TSGS Cruiser Blog

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Research Tips

Genealogical Brick Walls
Are Excellent Opportunities

Just over 20 years ago, Oak Hill Cemetery was not in the shape that it should have been. Employees were unable to keep up with the mowing; and trees, vines and bushes were covering grave markers & blocking passage on some of the narrow roads. I was given a lot of the credit for the hard work of the levee employees in maintaining grass mowing and trimming back trees & brush along the berm of the earthen levee. The Evansville Mayor moved me from the Levee Authority Superintendent's post to be Manager of the two city cemeteries: Locust Hill & Oak Hill. And once we managed to get things under control at the cemeteries, a newspaper reporter asked me how we were able to get everything in order. I sarcastically replied that it was not very hard keeping the grass mowed, but would have been even easier if it was not for all of the big rocks everywhere. Of course, I was joking about the tombstones. The joke did not make the paper and probably for the best. And as you know, I and all genealogists (and most everyone else) really appreciate the tombstones erected in the memory of loved ones. Often stumbling blocks or hurdles are considered hindrances to our progress or success; but, generally, these hindrances are important in other ways. Just as tombstones may get in the way of efficient mowing of grass, they are important as a monument (and information) of those who came before us. Honoring our dead says volumes about our civilization. Genealogical researchers use more than just what is engraved on the marker... many clues can be found from the cemetery, the kind of stone, etc. That is a subject all by itself, but I want to discuss “Brick Walls” and not the physical ones found around a cemetery.

Genealogical research eventually is halted due to what most describe as a “brick wall” - we just can not seem to get around it or over it to go further back on our family's history. A good friend wisely stated that problems were just opportunities to use our minds and talents to resolve them. Brick walls in genealogy is just another opportunity to use our investigative skills and make us use our minds to figure out how to become successful in our quest to discover our family history. We might be able to compare the brick wall with grave markers... they both can be hindrances to our progress, but each can have its importance in other ways. That importance should be obvious for the grave markers. How can a brick wall have any importance? Most significant, perhaps, a brick wall tells us that we have not adequately researched the times, the history, etc. concerning the problem at hand. Brick walls force us to try alternative methods to find what we are seeking. We expand the scope of our research... learning about siblings, neighbors, people of the same ethnic, religious or cultural backgrounds. Many genealogists have called this the “back door” or “side door” research and is generally very helpful even when it does not resolve the original question. Developing a time line for each person helps to establish that person's life – what, when, where, and most importantly why. Often we blame lack of records as the excuse for the brick wall... and it is a deterrent to moving back and over walls that block us on our journey. However, we have managed to get over walls before that records did not seem to exist... we discovered that we were looking in the wrong place or needed to change our direction & focus of our research. I have found that you can remove brick walls one brick at a time by simply filling in the gaps in the time line of each person involved. Attempts to fill the gaps can show weaknesses in your research. An example might be that your ancestor should have married in a time range of 1748-1756 estimated from other facts you have found, yet, despite the records existing for marriages where you think he should have married – he is not listed... why? Answering that question is very important and may just knock down that wall completely or take out several bricks to where you can see the other side. If you have an example of tearing down brick walls, share it with us! Just remember you can always mow the grass even with all those rocks (tombstones) in the way!

- Written by JGWest

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