02 November 2014

Joys of a Brickwall

On a recent excursion to the City Park with my family, I was inspired to think of my genealogy brick wall in a different way. 


What does your wall look like?
Copyright Jen Baldwin, 2014
Many of us have been there. The frustration. The dashed hope. 

The seemingly endless pursuit of new material, new research, new resources.  The absolute challenge of a brick wall. 




In reality, when you stop and think about the process you have gone through in trying to put the pieces together, as meager as some of them may be, you also start to realize how much you have learned. 

Imagine genealogy without any challenges. It's a gloomy vision, to be sure. 


Oscar is my opportunity. 

Changing my outlook on the "brick wall" of a genealogy research project means giving it a new name. Brick wall has too many negative connotations for me, so I'm now going to think of my project as my "opportunity." And his name is Oscar. 

Oscar was born around 1832 in New York, and died in 1906 in Nebraska. I know a great deal about his adult life, it's his childhood and his parents that have been difficult to pin down. I've been working on Oscar's story since I started on my family history, he has always been a bit of an enigma. I realize, though, that perception is everything, and as I commonly say, "life is in the details." I wonder how many resources I have discovered in the course of the last fifteen years that would have remained "unknown" to me without Oscar? 

I certainly would not know as much about early Michigan history, or the development of western New York. I would know next to nothing about the Mississippi Marine Brigade, and its role patrolling the Mississippi River during the Civil War (and without all of that information, how would I have been able to stump the military researcher at the Denver National Archives a couple years ago on a question about the unit?). 

The four inch binder of material that has been accumulated would not be nearly as thick, and the little clues hidden within would have been overlooked. The intricate details of Oscar's life may have remained unknown for a long, long time. The detailed study of his life, his timeline, would not exist. I never would have stopped to question, "what did Oscar farm in Nebraska? What was his crop?" "Did the family have live stock? If so, what effect did barbed wire have on the homestead?" The questions I've asked over the course of this project would have gone unasked. 

All of this is done with really one primary objective: identifying with as much certainty as possible who Oscar's parents are. That's really been the burning question for a long time for me. Along the way, though, the treasures - answers to these questions and more - have been uncovered.  


Because of Oscar, I am a much better genealogist today. 


What ring will you stretch for next?
Copyright Jen Baldwin, 2014
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I would challenge you to think of your "brick wall" in a new way. As you grasp one ring, continue to reach for the next. Remember that every clue is important, no matter how small it may be at the time. Remember that the challenge of the hunt is what makes us good researchers, the application of our discoveries is what makes us great.