Fauquier County Public Library

Genealogy: The Brick Wall, Part Two

Posted by marysue on

In my August blog, Genealogy: The Brick Wall, Part One, I discussed “brick wall” research, analysis, creating timelines and census research strategies. Here are additional strategies to help you break through your brick walls.

Look for avenues beyond census and vital records.

There are so many other sources available online or in person. Each has their own research strategy, so do the research about available records before you go to any repository. Try some of these alternate resources:

  • Courthouse records – deed, probate, tax records, and more
  • Library local history rooms, local genealogical societies, and regional or national archives
  • Newspaper archives
  • Military records
  • Obituaries and cemetery records
  • Church records
  • Published genealogies

Many family history researchers become discouraged when their research hits the “wall” of trying to find alternate resources once they have exhausted the census and vital records. Most census and vital records hit that wall at about 1850 or 1880, respectively.  When this happens, The Handybook for Genealogists: United States of America is a great resource for uncovering additional resources for the state and county you are researching. Two local history sites are USGenWeb and American Local History Network contain some hidden gems, depending on the state and county you are researching.

Look for “collaterals.” 

Collaterals may be cousins or neighbors with whom your ancestors lived or migrated. Many researchers are interested in only their direct line of ancestry, but often a cousin’s line may hold the key to solving your mystery. In the 19th century, neighbors and extended family often moved together to a new town, sometimes in another part of the country. Check out migration trail patterns, look at land and probate records, and research any neighbors or extended family members you consistently see in the census with your ancestor.

Collaterals research has proven to be one of my biggest strategies in breaking through brick walls. It is definitely an exercise in thinking “out of the box.”

Anecdote: My great-great-grandmother lived in three different households over three consecutive censuses. I may not have found her if I did not know who her children married and where they lived at the time.

Remember, the Fauquier County Public Library subscribes to AncestryLibrary, which you can access at any library branch. AncestryLibrary has vital records, census, military records, immigration records and much more. HeritageQuest has local history and genealogy books, census records, and some military records. It can be accessed remotely using your Fauquier County Public Library card.

Happy researching!

∼ Mary Sue, Reference Librarian, Bealeton branch library

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