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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Getting Through Your Brick Walls
by Rhonda R. McClure

October 18, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

So often the correspondence I receive is from frustrated researchers who are trying desperately to get beyond a "brick wall." Known more eloquently as an end-of-line ancestor, the official name is no less frustrating, especially if working in a time and locality when records exist, but your ancestor just doesn't seem to be in them.

First, end-of-line ancestors are part of genealogy. That doesn't mean there is nothing you can do. Most often though people pound against the brick wall that is the end-of-line ancestor, never wavering. This usually results in nothing but frustration. Instead, you may need to attack the problem from a different angle or a different generation.

Stand back from your end-of-line ancestor.

Evaluate Where You Are

Evaluating where you are in your research means more than just simply looking at your pedigree chart or family group sheet of your end-of-line ancestor. Evaluating where you are in your research means reexamining all the research you have done on that line up to this point.

To effectively accomplish such a reevaluation requires that you have some method of organization when it comes to the copies you have made. There are a number of organizational programs out there including Sharon DeBartolo Carmack's Organizing Your Family History Search and William Dollarhide's Managing a Genealogical Project. Both offer guidance in organizing your research.

In addition to organizing the records you have found, you must also be tracking your negative research. After all, with the positive research, you have photocopies or transcriptions that let you know that you looked in a given source. With negative evidence, there is nothing to show for the search unless you are recording that information. Research logs are critical to this. Research logs should be used for both negative and positive research. A research log, when properly kept, can aid you during this time of reexamination.

What Are You Missing?

As you look at your pedigree chart and family group sheets, look at them from the aspect of what you might not have done in your research. With a discerning eye, see if you have jumped over some records in your zeal to get back another generation. It is tempting to skip records if our ancestors are showing up in the census records. But those records we skipped may hold the clues to where you should go next. They may be the records that prove your previous information is in error, especially if all you have has come from the census records.

Perhaps you might want to compare your research to a resources checklist to see what records you may have overlooked in your research. It is natural for us to stick with what we know. When comparing the records we have already checked with such a list, we often discover new resources that may solve the brick wall.

If you don't know how to use a particular record type or what it may have to offer, you will find that there are many resources both online and published that will guide you through the process of accessing a particular record type or what information that record may hold. Keep in mind that many records are not available online. You will need to get microfilmed records and in some instances, write away for photocopies of original records. You may even have to hire a professional researcher in some instances.

In Conclusion

Usually when you go back and review your past research you will often discover overlooked records or incorrect evaluations in past research. In some instances your ever growing knowledge and experience will give you a better eye to evaluating the information found and not found than you had when you originally did the research.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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