Find My Past



As your family tree grows, sooner or later you’ll inevitably hit a ‘brick wall’ in your research. It’ll probably seem as though the trail for your ancestors has gone cold. But don’t fret – solving these mysteries is one of the joys of family history. Use the tips in this email to get going again.

Re-check everything Re-examine how you got to this point in your research.
Something that didn’t seem important when you found it may provide an all-important clue.

Check for any mistakes you may have made earlier: a small error in your research, for example, in a date or name, can create a knock-on effect.

Question everything you think you know about your missing ancestor and check for proof.

Don’t rely on what you have been told by others but seek evidence for yourself from the records.

Search all available sources A dead end doesn’t mean the end of your research, simply that you will have to try another approach.
Double-check and cross-check details such as your ancestor’s name, age and place of birth.
Locate all possible records for the person, in every census and BMD record, but don’t limit yourself to just these records.
Broaden your search. If you have exhausted all the core records, branch out and try other possible sources, such as passenger lists and military records.
New resources are published online all the time so re-check websites, but don’t forget your local studies centre or family history society.

Consider name variations

You should expect to start to encounter variable name spellings beyond 1850.
Think creatively; how could your ancestor’s name be spelled phonetically? Try different vowels and possible alternative spellings.
Try reversing the order of your ancestor’s first names when you search and add middle names or nicknames.

Consider age variations

Double-check ages on all available records to look for discrepancies.
Your ancestor may have altered their age at one time or another, e.g. to enlist in the army, to gain employment, or to minimise a disparity in age at marriage. Misinformation in one record tends to create a knock-on effect and recur in later records.
Your ancestor may not have known their real date of birth – and neither may the informant on the record, e.g. a death certificate. Ages were commonly rounded, usually to the nearest five or 10 years.

Contact others

Even if you have interviewed relatives before, ask them again about your missing ancestor, in case they remember something new.
Use genealogy message boards to see if anyone else has researched branches of your family tree and has useful information to share (but always double-check it for yourself).
Share your family tree online in hope of attracting other researchers who might have information about your ancestor.

Good luck with your research.

The team
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