Hit a Brick Wall? These Genealogy Tips can help

Everyone hits a brick wall at some stage.  I hope these genealogy tips will help you break them down.  They also include some hurdles I have faced during my own family history research.

Using sources

Cite sources whenever possible - it is useful to know where you obtained information for future reference.

You should note down all information from the record - it may help in the future.

Cannot find your ancestor? Try alternative spellings or dates

Another of the genealogy tips is whenever you are given a possible birth date by another person, but cannot find the entry, it is advisable to look a few years either side of this date.

Try alternative spellings of your ancestor's surname whenever you cannot discover their record.  A document could have been transcribed incorrectly - for example 'in' mistaken for 'm'. I have come across this in my own research where the surname Heel was incorrectly written as Steel.

You can also use the wildcard search, one method of which is to place a * after the second or third letter of a surname which bring up many alternative spellings, like Min*, which will show Minter, Minton, Mintorn etc.

You can also place the * at the beginning, such as *inton, which will bring up Hinton, Minton, Winton etc.  It will also show Adlington, Elkinton, Darlinton etc.  This also works for Christian names - Ann* will show Ann, Anne, Annie etc.

Whenever you cannot track down your ancestor's birth certificate, try obtaining any possible sibling's certificate instead - this may assist you in determining their mother's maiden name.

If you find a surname was common in a village, some members of a family may have changed their name. For example William Smith of Potterspury became known as William Smith alias Kent and Richard Heel of Pattishall became Richard Heeler. You should make a note as to why you think these are the people you are searching for for future reference.

Cannot locate a marriage? Look for their children

Should you be unable to find a marriage, look for the birth dates of any possible children.  Their children's ages may give you an approximate marriage date.

Another thing to bear in mind is that your relative may have married more than once to a person with the same name as their previous partner - if you see children baptised to Abraham and Ann for example, you should consider Ann may not be the same wife.

I have seen an example of this in that my relative Abraham Devonshire married Ann Rolls and then after she died, he married another Ann Rolls, the previous Ann's cousin - so confusing!!!

Cannot locate someone on a census? These genealogy tips may help

If your ancestor cannot be found in a census index, it does not necessarily mean they are not on the census.  Sometimes looking for a specific address rather than looking by name can yield results.

Should you be unable to find your family in a census, try obtaining the birth certificate of a child born nearest the census date - this gives you another avenue to explore. Sometimes a child's baptism record gives their parent's address so try looking there too.

Genealogy tips - wills and indentures may be useful

Do not discount wills - sometimes family members are mentioned.  This is especially helpful if a child was baptised in a period where the parish register is missing, but you suspect you know who their father was.

I have first-hand experience of this in that my ancestor Joseph Scrivener mentioned his daughter Eleanor in his will, thus proving the connection.  I had been unable to find her baptism in the parish register.

Look for indentures and deeds - they may help you to establish a connection because a pedigree is sometimes mentioned.  By looking at an indenture you may be able to discover the person's ancestry.

Genealogy tips - using Monumental Inscriptions

Should there be more than one possible entry for your ancestor in a burial register, or you require more information than that noted, try looking at monumental inscriptions.

They can sometimes give further details about your ancestor and their family than can be found in a burial register, especially in earlier years.

Can military records help?

If you cannot determine your ancestor's birthplace, try looking for their discharge or enlistment paper if they were in the military - they sometimes mention an individual's birthplace.

Going further back in time? 

Some older documents may contain unfamiliar words, such as yeoman, which is a farmer or farm tenant.  Another stumbling block is words may have a different meaning to what you imagine.

Some older parish registers are in very bad condition and the handwriting can be very difficult to read.  Some pages could also be missing from the register.

As you progress further back in time you will find many documents were written in Latin.  Latin was also used in some parish registers. Some Christian Names were recorded in Latin, like Gulielmus for William, Davidus for David, Amabilia for Mabel and Alicia for Alice.  

Another tip to remember is that the Julian Calendar was used in England from 1190 to 1752, when the year began on 25 March, so January to March 1711 came after April to December 1711. The Gregorian Calendar began to be used in England in 1752, but some countries were using the calendar before this date.

When looking at some records and documents, especially those written in medieval times, you may find the date is written with reference made to a Feast Day. The year could have been recorded with reference made to the reign of a Monarch, such as the second year of the reign of George III.

Before decimalisation came into force in 1971, one pound was written as 20 shillings, and each shilling equalled 12 pence, so this should be borne in mind when examining older documents.

Other genealogy tips

A site that may assist you further with your research and possibly break down some brick walls is Genealogy Links, which is a site that has links to numerous family history resources from all over the world.

Find out how I broke down my own brick wall by reading my blog post at America's Footprints.

> Genealogy Tips


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