Help! I can’t find my ancestor in the records.

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!


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Behind the scenes at an archive


Jersey Archive
Jersey Archive

I woke up on Saturday morning and heard on my local radio that there was a behind the scenes tour of the Jersey Archive that day.

Well that was me sorted with something to do, especially as it was grey and drizzly outside!

I’ve not had the chance to see the strongroom and workings of this archive before, although I have once been on a tour round the Devon Heritage Centre (Devon County Record Office) in Exeter some years ago and thoroughly enjoyed learning more about what goes on there.


Jersey Archive was established as part of Jersey Heritage in 1993. The Archive is the Island’s national repository holding archival material from public institutions as well as private businesses and individuals. It is part of the Jersey Heritage Trust, who run the Jersey Museum and various other heritage sites for the island.
Jersey Archive Catalogue
Jersey Archive online catalogue

My tour began at 11:30 in the light and airy front reception area with Linda Romeril, Head of Archives and Collections, leading us around.

Jersey Archive was rather late to be established in comparison to The National Archives in England (which as The Public Record Office was set up in 1838) or the various County Record Offices in England & Wales that started in the 1900s. This has, been turned to its advantage by it being able to catalogue its collections from the very start using a computer database.

It has a purpose built premises designed to preserve the 600 years of records in a temperature controlled strongroom that is in a block which, while attached by a linking corridor, does not form part of the main building. This minimizes any fire risk that the reading room and staff offices may present to the stored historical documents.

Jersey Archive Family History records

As was of no surprise to me, the number one reason for people to visit the archive was to do family history research, followed by house history, researching the German Occupation of the island in WWII and then academic research etc.

Reading room Jersey Archive
Reading room Jersey Archive

As well as collecting and preserving records the Archive is committed to making archives available to all members of the local and worldwide community. To this end researchers are able to access the online catalogue and pay-to-view and download certain documents via their website.

Records that are stored at Jersey Archive are catalogued by the staff and made available via the Jersey Heritage Open Public Access Catalogue (OPAC). The OPAC allows you to search through the archives by entering a name, place or subject that is relevant to your research.


The tour took us into the strong room, another of which is being planned to take care of the ever increasing records that the Jersey Archive can expect in the future. These will include the facility to take care of the many new digital records being created by the island’s government, something that other depositories around the country are no doubt considering how to handle.

Behind the sealed door of the strong room, on the first of several levels that we entered, the temperature controlled atmosphere was kept at a standard 13-23 degrees Celsius, with the humidity controlled at 60%. In case of fire the Jersey Archive has a system where the air inside the strongroom would quickly be replaced by Inergen inert gas. This is obviously preferable to ruining all the preserved documents by drenching them in water from a conventional sprinkler system!

It was fascinating to see the documents and books neatly contained in cardboard boxes, referenced and placed on shelves which allow the circulation of air. Indeed the boxes have four air-holes cut out and the coloured end of the shelves themselves have hundreds of small holes punched into them like some sort of colander.


Inside the strong room at the Jersey Archive
Linda Romeril, Head of Archives and Collections showing us files in the strongroom

The anonymous reference on each box contributes to the security of the documents placed in the archive’s care as some of the holdings will be of commercial value, while other records are closed to the public’s view for a certain number of years.

Those of us taking the tour were taken to another floor to be shown racks of larger items safely stored. Here lived such documents as the rolled up maps of the old railway routes on the island. Useful in that they contain the names of the owners of land along the route at the time of planning and had been used by the courts even in a land case in recent times. Linda Romeril explained how the maps were so long, when unrolled, that the court had had to pay a visit to the strongroom itself to view them. It would not have been practical to have had the document taken to the court room. This example also goes to show the legal use that our old documents can be put and is another reason that they must be preserved for the future.

One of the highlights of the trip was to see a couple of examples of Royal Charters in the possession of the Jersey Archive.

The first one was a highly colourful charter of James I from the early 1600s setting up various educational establishments in Jersey.

James I Royal Charter
Royal Charter of James I from the early 1600s
A Royal Charter with attached seal
Royal Seal of Charles II

The second, while not so beautiful, had the advantage of still having the Royal Seal of Charles II attached and in fantastic condition!

Not all the old documents arrive at the archive having been kept well. In part of the building there is a room where the mould and spores are carefully removed from damaged documents before they go into storage. This is not just records from hundreds of years ago as even a relatively recent (from the 1990s) set of court papers from a notorious double murder is having to spend a year on the shelves, with a dehumidifier running, and being subject to cleaning as it had previously been badly stored elsewhere.

