Have you asked yourself that question more than once? Don’t worry, everyone, no matter how experienced has one or more ancestors that they barely have a partial name much less any other information about. So the following are some approaches or ideas of what might be cause.
Number one reason you might be able to locate more on a specific ancestor is because you did not start with yourself and follow the line back to that individual. If the person in question is a great uncle on your mother’s side, you should trace with all details available first YOURSELF. That is easy. Next, your mother, including all her siblings and / or half siblings. Yes, that alone is a good deal of research, but there also be a clue with any of your mother’s sisters (your aunts), seeing who they lived with. Then check your mother’s brothers, check who they lived with, it could be their uncle (making him your great uncle). Sometimes all you need a hint of a different spelling of a name, an approximate birth date or where they lived.
Besides yourself and siblings, do check on censuses or city directories, the neighbors for your family. A missing great aunt could be living two doors away and married, so has a different surname.
Next is location, where an ancestor lived. They may have remained their whole life in a certain county and state, but it was known by a different name or was part of a bigger county years earlier. My gr gr grandfather was born in Lancaster County in Pennsylvania but later that section he was born in became part of Chester County. Google on the internet the name of family hometown counties and see if there were changes or boundaries moved.
Third reason is that you are using someone else’s family tree research and there could be major errors in lineages and information, so leading you to a dead end. It is fine to look over other family trees that have your ancestors, but do check out the sources yourself.
Always double check what dates you have for a specific ancestor even those that are approximate dates, then compare to the resources you are using. If you believe your ancestor lived between 1818 and 1878, no way are you going to locate the person in the 1880 US Federal Census. NOT that you shouldn’t check that census in case you were in error of the death date — which is very possible.
Try alternative spelling or initials for ancestors. It was common practice to write one’s name D. J. Smith, instead of the full name – Dwight Jacob Smith. Surnames could be misspelled by any record clerk or census taker at any time and on any form.
Photos: 1880s family with father in wheelchair, General Nathaniel Banks and family in 1862 and Brantley couple in 1890s.
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