The 7 steps to smash a genealogical brick wall


26 May 2016
admin-ajax-(1)-22239.jpeg Brick wall
Have you hit a brick wall in your family history research? Does it fill you with despair and frustration?

Have you hit a brick wall in your family history research? Does it fill you with despair and frustration? If so, Family Tree June has the perfect article for you, as professional researcher Chris Paton describes how brick walls can be as much of an opportunity as they can a hindrance...

A genealogical brick wall is simply a research problem that has yet to be overcome, for brick walls in fact lie at the very heart of the stories that we are trying to uncover. Genealogy and family history research is about problem solving, and the thrill of the hunt in so doing. It might well be that your brick wall issue is a genuine blockage with little hope of bypassing it -– the records needed to resolve it may not have survived, for example. However, more often than not it might also be the case that the tricky situation causing the obstacle on your tree has nothing to do with the records at all, and absolutely everything to do with you!

You'll have to read the full article to find out the 7 steps to breaking through a brick wall, but here's Chris's first top tip to get you started.

Explore errors & omissions

Take birth, marriage and death records in England and Wales, for example. The conventional wisdom for researching these tells us that civil registration in the two countries commenced in July 1837, and that from this point it should be possible to locate such events initially from the published General Register Office (GRO) indexes, from which we can then order up certificates. So, if this is the case, why might it be that an event can suddenly not be found in the indexes?

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There could well be a few reasons. Are you aware that the GRO indexes, for example, were actually created as a secondary part of the registration process? Initially the records were compiled by local registrars across the two countries, and then copies conveyed by superintendent registrars every three months to the centralised GRO. When copies were made, inevitably sometimes errors were introduced, and some items were overlooked. To overcome this issue, it is well worth trying to find the same record from the original superintendent registrar’s office, rather than the GRO. A useful starting point is to visit the UKBMD website at, where you can identify if local indexes have been created for a particular area and made available online. If so, records can then be duly ordered, although at a slightly dearer price to those sourced from the GRO.

While coverage for death registration was almost complete, even from the early days of civil registration -– with a death certificate formally required before any burial could take place -– it is estimated that about 5% of births may never have been registered prior to 1875. In such a case, you may need to turn to locally generated baptismal records instead.

To read the full article get the June 2016 issue of Family Tree from or subscribe and save. Family Tree June is in the shops until 7 June 2016.