Four Things I’m Doing To Break My Brick Wall

I’ve been researching my family tree since I was a teen, I did take a hiatus while my children were growing up, but I’ve been hot on the trail ever since. I like to say I work almost 24/7 on my genealogy, so I think I’ve more than made up for the years that I stopped to raise my children.

I have two brick walls in my research: my paternal grandfather, Harold, who was born illegitimate, and my mom’s maternal grandfather, William Beaton (Willie Beaton), who was adopted. My search for William started around 2008 or maybe even earlier than that. My research goal didn’t start out to find his parents, but that’s where I’ve become stuck. I have made significant gains over all these years of learning about him, but I just haven’t been able to get any further in the tree. So the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking, what can I do to get past this brick wall?

So I thought of four things that I’m going to do to help me with my brick wall, and I wanted to share them with you. Even if it doesn’t help my research, I’m hoping they might help you.

  1. Check your correspondence. If you’ve been searching a long time too then you have correspondence. Hopefully, you’ve done a good job of keeping your correspondence organized. I’m not sure mine is the best but I have a folder called; Genealogy > Correspondence> Surname. So all correspondence about the Beaton family for instance is kept in the Beaton folder.

Because I’ve been collecting correspondence about the Beaton family for such a long time. Could I have an email that didn’t make sense when I got it, but now it might help with my research?

2. Check your notes. Similar to the correspondence, I keep all my research notebooks. I like the notebooks divided into sections because they have always been great for separating family lines. So the plan is to search each notebook with the same idea. Have I found clues about the Beaton family that I didn’t understand the meaning of?

3. Check your Shoebox. I have an Ancestry account, and you might too. When was the last time you checked what you’d stashed away in your shoebox? Again it’s looking at the records that may not have connected the dots when you found them but might make perfect sense now.

4. Check your DNA matches. In my case, I’ve tested every one of my mom’s siblings, and if they weren’t alive, then I’ve tested one or all of their children, and I’ve tested some of them at the various DNA testing sites. If I haven’t tested them, I’ve at least transferred their raw data.

But sometimes, I feel like I might have too much information. Well, maybe not too much, but sometimes it’s easy to go from test person to test person and get bogged down.

So what I’m doing now is systematically going through each person’s test results and just focusing on each individual. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done this before, but I’m reviewing to see if my conclusions are solid, and I want to check the interconnections between matches.

One of the tools I like to use is the “What are the Odds” tool at DNA Painter. So for my mom and each of the siblings, I’m plotting the close matches that each has and seeing if a particular relationship is worth pursuing. In this example (a portion of the WATO chart) below, I’ve plotted the known connection of my DNA matches to their common ancestor then I put a hypothesis for each of the tested members of my family. The hypothesis is where my mom, aunt, or uncle might fit in the tree. The WATO tool calculates the odds of each of the potential relationships. The higher the score, the better the odds and the more likely the relationship.

With the high score possibilities, I research further to see if I could find additional information to add to the tree. Often the additional information can help me understand where some of the other more distant DNA matches fit in. Then I’ll rerun the hypothesis to see if the scores have changed and carry on with my research.

I’m running these reports for each of my aunt’s and uncle’s to see if I get different results. By doing this, I may identify a family line where I need to look more seriously. If no one has tested in that family line, do additional work to identify descendants for targeted testing. For now, I continue to build the trees of my DNA matches.

I’m also looking for a family that might have lived in the Kingston, Ontario area (where my great grandfather said he was born), but at this point, I don’t know if William was an orphan in Canada or in England. If he was a British Home Child, I haven’t discovered that yet. I can only go on the information I have and do some speculating as to what that information is telling me. The DNA matches that the family has, point to his family being from Oxfordshire, England but that’s as much as I know other than William’s documentation seems to point to him being born in Ontario. So whether he or his parents were from Oxfordshire, England, and then immigrated to Canada is the question.

I have found a possible couple that connects the surnames that appear to be of interest through my DNA matches. The Bayliss family and the Walden Family. The couple is Walter Walden (1835) and his wife Eliza Baylis (1852). Walter and Eliza were born in Oxfordshire, England, and they married in 1872, which is around when Willie appears to have been born. But the family disappears, and I can’t locate them after they get married, and I can find no birth record for Willie.

Walter appears to be a bit of a “badass” as he regularly was in trouble with the law. But as you can see in this article, he states that he is getting married and emigrating. So did the family emigrate? If so, where to? I’ve checked in Australia and Canada and so far haven’t located them.

Jackson’s Oxford Journal on

But as is usual when dealing with Willie, when I have a good lead that could perhaps mean something, the trail goes cold. So I will continue looking on other sites or via other DNA connections and see if I can pick the trail up again.

Happy hunting.

