Think outside the box

Spread the love

When I get really frustrated with searching on ancestry I start pulling out my bag of tricks and thinking outside of the box. Because we are held captive by the original creators and then the ability of the transcribers to decipher the, at times, illegible scrawl we can miss finding the paper trail for our ancestors.


Some of the ways that I trick ancestry into giving me the information that I need is to alter my method of searching by excluding information. For instance:


I know that a person is in the same location, township, county and state, in both the 1900 and 1920 census. For my search I will exclude the last name, include the township, county and state, date of birth and place of birth if known. If that doesn’t give me the information that I need, I exclude the first name, use the last and try again. As a last resort I will exclude both first and last name and use the birth date and place to narrow the search. The list is long but in cases where the last name is misspelled and the first name is either a nickname or middle name it will work.


If you search on a child of a parent, even if it isn’t in your direct line, you can sometimes find the parent and even other siblings living together. Families tended to stick together more, multiple generations all living under one roof. I have found the married names of sisters in the family this way. Their spouse having died or been divorced they move back in with family members. Venture away from your direct line and search on the history of spouses, there too you can find in-laws living under the spouses roof. Many biographies written on the spouse of relative also include information on the relative’s family.


Newspaper searches using just the last name and state of an individual can turn up unexpected results. Many women went by their husband’s names being known as Mrs. John Smith, instead of by their first name.


Some surprises I had were by requesting information from the National Archives for pension information for an Uncle. Although not in the direct line of my ancestry I gave it a chance. It showed me how my great grandfather was surviving during that period. Another set of pension papers included a marriage license that gave me not only dates but the place where the marriage happened. Not limiting my searches to just parents and grandparents has helped me build documentation on the family and given me clues I would not have had about my grandparents.


Searching through death notices turned up a grandparent that had signed a death notice for what we believe to have been his uncle. With very little to go on for this grandparent’s father, the death certificate gives a clue to a possible sibling of his father’s.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: