How to Solve Your Genealogy Roadblocks

21 July 2023

Genealogy is a fascinating journey that allows us to uncover the mysteries of our ancestors and understand our own heritage. However, it is not without its challenges. In this blog, we will explore common genealogy roadblocks and provide you with a step-by-step approach to overcoming them. By following these strategies provided by our own researchers, you will be able to unlock the past and discover the stories of your ancestors.

Road Closed Sign and Barriers

Common Genealogy Roadblocks

Genealogy research can be incredibly rewarding, but it often comes with its fair share of obstacles. One of the most common roadblocks is the lack of information or starting point. Many people have limited knowledge about their family history, making it difficult to know where to begin. Additionally, the passage of time can lead to the loss or deterioration of important family documents and heirlooms, further complicating the research process.

Start With What You Know

The first step in any genealogical research journey is to start with what you already know. Begin by gathering information about your immediate family, such as names, birth dates, and locations. Speak to older relatives who may have valuable insights and stories to share. This foundation of knowledge will serve as a starting point for your research and allow you to build upon it.

When faced with a brick wall, it’s essential to also review the evidence you already have. Reexamine documents, certificates, photographs, and any other relevant material. Sometimes, overlooked details or connections may emerge, shedding new light on the problem.

Next, organise your findings into a family tree. There are various online tools and software available that can assist you in creating a visual representation of your family history. This will help you identify any gaps in your knowledge and highlight areas that require further research.

Gather Family Documents and Heirlooms

Family documents and heirlooms can provide invaluable clues and information about your ancestors. Take the time to gather any birth certificates, marriage licenses, diaries, letters, or photographs that have been passed down through generations. These artefacts hold the key to unlocking that past and can offer insights into your family’s history.

Preserving documents and heirlooms can provide valuable clues and information about your ancestors. Take the time to gather any birth certificates, marriage licenses, diaries, letters, or photographs that have been passed down through generations. These artefacts hold the key to unlocking that past and can offer insights into your family’s history.

Preserving these documents and heirlooms is essential. Store them in acid-free folders or archival boxes to prevent deterioration. Consider digitising them as well, so you have a backup in case of damage or loss. Remember to label each item with relevant details, such as names, dates, and locations.

Family heirlooms

Online Genealogy Websites

The advent of genealogy websites have revolutionised the way we conduct genealogical research. These platforms provide access to vast databases, historical records, and family trees created by other researchers. They offer a wealth of information that can help you trace your ancestors and fill in missing pieces of the puzzle.

Start by creating an account on popular genealogy websites such as Ancestry, Findmypast, or MyHeritage. Begin with the information that you have gathered in previous steps and use the search function to explore their databases. Look for birth records, census data, immigration records, and any other relevant documents that can shed light on your family history.

Additionally, we would recommend trying a new genealogy site. It is easy to get caught in a research trap by using the same sites over and over again. Exploring new record collections may lead to new discoveries.

Explore Online Genealogy Resources

While online genealogy websites are a treasure trove of information, it is essential not to overlook offline resources. Local libraries, archives, and historical societies hold a wealth of documents and records that may not be available online. These resources can provide valuable insights into your ancestors’ lives and help you overcome roadblocks in your research.

Visit your local library and enquire about their genealogy section. Many libraries have dedicated departments or staff members who can assist you in your research. Explore books, city directories, and other resources that may contain clues about ancestors. Additionally, reach out to family history and historical societies in the areas where your ancestors lived. They often have access to unique records and can provide guidance on your research journey.

Old newspapers are also a treasure trove of information. You can find them in many places online like GenealogyBank, Findmypast, and Newspapers. They are also often available on microfilm or microfiche at local libraries. You will often find little tidbits of information that will give you just the clues you need to either solve the mystery or continue your research through other, newly discovered potential record sources.

Networking With Other Genealogists

Genealogy is a collaborative pursuit, and networking with other genealogists can enhance your research efforts. Join online genealogy forums, discussion groups, or social media communities focused on genealogy. Engage with fellow researchers, share your findings, and seek advice from experienced genealogists. This network of like-minded individuals can provide guidance, share resources, and offer fresh perspectives on your research.

Attending genealogy conferences and workshops is another excellent way to connect with experts in the field. These events often feature lectures, panel discussions, and networking opportunities. Take advantage of these gatherings and learn from seasoned genealogists and establish connections that can further your research.

Worldwide genealogy connections hypothetical map

DNA Testing

DNA testing has revolutionised genealogical research, allowing us to uncover hidden connections and trace our ancestral origins. Consider taking a DNA test to complement your traditional research methods. There are various DNA testing companies available, such as FamilyTreeDNA, AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, and 23andMe, which provide detailed reports on your genetic heritage.

The results of a DNA test can provide matches with potential relatives, offer insights into your ethnic background, and help break through research roadblocks. When combined with traditional research methods, DNA testing can be a powerful tool in your genealogical journey.

If you need help picking the right DNA test for you or unpicking the results, check out our DNA Services and see how we can help you!

More Research Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Genealogy research is not without its challenges, but with perseverance and the right approach, you can generally overcome them. Patience is key, as discovering your family’s history can be a time-consuming process. Roadblocks such as missing records or incomplete information are common hurdles that require creative problem-solving.

A common research problem is name spelling. As your family tree spans further back in time, chances are that you’ll begin to encounter name variations and misspellings. With lower literacy levels in times gone by, your ancestor may not have been able to spell their name, or it may have been recorded phonetically. Some people deliberately changed their names, or preferred to use their middle name, nickname, or alias.

As with names, your ancestor may have intentionally reported a different birth date or year, altering their recorded age. Common reasons for this are:

  • Needing to appear older for military enlistment or employment
  • Wanting to seem closer in age to a spouse

Mis-recorded ages could be an honest mistake as our ancestors didn’t always know their exact age because they rarely needed to provide it for anything. Double-check ages at every opportunity and cross-reference censuses with birth and death records to help you pin down the right age. If in doubt, widen the age range or year range when searching for records.

Another way around a brick wall is to research collateral lines such as siblings, cousins, and in-laws. They may hold clues or have left records that can help in your research. Additionally, studying the community or locality in which your ancestor lived can provide valuable context and uncover new information.

Don’t forget, if you get really stuck, to give us a call! With our Family History Research Service, we can help break down those brick walls, breath life into your research, and much more!


Embarking on a genealogical research journey is an exciting and rewarding experience. By following this step-by-step guide, you can overcome the roadblocks that may hinder your progress and unlock the stories of your ancestors. Remember to start with what you know, gather family documents, utilise online and offline resources, network with other genealogists, and consider DNA testing. Celebrate your ancestry by discovering the rich tapestry of your family history and passing it on to future generations.

Table full of genealogy research
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