Archive document cleaning
Archive document cleaning room

Some books and documents will arrive at the archive having been infested by insects. The solution here is up to two months inside the chest freezer to kill the pests before the books can be defrosted and conserved.

Freezer in the cleaning room of the archive
Archive document cleaning room with chest freezer

Much of what I saw, at the Jersey Archive, was similar to that which I had seen in Devon. It is, however, really gratifying to see that in this small Channel Island we have such a professional approach being applied to the preservation of public records that stretch back for 600 years of our history.




Books on Channel Island Ancestors

Tracing Your Channel Island Ancestors Pen & Sword books have the following editions of Marie-Louise Backhurst’s very comprehensive book on Tracing Your Channel Island Ancestors for sale. If you have ancestors from any of the Channel Isles then, in my opinion, you couldn’t do better than taking a look at this volume!

Check out the different editions with these links:

Paperback £12.99

Kindle edition £4.99

ePub edition £4.99


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Fantastic new Family Tree software for PC and Mac

I’ve been testing this great piece of software and I’m impressed!

It is a comprehensive multi-platform package that keeps your tree backed up online with stunningly versatile charts and reports. For all those who are looking for family tree software in the light of all the uncertainty in the market recently, then this is most welcome news from S&N Genealogy Supplies:

Revolutionary new multi-platform Family Tree software for PC and Mac


TreeView has been designed by family historians to fill the gap for a powerful, intuitive and feature packed family tree program that is easy to use from the outset. TreeView stores your family tree on your computer with the option to easily sync your tree with and . There is also a free iOS and Android app allowing you to keep your family history at your fingertips! Privacy options for your online tree allows you to retain complete control over your research.

Powerful Features
  • TreeView syncAccess your data wherever you are by syncing your tree between the software and all of your mobile devices at the click of a button.
  • Navigate your family tree using a variety of different views including pedigree, family, ancestors, descendants, hourglass, fan and even a full tree view.
  • Create beautiful charts and detailed reports in seconds
  • Easily add details of your ancestors by attaching facts, notes, images, addresses, sources and citations.
  • View your entire tree on screen, or zoom in to a single ancestor.
  • Quickly discover how different people in your family tree are related using the relationship calculator.
  • Identify anomalies in your data with the problem finder.
  • Map out your ancestors lives – use the map view to track your ancestors life events across the world.
  • Import or export your family tree using the GEDCOM standard.

Pedigree View - one of TreeView’s 9 navigational views

[Pedigree View – one of TreeView’s 9 navigational views]

TreeView has received praise from both genealogy reviewers and users:


Chris Paton, professional genealogist, writer and blogger:

  • “One of the most versatile family history software products now available”
  • “Navigating around TreeView is extremely straightforward”

Nick Peers, genealogy writer and blogger:

  • “It keeps your research file in sync with the web via TheGenealogist hosted tree, as well as your iPad, iPhone or Android device”


  • “I am so impressed with Treeview, I will be using it for my own research, it is so easy and user friendly, and has all the facilities you could wish for.”
  • “A comprehensive multi-platform package that keeps your tree backed up online with stunningly versatile charts and reports.”
  • “It’s quick to load and speedy in use”
  • “I particularly like the mapping facility”

Maps View - showing all event locations for a particular individual

[Maps View – showing all event locations for a particular individual]

TreeView allows you to create beautiful charts with a variety of ways to present your family tree. Choose from a range of drag and drop charting options and decide which facts to display. Charts include: Ancestors; Descendants; Fan; Circle; Full Tree; Hourglass and Pedigree. The software allows you to personalise your charts by adding photographs and customising the background with an image or a colour of your choice.

TreeView’s drag and drop charting feature showing a full tree with both foreground and background images

[TreeView’s drag and drop charting feature showing a full tree with both foreground and background images]

You can also create detailed reports in TreeView, including Individual, Family and Narrative reports. These can either be printed or exported as a PDF or RTF file (a cross-platform document that can be opened by most word processors) for further editing.

TreeView’s Narrative report showing three generations

[TreeView’s Narrative report showing three generations]

TreeView is a powerful easy to use family tree program that comes with a host of useful features including charts, reports and maps. You can sync to the cloud and your mobile devices whilst also having the ability to work offline when you have no internet connection. TreeView’s privacy options allow you to keep full control of your data when storing your tree in the cloud, for extra peace of mind.

