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Hitting the “Brick Wall” in Your Family Tree

Of all the branches in my family tree, the most difficult to research has been my namesake’s. I hit a brick wall early on in that research, and to this day I can’t track that line beyond my great grandparents.

In this case it’s a German line. My grandfather came here as a young man after WWII. The family was forced to relocate within Germany with relatively little notice. Records were lost, left behind, and even buried with the intention of returning for them. But for many, that didn’t happen. And records were lost.

We’re also talking about an area where record hubs like churches were brought to the ground by the Russian military during the War. So some records simply no longer exist. Others have become quite difficult to find. My family’s records fall somewhere within that spectrum.

The best information I’ve been able to find about my great grandfather’s parents was discovered while researching his brother. His brother became a US citizen earlier than my grandfather did, and I was able to obtain his SS-5 form from the Social Security Administration (his application for a social security number). That form includes the applicant’s parents’ names.

You would think that would have solved my problem. But no. Instead “Mattern” mysteriously became “Weber” on the application (with the same social security number and easily comparable signatures showing through the first name that documents were definitely signed by the same person).

Somewhere along the line there was a name change. Why did that happen? Were my great grandfather and this man really brothers, or just close enough to call each other that? Did my great grandparents also change their name from Weber to Mattern, or are we looking at two unrelated family groups? More questions. More mysteries. More digging to do.

I don’t mind. Solving the mysteries is half the fun for me. But it does have deeper implications (which I’ll talk about in my next post on discovering dual citizenships).

What about you? Have you run into a brick wall in your family history research? What problem has been most challenging for you to overcome?

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