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  • Writer's pictureDevon Noel Lee

Creating a Brick Wall Only Database with RootsMagic

Create a genealogy brick wall database with RootsMagic

Do you have a genealogy brick wall that you're trying to solve? Great. You can create a specialized database to help you keep track of that targeted research project using RootsMagic.

What is a Brick Wall Database?

A brick wall database is a relational database that focuses solely on one difficult genealogical question. It only includes the necessary persons and associated facts to attempt to resolve generational questions.

Brick wall databases might focus on:

  • linking an ancestor to their parents.

  • one-name research

  • DNA research for a specific common ancestor

You want to reduce your massive family tree to include only relevant relatives and associates of interest.

Brick Wall Database Guiding Principles

There are several principles to keep in mind with your brick wall database.

  1. Start fresh. When tackling brick walls, don't use any previous assumptions. Instead, start over. Start with a new database.

  2. Stay focused. Only have people in this database that apply to your research objective. For example, if you're studying all the Townsends in New Jersey, omit Townleys from New Mexico.

  3. Including relevant collateral persons: Add friends, associates, and neighbors if they may help you resolve your research question.

  4. Genealogy Do-Over: Review relevant sources and capture every clue. Only add proven facts and associated evidence into your new database one at a time.

With a narrowed-scoped in your genealogy brick wall database, you may quickly see relationships between pertinent facts. You may also see clues from the extended FAN Club that can help answer your questions.

For instance, if you have Germans who traveled on the same ship and train from Hanover to Cincinnati, Ohio, include them in your databases. The traveling companions may lead you to answers of origination in the old country. Or they might help you discover more relatives in the New World.

The primary principle bears repeating. Stay focused on your research objective.

Steps for Creating a Brick Wall Database in RootsMagic

In the video linked above, I walk you through the necessary steps for creating your brick wall database.

1. Start with an Empty Database

To create a blank database, Open RootsMagic8 and do the following:

  • Select the File tab.

  • Click "Create a New RootsMagic file."

  • Select the folder where you want the file stored on your computer.

  • Type a file name.

  • Click "Save."

  • Select File Options:

    • Date Format (your preference)

    • Number to Display After Name (leave as none)

    • Display surname UPPERCASE

    • LDS Support (don't check)

    • FamilySearch Tree Support (check)

    • Enable Web Hints(check)

2. Add Focal Ancestor Person

When the blank database opens, click on the box in the pedigree view that says "Add Person." Add basic information for your brick wall ancestor to create a profile.

3. Work Your Research Plan

Start working on your genealogy research plan. Add each fact to your database after you've reviewed a source supporting your evidence.

To add a new fact to a person in RootsMagic,

  1. Open the Edit Person Widow by clicking on the person's name in any family tree view or the name index panel.

  2. Click on the large "+" in the bar below the ancestor's name in the Edit Person window.

  3. Chose a Fact Type

  4. Click "Okay."

  5. In the fact panel, add:

    1. Date: As much as you know.

    2. Place: city, county, state, country

    3. Place Details: buildings, address, cemetery names, etc.

    4. Proof: mark proven, disproven, or disputed

    5. Primary: mark if you have a primary source for this fact

Additionally, in the Fact Panel for each event, you should add the following information where relevant.

Notes: Your notes can be anything you want, and in any form you wish. Perhaps they are written paragraphs. Feel free to copy and paste extractions or abstracts from relevant sources.

It's crucial in brick wall research that you keep your notes and thoughts where you research. That's why these notes fields are so beneficial in RootsMagic.

Source: RootsMagic 8 makes adding source citations easy with the use of their templates. If you want to copy and paste your citation from other locations, you can also choose the "Free Form" template. Whenever you add a fact, please add a source before you move on to further research. You don't want to lose this critical piece of genealogy evidence.

Media: While you can add media to your brick wall database, be wise in your decision-making. Ask yourself whether really need to link media from your hard drive to this database. Depending on what project I'm working on, I might attach the digital files. Typically, I don't.

Tasks: There's no need to create a research log when RootsMagic allows you to track your To-Do list using Tasks. This feature is discussed further in the post.

Shared: You can utilize this feature if you enter a fact that applies to multiple persons (such as the 1850 census entry for a family).

  • Click on the arrow for shared.

  • Click "Share Fact" on the next screen.

  • Choose the name(s) in the Add Shared Fact screen.

  • Click "Okay."

The notes, source, and fact will now appear in the profiles for each person with whom you shared that fact. This tool is handy when you add unlinked persons to your database.

↪️ Are you struggling to break through your brick walls?

Grab your copy of this FREE Brick Wall Busting Guide:

4. Leverage Automatic Hinting

While I discourage migrating information from online trees into your brick wall database, I advocate letting FamilySearch, Ancestry, MyHeritage, and Findmypast search for hints. With the WebHints feature enabled, you can use those hints while you research. Of course, you will always control what you'll accept or not.

Also, upload your brick wall tree to Ancestry, but mark it as private. By so doing, you can do research on Ancestry that you can later sync with your RootsMagic tree.

Finally, link each RootsMagic 8 person in this database to the related FamilySearch family tree profile. Then, you can research using the FamilySearch website and later import each fact separately to your brick wall database as you build your project.

In a previous video, I talked about syncing your information to Ancestry and FamilySearch that explained the steps for linking your database and these online trees. Be sure to watch it.

5. Add Unlinked Persons to Your RootsMagic Database

While working on your genealogy brick wall, you'll discover potential relatives. You'll also have witnesses, neighbors, traveling companions, and other supporting persons to help answer your research question.

You should add these hypotheses and Fan Club members to your brick wall database. Here's how:

  1. Open the Pedigree View.

  2. Click on the large "+" in the bar that says "Pedigree."

  3. Choose the "Add individual" option.

  4. Complete the "Add Person" information for the unlinked individual.

  5. Click "okay."

Once you've added the unlinked individual, they will appear in the "index."

If at any time you would like the assistance of an experienced heir hunter or forensic genealogist, check out our friends over at Legacy Tree Genealogists. and tell them Devon Noel Lee referred you.

How a Brick Wall Database Helped Me Test My Genealogical Theory

In my brick wall busting series about John Townley, I hypothesized that John could be the son of Effingham. My research showed that John was the father of Richard Townley and had married Eveline Porter. He was originally from Elizabethtown, New Jersey.

In Elizabethtown, Effingham Townley had a wife named Rhoda and children: Richard, William, Abigail, Jane, John, and Caleb.

As I added research notes from my research plan to the database, I finally concluded that John, son of Effingham, was John, husband of Eveline.

Once I resolved that to be the case, I merged the two profiles in RootsMagic and then added that information to my online trees. In the Genealogy Brick Wall Database video, I walked you through that process. Be sure to check it out.

Have you created a database for your brick walls? Which programs do you use and what other tips do you have for success?

How to create a genealogy brick wall database with RootsMagic 8
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For more genealogy brick wall research tips, check out the following:

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