Reverse Genealogy: Working Forward to Break Down Brick Walls

When we first begin researching our family tree, we’re taught that we should start with ourselves and work backward. Starting at the end of someone’s life and working backward is the most efficient and accurate way to research—in most cases. But two genealogical challenges call for a change in strategy:

  • Overcoming brick walls
  • Finding living relatives

When you drive a car down an alley and you come to a dead end, what do you do? Throw the car into reverse, of course! The same is true when we hit a research dead end. We need to throw our research strategy into reverse and find an alternative route to get to where we want to go.


$99.99 ($89.99 for VIP)

Course Length:

4 Weeks


Lisa A. Alzo

Start Date:

View upcoming course schedule for dates


“Thank you so much for putting together this course. You introduced me to many resources I didn’t know existed. I am certain I will use them in the future. ” — Autumn B.


  • The keys to reverse genealogy
  • Reverse genealogy research strategies for dead-end ancestors
  • How to think like a private investigator
  • Strategies for finding living relatives
  • How to apply these principles to everyday research situations


  • Genealogists stumped by brick-wall ancestors
  • Researchers who want to improve their technique
  • People who want to get back in touch with a long-lost relative or discover distant cousins


  • This course assumes you understand the basics principles of genealogy and have done some investigation into your family history. If you are a total beginner, consider taking the Discover Your Family Tree course before enrolling in this class.
  • A three-ring binder with dividers
  • Acid-free sheet protectors for documents and photos
  • Three-hole punch


Lesson 1: Getting Started


  • Introduction
    • Example scenario: Break through a brick wall
    • Example scenario: Using reverse genealogy to find a living relative
  • The keys to reverse genealogy
    • Key #1: Research strategy
    • Key #2: Organization
    • Key #3: Documentation
  • Exercise

Lesson 2: The Strategies and Records

  • Reverse genealogy research strategies for dead end ancestors
  • Applying records to the concept
  • Records types
    • Census
    • City directories
    • Death
    • Probate
    • Marriage and divorce
    • Birth
    • Social Security Administration
    • Voter registration
    • Court
    • Real estate
  • 4. Quiz

Lesson 3: Finding Living Relatives

  • Keeping private investigative principles in mind
    • Nobody lives in a vacuum
    • People are creatures of habit
    • People are reluctant to change affiliations
    • Few people are free of bureaucracy
  • Strategies for finding living relatives
    • Write down everything you remember about the person
    • Folks may be hiding in plain sight
    • Run basic online searches
    • Check social networking websites
    • Sending mail to an old address
    • Contacting local churches
    • Does your relative practice a licensed profession?
    • Check campaign contributions
  • Resources and records
    • Social networking and online family trees
    • Online message boards and mailing lists
    • Telephone directories
    • Online directories
    • Political donations
    • Licenses and registrations
    • Government public records online resources
  • Quiz

Lesson 4: Putting It All Together

  • Step-by-step example: The census brick wall
    • The dilemma
    • The process
    • The outcome
  • Step-by-step example: The lost relative
    • The dilemma
    • The process
    • The outcome
  • Exercise

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