When I get stuck, I find it helpful to step back from where I am and review what I already have, starting over again as if the problem was completely new to me, and pretending that I am a complete beginner. One problem with studying family history, especially for those of us who have learned it by gathering records online, is that the big-box data providers who provide records to us encourage us to just plunge in and start looking for records.
Another problem is that we are encouraged to gather birth, marriage, death, and census records, and when we hit the period when there are no civil registrations or census records, we're not quite sure what to do.
So I would suggest that you pause and look not for sources that mention your 4x-great-grandparents, but for research guides and finding aids that will help you create a research plan, and then help you put the records in context when you find them.
The FamilySearch Research Wiki has a new series of articles on the Research Process, which is a cycle including these steps:
- Identify what you know.
- Decide what you want to learn.
- Select records to search.
- Obtain and search the records.
- Evaluate and Use the information.
After step five, you go back to step one and repeat.
We all want to find everything we can, and know everything, but for finding things, it helps to work in small steps from the known to the unknown, rather than trying to leap from the last census record you have directly back to the presumed birth in Ireland. So instead of trying to push back, stop and evaluate the information you already have, and think of a smaller, more focused question, such as trying to narrow down the time frame for when your 4g-grandparents came from Scotland to Ireland.
As part of the brick-wall busting problem, I like to do the following:
- Gather all the records and information already in hand and put them in some kind of order. One of my goals for 2017 is to create a Genealogy Source Checklist and family worksheet for all my end-of-line ancestors and their children and siblings. But a list of sources you have on hand doesn't have to be this elaborate -- a simple list will do.
- Make at timeline of known events for the family, noting which sources the information came from as you go. I usually start with the person's death, if known, and work backwards chronologically as I review the records, since the portrait of a person we have at the end of life has more information than it does at birth (there are more possible identifying details that will help us determine which John Megone we're talking about and not someone else with the same name).
- Fill in the timeline with information from the records belonging to the couple's children, siblings, and their FAN club (friends, associates, neighbors). In particular, the sequence of birthplaces of a couple's children can give clues to a family's migration path. Records of siblings can yield the parents' names when you can't find records of your direct-line ancestors. (This is why we get the seemingly counter-intuitive suggestion to work forwards in time when we're stuck instead of backwards.)
- Examine records as a group as well as one-by-one. Correlate and analyze what you find. Is there conflicting information, and if so, can you resolve it?
- As you review your records, you may discover that you are missing items or that you have questions (perhaps because of conflicting evidence). Make a Records Wishlist and a list of Research Questions that you'd like to answer.
- Use your research guides to find more general information that will aid in the research process. Gather maps and other information that will help put the records you have now, and the records you want to find, in their proper context. As you learn about new record types, it might be helpful to make a timeline for those, like this Chronology of record keeping in Scotland and records on Scotlands People.
- Shift your focus away from searching for a surname and concentrate on the place instead. Look for case studies written by other people doing research about families in areas where your family lived. What sources did they use while doing their research? Other researchers' bibliographies can be a gold mine when it comes to finding resources.
- Don't neglect the work of scholars working outside genealogy and family history. I found a doctoral dissertation about the German immigrant community where my husband's family came from, and discovered that a large number of people had been recruited from a single town in Germany for their skills. Papers from people working in population studies can give you insight into census records that those of us examining single census households often miss. The National Records of Scotland website has a guide to the 1861 Census including the instructions for the enumerators. Looking at the population for your ancestors' parish in this census for this census and for 1851 can show you how much the population changed between the decades.
To find someone's birth in Ireland, be on the lookout for an important piece of information: their townland. But even if you can't find that, there are strategies that you can use. I'll put some links to research guides and aids in the Resource List below.
For Emigration from Ireland to Scotland:
- FamilySearch Wiki: Scotland Genealogy (see the sidebar for links to Research Strategies and a Record Finder)
- FamilySearch Wiki: Ireland Genealogy
- One of the best genealogy sites on the Internet: Irish Genealogy Toolkit, especially their guide to finding your family's townland.
- Don't neglect the National Library of Scotland, especially their map collection. Locating events on a map is especially helpful when working out possible migration routes.
- findmypast's video library can be accessed for free and gives you an overview of their holdings and how to search them. Look for Brian Donovan's presentations on Irish Records.
- Webinars from the Family History Library (past and future) on Scotland and Ireland. Past videos are gradually being moved to their Learning Center. Many of the courses on emigration/immigration will be focused on people from Ireland who went to America, so those may not be as useful to you as they are to a US-based researcher. Seek out similar presentations about population movements within the UK from Archives and other institutions on the UK side.
General references for the research process: