestor.  On this timeline, include every known fact that you have about this ancestor.  Be sure to then include a list of each source that proves each fact either on the back of the piece of paper or on another page if in a document.  This timeline will show you at a glance exactly what you know and exactly what is missing.

Did You Miss Something?

The next step is to review the actual sources that you listed with your timeline.  Do not review your notes, transcriptions, or abstracts of your sources, but actually view the record itself.  Looking at this document with fresh eyes might show something that you missed that could be a lead.  If you discover something that you missed, then add it to your timeline.

You could always create a timeline on your own, but you could also use pre-made ones.  Here are some forms for creating a timeline:

Creating Your Research Plan

Your research plan is a living, breathing, ever-changing document.  It is your guide to breaking down your brick wall.  Get comfortable with your research plan because it is your best friend.

The point of a research plan is to clearly define exactly what you are looking for and list potential records to check for that information.  As you look at more records, you will add to the research plan.  You will create new goals and a new list of records to check.

You could create your own research plan with pen and paper, a word processing program such as Microsoft Word, or you could use a pre-made form.  Here is an example of a pre-made research plan at ShoeString Genealogy.

Using your timeline, decide exactly what you want to know about your brick wall ancestor – this will be your goal.  Then begin to brainstorm exactly what kinds of records would help you find that information.  Fill this information into your research plan.

Do you have any great suggestions for creating a research plan?  Do you create your own timelines and research plans or do you look for pre-made forms?

Further Reading:

Thanks to ezioman for allowing me to use this photo.

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9 Responses to Overcoming Brick Walls: Establishing A Plan Of Attack

  1. Thanks for sharing the great links of all the forms! No sense in reinventing the wheel.
    .-= Alice Dilts´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday – 03-10-10 =-.

    • The forms are the best! I love using them. I didn’t even scratch the surface as far as the forms, I just wanted to provide an idea. Definitely check Cyndi’s List for the links to the great forms.

  2. Really interesting – I tend to have little patience with brick walls, though I do look periodically back, preferring to tackle the lesser-challenging lineages. Hopefully, I will be inspired to check these ‘brick walls’!
    .-= Jenny Smith´s last blog ..Kate Winslet’s theatrical heritage =-.

    • It is completely understandable to want to tackle the less challenging lines – I think to some degree everyone wants to do that. Checking back with your brick wall can give you fresh eyes when you look at that brick wall and possibly provide an epiphany.
      I do hope that you become inspired to deal with those brick walls. I promise that once you get your first new lead, you’ll be hooked on that line again.

  3. This is very helpful. I don’t know how one could do anything with out a time line of some sort.
    And I do also checl back at brick wall. I think for me it’s a matter taking the time / of writing the proper letters and maybe a donation promised and send the letters. Making sure of proper address. And or doing something like that through email.
    Instead i kind of do little challenges. jo
    .-= jo Meyer´s last blog ..Tombstones and Graves of My Ancestors =-.

  4. I’m sorry for commenting on a post from last year, but I’m reading through your blog and thought I’d comment on this, because I have a brick wall ancestor…and I’m one of at least 20 researching him. Currently, he is the Common ancestor of many, many people, the particular lineage is of such interest to its members that there is a book detailing every one of his descendants, a family website, and some very dedicated people I’ve had chance to meet. The main thing that everyone wants to know is: Where did he come from, and who were HIS ancestors? We know the name of the ship he came to the US on, the date it arrived (and his birth, marriage, death dates), where it landed and where it came from–not from his birthplace, which is Germany. We don’t know where in Germany, though there have been speculations based on the surname. He’s my fifth great grandfather (I’m 15), and while I know many people would be satisfied knowing that, I’m addicted and want to go further back. Any suggestions?

    • Phoebe – that is a tricky one! Do you have his naturalization papers? His naturalization papers may give a town name. Does his marriage record give any indication of where he would be from? Have you checked county and local histories to see if a lot of Germans from one particular area settled in the town that he settled in? Looks like you just have to expand your search to some of the not-so-obvious records and far fetched chances to see if you can find anything. Good luck!

  5. Thanks, Elyse, for the mentioning ShoeString Genealogy! BTW, I added a new form yesterdae.

    I enjoy your posts!

  6. Good article, Elyse. Also, if you subscribe to our Weekly Genealogy Chats Reminder, you’ll see our “Brick Wall Deconstruction Kit,” which addresses other resources you may not have considered yet. Subscribe FREE at http://ShoeStringGenealogy.com. This week we give Elyse’s Blog honorable mention, too!

    Happy Dae·

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