Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Getting Musty and Dirty

Do you have brickwalls in your research? I don't. If I had brickwalls, I would need a sledge hammer, maybe dynamite and a lot of muscle just to get a hole in that wall. Sorry, but I'm not up to that. However, I do have RESEARCH PROBLEMS. I can tackle those with wisdom, time and patience.

You have those so-called brickwalls because you keep banging your head against the bricks. Och! That hurts! On the other hand I can use my head (aka brain) on the research problem with minimal agony. First I need to analyze why I am having problems with the RESEARCH PROBLEM. Take out "problem" and I might have better luck. Ah ... research!

To get further with your research you need to understand the people in the "problem." Does the information you have make sense? Look at the locations and dates. As far as location, our forbearers did not stand still, so think about migrations. Think about others in the family and include friends and people outside their circle. Where did everybody go? Did your ancestor follow or lead?

Now let's see what else we need to learn. How about history? When I was a child I was disappointed when I didn't see my ancestor's name in a school history book. I penned his name in it ... not with pencil, but with ink. It was there for the life of the book. Are you in a rut of picking up a genealogy book, flipping to the index, frowning, then muttering "nothing there?"
Don't do that. Study, study and study just like you were back in school. Do you buy genealogy books that gather dust on the shelf? Pull them out and start reading and learning. Those wonderful books, such as Red Book and The Handy Book for Genealogists have information on state research, county formations, where to locate records and more. How can you possibly do research wearing blindfolds?

Have you gotten musty and dirty lately? I know it is difficult when you set at the computer day and night typing in surnames, searching for everything that might allow you to break through that confounded brickwall. Oops ... research problem. If you haven't had dirt on your hands, you haven't done research. Internet is wonderful and has spoiled all of us. Don't fret, I'm not advocating that you unplug the computer.

My granddaughter told me that cemeteries are the most peaceful place on earth. She's right. Have you ever done research in a cemetery and taken time to be still and listen? If peace has a sound, it is there. Now that's a place you can get dirty and not make mud pies.

Even if the record is on microfilm at the Family History Library or abstracted in a book, you need to look at it for yourself. I will never forget opening a large probate file in a courthouse to find personal letters among the papers. One was the last letter the testator received from a son. That was not found in the abstract or on microfilm. If I had written to the courthouse asking for information from the file, they most likely would not have photocopied all those letters. It would have been just the pertinent stuff with no frills.

Maybe you can't get to every courthouse, library or cemetery. There's always a volunteer or genealogist to help out. While many genealogy societies are diminishing in size, there are most likely people in that area who will give you some advise or maybe even look thoroughly through records for you. Just ask! They will be ones with dirt on their hands.

You need to develop a research plan. Notice I did not say brickwall plan. Have a goal. It is easier to have a simple goal. Like any true goal it should be a challenge, with an end. If it never ends, you will be prone to procrastination. I bet you have never procrastinated! Write out the goal and look at the holes in your pedigree or family group sheet. What is missing? How are you going to proceed to research to the end of your goal? What types of records will most likely contain the information you need? Will they be in a courthouse or on microfilm or in a cemetery? Can you get musty and dirty?

In genealogy (at least mine), there are no negative results ... only positive. I can hear you saying "in your dreams." Turn those negative results into something positive. You now know that by all indications an ancestor was not in a certain state or county at a given time, or did not leave a will in that county. Smile. It's positive because you have researched and don't need to check those records again. However, you need to keep a record of those results and where you looked for the information. Keep in mind, through the generosity of genealogists just like you, some long lost box of records may be found in a dirty courthouse basement a few years from now and your ancestor's records may be in it. That's why you need to keep an open and check and recheck. It's never ending!

You must enjoy what you are doing. Can you laugh at your own mistakes? Can you talk to your ancestors? Can you walk a mile or two in their shoes? Then you are enjoying genealogy. Research is starting over and not because you ran into a brickwall, but because you are in a learning process to solve your research problem.

Ruby -- You Go Genealogy Girl #1 --- who has no brickwalls!


  1. What a great post! I love the part about you writing your ancestor's name in your history book! In a way that is what we are all doing with our blogs and research - trying to write our ancestors names somewhere for others to see.

    I also love your approach of not calling it a brick wall!

  2. That was a great comment about picking up genealogy books and only looking at the index, and going no further if you don't see a surname.

  3. Great way to put a new spin on brick walls! I like your suggestions to make a plan and goals and to go through and find the "holes" in our research and family tree.



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