Frequently Asked Questions

And hopefully a few answers
A merganser floats through calm bue waters leaving a v-shaped wake behind it.

About Me

How did you get interested in genealogy?
When I was a kid my parents bought a copy of "Emigrant from the Highlands" by J. Clinton Morrison Jr. I thought it was so neat to be related to all of the people in the book, even though I knew only a handful of them. What's more, there was a story to go with each name, and a history to go with the family at large. I attended two Morrison family reunions that Clint organized, so I was able to put faces to some of the names and hear some of their stories first hand. I later learned that my grandparents had a copy of the Ross Graves book on the Schurman family - more people, more history, and even more fascination with the subject of genealogy. When I was in my teens, my grandmother's cousin, Claudia Rogers, began researching the Rogers side of our family. Claudia knew I had an interest in genealogy so she would keep me updated on her progress. Eventually, Claudia and her research partner self-published a book and, of course, I received a copy. Later, she passed on many of her files, which I still have. My first big dive into genealogy as an adult was to expand upon Claudia's Rogers research.
How often do you work on genealogy?
It comes and goes in spurts. I check the Maritime obits on a daily basis (partly, as the joke goes, to make sure my own name isn't there) but, otherwise, I don't commit any regular time to it.
What do you do when you're not working on your family tree?
I'm a professional photographer and photography instructor. You can learn more at

About This Site

Why did you create this website?
I was trying to teach myself web design - HTML and CSS coding - and needed something to work on. A genealogy site just sounded like a good choice. I made the site public, and tried to make the content relevant, but never really had much time for the genealogy side of things. For the most part, work on the website was more about the coding than the content. I never did become a website wizard, and now modify templates that other people create and sell rather than design my own from scratch. However, I still enjoy working on both of my websites as it keeps me busy and out of trouble.
How often do you update the website?
Not very often. I do some minor maintenance about once a year, and I did a major overhaul in late 2022. Unfortunately, I rarely add new content.
Why BRIKWALL, not BRICKWALL, for the website name?
Way back when email was new, we were limited to only 8 characters in the first part of the address (before the @ symbol). BRICKWALL is nine, one too many, so I dropped the C and chose BRIKWALL instead. When I went looking for a domain name for the website, BRICKWALL was already taken but BRIKWALL was available and it just seemed like a more natural fit since I had already been using it for some time in my email address.

Families of Interest

What surnames are you researching?
I am researching Hickey, Rogers, Gourlie, and Gaudet in Prince Edward Island, and Bonnell, MacDonald, Whitewood, and Jack in Nova Scotia. Further information about them can be found on the Surnames page.
Are you researching other surnames in your tree?
Not really, and the reason depends on the surname. For instance, my Morrison and Schurman roots have already been researched by J. Clinton Morrison and Ross Graves respectively and I'm not interested in reinventing the wheel. My Acadian lines are simply too numerous, and too large, to look at every one in detail. There are a few surnames that, originally, I couldn't research because of a lack of accessible information and I just haven't bothered going back to them for another look. Finally, picking which family to work on is like choosing a hobby - there are tons of options but you only have the time and energy to commit to a couple of them, so you pick the ones that interest you the most, and that's what I did.
Do you research all instances of the surname in a particular area?
For the most part, no. I try to stick with my own family and not get confused, or overwhelmed, with other instances of the same surname in the same region. This is particularly true with MacDonald and Gaudet, since there's more of them than you can shake a stick at in the Maritimes.

There are instances of unrelated families that lived in close proximity to each other. In those cases, it's necessary to research both families in order to prevent confusion. A good example is Hickey, where I've had to research both the Indian River group (mine) and the Darnley group (not mine).

There are also cases where, at first blush, two family groups appear to be separate and unrelated. However, the more I dig, the more I come to believe they are, in fact, connected even if I haven't yet discovered that connection. So, I end up looking at all the ones that lived in close proximity so I'll have them all on file when, and if, I do find the connection. The rabbit hole that's the Harrigan Cove and vicinity MacDonalds is a good example of this.

In theory, though, I try to stick to my own particular family and that's it.
Do you place other limits on your research?
Absolutely. My tendency is to locate the first known instance of the family within that area and work down from there. I'm usually not interested in the family prior to their arrival in Canada. And, ideally, I'll bring the family as close to the present day as possible, depending on the available resources. For the most part, this limits the research from approximately 1800 to about 1921.
You're really not interested in any ancestors prior to their arrival in Canada?
To be honest, that's not quite true. Like many genealogists, I would like to see as many lines as possible traced as far back as possible. My problem is that, after a certain point, the information can become very sketchy so the accuracy of those early lines is highly questionable. I'd rather work within the confines of good data than try to stretch things out with bad data.

Geographical Areas of Interest

What geographical areas are you researching?
I am researching families in Prince Edward Island (Prince County) and Nova Scotia (Cumberland, Colchester, Halifax, and Guysborough Counties). There is some overflow to other areas but, for the most part, my work is restricted to those specific regions.
Do you research branches of the family that moved on to other regions?
Sometimes. It depends on the types and amounts of information I'm able to find via online sources.
Do you research your families before they came to Canada?
Again, no. See the previous section for details.

Research Tools

What are your favourite genealogy websites?
For Nova Scotia, it's the Nova Scotia Archives (NSARM) - their vital statistics search page is a great way to find digital copies of birth, marriage and death records. You have to play with the search settings and try different spellings to get the right records but otherwise it's a fantastic tool.

For New Brunswick, there's a similar tool available on the Provincial Archives (PANB) website. You can also download digital copies, and the marriage records are available to a much later date than Nova Scotia.

