A couple of weeks ago, I read a blog post by James Tanner Analyzing Brick Walls — a genealogical myth or reality? and saw a presentation given by him. It was a video of a live presentation. I couldn’t find a link to that video, for which I am sorry. It was a great presentation.
After working through Mastering Genealogical Proof (MGP), DearMYRTLE’s study group on that book, and a dialog with Elizabeth Shown Mills (Evidence Explained) I think I am going to stop using that term. In fact, I rarely use it, but see it a lot on Facebook and other places where Family Historians hang out.
I know that IF I hit my head against a brick wall, I am going to get a headache, or definitely warn out. It’s exhausting just running up to that brick wall, only to be pushed back.
When working with a friend about their “brick wall”, I observed that they were so focused on that brick wall, that they didn’t see the answer, right in front of them.
In Mr Tanner’s August 25, 2011 blog (link above) he said:
“Let me give my definition of a “brick wall.” I consider a brick wall to be a researching situation where records should exist and a person should have been recorded, but for whatever reason is not found and records are not easily located. This rules out the end-of-line situations where you can no longer find records back in the 1500s or so. “
Isn’t that like Exhaustive Research, that we talked about in the study of the Genealogical Proof Study in Dr. Jone’s book?
It’s like, to me anyway, the difference between Negative Evidence instead of Negative Findings, as Elizabeth Shown Mills taught me.
When I run up to that Brick Wall, I am starting to STOP, and see if there is a way around it. Or, Look somewhere else. Another Genealogy friend, Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist has a category on her Blog on Methodology. I have heard her speak in person, and each time reminded of “other” places to look.
In cleaning up my genealogy database, my clean up is focused on my Sources, putting them into the correct, Evidence Explained!! format. A long project, but so worthwhile. I was doing this clean up for one reason, formatting of the Reference Notes, that what I found was a number of pieces of information that I had over looked the first time (OK, couple of times). Right there in front of me, was the piece of information that I was looking for. It wasn’t a brick wall after-all, I just didn’t look enough. I think that a number of folks in the MGP Study Group had the same experience. Of course, I have learned much about research since that first time I looked at those sources.
In another example, I was trying to prove or disprove that a gentleman served in the Civil War. That’s when I learned about Negative Findings instead of Negative Evidence. I had been looking at this one document, a couple of other helpers looked at it, but missed the one small piece of information that was in the Log Book. To make a long story short, the County was wrong for MY person. Right state, wrong county.
Learned Lesson: I am going to change Brick Wall to Keep Looking and sooner rather than later.