We all have them: relatives who are experts at hiding. The kind who don’t show up in any census records, city directories or birth and marriage indexes they should be in.
What do you? Beat them at their own game by trying a new strategy to convince them out. Click on any of the following four tips to learn more.
Tip #1. Search for siblings. Family often remained together or nearby through history. So when you can’t find an ancestor, search for his or her siblings instead. Search up and down census pages, city directories and more. You may discover you ancestor was living just down the street from a sibling – or even in the same house. Not sure which sibling to search? Try the one with the most unique given name first. That way if you’re missing your own ancestor because of a misspelled or common surname, you may be able to find the family faster through a first name-only search of a uniquely named sibling. Note any sibling obituaries you find, too: they may mention the ancestor you’re seeking as well as his or her city of residence. And be sure to check for siblings in Ancestry.com family trees. Find one and you’ll discover more family details and a quick way to connect with cousins you may not have met before.
Tip #2. Use a wildcard. Does the surname of the ancestor you’re seeking sometimes seem to change its spelling? A “wildcard” search can help you gather the variants of that surname all in one search. Wildcards are asterisks used to replace tricky letters within a name – so when a Tcould be confused with an F or an L, replace the T with an * and you’ll pull up each of those variations in your search. Determine which letters to replace by writing down the surname or looking at a handwritten version of it from a census record. Also say the name out loud and transcribe it as it sounds. Which letters seem like the best candidates for confusion? Replace those with *. And don’t forget that an immigrant’s name may have been Americanized. “Oaks” may have once been “Oachs.” Fortunately, a search for “Oa*s” will give you both.
Tip #3. Forget about names. Search by criteria only and forego names by searching only for available factors like birthplace, age, gender, occupation, immigration year, residence and more (hit “Tell Us More to Get Better Results” or the “Advanced” option from your Ancestry.com search screen to find the search criteria available within a specific record collection). You’ll receive a list of people who match the details you input – sometimes even too many – so pay closest attention to people whose names and characteristics match the family member you’re seeking.
Tip #4. Review what you already found. Take another look at records you found in earlier searches – they may hold clues you missed the first time through or details that can help you make headway through other record collections. For example, in a census record, the margin might reveal a street address, which you can then follow through city directories to see when or if the residence changed hands (that way you’ll have a better idea about when it’s time you change your search location); the birthplace of a first child may be the same state in which a marriage certificate will be found; notations of “AL” (alien) or “NA” (naturalized) plus year of immigration can help you locate a passenger list or naturalization index or record in the Immigration and Emigration collection; and a “yes” response to a military service question could point you in the direction of a draft card or military pension application.