When you have searched and searched for an ancestor and cannot make a connection, it is often a good idea to put everything down for several weeks. When you pick it back up, you may have a different perspective. Sometimes you can concentrate too heavily on the outcome and not see the way to get there.
If this doesn't work, you may need to ask yourself if you are being completely open-minded. Many people are convinced that their ancestor is from a certain place, and they spend their time trying to prove their theory. Unfortunately, this is often not the best way to trace your ancestors. It may be more beneficial to you if you spend your time proving whom your ancestor is NOT rather than whom the ancestor is — a process of elimination.
When you hit that brick wall, go back to the basics. Start at the beginning. Look back over the notes that you have from family members, either for clues or bad leads. For instance, my grandmother told me my great-grandmother's name was Arminda McWaters. When I found her grave years later in Carroll County, Georgia, it was listed as Amanda Waters. I still haven't found my great-grandmother, but now, instead of just searching for McWaters, I search for McWaters and Waters.
It is often hard to let go of an idea regarding your family tree. Once I was searching for my great-great-great grandfather Billey Hutcheson's parents. I knew that he was born in Virginia and died in Talbot County, Georgia, in 1833. In the adjoining county, Marion, a couple named William and Matilda Hutcheson of Virginia, who were the right age, lived near him. I spent two years trying to find a connection between my Billey and William. My cousin, who is a top-notch researcher, traveled to Amelia County, Virginia, and found Billey Hutcheson's parents in Jasper County, Georgia.
Look back through all the documents that you have collected about your ancestor. Check the marriage records, the wills, the land deeds, the military service records, estate records, tax records, immigration records, any items that you have in your possession may yield an unexpected clue. Put everything out in order and decide if there is another document about your ancestor that you could try to find. Did your ancestor receive land for services? Was your ancestor listed in any inferior court records? Never discount a record. Try to find everything that you can about your ancestor. You never know where the clue might be.
I had known for years that my great-great-grandfather John R. Smallwood fought in the Civil War, but I had never looked up his military records. I had also never located his parents, although I had an idea. When I finally retrieved his military records, I found that when he enlisted, he had lived in Georgia for four years, moving to the state from Alabama. I went back and checked the Alabama census records and found him with his father and mother in Cherokee County, Alabama. Not only had I found my ancestor, but I had found another generation.
Sometimes it is necessary to retrace your steps in your search. This may not always be possible if you live a long way from where you ancestor lived and died. If you can, go back to the cemetery where your ancestors are buried. You may notice a headstone that you did not see before. If you can go back to the old family house, it might be worth the trip. The courthouses may also yield some more information — they may not, but it is worth the possibility. Often a new clerk or judge may offer some insight and help that you did not have before.
If you can go back and check through the references that you had originally used, they may yield some information. The important fact to remember is that in all probability you now know more about your family than you did when you first began your search. Therefore, a name, date or location that may have been meaningless to you earlier could assist you now.
Everyone hits brick walls. Sometimes you get over them, but sometimes you do not. Just remember the best way to try to break through the walls is to go back to your basics, re-evaluate your information and keep an open mind.