There are three versions of TreeView available:

  • Free Edition – Includes essential features, with no limits on the number of individuals or the amount of data you can add
  • Basic Edition (Download only, £24.95) – Adds support for:
    • Charting
    • Reporting
  • Premium Edition (CD & DVD, £39.95) – Includes all features of TreeView Basic, plus:
    • 4 Month Diamond Subscription to (Worth £59.95!)
    • Printed Quick Start Guide
    • Cassell’s Gazetteer of Great Britain & Ireland 1893 (Worth £16.95!)
    • Imperial Dictionary of Universal Biography (Worth £16.95!)
    • English, Welsh & Scottish Landowners 1873 (Worth £36.90!)
    • Irish Landowners 1876 (Worth £12.95!)

Go to today and find out more.

More images from TreeView…

TreeView Full Tree View with Easy Zoom

[TreeView Full Tree View with Easy Zoom]

Relationship View showing how two people are related

[Relationship View showing how two people are related]

Chart Examples

TreeView Circle Chart with background and foreground images]

[TreeView Circle Chart with background and foreground images]

TreeView Descendent Chart with background and foreground images

[TreeView Descendent Chart with background and foreground images]

TreeView Descendent Chart with background and foreground images

[TreeView Full Tree Chart with background and foreground images]

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Can’t find an ancestor?

Nick Thorne

I was asked how would I go about finding a missing ancestor this week. Having taken a look at the research already done, by the family historian, my answer was quite simple.

“Think laterally and think creatively about the spelling of the names.”

If you are new to tracing your family history then you need to understand that not all our ancestors would have been able to read and write, so they were most unlikely to know how to spell their names and would have relied on others to write it for them. In these cases our forebears relied on officials to write down their name. It may have been the clergyman officiating at the time of a baptism, (or a marriage, or burial) who had recorded their name as he thought it should be written. But he may have heard it differently from how we now spell the name. Other officials, that our ancestors came upon, include the census numerator and the local registrar for births, marriages and deaths.


Today I was listening to the local radio in Jersey and the guest was talking about a woman who had moved away from the island to live in England. It seemed that no death details could originally be found for her there and the researchers had then employed a professional genealogist. The professional had, by trying different name variations, eventually turned up the death record in Worthing, West Sussex for the year 1993. The Jersey surname had been Anglicised from its true spelling of Le Brocq to Lebrock and so confused matters for those who had been looking. I wonder if the person reporting the death, to the local registrar in West Sussex, had no idea how this strange Channel Island name should be written?

Dorothy Lebrock
Death records on TheGenealogist.

When we are looking for ancestors we can become too fixed on a fact and so not find them because they are hiding under a different name, or possibly in different place from where we expected them to be. This is why I am encouraging readers to think laterally when approaching a missing ancestor from the records.

Even though I have written in an earlier post on this blog that advised researchers to focus in on a fact, you must still try to think laterally so as to be aware of people who might be the person you are seeking. By removing our blinkers that may allow us to see a name that has been written differently and realize that they are the person we are seeking.

Think how the name of the elusive person sounded in the regional accent for the place that they lived as the person filling in the document may have written down what they thought they heard.

So by using a little lateral thinking this can help family history researchers spot likely entries that may be our ancestor hidden in plain view!


Postscript: the story on the radio, that I make a passing mention to above, was about much more than just the misspelling of a surname. Dorothea Weber, neé Le Brocq, hid a Jewish friend called Hedwig Bercu in her house during the Nazi occupation of Jersey. For this there is a movement to have her recognised as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. There is, however, more to her story than wartime bravery.

Dorothea’s heroism was not recognised at the time and she was to suffer heartbreak and humiliation after the occupation. It turns out that Dorothea had married Anton Weber, an Austrian Baker in Jersey. With the war he was conscripted to serve in the German forces. On being captured, at some stage, he then spent some time in a POW camp. After the liberation Dorothea made enquiries and believing her husband had died in the war she inadvertently committed bigamy by marrying a British soldier, Francis Flanagan, from the liberating force and moved to London. When Anton was finally released he came looking for her and so she was arrested and brought back to Jersey to face a bigamy trial in 1949. Handed a suspended sentence it was not known, until now, what happened to her after that. It has now been found that she died in Worthing under the name Lebrock in 1993.



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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