How a Professional Genealogist Approaches Brick Wall Problems

Knocking down a brick wall genealogy problem takes a good strategy. I recently spoke with professional genealogist Kathleen Brandt for tips on how she helps her clients break down brick walls. 


Kathleen is the founder and chief researcher at a3 Genealogy. She has done behind-the-scenes research for Who Do You Think You Are, (she was in front of the camera in the Tim McGraw episode!), Finding Your Roots, AARP Magazine, Jet, and many others. 

She has a 3-pronged strategy for approaching brick wall problems. (The second part of her strategy might surprise you!)

Click the "play" arrow to watch this short video with Kathleen's tips. ​

If you have Missouri research, check out the video interview with Kathleen where she shares her 4 favorite Missouri libraries and archives!

Learn a brick wall research strategy from professional genealogist Kathleen Brandt.

Posted: March 30, 2017.

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  • I don’t understand Kathleen’s requirement for her clients to submit to a DNA test. I realize the role of DNA in genealogical research is expanding but it is still limited by a number of factors. I help several individuals who are trying to find his/her ancestors, but who do not want to have a DNA test done for a number of reasons.(for example cost of the test, unreliability of test results, the ancestors in question are back more than 3or 4 generation or were living in a foreign location where DNA testing isn’t done routinely, or are uncomfortable having a DNA sample on file). If I was accepting paying clients and instituted a DNA testing requirement, I would lose half of my “client” base.

    • Thanks for the note. For clarification, this is for my brickwall clients. We encourage our clients to allow us to use all resources and tools available. We have never had a client reject the idea however several tests are anonymous and often we ship kits from our office. We also are the administrator for many of our clients’ kits.

  • Timely interview on top of your previous blog post on Brick Walls.

    I am organized. Already have researched Military records, have signed up for Newspaper Records, Checked Directories, School Records, Church Records, No Deeds, No wills, No Probate records exist, have created time line records, etc… Already have had DNA done.

    Still having issues. I keep getting stuck at the same place. It seems that my relative did not exist prior to 1853 even though we know she was born in 1836. So very frustrating.

    • I feel your pain Angus! I have been researching my husband’s great grandfather for over 30 years. It’s like he appeared from nowhere and then vanished. Married 1876, had child 1877, died 1879…poof! Only proof of birth is on headstone; proof of paternity is one photo where he looks exactly like my husband and his brothers. Just about the most common name possible – William Wright. My husband’s done AncestryDNA, uploaded to MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA, and GEDMatch plus yDNA at FTDNA. He’s in a Wright surname group at FTDNA. On our way to Iowa this summer to physically make sure that there are no documents whatsoever!

    • I,m also having brick wall problems, want through the same check list as “Angus Mclntyre” There are a lot of early records missing Georgia. The person I’m looking for was adopted in 1910 or few years before. In the 1910 Census it shows him and his brother as being adopted by a Russell W.Moore. There names are list as Loyd Bryant and McHugh Bryant. There mothers name is listed as Sally Moore, I think her maiden was Sally Posey. If anyone that reads this post could help me that would be great, mean while I’ll keep looking. Thanks

  • I have a marriage brick wall. Not sure how a DNA test would help solve that one. Especially when both people have been dead almost 60 years.