What Fishing Can Teach Us About Breaking Through Brick Walls

I was raised in the South and one of my favorite memories is going fishing with my dad when he was home. He was gone a lot driving truck. On the occasional Friday he made it in early, we'd come home from school to find him waiting with the boat already hitched up. Off we'd go the lake for a few hours of fishing. Looking back, I see these times as not only cherished memories, but also a valuable learning experience.

You Can't Go Fishing Just Anywhere

If you want to catch a fish, you can't just plop your line in the first bit of water you come across. If you're looking for a particular fish, you have to be even choosier about where you cast your line. You wouldn't expect to find a bluegill (sometimes referred to as brim or bream) in the ocean because it's a freshwater fish.

Brick walls in genealogy require the same approach. Take the time to learn about different record groups and what they have to offer. Don't limit yourself to only records that are available online. The majority of records have yet to be digitized and can only be found if you go digging in archives, courthouses and/or libraries. You may be missing out on a key fact of your ancestors life by limiting your search to the easy records.

You Have to Use the Right Bait

As any fisherman knows, many fish have a preference in the type of bait they take. Some are perfectly happy taking a worm you put on the hook. Others are pickier, preferring cheese, corn, minnows or brightly colored lures.

Searching records for information on your ancestor also requires the correct bait (information). Take a second look at sources you've found previously to make sure your information matches. You may find that you figured a date wrong or that a transcriber made an error in reading a name, location or age.

Keep in mind that there's always at least one oddball fish that doesn't stick with the norm. If you're having difficulty finding your ancestor in a record group you're pretty sure they should be in, expand your search to include a wider age/year/location range and spelling variations.

Patience is Key

When it comes to fishing, you have to be patient. The fish aren't always going to jump right on the hook. You may have to sit for a while before you get a bite. If you give up too soon, you may miss out on catching the fish of a lifetime.

Patience is important in genealogy as well. If you get impatient, you may end up mistakenly identifying the wrong individual as your ancestor. Basing future searches on this person details can lead to a majorly skewed tree. Take the time to make sure you have the right person.

You may also want to go back over research on the generations prior to your brick wall ancestor. Sometimes a difficult to find ancestor is a result of a misidentified person previously in your tree.


  • Lisa says:
    August 24, 2011 at 2:24 PM

    I love your analogy to fishing. You are so right! I grew up fishing with my grandfather and your points ring true for both fishing and genealogy.

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