Are you dealing with a brick wall situation? Probably not.
presented by Tom Rice, CG (
A brick wall is a situation where no source exists that answers your question either directly or indirectly. You will only know you have reached a brick wall when you have exhausted all possible sources around your query. Most situation or genealogy problems are not true brick walls but rather a failure on the researcher’s part.
Most genealogy research questions are one of establishing an identity. It may be a search for a relation to a known or already identified person. A search for a person’s parent, sibling, spouse or child; or determining if two individuals are the same person either in a different place or under a different name.
In any of these situations the strategy should be to:
  • focus very narrowly and specifically
  • fully describe the known person of the relationship you are trying to define
  • learning about the sources of the place and time where these two people lived together
  • look at EVERYTHING (there is no limit to this – all sources that describe the place and time and the people who lived there.)
Why EVERYTHING? Because the answer may well be one where you have to assemble the answer from pieces of information. The answer may not be a direct one. A direct answer is where the relationship is clearly and unequivocally stated. An indirect answer is one where the relationship is realized by putting pieces of evidence together. In any case by looking at EVERYTHING, even if you do not find the answer to your query you will at least learn about the time and place where your ancestor(s) live and thus more about their life and about them.
So where do you learn about the sources of a specific time and place? A good start would be the wiki pages at, any of the webpages about that place and time at Cyndi’s List, genealogy books and journals, from interacting with relevant regional and ethnic genealogy societies. In any case it is imperative you read, study and learn about all the sources relevant to your query. Every successful genealogist studies genealogy, history and geography. For Irish researcher John Grenham’s book Tracing your Irish Ancestors and his website ( are two excellent resources.
A couple of tips for successful research are:
  • Record what you fine using paper recurs such as pedigree charts and family group sheets.
  • Create an overall genealogy using either a desktop program such as Legacy Family Tree or RootsMagic [both have free trial versions on multiple platforms] or an online website such as [free at a public or research library] or [free].
  • Create logs of your correspondence and of your research showing where you have looked, what sources were examined, what your looked for and show what you found.  (free forms are avaiable on the FamilySearch site)
  • Ask for help: from family members both close and distant, from those researching the same family or at least the same place and time period, from genealogy and historical societies and from the world of assistance using social media.
When all is considered, the odds are you do not have a brick wall but rather a lack of knowledge of relevant sources and of the time and place. Quite possibly besides a lack of knowledge, maybe a lack of effort on your part.  Genealogy research is hard work.  It takes work to learn how to do it, to do it and to see the value in what your find. Your brick wall may not exist in reality. There may be an answer to your question expressed either directly or indirectly in available sources. Your failure may be because you have not focused your search, you have not fully defined at least one part of the queried relationship, you have not studied enough, you have not looked widely enough at EVERYTHING or you have found the answer but have not realized it because it is laying unrevealed due to your failure to fully analysed what you have found.
When have you done enough? When your efforts have satisfied the genealogical proof standard. When you are certain there are not more sources to be found and examined and you have thoroughly studied what you have found.
The Genealogy Proof Standard (Board for Certification of Genealogists):
  • A reasonably exhaustive search
  • Complete and accurate source citations
  • Through analysis and correlation of what has been found
  • Resolution of conflicting evidence
  • Soundly written conclusions based on the strongest evidence.