7 Tips When We Can’t Find An Ancestor

Have you ever run into an instance where you know without a doubt that an ancestor lived in an area, but are unable to find any records on them?

I know I have and it is very frustrating.

So, why are there no records and what can we do?

Check borders for changes

Well, the reasons are varied, but there are places where we can check.  The most common solutions are:

  1. There may have been a fire to destroy the court records. Search records in other places such as church records, school records, state archives, newspapers, etc.
  2. Borders changed—it is possible that the county lines or borders may have changed. As states evolved and changed so did their borders.  Take the time to research the history of the county and research surrounding counties.
  3. Ancestor went to another county—I have found marriage records and even land records and obituaries that were located or published in other counties, but not the county where my ancestor lived. For a variety of reasons, the ancestor went to a neighboring county, an account was published elsewhere in the state or arrangements were made through another county.
  4. Times were different in the 17th-19th There were times when ancestors only rode out once a year {sometimes not even that} to the county seat or state capital to handle matters.  Don’t forget to check with the state capital because they may have records where the county seat does not.
  5. All of the records have been moved to the state archives. Many of the states have moved all of their records, especially those before the 20th Century, to their state archives.  So even if the county does not have the information, you may find it in the state archives.
  6. Some large genealogy libraries may also have books that contain indexes of where to find the information you are looking for. Checking to see if these libraries have newspaper clippings is also a great idea because you never know what you may find.
  7. If there is a large university or museum in the area, they may also have documents to help with your search. It never hurts to reach out and check.

Where have you found records when you couldn’t find your ancestor?