Written by: Rachel Dunkley
If you find that you have hit a brick wall in your family history research, don’t despair!!! There are numerous avenues that are open to you in order for you to possibly break down that wall and continue with your journey.
One of the first things to do is to look at any documentation with fresh eyes. It is not necessarily a bad thing to look back over any documents you may have already discovered, as you could find information you missed the first time.
This is also why citing your sources is so important. It makes this process much easier.
If you feel an ancestor should be in a specific index and they are not, it could be that their surname has been transcribed incorrectly.
Try alternative spellings of a surname and even try saying the name aloud in order to come up with any ideas for how the name might sound to someone unfamiliar with your accent.
It must be borne in mind that handwriting was not always that clear – Steel could look like Heel or vice versa. So it is also prudent to use wild cards when searching. For example: a search for “Cra*ford” would come up with results such as Cranford, Crauford and Crawford.
When using wildcards, placing the * at the start of the surname can help in your results. For example: entering a search term of “*eel” could bring back Heel, Keel, Steel etc.
If there is only one letter you are unsure of, placing a question mark (“?”) in the surname may help, such as “He?”. A search like this would bring back Heal and Heel etc.
It is also possible that a surname may have been spelled differently over time. So be willing to check any possibility.
Sometimes people changed their name if there was more than one family of the same name in the area. For example: Richard Heel may have changed his name to Richard Heeler in order to distinguish his family from that of the other Richard Heel.
Another avenue to explore is to examine any last will and testament your ancestor may have left. This is especially useful if you cannot find any possible baptism in parish registers, but believe you know the identity of the father.
Their will may mention their children, which can help you to determine whether or not you are on the right track. And while not everyone left behind a will, it cannot hurt to take a look at a wills index just in case.
An obituary could also create a new avenue for you to explore. The names of the deceased’s relatives are sometimes mentioned, which could lead you to discovering relatives you never knew you had, and they may have information about the family they are willing to share with you.
Finally, please remember that although numerous resources are now online, there are still many that are not. It is best to go to local archives and libraries to check what resources they hold for the area you are interested in.
For example, military records can help if you are unable to find an individual’s birthplace. Sometimes it is mentioned in their enlistment and/or discharge papers.
I hope these tips help you in your quest to break down your own brick walls, and good luck with your research!
Rachel Dunkley has 20 years of genealogy experience, her aim being to teach others how to become involved in this wonderful pastime. You can learn more about Rachel’s passion for genealogy at Family Tree Resources.