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More Great Genealogy Brickwall Solutions - Part I

"First you get the facts and then you distort them any way you please." Mark Twain

This is the second GenealogyInTime Magazine collection of genealogy brickwall solutions (see also 50 Best Genealogy Brickwall Solutions). At some point, every genealogist reaches a roadblock in their research. The best way to overcome a roadblock in your ancestral research is to try to think creatively and look for the less-obvious solutions. This collection is all about looking at the less obvious. Enjoy!


1. Scottish Ancestors – For a variety of reasons, immigrants often changed their name when they move to a new country (a trend that incidentally still occurs today as discussed in Why Immigrants Change Their Name). Often, it is an attempt to disguise their country of origin. For example, ancestors migrating to an English-speaking country would often anglicize their name (i.e. make their name more English sounding). What is often not recognized is that someone from an English-speaking country would also sometimes change their name to give it a different English sound. This was often done to disguise the region of origin.

For example, Scottish immigrants would sometimes drop the ‘Mac’ at the beginning of their family name to hide the fact they were from Scotland. If you are having trouble tracing an ancestor back to Great Britain, consider the possibility that they may have come from Scotland. Try adding a ‘Mac’ to the front of your family name. For example, for ‘Arthur’ try looking for records under ‘MacArthur’, ‘Grey’ would become ‘MacGrey’, etc.

2. Names of Women Remarrying – Most marriage certificates list a woman’s family name pre-marriage. Do not assume this is necessarily your ancestor’s maiden name. The marriage certificate that you are looking at could be your ancestor’s second marriage (a common feature when people died young) and she may be listed by the family name of her first husband. This is a frequent occurrence. Always look for corroborating evidence that you are, in fact, looking at your ancestor’s maiden name. Otherwise, you may end up tracing the wrong family tree.

pioneer cabin
Economic necessity often required a woman to enter a new household quickly after the death of a previous spouse.

3. Maiden Names – Here is another innovative way to trace the maiden name of a woman. If one of your female ancestors ever attended a college or women’s school then consider contacting the alumni association. Most women would have kept in touch with their alumni association after they graduated and would have informed them of any name change when they married. You can use this information to contact the alumni association and trace backwards to determine a woman’s maiden name.

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