I think the term “brick wall” is used too easily for any ancestor where you don’t know the parents. I think you shouldn’t call someone a brick wall ancestor unless you gave it your best shot.
Many genealogists are familiar with the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS), as formulated by the Board for Certification of Genealogists. The GPS as has five components:
- Reasonably exhaustive research
- Complete and accurate source citations
- Careful analysis and correlation of evidence
- Resolution of any conflicts
- A well-reasoned written conclusion.
For brick walls, I think we should have something similar. Let’s jokingly call that the Genealogical Unproof Standard (GUS). You cannot call something a brick wall until you meet the GUS. The criteria are the same as the GPS, except the last one. You won’t have reached a conclusion since then it would not be a brick wall. The fifth criterion for the GUS is a well-reasoned written report.
It’s amazing how often writing a report triggers new ideas or makes me realize evidence I had missed at first glance. I no longer call people brick walls unless I have a report documenting all the things I have tried.