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In Search of Ancestors

Updated on February 5, 2015 guide


In Search of Ancestors

Digging into the past can be an interesting pursuit, and can bring many hours of enjoyment. There are several parts of the quest, getting started, using what others have found, and going into uncharted areas.

Getting started is where you ask your relatives as many questions as possible, and document as much as you can. Add in as many details as possible.

The other two parts, using what others have found and going into uncharted waters to pass a blockage come after getting started. These can go from one to another quickly. You may be able to follow someone else’s work for five generations, then reach an impasse. Once the impasse has been resolved, and this might take a couple of generations, it is possible that someone else has reached a same person through a sibling of the person you eventually have reached, and things can open up again, perhaps for many generations. So, things can go smoothly, then slowly, then smoothly again. And, most frequently as you go back, as the number of ancestors doubles in each generation, some blockages are common while other branches of your tree may open easily.

The Official Guide to

Should You Pay for a Site Or Use a Free Site?

Well, there is an old adage that says you get what you pay for, and I am on But, do not be dismissive of free sites. People have done work there, and you might just get that break you need from one of those free sites.

A paid site like might link to some record data bases, while a free site may have more limited resources, if any at all. And, once you match a name in another family tree in, unless it is private, you can look at the parents, siblings, and dates of any marriage, the birth date, and the death date if known. And, if several other trees have the person you are looking at in them, the information is given for each tree independently. Some free services make a best guess when there is a conflict in the data, and there will be such data merging if you go far enough back.

At this point my next step is to get the international databases added for an additional fee. I cannot view original records once I have a jump to another country.

Are There Problems?

You might think the best guess from that free service is fine, but I have seen several family trees copy the same error while only one is correct. How do I know which ones are wrong? Well, if a person born in 1500 has a parent born, according to the records, in 1510, something is wrong. People cannot be born before their parents. Nor can people get married before they were born, and people who died cannot be having children a hundred years later.

Some of these problems occur because of the zeal in getting into a famous person’s line. If a king had a child by the same name as one of your ancestors, people making other trees will often ignore dates and force the line. Others will blindly copy the results.

Another problem is finding exact dates. People wrote by hand, and some numbers are slightly off.

Another thing is if a census shows an entire family with an ancestor being nine years old, the next older census may show the parents, older siblings, and the ancestor apparently being two years old. Census timing is usually ten years apart in the United States. What happened? Death of newborns and small children was commonplace, and families often reused the names of deceased children. So, an older birth date may be that of a sibling who had died before your ancestor was born.

Which Is Right?

Some people have titles, and it may be that a person might have one name, and a different name associated with the title. The name associated with the title might be of a place to which the title pertains. And, in some cases several titles for different places have been bestowed on the same person, so the apparent discrepancy is just that, apparent. The person is the same person described in a multitude of ways.

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The Easy Lineages

Some lines are real easy to follow because so many people have done research, and not just for their ancestry. Once a title is found, the line is often well known and well documented. In fact, once you get a person with a Roman numeral behind their name in your line you can often find information in Wikipedia or other internet sources, and the line is easily followed. The problem comes in where the monarch or other titled person left no heir to the title. Be careful, some roal houses have passed to relatives other than a child.

Name Changes

Getting through a name change can be a problem. I got a line of Smith ancestors going through England, and came upon the change from Smythe to Smith. I have Tizzard in my line, and older names were also spelled Tizard. I have found many spelling changes, since people simply wrote down the name they heard using the spelling as it sounded into the records.

The Orphanage Blockage

A person who was orphaned early is difficult to document. I have one ancestor who simply wrote her last name in for her father’s name on her marriage certificate, with no first name, nor any name at all for her mother. Some blockages are not to be broken. If your ancestor did not know the parents’ names, finding such information is a formative task.

How to Do Everything Genealogy

Books on Ancestry

Many families have their research well documented, and printed in book form. Others maintain a blog with the information. Many of these books are available for sale.

In other cases groups documented their history, including family histories.

In my family I have some Cajun lines, and the Cajun information is available in book form.

Some of my ancestors were Islanos, descendants of people of the Canary Islands. This group also has done extensive documentation, and compiled it into a book resource. It is an easy group to document since they all sailed for the United States in eight ships, seven landing in Louisiana and one diverted to Cuba. The passenger lists for all of the ships is easily found online. And the history of the group since the late 1770s is known. These people came after being recruited by Spain from the then Spanish possession of the Canary Islands to defend the Mississippi River and New Orleans from the British while the British had an active army involved in the American Revolution. They came in entire families to colonize Louisiana for Spain.

If you are fortunate enough to have such a group that was actively documented and verified your quest will be easier until you get back to before the initiating event.


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