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Genealogy Research Tips: Breaking Through Brick Walls and Getting Past Dead Ends


Family., Digital ID 1806932, New York Public Library

Genealogy research may now be among America’s favorite hobbies, but it certainly is not the least frustrating. Stamp and coin collecting may start to look more attractive after you spend a few days combing through Ancestry Library Edition and can’t find any new records to help add details to your family tree. But don’t despair for too long, the following tips and tricks may help you get past the dreaded brick wall in genealogy research.

I would be remiss if I left out some basic but absolutely necessary steps:

  • Don’t give up! You will be able to find more information with patience and diligence than without it.
  • Organize your research:
    • Chart your family tree.
    • Make duplicates of primary documents.
    • Create folders or binders for different branches of your family tree.
    • Create a database on your computer just for your genealogical research.
    • Create a research log to help you remember what you searched and what resources you used.
  • Review your previous research.
    • Verify your information with primary documents.
    • Cite the source for each of your documents — including what type of document it is and where you obtained it.
    • Analyze your records both separately and as a group. Often when records are gathered over a period of time, new answers, perspectives or clues can be found.
    • Sort out records that contradict each other, but don’t discard them. Make note of contradictions and see if you can determine why there is conflicting information.
  • Look at other case studies to find similar cases to your family research. The trials of others often will give you clues for how to proceed in your family’s cases.
  • Share your information with other members of your family. They may have leads for you based on the research you have already done, but the information will need to be organized for someone else to understand it.
  • Remember that genealogy research is a lot like detective work. You are using clues to unlock a larger story. You will occasionally follow false leads and have to retrace your steps and you may have long intervals before another promising lead develops. Embrace your role as a sleuth!

 Jay Street., Digital ID 705101F, New York Public Library

After you have completed these basic steps, you may find that you still have a brick wall in the way of your research. Here are some of the next steps towards a genealogical breakthrough:

Family Tree., Digital ID 2020706, New York Public LibraryFamily Tree

Lastly, there are always the pros.

Good luck in your research and remember that Patience and Fortitude are not only mascots of the library, but great qualities to maintain when researching.


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Hello, Carmen. I agree that family members are great resources for genealogy research. Further; those of us who have stories about our families should also preserve them. Please read my blog, Hear; Don't Listen, to find out how I am preserving my family's story of how they transitioned from a communist regime to America in the 1980's. Thanks!


There are numerous digital e-books and publications archives where I've managed to find numerous biographical, historical and genealogical books written by others with knowledge of or who have researched in a different time or place. In the absence of actual documentation, these accounts at the very least provide clues. It's also worth checking the bibliographies and source lists of these publications for more clues.


Looking for my gg grandfather,Robert G Dickerson born in south Carolina on 8/1/1817.His birth parents,they died and he was made a ward to Benjamin James.can't find his birth parents.

Please email the division directly.

our email is - we can look into your question if you email us directly.

marriage and birth records in New York 1908-1914

How can I find a marriage record from immigrants (my grandparents) who arrived by boat in NYC 8 Apr 1908? They had a son 14 Aug 1908. They had another son sometime after that. They may have lived in New York City, or perhaps in Schenectady, NY.

our email is

our email is - we can look into your question if you email us directly.

info on ggretgrandmother

other than 1880 census records,can only marriage lic. app. for same only listed her name -- Sarah summers and her age as 17 she wed Thomas P Williams age 27 [he later in 1883 married Mollie Woolwine they all lived in Roanoke Va.] Sarah and Thomas married in 1867 in Pulaski County Va. any info would be greatly appreciated

my gggggg(6th) great grandfather.

I have found information on my family back to my 6th great grandfather Alexander Lyle (Lilie), but I can find if he was born in the USA (Philadelphia, PA) or a different country and if so what country. Alexander was born in the year 1716 and married Katherine Trump on sept. 9.1740.

Sylvanus Finch to Alpheus Finch

How do I find a birth record from 1789 of Alpheus Finch in Broome County, NY? Sylvanus also has a brother and grandson by the same name. Ive also looked for a will but cannot find Alpheus (son) listed. I need this proof for DAR lineage. I found a census but it doesn’t name them as father and son.

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