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  • John Murphy says:

    I had an experience similar to yours. The one piece of advice that was the most helpful is DNA painter and not the what are the odds part. My father’s maternal great grandfather was not raised by his birth parents. He was named Levi Sim Arnett and he first appears in the US Federal Census in 1860 in Barren Ky. Using DNA painter I was able to map my fathers DNA by mapping DNA from 1st and 2nd known cousins of my father. This allowed me to identify areas of dna on certain chromosomes that came from different family lines. Once these portions were mapped unknown cousins in the DNA data bases could be separated into the family lines they belonged to. I threw a wide net and attempted to contact every 3rd-4th cousin that were DNA descendants of those families. It only took a few months to determine that my father had strong DNA connections to two families in Green County Kentucky. The DNA trails led to two couples which I believed were the grandparents of my dad’s great grandfather. This is where I got bogged down both families had 9-10 children. This is where I wasted a lot of time using what are the odds. In this particular instance endogamy runs rampant in the rural areas of Kentucky. The two families had several marriages between cousins who in turn married cousins. Some of our strongest DNA matches were a result of overlap so many 3rd cousins were actually 4th or 5th in reality. I have been very lucky in my research. Levi had an affair with a black woman in 1877 and fathered a son. That son married twice and had several children with both wives and the descendants of both wives had DNA tests on Ancestry. The DNA from those descendants gave me a very good look at the DNA of the parents of Levi as they had no cross over to any of my other DNA lines. Even with this information I still could not with any certainty identify which of the children of the grandparents were Levi’s parents. It was with the help of a distant cousin from Green County and the Taylor county Archives that I was able to find documents from two Bastardy Cases in 1843 and 1846 between the parents of Levi. James Simpson his father never married Nancy Arnett his mother both he and his brother were taken away from Nancy and placed with families unrelated to them to learn a trade according to court documents. I will add this there was a stronger cM connection to the Simpson family descendants than to the Arnett family where endogamy wasn’t present. It led me to discover that Nancy was a grand daughter of the Arnett couple and not a daughter but she was raised by her grandparents after the death of her mother. I find this all fascinating. Sorry for writing a book just thought I would share.

  • Kelly Hake says:

    Omgoodness this brick wall is just like mine.
    One grandfather born illegitimate and one grandfather adopted.
    One thing that is good is my illegitimate grandfather was raised by his grandparents…. I just don’t know who is father was.
    The adopted grandfather is still a mystery. I was told who his biological parents might be, but have since found his army record, his marriage certificates have different parents listed.

    Any suggestions on where, what to do next…. hard to do DNA as all my moms siblings have past. My male cousins are not available and my DNA didn’t come up with anything I didn’t already know…..
    So it might remain a mystery…. ugh

    • I’m not sure if you could prove the relationship definitively. You didn’t say how many aunts and uncles he had but one of them would be his parent the rest would be an aunt or uncle. So any descendant of all the aunts and uncles would either fall in the range of 2nd cousin or 2nd cousin once removed depending on if they descended from the actual parent or an actual aunt or uncle. The problem lies in the range of cM involved. If it’s a second cousin it would be approx 41cM – 592cM. A second cousin once removed range is 14cM – 353cM. Unless you had a very high second cousin you wouldn’t know for sure if they were just low number second cousins or real second cousins once removed. This would work if the person who was the real great grandfather married and had children with the same person but if they did not then descendants of that couple would be 1/2 second cousins and the range for them would be 10cM – 325cM and then that range is exactly the same so not helpful. (Hopefully, I didn’t lose you in my thought process).

      Another thought I had is that I think it would be less likely that the people who raised your grandfather (his grandparents) would probably have raised a child of a granddaughter more likely than a grandson. So this might eliminate some possibilities. Y-DNA might work if you could access male cousins of your male uncles .. it could then possibly confirm a father for your grandfather if it was different than what it should show.

      • Debbie says:

        In my case my grandfather used several name’s and my DNA match his grandson shows up as a 2nd to 3rd cousin because we only share 1 was easy with a 2nd cousin match to figure out his real name, the family thought that he had died in the navy but he had changed his name living in Washington state and then Portland Oregon and left there and went to pike County KY using another name. My grandmother had to know the truth but took it to her grave because she named my uncle after him using his real name.

  • Cathie Jones says:

    All that you’ve said is well and good. But what if your parents and all their siblings are deceased? All that’s left are some of my siblings and a few, and I mean very few, cousins. I’ve tested most of my siblings (one refuses to test). Some of my nieces and nephews have test. But I can’t find my paternal grandfather past my fathers birth. I just did connect with my maternal grandfathers sisters great grandson.
    And how do you find the spouse of someone that changed their last name and never told anyone what it was previously? I have so many brick walls.

    • Cathie, I can imagine your frustration. Sometimes brick walls are solvable some will remain as brick walls. Getting those “very few cousins” to test or their children may help your cause.
      As for the grandfather who sounds like he’s disappeared you may be able to find him if he had children after he disappeared. Have you identified all your DNA matches that fall in the 1/2 1st cousin range? 156cM – 979cM or 1/2 1st cousin once removed? (62 – 469)
      You can only try your best to think of possible ways to solve your mystery. I’m glad you found your connection to your maternal grandfathers.. Sometimes we just have to wait to have the answers come to us.