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Brick walls in your research

Updated: Dec 26, 2018

   I’m getting ready for the Celtic Connections Conference later this week in Massachusetts.  I heard from many of you that you will be attending and I look forward to meeting you.  There are so many excellent lectures that the biggest problem is deciding which to attend.  I’m really bummed that some of the ones I wanted to attend are at the same time as my lectures!  I’ve already started to read the syllabus which was sent out yesterday.

   As I continue to work on my new website, I’d like to thank those of you who provided feedback.  I’ve made some changes, probably the biggest being the background color of the blog.  There was a comment about the blog being difficult to read and preferring the color theme I used on my old blog.  I can’t match it exactly, but if you feel strongly about it,  let me know your thoughts.

   One of the requests that showed up multiple times on the survey I did in early July was “brick walls.”  Clearly that’s an individual issue depending on your personal research, but before you give up, I’d like you to think about it as a process, rather than a dead end. 

   When you have a brick wall it’s time to step back and think about your research process.  It begins with your research plan.  Do you have one?  What is the specific research question you are trying to answer?  Is it the names of the parents;  the siblings; or the place in Ireland?  Be specific!  Finding everything about Michael Daly may be your ultimate goal but it isn’t a research question.

   Next, start with a clean slate.  Go back and re-read everything you have on the individual causing the brick wall.  Sometimes you may find that you already have the answer, but didn’t recognize it when the record first appeared.  Create a timeline.  Don’t forget to include the births of siblings, and make notes of witnesses and sponsors for various records such as marriages, baptisms, naturalizations or land records.  Those are names you’re going to research as well.  They are your ancestor’s FAN club (friends, associates, neighbors).  That’s part of the process of cluster research.

   The next step is to make a list of the types of records that might answer your research question.  Please remember that not everything is online!  You may have to do some research on the records to find out where they are located.  While you’re at it, you might find additional records that you are unfamiliar with.  Find out about those as well.  One great source for US records is The Redbook; another is the FamilySearch Wiki.  For Irish records check out John Grenham's Tracing Your Irish Ancestors or his website IrishAncestors.  There are also a series of books by Flyleaf Press on Tracing Your ____ Ancestors (fill in the name of the county). 

   Once you have a focused plan, start your research.  I’d like to say this always works, but sometimes you just run out of records.  Check out the reference below to when a brick wall is solid.   

   Here’s one exciting piece of information that came from Claire Santry this week. plans to upload the remainder of the civil registration records to their website, likely in November.

   Happy Hunting!

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