There is not much that can be said about brick walls, true brick walls, other than to describe the frustration and angst they create. I have been dealing with one in my recent ancestry.
As I have written before, I have no written records or photographs of my grandparents and they never talked about their pre-immigration lives. In fact, they hardly even acknowledged living in England, so I know almost nothing about my roots. Everything I know I have gleaned through painstaking, often frustrating research. Such has been the case with my positively identifying my paternal grandfather's father, my great-grandfather.
I heard his name only occasionally as a child. He was named either Samuel or he was named Sam, which can either be a true name or a shortened version of Samuel. I am relatively sure that both of those point to him because of my childhood memory of hearing my grandfather mention that name, though never the "here is a story about my father, Sam" sense. I also have found supporting documents leading me to conclude that both identify the same person. However, without any more evidence, I can only conclude a high likelihood, not an absolute certainty. For me, that is good enough for now, though my search is not done.
But he is not the brick wall that is the subject of this post.
Great-grandfather Sam married a woman named Elizabeth or Eliza, depending on which record I review. That is the first problem - trying to determine the correct name. I originally thought that census enumerators and other record keepers were merely shortening 'Elizabeth' into 'Eliza,' which I found to be a fairly common result, but when I dug a bit deeper, I also learned that 'Eliza' was a perfectly acceptable name by itself. It was not just a shortened version of Elizabeth, but was relatively popular stand-alone name in late-1800's England, the land and time of her birth and upbringing.
That leaves me with the possibility that my great-grandmother is named either Elizabeth or Eliza, though most of the evidence points to Elizabeth. And that is the easy part because she has become my brick wall. Why, you ask?
What I do not know is her last name is.
There are two likely choices, Mitchell or Wakefield and so far, I cannot conclude to a high likelihood which it is. I have official documents that point to each of them and each one of the names is supported in one way or another, but so far, I have found nothing that helps me pin down the correct one. And, of course, it is also possible that neither of those is her correct last name. Wakefield and Mitchell do seem to be the strong choices, though.
USA and England census documents only show Sam as being married to "Elizabeth Wilkinson." Other supporting documents show Sam or Samuel being married to "Elizabeth" with no last name being listed for her. So far, I have not located Sam's marriage certificate, so I cannot validate to whom he was married--the marriage happened before he immigrated to the USA. I have also found nothing documenting her unmarried name to a high degree of certainty.
Being an experienced investigator, I have tried to approach this puzzle in all the ways I can think of with the hope of finding the clue that will open up this case for me. But I recall something I was told long ago by an instructor of mine. It was in reference to investigations and applies to genealogical research.
Not all clues lead somewhere. Not all questions have answers. Sometimes, the sidewalk just ends and doesn't go anywhere.
I am not ready to give up this search yet. Many others, including professional genealogists, have encountered brick walls that have taken years to break down. Mine might be one of those.