Prince Edward Island doesn't have the same options available for genealogists. The Provincial Archives (PARO) website offers a search tool but it only returns transcripts and indices rather than digital copies of the originals like NS and NB. It's a good finding aid but you have to either order copies from them or refer to other sources for more complete information.

Prince Edward Island researchers can also take advantage of a great website called The Island Register. It contains myriad resources for PEI and links to many others. Unfortunately, the owner of the website passed away in 2021. His family is maintaining the website for now but will not be performing any updates.

Automated Genealogy is a great finding aid for people in the 1901 and 1911 Canadian census enumerations, and it links back to the original census pages at Library and Archives Canada.

For all of the provinces, there are provincial and county GenWeb projects. Unfortunately, while many of them are still available, I'm not sure they are all maintained or updated on a regular basis. Still, they sometimes contain information not found elsewhere, which means they are worth checking out.

You can find links to all of these sites on my Links page.
What genealogy software do you use?
I use Reunion software for maintaining my family files.
What resources have been the biggest help in your research?
I think it's the many PEI community histories that were published around 1973. Local groups, mostly Women's Institutes or ad hoc historical societies, came together to compile community histories for the PEI Centennial in 1973. Some were fairly well researched, and some weren't, but almost all have a wonderful combination of family history, community history, and local tales and folklore unique to each of them. What's more, because many of these communities were actually fairly small and close to each other, it isn't uncommon to find families in two or more books with different amounts of info in each. Of course, it's a double-edged sword since few were researched using proper, solid methodology and almost none cite any sources that one can use to cross-reference and confirm the info. However, it's a great way to start gathering up some of the people and piecing together family groupings before moving on to other sources. The original books are hard to find now, and some carry fairly steep prices at local used book stores. Fortunately, the Island Lives project has digitized a number of them and made them available online.

Research Methods

How do you record your information?
I manually transcribe information when digital versions are not available and I keep the handwritten extracts as part of my library. I download and save copies of digital/digitized records.

I use Reunion software for maintaining my family files.

At present, the information in my files might appear in one or more of those three formats but none of them are complete. For instance, I might have copied the full text of an old obituary by hand but only entered the names and dates into Reunion. I hope I can live long enough to bring it all together under one roof but it will be a long slog. The lack of a truly centralized system makes it a little tougher to find what I need at times, and it makes it really hard to pull things together for others that contact me looking for assistance and information.
What kinds of sources do you rely on?
Honestly, I'll look at whatever is available. However, I prefer primary sources whenever possible and use other sources for either confirmation of information, clues to research avenues, or filler/biographical material.
Do you ever exclude sources?
Not totally. Sometimes bad information can prove as useful as good information, just not in the same way.
Do you cite your sources?
Absolutely. I was trained in the applied sciences so good research methodology and the ability to prove my work is important to me.
Any advice for other genealogist?
Three things. First, slow down. It's fun adding a lot of people to your database in a fairly short time, but you're better off adding just one or two if it also means you are properly citing sources, adding supporting documentation, and making notes about any issues or concerns you might have. It's a lot easier to spend 15 minutes doing it right the first time than an hour fixing your mistakes later on.

Second, do some research in advance of the research. This means finding out what others are doing and, more importantly, how they are doing it before you begin. Often, those people have already made a ton of mistakes so their advice can help you from making the same ones. But don't just go with the first thing you hear - look at multiple sources, weigh the pros and cons of each, and then decide what will work best for you. It really sucks when you put a lot of time, effort, and money into something only to realize later on that there was a better or easier way to do it.

Third, make sure you back up your digital data. You don't want to lose all of your hard work because your computer crashes or a hard drive dies.

Sharing Research

Do you share your research?
I'm happy to help with information on specific branches of the family, or by pointing people to relevant resources. However, I do not provide others with large, comprehensive family or GEDCOM files. And, when I do share, I would prefer you didn't upload whatever information I happen to give you to Ancestry, Family Search, or other genealogy websites.
What's the best way to get in touch with you?
Email is preferred. Snail mail also works. Details for both are on the Contact page.
Can we contact you through Facebook?
No. I deleted it a couple years ago and I have no intention of ever using it again. I understand it's a convenient way for some to communicate and share but it's not for me. Email is the best way to get in touch with me.
Do you use Ancestry?
Can I post your research data to my Ancestry account?
I'd really prefer you didn't. I've spent thousands of hours, and probably thousands of dollars, conducting my research. While I wouldn't mind seeing it benefit other genealogists, I'm not willing to see it benefit Ancestry's bottom line. I don't think they should get my work for free and then profit off it by using it to sell subscription services to others. As we say in the Maritimes: "Fuck that shit."
What about Family Search or other sites - can I post your data there?
I'd still prefer you didn't, even if the sites don't charge for or profit from the research.

DNA Research

Have you tested your DNA for genealogical purposes?
Do you plan on testing?

First Nations Ancestry

Some of your families are believed to contain Native ancestry. Have you proven this?

I think it would be both interesting and an honour to have some First Nations ancestry within one or more of my family lines. They are proud people with a long history and culture. However, I have yet to see any firm evidence and irrefutable proof that any of my direct ancestors were First Nations.

Professional Research

Do you still offer professional research services?
I haven't thought about it for years. First, there is so much information available online that it's rare for people to hire others to do research for them. Second, it's expensive - one hour of onsite research also requires travel time and mileage to get there and back, plus an extra hour or three to comb through, analyze, and compile the data for the client, which makes it cost prohibitive for many. So, I really haven't bothered pushing research services and, in fact, I removed it from my website years ago.
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