Share this story Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

7 ways to break through a family history brick wall


Once you’ve started researching your family history, you’re likely to find some of your ancestors very easily, but others will be more elusive. However, don’t give up now, because when you’re breaking through your family history brick walls this can be where family history gets really interesting. Our tips will help you gain the knowledge you need to make these intriguing new discoveries.

Number 1

Get to know your ancestors. Spend some time looking carefully at the details that you do know, as this can help you spot family matches in unusual locations.

Number 2

Watch out for variations. Nowadays we are very precise about our personal details (such as the spelling of our names, our birthplace and our birthdays), but our ancestors may have been much more vague. Look out for similar entries, as they could provide leads.

Number 3

Study a map. Your ancestors may come from an area that you’re not familiar with. By looking at a map you can get to know the names of neighbouring towns and villages – which could be possible places that your ancestors moved to or from.

Number 4

Discover your surname origins. If the trail goes cold and you’re not sure where to look for your ancestors next, research their surname origins. Many surnames originate from a specific location – and so looking in such an area could increase your chances of finding your ancestors by that name.

Number 5

Grow your tree online. There are many online tree websites to choose from. The advantages are that many of them offer ‘tree-matching’ tools – which will link you to fellow family historians who may share your ancestors. They may already have solved the brickwall and be willing to help you.

Number 6

Broaden your search. If you can’t find your ancestors in the parish registers, for instance, perhaps try looking in the Nonconformist registers. Or if they’re not showing up in the census records, perhaps they went overseas so search for them in the passenger lists.

Number 7

Archives and books. The internet is a treasure-trove of information for family historians, but it doesn’t contain everything. If you can’t find the records you need online, you will need to look elsewhere. Record offices, archives and family history societies could be your next port of call.

Research advice

Back to "Next steps" Category

01/11/2016 Share this story   Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Recent Updates

How to find ancestors on the census

Discover how to find your ancestors on the census for England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, bridging the gap ...

Which is the best family history website?

Find out which family tree website is best for tracing your family history and finding ancestors with our ...

Family history FAQs - how to start your family tree

Find out how to start your family history with Family Tree magazine's FAQs for beginner family tree ...

Don’t forget our foremothers on Mother's Day weekend

How can we make sure the female side of our family tree is well represented, in a world where male ancestors ...

Other Articles

The Half-Shilling Curate and the army chaplains of the Great War

Sarah Reay explores the role of the army chaplain in supporting the frontline soldiers of World War I. ...

Top three tips for finding your ancestors in the Irish BMD registers

Steven Smyrl shares his expert tips for getting to grips with a core collection of family history records – ...

Dogs and family history – celebrating Crufts 2017

In a guest blog to celebrate Crufts 2017, Gill Shaw tells the story of remarkable dogs from history and ...

How to find your Cheshire ancestors at Cheshire Archives

Discover how to find your Cheshire ancestors within the wealth of information held at Cheshire Archives. ...