Brick Walls - Causation & Circumvention
In her course for Family Tree Academy, Mary Evans takes a different approach. Rather than simply giving a somewhat arbitrary list of her personal favourite historical sources, she looks at a number of possible reasons for the existence of the brick wall. She looks at a number of grounds for confusion, and in so doing, gives some suggestions as to how to circumvent them. As an example, one common mistake is to take information given in official records as entirely trustworthy. Experienced researchers know this need not be the case. The informant may simply have not known the correct information – this is particularly common in census records, where a single informant had to give information about an entire household, not all of whom – such as servants or lodgers – may have been his or her relatives. And sometimes, of course, informants lie, for all sorts of reasons, some of which Mary considers.
Names can also lead to problems for researchers. People may be known by nicknames or diminutive (as it happens this is particularly common in my own family, where some people, including myself, are known within the family by several different names). People may also change their names. This is particularly common among children of single mothers, or where a widowed mother remarries – children often then took the name of their stepfather. Likewise, ages and dates can cause problems for the incautious researcher.
At the end of the video part of the course, you can download a useful selection of questions and answers, offering up a range of further suggestions to help with your research.
Overall, this course gives some handy tips for lateral thinking about why you may run into a brick wall, without getting too bogged down in specific examples of record sets that may help you break through. I would however make one slight criticism: the speaker uses a computer rather than paper notes for her presentation, and it is quite distracting when she turns to her laptop to prompt her for the next section of the course.