Thursday, 26 May 2016

My tips for getting over a brick wall

I’ve broken down a few brick walls in my time. I always live in hope that I’ll find that elusive relative or another layer for the tree.Here's what I do....

  • Keep note books of all your research – index them e.g. page 4 William Ford research
  • Re-examine everything.   Re-read your notes and clues every six months or so. Sometimes something you ignored the first time jumps out at you when seen in a different research context or at a later date after other discoveries.
  • Reorganise your documents.Viewing census again often reveals something you missed.
  • Look for nicknames such as Lizzie instead of Elizabeth that could make continuity a problem.
  • Double check spelling for names, places and dates of birth etc.  Try variations in spelling, use soundex etc. Check for discrepancies in birth years and places of birth.
  • Having said that  be flexible with ages, places of birth etc . Sometime relative were illiterate or town boundaries changed.
  • Don’t forget surnames often changed with location. The Schultz family  might have wanted to be less German. Anglicise your name and try again.
  • Systematically check your “go to” sites in case of an over sight e.g. Free BDM , Family Search, Check newly available resources e.g. Dusty Docs or sites you don’t always use., Family Search. Military records, Poor law and workhouse records may turn up a few gems.  Check newsletter updates from Find My Past, Ancestry etc records are always being added.
  • Perhaps your relatives have been documented in historical records and magazines which have been digitized. Do a Google search.
  • Collaborate with others to find hints or other observations. Ancestry trees offer up hint leaves, message boxes etc. Sometimes trying to prove or disprove a fact on someone else’s  ancestry tree unravels the next bit of information which breaks down your wall.
  • Perhaps even check the facts or do a timeline of things you know.  This refreshes the memory and gives perspective. Clayton Somerville Strelley came to life with a time line.
  • Don't exclude  brothers sisters, uncle and aunts from your research . Occasionally you find relatives living with cousins etc due to death of parents or working in the same industry or town.  Similarly search siblings extended families. The Strelleys were very rarely “home” on Census night.
  • Look at the history of neighbours in different census.  Maybe they had similar occupations or  relatives intermarried. The Fords in East Meon had a small community of friends and relatives making them easy to track down.
  • Research local history, changes in your relative’s industry, source local papers of the day. This leads to clues as to movements of families e.g.  The Irish had mass migration during the Potato Famine in 1840s.
  • When confounded keep asking yourself these questions. What? , What else could be happening? Why ? Adoption, remarriage, poverty, becoming an orphan, colonial opportunities  are amongst the possibilities. Bertha Strelley appeared in only one Census and no Birth or death record.  She turned out to be Barbara Strelley McHardy-illegitimate despite the fact she lived with William and Lavinia Strelley nee McHardy.  Similarly Julia Baker had married a Smith and as a widow had married George Greedus who then changed his name to Smith.
  • Keep finding new ways to find out what you do not know. The World Wide Web is forever adding digitised records, books, resources. 
Good Luck and happy hunting

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