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: if you run into a dead-end with your direct line, research their siblings, or even people you just suspect might be their siblings. Records associated with the sibling may help you make new connections.

If find this useful in a few different scenarios.

One is trying to determine an ancestor’s maiden name: sponsors or witnesses at baptisms tend to be family members, especially before the 1800s. If a surname crops up repeatedly, it’s a good guess that those are the mother’s siblings, aunts, uncles or even parents.

Another scenario is trying to bridge geographical gaps. It was the rare exception before 1900 that someone immigrated alone.

Ethnic Germans, for example, tended to immigrate to Colonial Pennsylvania in a group with others from their village. If you can’t trace your ancestor directly, their family in Pennsylvania may have a better trail back to Germany.

Irish Catholics migrated in chains, so even if only a couple individuals were on a given ship, they already knew someone at their destination, whether it was a sibling or cousin or even a former neighbor.