Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, December 5, 2014

What is truly an End-of-Line? When is there no more hope?

The Domesday Book from Andrews, William: “Historic Byways and Highways of Old England” (1900)
Two similar terms have become current among genealogists: End-of-line and Brick Wall. During the past few days I have seen several pleas online from different genealogists who claim to be "stuck" on finding a particular ancestor. Some of these used one or the other of the two terms in relationship to their research. I have noticed that the difficulties experienced are with ancestors that lived over a broad time range from the 1900s back to the 1600s. Obviously differences in the available records and issues surrounding these diverse time periods are immense. The resolution of these situations is highly individually oriented and may be as simple as a suggestion as to where to search or as complex as reconstructing the history of an entire region.

I recently referred to a list of potential genealogically valuable types of historical sources that have traditionally been presented in the form of a "Genealogy Source Checklist." Here are some links to such a list:
These types of checklists could be continued for quite some time as there are dozens of such lists. You should note, as these lists are compiled, that they reflect the availability of the types of records listed at the time of the compilation. Some types of records are extremely time dependent. For example, United States Census records date to 1790, when the first census was taken. There are other census related documents but before that date, it is impossible to find that particular type of record. Another older type of record is the "Domesday Book." Here is a quote from website called, "The Domesday Book Online."
The Domesday Book was commissioned in December 1085 by William the Conqueror, who invaded England in 1066. The first draft was completed in August 1086 and contained records for 13,418 settlements in the English counties south of the rivers Ribble and Tees (the border with Scotland at the time).
In addition, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states, as quoted from Wikipedia:
While spending the Christmas time of 1085 in Gloucester, William had deep speech with his counsellors and sent men all over England to each shire to find out what or how much each landholder had in land and livestock and what it was worth. 
It was written in Medieval Latin and was highly abbreviated and included some vernacular native terms without Latin equivalents.[4] The survey's main purpose was to determine what taxes had been owed during the reign of King Edward the Confessor.
No other similar record was attempted in England until 1873. The Domesday Book is considered the oldest public record in England. My point is that any particular category of records has a time limit in any particular location. Just as it would be futile to look for European genealogical records in the Americas before the time of the discovery and exploration by European nations, it is equally futile to try to reconstruct any particular pedigree before the time when the earliest records are available.

This is my definition of an "End-of-Line," that is, when the records are no longer available. The other term, "Brick Wall" is more slippery. It is usually made in the context of a frustration at a failure to find an ancestor in readily available records. Occasionally the term is used by someone who has put forth a monumental effort to find a particular individual that has really come to an end-of-line situation and has not yet come to a reconciliation with that reality. This is often the case when the so-called brick wall is in the 1600s or 1500s.

However there are situations that do occur where the records for a particular individual are missing or not available. My classic example is a foundling, that is a baby abandoned at a church or elsewhere. There are simply no records as to the identity of the parents and identifying the parents may be possible in some rare instances, but that this situation is effectively an end-of-line as far as that particular individual is concerned.

What is frustrating to me, is the common use of the term "Brick Wall" when the person making the statement is entirely unaware of the huge number of historical documents available at the time the supposed brick wall ancestor was alive. But that is another issue for another time.

1 comment:

  1. Jim:
    I, too, have issues with the term "brick wall." I think my problem with it stems from my feeling that a brick wall is something we may have to approach with a battering ram or dynamite. In fact, however, the most elegant solutions are usually approached with skills requiring finesse. I've taken to calling my challenges "floaters." For now they are like balloons floating just out of reach.