Do you have a Brick Wall?
I've been looking back over my blogs to see what topics are of the most interest to my readers. Sometimes my "brick wall" is trying to figure out what to write about so if you have any suggestions, please let me know. Brick walls is also a topic that seems to get a larger number of people to read my blog. Other high interest blogs are on DNA, Finding a Place in Ireland, Roman Catholic Records, Cluster Research and Timelines. If you're interested in one of these topics, I want to remind you that you can go to the top of the blog and on the line that begins "All Posts" select a topic of interest. If you hover over "More" you'll get a drop down menu with more categories so you can catch up on your reading. If there is a topic that is missing, let me know.
So where is your brick wall? If you're like me, you probably have a number of them. If you've gotten as far back as records exist in Ireland, read more about the history of the area. You may not find your specific ancestor by name, but you'll be able to understand life in that time and place. Clearly brick walls are 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. I'm just starting a plan to work on my Scots-Irish lines that were in the US before 1800. Most of my ancestors (and all of my husband's) arrived in the early part of the 20th Century. The only lines I have here earlier are in Western Pennsylvania. As my research started when I lived in Connecticut (where vital records date into the 1600s) I was surprised to learn that vital records for Pennsylvania didn't start until 1906! I have the family traced back to about 1800 but haven't taken them back any farther. I haven't really worked on this line in many years, however five years ago when, on the way to my daughter's second wedding ceremony in Nebraska we had to drive through Pennsylvania. (she was married in a religious ceremony in Connecticut and then in a courthouse the following week in Hastings, Nebraska). I planned for a day and a half of research (my husband was thrilled...not). I had called ahead to the Librarian to let her know when I would be there and what families I was researching. Although she was not going to be there that day, she arranged for another Librarian to let me into the Pennsylvania Room and left out files for me to review. In one of the vertical files was a clipping of the History of the Shaw family, including my ancestor!
I also found an index card for his naturalization which contained a Docket Number. Before we left early the next morning, I convinced my husband to let me stop at the Court House to get a copy of the docket. The clerk insisted there was no additional information in the docket and that I wouldn't be able to read it. When she finally agreed to print it out (it was on microfiche) it included both his Declaration of Intent which stated he arrived in 1794 and his Petition which said in part..."stating on oath that he was born in the County of Antraim [Antrim], Ireland. At least I now had a County!
So my research plan begins with my research question: Where in County Antrim was Robert Shaw born? The second part, what do I already know about him?
I need to start with a clean slate. First I'll go back and re-read everything I have on the family causing the brick wall. Sometimes you may find that you already have the answer, but didn’t recognize it when the record first appeared. From the material in your files, 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. As you are reviewing the material you already have, you will begin to add items to your Plan...what records might provide the answer to your research question and where are they located? Complete the process of reviewing your files and creating the timeline before you begin your research. Once you begin you research make sure you record your sources. Remember, everything is not online.
If you are researching in an area where you don't live, or aren't familiar with the records, you may have to do some research on the records to find out what is available and where they are located. One great source for US records is The Redbook (also online at RootsWeb); 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). In addition, check out resources such as the local library and genealogical or historical societies in the area and social media pages such as Facebook.
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 this blog on what to do when a brick wall is solid. I'll come back to this case study as I work through my research.
Happy Hunting and Stay Safe!
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