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Brick Wall Ancestors—We All Have ‘Em

What is a Brick Wall Ancestor? At some point, all of us confront these ancestors who defy our attempts to learn about their origins. We do not know when and where they were born or who their parents were. For women, we may not know their maiden names. We get stuck, really stuck. What can we do?

This week my local Highlands Ranch Genealogical Society ( hosted a program on this topic. Our presenter was Ted Bainbridge, a genealogical researcher, teacher, consultant, speaker, and writer from Longmont, CO. He offered a plan of attack when facing the dreaded brick wall:

  1. Make a list of what you already know, re-read your sources, sort the information into a timeline, and make of map of the ancestor’s known locations during his/her time period.
  2. Identify which facts, events, and sources are missing from the list.
  3. Brainstorm on where you might find the missing information and use the internet to find out what records are now available.
  4. Search the new records for the person of interest, his family, and his other associates.
  5. Ask other genealogists for advice.
  6. Remember that some brick walls are permanent. Stop working on them.

I have my share of Brick Wall ancestors. I would love to know more about these people:

  1. Unidentified great-grandfather who fathered my grandmother, Grace Riddle (1896-1976). She was born on a homestead near Palisade, Nebraska.
  2. John Davis Riddle, born in 1821 somewhere in Pennsylvania, died in 1896 in Mendon, Michigan.
  3. Daniel Sherman, born about 1800 someplace in New York, lived his adult life in various Kentucky counties, died after 1862.
  4. Katherine Stanabaugh/Stillenbaugh, a German or Dutch immigrant, who had a daughter with Thomas Sherman in 1865 and died near Indianapolis, Indiana.

This year I am trying to break through the wall presented by John Davis Riddle. Earlier this year, I came across a lead that did not pan out, at least not yet. Now, I hope to try Mr. Bainbridge’s approach to see if I can make any progress.

With four Brick Wall Ancestors, I feel like I am in a box. I hope these walls are not permanent.

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