Oh, we all will have one or more elusive, hard to locate ancestors in our genealogical journey. One where you might have a name and their relationship (aunt, uncle etc), but that is about it on information. For females it can be even more problematical with just their married name and no maiden name known. So the following are a few tips or suggestions to hopefully crack open a genealogically case.
Number one is to be flexible with the spelling of a surname. There can be so many variations that even family members themselves initiated over the years, you can easily overlook when locating an individual just because there is a different spelling. An excellent example is the surname ‘Rue’, a family branch in my husband’s family. When I was unable to locate certain individuals I had to go deeper and really check for variations in spelling. Sure enough there were many spellings for Rue over the years. Starting in the 1830s when the first Rue family came over from along the France and Germany borders, the name was spelled both “Ruch‘ and ‘Routh’. Within 10 to 20 years more family members were using a ‘Ruthe’ spelling. Now it could have come about because a clerk completing a deed, census form or marriage certificate thought that was the correct spelling. Later there was a period with it spelled ‘Rough’ and ‘Rouch‘, those names even used on headstones. Next an ‘e’ was added at the end, making ‘Rouche’. By the 1880s, a simpler form was starting to be used and ‘Rue’ became more commonplace by the late 1890s.
Another tip relating to a name is that a clerk, immigration keeper or census taker could have actually reversed the given and surname / family name. This was very common with many of the Eastern European or Asian names or the surnames that are similar to a given name. If the surname was William, George, Richard, etc. it can be placed on a form or index as the given name. Then an ancestor could have the same name for given and surname such as Nelson Nelson, Morgan Morgan or George George, all very common in the 19th century.
A different tip is to go back and review the vital records, diaries, photos, documents, censuses, relating to the branch of the family the obscure ancestor is part of. It can be so easy to overlook just one bit of information which could open a wealth of new information. If you never noticed reference made to a town’s name written on a letter or a photo, that could be a clue as to where the person lived. Plus with some time and experience you know better what to look for, more than you did years ago when you first examined the document. So take a second look.
If there was a family legend or tale relating to that mysterious relative, that is a great starting point. Just because grandmother always said great uncle Joseph abandoned his family, maybe there was some other reason or explanation. It could have been an illness and he had to be confirmed to a special facility, or he needed to seek work in another location and gone for months at a time, or he died. The list is endless of other answers. That is where you try to find this person in other locations and through death records to solve the family mystery.
There may be a grandfather you are searching for. Try looking for more information on his siblings. If you don’t know who they might be, that is your next angle of approach. Select an sibling which appears to remain in the same location over the years and stays settled. A wandering person will visit or go to a stable family member. Reviewing their Will, neighbors who lived nearby or even in the same household, as well as newspaper articles for mention of a sibling could provide a clue to the missing grandfather.
Make the attempt to discover some of those elusive ancestors, they are waiting to be found.