Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Like the Walls of Jericho... Crumbling Brick Walls

Like the Walls of Jericho... Crumbling Brick Walls in 2014...

Genealogy Resolution #2

Genealogists are forever yammering on about 'brick walls' --- I'm surely no exception to this! We all have at least one mysterious relative, and unfortunately for most, that mysterious relative has a prominent spot in our pedigree!
So in my genealogy resolutions for 2014, I'm continuing my quest to be a better genealogist... and will now examine #2 on my list-- Brick walls and how to make them tumble down.
It's been a few years since I've actively worked on some of my most frustrating brick walls --- though in 2013, I had one come crashing down --- and this was an ancestor I've spent 20 years searching for! I'd given up on ever finding him --- and if he wouldn't have had a bio printed in one of those popular turn of the century local history books --- I wouldn't have! Luckily, he has a very unique name and came from a very small, specific New Hampshire locale --- or I wouldn't even be sure it was him --- he took some liberties with his bio --- not surprisingly he neglected to mention the wife and two children he abandoned in Iowa when he went West to "find his fortune" --- But that's another story for another day -- because today we're talking about Brick Walls and how to tear them down. The last thing I'll ever claim to be is an expert --- but let's talk about what we can do this year in our quest.
It's easy to put aside an ancestor we're stuck on for a bit and before long, three years have gone by --- and a new year is a perfect time to reevaluate what we know for sure and what we wish we knew.
Obviously, ancestry.com & familysearch.org are resources that can & should be checked out --- but since they are so obvious, I'm not going to give them a spot on this list-
1. Mocavo --- While I'm only a basic (or free) member... so I'm sure there are benefits that I'm not getting. But the scanned pages of old published genealogies are alone worth the visit to this site! The brick wall I smashed, with the published bio, was found via Mocavo! Give it a try --- some of the 'hits' will be very obvious/vague/unhelpful --- but some might just be what you are looking for!
2. Findagrave ---  One of the best grave sites, if not the best. Yes, I know it was recently purchased by Ancestry --- and if that's a huge issue for you, I suggest you get over it! Findagrave is a wonderful site --- made wonderful by amazing volunteers who list burials & photograph tombstones. Yes, there are some shockingly rude & obnoxious people there --- like in every walk of life. I ignore that behavior (usually) and hope karma will prevail.  Meanwhile, new burials are listed every second! So pay the site a visit if you haven't recently & search for those elusive folks again--- who knows! Incidentally, I am also aware that both Ancestry & Mocavo have F.A.G in their search results... but you can go to the direct site and search specific locales, with partial names, etc. I once found the grave of my 3x great-grandmother by only her first name, in a county I thought she should be in --- her stone was broken and the photographer wasn't able to read her surname!
3. Rootsweb message boards & mailings lists --- Once super popular, its seems that message boards & mailing lists have both waned --- based on sheer lack of postings, is how I came to this conclusion. But, when reevaluating a brick wall ancestor, you should visit the surname message board of interest & read the postings to look for connections --- and to post one of your own! There are also location boards, for counties and other locales of interest for the places your ancestors lived. Take some time and browse through these lists, if it's been awhile. [again, I do realize that this is an "Ancestry owned" site...]
4. USGenWeb --- Yes! I know, many of these pages haven't been updated or maintained in years & years --- but you can still find great county resources & old archived queries. Visit the county of your interest and follow some links --- some might be dead ends, but others might take you to great places --- who knows what you might find!
5. Living Relatives --- (gasp!) Yes, an often overlooked source are the real, living breathing family members that pepper our family trees. Thanks to technology we have far fewer interactions with real people --- [sometimes that's a blessing! Other times... not so much so] It's funny how we can miss out on the mother load of information just because we didn't ask the right person the right question. Depending on your age, the number of "older generation" relatives you have can vary... perhaps you yourself are that generation, but if you still have Grandparents, Great-Aunts, or Grandma's cousin Myrtle left in your family, don't neglect them and the knowledge they may harbor. Even after 2o years of picking the brains of my Grandparents (who are now 80), they'll still mention "fresh material", sometimes out of the blue. At times I've wanted to shake Grandpa and yell, "HOW ARE YOU JUST MENTIONING THIS NOW?!"
So unless you point blank asked the question (at least twice) to someone already, don't take for granted that they don't have the answer. I'm known for repeatedly asking point blank questions. So, call Cousin Myrtle --- tactfully invite yourself over for tea --- beg her to dig out the photo albums & tell her you'll bring the pound cake.

6. Reexamine Facts --- sometimes when you've been searching for something for years, you forget what you know for fact vs. what you think is fact. 
I'm a doodler, so I use my trusty pen & scratch paper to make a timeline for the elusive person I'm seeking & include what I know [and how I know it!] To list the sources you have and the things & places you've checked/rechecked is important! Sometimes just reevaluating your evidence will spark a new idea--- or at least spark interest  --- and get you to do the previous 5 things we talked about!

So, as part of my New Year resolutions, I'm going to take one of my elusive mysterious relatives and try the 6 things we've talked about here... and I'll add the 7th option, which is too blog about it here--- whether you will find it interesting or whether it shows up in someone's Google search next year--- Win-Win for me!

Now I ask you --- How do you combat brick walls?  What wonderful resource or idea have I missed that you use! 


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