Genealogy brick walls: Breaking through just by re-reading what you have


Brick walls are frustrating. I’ve broken through dozens, but I have even
more that I’ve been staring at for years. In this quick video, I’ll share one method
of breaking through a brick wall and provide an illustrative example. Quick version: just go back and re-read everything
you’ve collected. Don’t just skim it. Read it, and anytime you encounter something
that doesn’t add up, look at it more closely. Let me say that again. Read. Everything. Closely. Because this one of the hardest things you
will do in genealogy. Why? You have to fight yourself. You’ll place more weight on your memory—which
is plastic and unreliable—than in the document in front of you. You’ll suffer from confirmation bias, which
is when you ignore or discount evidence that doesn’t support your existing conclusion. You’ll be overconfident in how you interpreted
a given document the first time around. If you’re going to use this brick wall technique,
make sure you have a good chunk of free time with few distractions, so you’ll have the
patience to review things your brain won’t want to review. Let me give you an example: Jane M Haggerty,
my third great-aunt. I had pulled together a clear map from her
birth in Delaware on 4 July 1852, through the 1870 U.S. Census, but she disappeared
after that when she was in her twenties. I figured she either died or got married but
I couldn’t make any progress at all. It was like she just vanished. That was the case for two of her sisters as
well. I was struggling with all three sisters, and
one morning when my wife and kids were out of town, I decided to re-review everything
I had. One document had an oddity: a typed record
of the Hagerty burial plot at Old Cathedral Cemetery in West Philadelphia that my Uncle
Jim had put together in 1989. A young woman named Mary J. Hunsinger and
her three children were buried in that plot, but they weren’t anywhere in our family
tree. I had just dismissed them the first few times I reviewed the document. Figured, they were some other family I also reviewed some notes my grandfather
had written down one day when his dementia was in full force. Among other disconnected memories, he noted
that his mother had given the title to the burial plot to his sister. That meant old George Haggerty, Jane’s father,
had purchased the lot, which I hadn’t realized. So if George owned that lot, why were four
unrelated people buried there? It made no sense. It was an oddity, so I ran it down. That’s the whole point of re-reviewing everything
you have. If something doesn’t fit, or there’s a
fact you missed, go check it out. I searched for death records for a Mary J.
Hunsinger and found a record for a Mary Jane Hunsinger whose date of death matched the
one in the burial plot record. I was shocked to see that Mary Jane’s residence
at death was 2213 Lombard Street, which was George Haggerty’s home in Philadelphia’s
seventh ward. Then I looked up the death records of the
three Hunsinger children, and two of the three had died at 2213 Lombard Street as well. What was this family doing living with my
3rd great-grandfather? Could this be Jane M. Haggerty? I looked back over everything I had on Jane
M. Haggerty and noticed her baptismal record named her as Johanna Maria. I had never bothered to type out her full
middle name, I just left it as “M” from when I first found her in census records. Several of Jane’s sisters swapped their
middle & first names at various points in their lives. Jane must have done the same. I’d found her, along with her three children. They weren’t unrelated strangers buried
in George Hagerty’s burial plot. They were his family. It’s worth noting that I figured this all
out five years ago, in 2013. When drafting the script for this video in
2018, I noticed a baby named Lena Haggerty was buried in George’s plot as well. She wasn’t anywhere in my tree. Even though I had pored over that burial plot
and discovered a tragic branch of my tree, I never bothered to investigate that entry. Turns out little Lena Haggerty had died at
2213 Lombard Street as well. She was born to Jane’s brother, John Haggerty
and his wife, Mary. John had died in 1880, and while his death
certificate noted that was married at the time, I had no idea what his wife’s given
name was until now.

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Comments

  1. Excellent video as always… 30 years into the hobby and I am still forever learning new things when rereading old documents. You seriously deserve more subscribers!

  2. When I was a kid, my family and I had a black toy poodle and his name was Rambeau. We gave to my mom as a birthday present in 1967 when I was six years old. My mom's birthday is December 24th. In the early 1980s, idiots would falsely assume that we named our dog Rambo because of the movie with the Rambo character in it but we got our puppy more than nine years before we ever learned who Sylvester Stallone was. Rambeau was a very sweet little dog and he was almost 16 years old when he died in late October 1983.

  3. Oh, yes! This is a great way to break through those brick walls — most especially what I call "do-it-yourself brick walls", the ones we have ourselves created either through misunderstanding and misinterpretation of records or by copying from others who have done the same. And for some reason, I've had my best successes at using this technique when I was suffering from insomnia, almost as if there is something about that insomnia that helps to block out the old interpretations and all me to see everything in a new light.

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