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My friend Aaron calls them artificial brick walls. They can also be called self-imposed brick walls.

We say this to mean we have labelled something a brick wall that really isn’t a brick wall.

We call them that even though we haven’t done our due diligence in terms of careful research.

Consider these examples:

Insufficient Research

We declare the brick wall of not being able to find an ancestor in a census year. But we haven’t:

  • tried multiple spellings and pronunciations,
  • used wildcard searches,
  • searched surrounding counties,
  • searched other census websites other than Ancestry,
  • considered a migration out of state and biggest of all—
  • done a line-by-line search in the district or county we expect to find them in.

We declare a brick wall, but we have only been to one or two repositories in person. Worse still, we’ve done all our research online.

We declare a brick wall, but we’ve only searched 2 or 3 types of records such as census records, vital records and the “easy” databases on Ancestry (like World War I draft cards). We haven’t even tried to search land records, court records, church records, maps, city directories, probate records, newspapers and other records.

We declare a brick wall, but have never expanded our search to less common but potentially valuable records. These are often stored onsite at universities, historical and genealogical societies.

We declare a brick wall, after jumping back several generations, and not doing extensive research within each generation on all the siblings and children of each sibling.

Insufficient Evidence Evaluation

We declare a brick wall, but have used books and websites to collect information without ordering and examining firsthand the original record.

We declare a brick wall, but we’re wearing cultural blinders. We aren’t considering that people may have had children outside of or before marriage, or that they may appear in the records as a different race.

We declare a brick wall,
but have never actually analyzed and correlated the evidence that we DO have. In fact, we don’t know how to evaluate the evidence. We believe everything we see in print is factual, accurate and true. If two records give conflicting information, we have no idea which one is correct.

Insufficient Research Strategies

We declare a brick wall, but we’ve only been searching for our direct ancestor and maybe his wife and children. We have not expanded to the group (or “cluster”) of people that were associated with our ancestors. This strategy significantly increases our chances for success.

We declare a brick wall,
and have never tried to find living descendants of any of the family members.

We declare a brick wall,
but never stopped to consider our ancestor may have had multiple marriages. We also never actually verified the mother of each child separately from the father.

 And, my personal favorite,

We declare a brick wall,
but have never actually read a book on genealogy methodology or any of the thousands of teaching articles published in genealogy journals. We have progressed mainly by asking others what to do next instead of taking the time to learn ourselves “what to do next.”


Hopefully, I’ve provided you with some suggestions for how to assess your current research. Genealogy is a learned skill and a profession with defined standards. You improve at genealogy by practice and by education.

I look at sources I gathered in earlier years and see things now I couldn’t possibly see then. Try to get away from the paradigm of “looking up” people in databases and learn how to “look into” people’s lives, which is a different animal altogether.

I have been guilty of many of these artificial brick walls myself. I have had to overcome my special tendency to declare someone dead when I can’t find them;)

But I’ve gotten better over the years by constantly educating myself and learning about research strategies and resources. I hope you will too.

Tell me in the comments, which artificial brick walls you have been guilty of?

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