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From the Green Valley News, Wednesday 21 January 2009, page C2

Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG

Brick Wall Resolutions

Surveys indicate New Year’s resolutions seldom survive the month of January—indeed, some last less than a week. If you are a genealogist, New Year’s would be a good time to resolve to tackle one of your brick wall problems and stick to it until it’s solved.

Most of us have more than one problem ancestor who seems to have dropped from a space ship without parents or return address. Wherever we find them, they provide no obvious clues to their prior identity. Often however, there are clues that we overlook because we don’t spend enough time analyzing the problem.

Begin by writing a brief sketch of the person or family including all specific, documented life events in chronological order. Why write it? You can think about a problem for hours, but in writing it you will more easily pinpoint the known elements and recognize the missing ones.

Reexamine each record accumulated in the past to be sure you recorded all the data therein.

Finish your sketch with a written analysis of the problem that also identifies records that might lead to a solution. If you haven’t already studied the history of the area or time period in question, spend a little time doing so. It may give you a better understanding of what you can expect to find and new places to look for evidence.

Now make a survey of available resources. If you haven’t worked on a problem for years there may be new information available or sources overlooked in the past. Much preliminary research can be accomplished at home in front of the computer. Revisit online sites such as USGenWeb and that are constantly adding new databases.

Where are the records that could help to solve your problem and how accessible are they? The Family History Library catalog at will confirm whether records needed have been microfilmed. If so, visit the Family History Center in Sahuarita and order the films.

Don’t confine your search to your immediate ancestor. Research the spouse, any known siblings, and all children you find. Carefully collect and compare information found in all their records looking for discrepancies and confirmations of facts.

Remember any record may contain an error. Only by comparing all relevant records can you be sure you’re on the right track. Don’t rely on indexes. When you find an entry in an index always refer to the original record—indexes seldom contain all information in the original, and what’s missing may be the key to solving the problem.

Spend some time reading Marcia Hoffman Rising’s book, The Family Tree Problem Solver (Cincinnati: Family Tree Books, 2005). She provides numerous examples of hard to solve problems with a discussion of the path to solution and various records that revealed the necessary clues. The book is available at the Green Valley public library.

January 1 is past, but it’s not too late to spend a few hours with one of your brick wall ancestors. A new investigation of the problem may produce some clues that topple those bricks. The solution may even be in your files waiting to be discovered.

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