Why Can’t I Find My Ancestor? | The Nosey Genealogist's: Help Me With My Family Tree
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Why Can’t I Find My Ancestor?

by Nick Thorne, The Nosey Genealogist on July 22nd, 2010

If, like me, you have searched for hours and hours trying to find an ancestor’s birth, marriage or death with no luck and you begun to wonder if it is something that you have been doing wrong; then just consider the following list. It was one that I was introduced to when I did a genealogy course with the on-line specialist Pharos Tutors and I commend you to take its suggestions to heart.

  • Is It The Wrong District – are you looking in the one that you assume your ancestor should have been registered in? Think about looking in neighbouring districts as your forebears may be found there instead. You may not know, as I didn’t, that the early registrars for districts were paid by results and that it was they who were responsible for gathering the information! Later on the responsibility was transferred to the public to register their births, marriages and deaths for their relatives.
  • Looking in the Wrong Year. You may have been given the ‘received wisdom’ that your great-great grandfather was born in a particular year. Did you know that professional probate researchers, these are people that give evidence in court cases, will look for a person up to 100 years of age when searching for a death.  Also they will normally look for a woman’s marriage right they way up to the age of 100! When looking for a birth they will search for up to 25years after the marriage for the birth of a child. We need to also keep in mind that some people may marry several years after a child was born.
  • Wrong Name – Could you be looking for the middle name instead of the first? Many people are known by a second name rather than their first so a John Alan Smith may have been called Alan Smith all his life. His name may have been spelt Allan, or Alun so keep a watch out for spelling variations. Be aware that people may have been mis- indexed or their names spelt differently. Also they may have reverted to a previous name after the collapse of a marriage.
  • Family Stories – that send you off on a wild goose chase like looking for the handsome Irishman in one branch of my family when all the ancestors seem to be from Devon, with the exception of a small bit of Cornish that crept into my bloodline.
  • Inconsistent Searching. Not recording what you have already done. Now I know that many of us may hold our hands up to this!
  • Simply your ancestor was not registered. This may occur especially in the early years after the introduction of civil registration in 1875 but should be more rare after 1875. In between 1837 and 1875 some districts were under registered.

    I hope this helps some of you, it certainly has for me as I have some elusive forebears whom I am still trying to locate using Ancestry and the excellent FreeBMD on the Internet. I had lost my way until I did the course and realised that I should think around the problem more than homing in on what and where I thought these ancestors should be.

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