I had an inquiry this week from a potential client, asking for help with a brick wall they had encountered. They had traced their family back to Germany in the early 1500s and wanted help getting past this dead end.
I know some of you are green with jealousy right now that this person had managed to trace at least one family line back 600 years...I know I am!
We all encounter brick walls in our research, that one person (or two or three) we just can't get back, no matter how much research we do, no matter how many records we use. For some of us, that dead end is our great-grandfather and the late 19th century, a rather recent sudden halt in our family line. For others, it's a line we've traced all the way back to late 16th century Germany. I have experience with both. The question becomes, the further back we encounter these brick walls, is this a dead end or is it the end of the road? The end of the road means, there is no more paper trail. Sometimes, like when we do Irish genealogy or Eastern European genealogy, it's because those records were destroyed and no longer exist. Sometimes, like when we do Central American research, it's because official record keeping was sporadic and the record might never have existed in the first place. Sometimes it's just the end of the road for our online research and we have to take it to real world repositories - but sometimes those repositories might be so remote and so local (a small village church or cemetery on the other side of the world, just to use an extreme example) that we might never be able to access it or even discover it in the first place, so that for all intents and purposes, it is the end of the road. And sometimes, when we trace our family lines far enough back, the paper trail just ends. Unless you're descended from royalty, regular people weren't important enough to keep records on. And even if you ARE descended from royalty, written records disintegrate with age, and far enough back, written records just weren't kept. As much as I wish it weren't true, we cannot trace our family trees back forever - we'll never find that original ancestor. We'll never discover everybody. At some point, all our lines will end abruptly, and that will be it - there will be nothing more to discover.
Does this mean that if you hit a brick wall you should give up? Just shrug your shoulders and say, "Well, that must be it"? Of course not. A dedicated genealogist always does a reasonably exhaustive search...the keyword being "reasonably." When you reach an end of the road, move on to another line - we all, if we're lucky, have many, many lines to explore and expand. And when you reach the end of all roads, fill in those gaps between the dates - make those ancestors come alive with the details you find!