Time Out! Why Even Long-Time Genealogists Need a Break

Carolyn Tolman, project leader for Legacy Tree Genealogists, offers her advice on how taking a break from genealogy can improve your research

Brick Walls. We all have them somewhere in our family tree–places in our pedigree where we cannot find the names and dates we need to continue tracing the ancestral line. Sometimes all it takes is time and patience sorting through unindexed records or tracing each of several same-named persons until we find the right one. Many of us have spent years—decades even—doing just that, but without success. The result is a long-time frustrated genealogist who needs to step away from the struggle and experience success for a while. Here are some tips and tricks for taking a break from your discouraging research roadblock.

  • Collateral research on spouses and siblings. Many people are so intent on extending their direct lines as far back as possible that they neglect spouses and siblings. Every spouse has ancestors and many siblings have descendants that are “ripe for the picking” genealogically speaking. Furthermore, studying these collateral lines often leads to breakthroughs on your direct lines, especially if they lived in the same area at the same time. Your own direct ancestor may not have named their parents, but their siblings or cousins may have done just that. You’ll have the satisfaction of gathering their records plus possibly the joy of discovering more about your direct line.
  • Fill in the details on known ancestors. We all know genealogy is never “done.” You may think you’ve gathered all there is to be found on an ancestor, but new records are constantly being digitized and put online that were inaccessible and unknown only a few years ago. Newspapers and photos are a great example of this modern phenomenon. MyHeritage has hundreds of millions of newspaper pages from many countries and is adding to them all the time. They have also made finding photos incredibly easy with Photo Discoveries™ which uses Instant Discoveries™ search technology to find photos of our ancestors that have been shared by distant cousins. Take some refreshing time to find newly-available newspaper articles and photos and “flesh out” those names and dates on your pedigree.
  • Volunteer with genealogy problem solving groups. There are plenty to choose from, but one interesting option is the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) Unclaimed Persons Database (https://www.claimus.org/). “The UnClaimed Persons database (UCP) contains information about deceased persons who have been identified by name, but for whom no next of kin or family member has been identified or located to claim the body for burial or other disposition. Only medical examiners and coroners may enter cases in the UCP database. However, the database is searchable by the public using a missing person’s name and year of birth.” What a meaningful way to use your skills to serve others. Perhaps you’ll end up claiming one of your own distant cousins.
  • Help a beginner pick the “low-lying fruit” of abundantly available records and build a basic pedigree. There’s nothing more invigorating to a genealogist than having plenty of informative documents available for the picking. All it takes is some very rewarding time pulling them together and organizing accurate, complete family groups. Seeing your friend feel that natural high of meeting their ancestors for the first time is priceless.
  • Explore your DNA matches. If you’ve never used this increasingly valuable genealogical tool, you could discover a gold mine of matches (cousins) who claim descent from ancestors who turn out to be siblings of your own brick-wall ancestor. Just as we mentioned with collateral research, your own progenitor may not have left a record of their parents, but one of their siblings might have. There might not be documents proving those siblings were related, but a preponderance of DNA matches can bridge the records gap and give you the proof you need to tap into several more generations of a known family. Even if you’ve already tried DNA and found your match list unhelpful, come back to it regularly. New matches are being added all the time as testing becomes more popular, and new, user-friendly analytical tools are being rapidly developed. MyHeritage DNA is a great example of a newly-available database which is growing rapidly with their international clientele.
  • Hire a fresh pair of eyes. As the recommended research partners of MyHeritage, Legacy Tree Genealogists offers a team approach to tackling genealogy problems. Perhaps you’ve been staring at your roadblock so long that you’ve overlooked some valuable clues. Having the fresh perspective of another long-time researcher with a unique set of skills could provide the breakthrough you’ve been dreaming of. Keep in mind that we professionals are not privy to a mythical, exclusive database with “all the answers”–nor can we make nonexistent records magically appear–but we do offer the advantage of having multiple experienced genealogists and DNA specialists review your case. We also have a worldwide network of agents who can access archives which have not yet digitized their collections, the largest of which is the Family History Library, just down the street from our main office in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. If you click on “Hire a researcher” under the “Research” tab on your MyHeritage home page, you’ll receive a special discount when you order your first project.

It is amazing the effect that taking a break can have when it comes to tackling your brick wall. You’ll have a renewed focus and better perspective when you come back to it, and hopefully your new skills or newly-available records and tools will make all the difference.

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Carolyn Tolman is a Project Manager for Legacy Tree Genealogists, a worldwide genealogy research firm with extensive expertise in breaking through genealogy brick walls. To learn more about Legacy Tree services and its research team, visit https://www.legacytree.com.  Carolyn Tolman is a Project Manager for Legacy Tree Genealogists, a worldwide genealogy research firm with extensive expertise in breaking through genealogy brick walls. To learn more about Legacy Tree services and its research team, visit https://www.legacytree.com.  

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About the Author

Thomas MacEntee

Genealogy educator and author Thomas MacEntee has been researching his family history for more than 40 years and is the creator of Abundant Genealogy, Genealogy Bargains, DNA Bargains, The Genealogy Do-Over and numerous other web-based genealogy and family history properties.