Check Out the Siblings

There you are looking for a great grandfather, born about 1858 in Pennsylvania, of which you have traced to the 1860 U. S. Census, then the 1870 census, but now you can’t find him beyond that date. Did he as a young man in the 1870s move to another location, serve in the U. S. military, or even end up in jail? This is your immediate ‘Brick Wall’ — that point you do not know where to look next.

Well, there are many places and methods of research to help find his ancestor. First, all types of records are noted for having errors, especially in spelling a person’s name. The simplest names can somehow get twisted and misconstrued and forever be on a record wrong.

So break down the many different ways that ancestor’s name could be spelled.  Add a letter, reverse letters, delete a letter, trying as many combinations you can think of.  Then search for the person’s name with the given and surname reversed. Try your ancestor’s name which really was Jonathan Berry as ‘Berry Jonathan’ with no commas.  You might be surprised in the results of that technique.

Another method and one with a great deal of triumph is to begin a full blown research for the siblings of that great grandfather.  Go back to the census records like 1860 and 1870 where you did find the ancestor and write down everything about all the siblings listed and include any cousins, nephews or nieces in the household.  Select one or two, especially those with more unusual given names, make note of approximate birth years and locations.  Add with this the complete name of the town and county the family lived in for those years.

Investigating a sibling (or a cousin, nephew or niece) of your ancestor and learning where they went, whom they married, what occupation they engaged in can provide clues to where your own ancestor was at that time.  You can hit the jack-pot when you find a sibling, married with their own family and look who was also listed on the 1880 or 1900 census, but that missing ancestor. It was very common for siblings to live with family members because they were still single, or had recently divorced, were out of work, or wanted to move to a new location, etc. Now in this type of search it would be great to have the 1890 U. S. Census, but unfortunately that was destroyed by a fire in 1921. However, if a sibling was living in a state that did their own state census on different years from the U. S. Federal Census, you just might be in luck. The State of Florida had a census in 1845, 1855, 1867, 1875, 1935 and 1945; Michigan had 1894, all extremely helpful to use between the federal census periods. Another to try are the city directories if you know where a sibling lived. That same surname may appear in a directory with your ancestor’s given name.

Even if a sibling you researched does not have your ancestor in the household, do check the neighbors. Siblings will also live near each other, down the street or a couple blocks over.  This is where you do have to carefully look at each name because of misspellings.  For female ancestors examine the given names because they may be married with a different surname. Once you locate a possibility, make note of everything found, age, place of birth, who else was in a household, occupation, etc. , so you can investigate it further. This method is taking pieces of a puzzle to see if they fit together.

Another way to use information on a sibling is to follow that sibling in newspaper articles.  Are they listed in a hometown paper visiting a relative in another town — look there, they were visiting their older brother, your great grandfather. You have now found the location for that ancestor.

It does take patience and trying every possible angle you can imagine. As the saying goes; ‘leave no stone unturned’ instead check everything, everyplace and everyone, especially those siblings.  I have found great success with that approach.

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