At some point in everyone’s genealogy, they come to a brickwall. There are many things that can lead to a brickwall. It may be that the ancestor moved, didn’t register a birth, was married in another country, was adopted or changed their name. While brick walls are a challenge not all of them are insurmountable. You just have to develop some strategies for attempting to find a way over or around the brick wall.
What to do if you can’t find your ancestors birth. Murphy’s Law says that if a couple has ten children, they will register nine births and the one they won’t register is your ancestor. The challenge is to now place your ancestor in this family. Just because they have the same last name is not good enough to be accepted as a fact. If this is during a time when a census would have been taken, you can try to find the family together with your member listed as a child in this family. That of course would be an easy solution, most often, easy solutions are hard to come by. Another avenue to go down is religious. If they belong to a religious denomination that has infant baptism you may be able to find a record that places your ancestor in the correct family.
There will be times when you will not be able to find a birth connection. Getting a copy of a death certificate may list the parents but keep in mind that death certificates are secondary sources because the information was not given by the person who knew the information. Often the informant on death certificates gave incorrect information, confusing names and dates.
Wills are another place where family connections can be established. If this is a female and you are missing a maiden name you will have a big project on your hands but if you knew where they were living or have any hints about where she may have lived with her family, you can just go through the probate records for the time period. This can be time consuming and may or not provide the information you are looking for. It only takes one little scrap of pertinent information to make weeks of research worth while.
Name changes are a very real and a large problem. There are many reasons why a name may change. It may be that they came in through Ellis Island and the clerk who wrote their name down misunderstood or wrote the name phonetically. In the case of French Canadian names many were Anglicized. LeRoy became King, Boucher became Bushy, Gagne became Gonyea, Jacques became Jacks and these are just a few examples. Eastern European and Russian names were difficult for Americans to pronounce and they were shortened or changed. Drajewicz became Drake, Shalamuck became Palmer (these are all actual names) so as you can see, they will make for quite a brickwall. This is a case where if you are really lucky, a death certificate that lists parents with different names is really giving you a clue. You will have to rely on family history, stories, legends and lore.
If you know you have French roots and your name is King, you might want to give the Roy or Leroy families a look up.
If you ancestors moved around a lot, you are going to have your hands full tracing them. You need to learn a little about the history of the area and try to see if patterns develop. You can also do general family name searches and see if your family name is predominant in an adjacent area. My strategy is this: I start in the last known location and make a map with concentric circles going out from that place. I then research all the cities, towns and villages that fall within those circles. You don’t always find what you are looking for but you may find things you didn’t even know you were looking for.
In order to overcome you bric walls you have to be a bulldog. You have to think outside the box, you have to look for obscure records, newspapers, diaries and papers. It can take years when you get to a brickwall to knock it down but even moving one brick makes the whole process worthwhile.