Rising, Marsha Hoffman. The Family Tree Problem Solver: Proven Methods for Scaling the Inevitable Brick Wall.

Cincinnati: Family Tree Books (F&W Publications), 2005. 232p., softcover. Index, illus. $19.99. ISBN 1-55870-685-2.

We all have “brick walls” — those situations in which the courthouse records have disappeared, or no census record can be found, or there are four people with the same common name in the same neighborhood at the same time, not to mention people whom we come to suspect must have landed by flying saucer. After failing to find an obvious solution, the inclination often is to throw up one’s hands and shift attention to an easier branch of the family.

The late Marsha Rising, however, a well-respected author and long-time speaker in the field of genealogical methodology and case-making, wanted us to embrace the brick wall as a challenge to our skills in research and evidence analysis. Her sessions at national conferences were always very popular, and with good reason, so you might think there’s good reason to pay attention to anything she thought was worth saying on the subject — and you would be right. She presents here a research model that will focus your work, from reminding us of the distinction between “search” and “research,” and identifying the problem blocking the way (which actually may not be what you assume it is), to reevaluating the data you already have (you may simply not have recognized the answer), to identifying the specific evidence you need to solve your problem. And she illustrates each step with cogent case studies. Then she delves into the most common types of brick wall and the best ways to deal with them: The lack of vital records in the period before mandatory civil registration, the best use of the census (especially before 1850), the need to analyze collateral family members and community networks (what’s called “cluster genealogy”), finding a replacement for the infamous “burned courthouse,” and separating individuals of the same name. She wraps up with a discussion of ten mistakes to avoid and a restatement of the components of careful analysis of the evidence. Rising’s style throughout is professional yet accessible (though, personally, I could do without this publisher’s cutesy marginal icons . . .), and I would not hesitate to recommend this excellent book as a classroom text in the advanced course at Samford.

Published in: on 21 May 2011 at 12:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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