Everyone wants to know how they can break down their genealogical brick walls. Who doesn't? No matter where you are in your research, you have brick walls. The more ancestors you know about, the more brick walls you have! Say you want to know who the parents of a great-grandparent is. How can you possibly track them down if you don't know where to start? Here, I'll provide a couple of examples of how to do track them down. In one example, I'll show where some of the information was sitting right in front of me but I didn't know it. It was only after a bit of luck with a marriage record being digitized that I learned the truth. In the other example, I'll show the steps I took to eventually find the truth.
First, in the case of finding the parents of my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Dunzinger Panther. The family story said she was born in New York and her grandparents brought her to Iowa after her parents died when she was two years old. A newspaper article, with a note scribbled on the margins that the people the article was about were relatives of Elizabeth. The people in the article were Ziegelmuellers, Wagners and Guenthers. In the 1870 US Federal Census, she is found in the household of Charles Wagner. I knew but didn't make the connection that Charles' sister was Julia Wagner Ziegelmueller, the wife of Leonard Ziegelmueller. Looking in church books in the town she grew up, I found that the Wagners and Ziegelmuellers were sponsors and witnesses in the other family's baptisms and marriages, including a Ziegelmueller as the maid of honor at Elizabeth's wedding. The fact that she was found in the Wagner household told me that she was related to the Wagners. Looking back now, the Ziegelmueller family stands out as having many connections to her. In the end, I discovered that her mother was Anna Ziegelmueller, the sister of Leonard Ziegelmueller, who was the brother-in-law of Charles Wagner, whose household Elizabeth lived in. Why couldn't I make the connection that she was related to the Ziegelmuellers and not the Wagners?
The other example is my great-grandfather, Charles Miller. I could not find where he was from in Germany or who his parents were. He seemingly appeared out of nowhere when he married my great-grandmother Philomena Bixenman in north central Missouri in 1891. The only clue was the Bixenman family history book, written in 2000, that listed Charles' brothers and sisters, living in New York City in the late 1800s to early 1900s. No amount of searching would end up with me discovering information about Charles' life prior to 1891. Finally, I decided to research everything I could about his brothers and sisters. The death record for one brother and the marriage record for two sisters provided me with the town in Württemberg they came from. Then it was just a question posted in a Facebook group that resulted in a response from a distant cousin that already had the family documented because he was a distant cousin. Even without his response, I had the town's name and had the microfilms on order at the local LDS Family History Center.
So be sure to look at every name and detail that touches on the life of the ancestor you want to learn more about. Figure out if and how they connect to your ancestor. Also research every life event of every one of their family members, even if you don't think it would have information about your ancestor. It may contain a clue to help you track down the information you are looking for.