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Writing Conclusions After Busting a Genealogy Brick Wall

Writing conclusions for genealogy research brick walls

What are you supposed to do when you finish doing research on a difficult problem? You should write about it. How can you take all of your discoveries from your research notes and put them into a report you're willing to share with others?

Genealogy Research is About Decision Making

As you've researched your genealogy brick wall, you have probably made many different decisions. In this decision tree by Genealogy Explained, all through the process, you are looking for information.

And when you come across the information, you make a Yes-No decision. And then it takes you to another flow chart step.

Once you've completed the analysis phase of genealogy, it's time to write your conclusions.

Don't Be Afraid to Write Your Conclusions.

I don't want you to be afraid of this step. The WORST thing that can happen is that you don't write your conclusions.

If you did a lot of research and you've made some conclusions, don't be afraid to write your findings.

Don't let your negative inner voice say, "you can't competently explain why you've made the decisions you've made."

Ignore the voice that says, "you can't write to a professional standard."

While you might not write to a BCG or AG standard, you can explain why you made the decisions you made. Just follow the guidelines listed below.

Genealogy Brick Walls Require Lengthier Proof Arguments

Suppose you had a genealogy research question with one document that answers the query. In that case, you could write a one-sentence conclusion. It might look something like this:

"John Townley, born 1801 in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, is the son of Effingham Townley."

You would like this to a birth record, and you'll be all set.

With genealogy brick walls, you are utilizing multiple documents and inferring relationships from indirect statements and logic. Thus, you need to write a report of several pages or more to fully explain your research and conclusions.

In the professional genealogy world, this would fall under the genealogy proof argument.

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Fundamentals of a Genealogy Brick Wall Conclusion Report

There are several pieces of your final brick wall busting genealogy research report.

  1. A One-Question Focused Document

  2. One Research Objective

  3. The sources consulted

  4. Logical analysis of the sources

  5. A final conclusion

Let me describe each section in the simplest of terms. You can review my final John Townley report by clicking here.

One-Question Focused Document

If you've followed the John Townley brick wall series, you've viewed my messy genealogy research notes. You will note that I had five research questions that could thoroughly investigate multiple aspects of the complicated case.

Make each goal its own separate report.

If you wish to save the notes for future review as a separate entity, start a new Google Docs file.

One Research Objective

As with any genealogy research project, you want to have a quality research question lead off the report.

In this case, I'm focusing on, "who are the parents of John Townley of Cincinnati, Ohio?"

Add a few identifying details to the question to ensure you're focused on one specific individual.

Sources Consulted

There is an adage to "Tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them what you want to tell them, then tell them what you've told them."

Follow this advice by listing the sources and methodology you used in your genealogy brick wall project.

You cite the sources in this list. Or you can insert the citations as footnotes as they occur throughout the report or at the end of the entire project.

Logical Analysis of the Sources

As you being sharing your research, do so in a logical order. Write so that someone who hasn't been following your research journey along every step can understand your thought process.

Arrange your discoveries in such a way that one source or clue leads to the next. In the research report (that you can read here), I used the following order:

  • John Townley's interment record

  • His son's interment record

  • The 1840 census record

  • and so on.

One discovery in a document leads you to another source with another clue. This is how you developed your theories.

You should also include any genealogy methodology based on your sources. This could be Same Name Research, Common Name Research, DNA research, and so forth.

Watch this video to see examples of my writing style, or read the report.

Video: How to Write Genealogy Conclusions Simply After Researching a Brick Wall

If you have recommendations for sources that still need inspection or future questions to resolve, list those at the end of your report after your summarized conclusion.

A Final Conclusion

Once you've analyzed all of the research and explained your thought process, then summarize your findings.

This could be that one-sentence statement written previously, but it looks a little different:

"Based on the evidence and analysis, John Townley, born 1801 in New Jersey and died in Cincinnati, Ohio, is the likely son of Effingham Townley, who died in 1828 in Elizabethtown, New Jersey."

Notice I use the word likely. Such a statement still leaves room for alternative resolutions to my research.

What to Do When You Finish Writing Your Genealogy Research Conclusions

While you have spent many hours and perhaps significant money researching your brick wall, the second-worst thing you can do is to keep your research to yourself.

Scientific and historical research improves as other researchers peer review shared findings. Genealogy should be the same way.

You might be too scared to share your findings because you don't want to be wrong. However, if you discover you did make a mistake, someone else can help you come to more accurate conclusions. And wouldn't you rather strive for a correct family tree?

Therefore, make a PDF copy of your report and share it. Share your report on:

  • In a public Ancestry Member Trees as a story

  • Add your report to the Memories Section, under documents, for the ancestor on the FamilySearch family tree. Then tag everyone else mentioned in your conclusions so that the document appears on each of their profiles.

  • Upload this as a media file on Wikitree.

  • Submit it to a genealogy society newsletter.

  • Share it in a blog post (or in several posts).

I believe in leading by example, so I invite you to peer review my report. If you have discovered where I might have made a wrong turn, let me know by commenting below or sending me an email. I'd be happy to entertain any of your recommendations.

Review the John Townley Brick Wall Series

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