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6 Ways to Get Through a Genealogy Brick Wall

genealogy brick wall

If you've come to a dead end in your research, you may be able to use these 6 ways to get through a genealogy brick wall. Don't despair; brick walls are a normal part of family history research. If you keep at it long enough, you're sure to find the answers you need.

What Is a Brick Wall?

In the beginning, searching for ancestors is easy and rewarding. You'll love the excitement of filling in the blanks in your family tree and adding generation after generation to your genealogy software files. However, if you research long enough, you'll run into an ancestor who represents a dead end in your tree. Genealogists call this a "brick wall."

Brick walls usually come about because you are unable to find one or both parents for an ancestor. This often happens because you run out of public records that mention your family member. However, there are several ways to solve this problem.

6 Ways to Get Through a Genealogy Brick Wall

Gather your genealogy forms and files! It's time to solve some of those frustrating mysteries in your family tree.

1. Harness the Power of the Internet

If you haven't tried online genealogy research, you're in for a treat. In the last decade, the Internet has grown exponentially, and genealogy research has kept pace with this expansion. Ten years ago, online genealogy databases included only a fraction of the records they do today.

You can use genealogy software to help organize your files, and then you can search for ancestors using Internet genealogy databases. When you find information, you can enter it into your software files, further completing the picture of your family tree. These research and organization tools make it easier than ever to search out those hidden ancestors.

2. Use Others' Research

While you're putting your files online, you may notice that many other people have done the same. A GEDCOM file is the standard method of sharing information with others. In addition to sharing your own work, you can benefit from the research others have done. This is often a good way to break through a brick wall.

As you search for your ancestors on sites like or, keep in mind that other people may not be as meticulous as you are about record keeping. It's always wise to question the validity of others' research unless they have included their source documentation. However, you can still use this information to help you find your ancestors. Simply consider others' files as a clue to the identity of your own mystery family members. Search records using these dates and names, and record the information in your own files when you have proof of its validity.

3. Don't Forget Immigration Records

Often, researchers run into a brick wall when they reach the point when their ancestors immigrated to North America. If you don't want to stop there, you can research your ancestors in their country of origin. Ships' passenger lists and immigration records can be very helpful in this area.

If you know the year that your ancestor immigrated and the port of entry, you can search immigration records for more information. Often, you'll find ships' passenger lists, which may include information about other family members, as well as the port from which the ship embarked on its voyage. Immigration records may also contain specific information about the town and country where your ancestor was born.

4. Check Local Newspapers

While the Internet has made it possible to do most of your genealogy research from the comfort of your own office chair, a brick wall may necessitate a trip to the physical location where your ancestors lived. There, you'll find a wealth of information, including old newspaper archives.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, newspapers were the primary means for people to communicate with one another on a large scale. Even the most seemingly mundane details were reported in the local papers, and these details can provide clues for solving your mystery. Pay special attention to obituaries, birth notices, and social reports.

5. Include Siblings in Your Search

Many genealogists restrict their research to direct ancestors, failing to record information about siblings. However, those siblings could be the clue you need to solve the mystery of your ancestor's parentage.

If you run into a brick wall, consider gathering data about your ancestor's brothers and sisters. Then research these individuals in online databases and local records. You may find that documents connected with these people give further clues about your specific problem ancestor.

6. Check Off Where You've Been

Just like any major project, researching your family tree requires a great deal of organization. In addition to keeping track of your research on the computer, you may want to include a log of where you've already looked for information. Sometime, getting through a brick wall can take years, and it's easy to forget where you've been.

As you look in the following records, make a note to yourself for future reference:

  • Newspapers
  • Birth, marriage, and death records
  • Census records
  • Land and court records
  • Immigration records and ships' passenger lists

Wait It Out

If you can't solve your mystery using these 6 ways to get through a genealogy brick wall, consider putting your research aside for a time. In a few months, you can come back to the problem with fresh eyes, and you may find that you overlooked something. New records are constantly being added to online databases, and you may also find that some of this new information will help you find your ancestor.

6 Ways to Get Through a Genealogy Brick Wall