Help! I can’t find my ancestor in the records. | The Nosey Genealogist's: Help Me With My Family Tree
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Help! I can’t find my ancestor in the records.

by Nick Thorne, The Nosey Genealogist on February 28th, 2016

Break Down Your Family History Brick WallsI often get emails from my blog readers and members of my Family History Researcher course asking what I’d do to solve their family history brick wall.


A recent question revolved around a missing person who eluded the writer in that they couldn’t be found in the records for the town where that person’s family were from.


My first reaction was to ask them this question:

“Are you sure that you are looking in the correct area?”

I had to go on to explain why I asked this as so often we may think that our ancestor lived in a certain town or area, but we can forget that people moved around – even in the olden days!

We may get a fixation that our ancestors were all from one place and so we get frustrated when all of the family members don’t appear where we believe they should. In some cases it is a town, or a district, that we have assumed our ancestor should have been registered in. We may have reason to think that, because that was where other records have shown them to have lived that they spent all their life there.

Sometimes it may well be worth taking a look in the surrounding area and the neighbouring districts and towns as the family may have moved to get employment, or to be near other family who have themselves moved. Other times it is worth considering the draw of the big cities when social conditions in our ancestor’s home town forced a move, because of lack of jobs in their home area.

Some of the problem may be that we have misunderstood the records.

In 1837 the government introduced civil registration of Births, Marriages & Deaths (BMDs) in England & Wales. If you can’t find your ancestor in the indexes for the town that you expected to find them then check the surrounding areas as well, especially in the first few years after 1837.

There is a very good reason for this. Early local Registrars were paid by results and they were made responsible for gathering the information from the people. A financial incentive could lead to them gathering as many registrations into their area, rather than to the one where you would naturally have expected to find your ancestor.

Later on the responsibility for registering vital events was transferred on to the public and so they were much more likely go to the correct registrar for their place of abode.

So when you can’t find an ancestor where you had expected them to be then take a look at the records in the surrounding areas.

If it is within the Parish Church records that you are having difficulty finding baptisms, marriages and burials for you forebears, then broaden your search out to the churches in the neighbouring parishes.

To find the bordering parishes, to the one where your ancestor lived, you can use the free tool on

There is also a handy bit of free software called the Parish Locator Program that you can download to your computer. It is a mapping tool that you can use to find contiguous parishes. I reveal more about useful maps that you can use inside the Maps & Charts module in the Family History Researcher Academy course at

If you are wondering where you may find your elusive English/Welsh ancestor then take the plunge. Learn more about the records and resources both online and off.

Join the many satisfied subscribers to the Family History Researcher Academy now!


Hit a brick wall with your English/Welsh ancestors?

Learn how to discover where to find the many records and resources that will help you to find your forebears.

Join the Family History Researcher Course online.

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