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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

How Do I Research an Ancestor If All I Have is a Name?

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Grantor deed from Newberry County, South Carolina reveals father's name.
Newberry County, SC Grantee Deed, Volume 11, page 598, November 6, 1905. Microfilm SCDAH. Page 72 on Grantee Deed Index.

So you have researched out to a grandparent and you want to learn more, right? It really is frustrating if all you have to go on is an ancestor’s name. That is the dilemma that plagues many family historians. Well, you will no longer have that problem after you follow the steps below.

What do you want to learn?
Are you looking to learn about details such as birth, marriage, or death? Are you trying to figure out where he lived? You need to decide what it is specifically that you want to learn about your ancestor. This will help you figure out where you need to look to find the answer you seek. This is also important if you plan to find research assistance.

You know more
You probably know more than what you realize. Many times family historians will become frustrated when it is suggested they go back and research the previous generation more carefully, however, it is the best advice because information discovered by researching the generation before will connect to an ancestor. The ancestor that you are trying to learn more about has a child that is also your ancestor. If that child had other siblings, you have opened up even more avenues of research that can lead to more information.

Do you know the aunts and uncles of that child mentioned above? If so, they are the brothers and sisters of the ancestor you are trying to research. Make a list of these individuals. At one point, all that the researcher knew about Elenia Chick was that she was the mother of Daisy Chick Tucker. A census search back from 1930 to 1900 for Daisy Chick Tucker led to finding Elenia and her husband, Anderson, at home in 1900 with their children:
  • Sallie
  • Daisy
  • Sims
  • Eliza
  • Frank
  • Pettus
  • Coleman
A search forward for each of the Chick children picked up Elenia widowed and living with her sons between 1910 and 1920. Then a search for her daughter, Sallie, from 1910 to 1930 led to the discovery of a living granddaughter of Elenia who was able to give some of the names of Elenia’s siblings in birth order. Elenia’s siblings could now be added to the list of research avenues (Anna, Sallie, Lula, Cleora, Mary).

The researcher now had a healthy list of names of children and siblings but still no idea of who Elenia’s parent were. You may ask as did the researcher, “Where do I go from here?”

How to proceed
Some of the basic questions you may have about your ancestor might be:
  • Birth place and date
  • Marriage place, date, spouse
  • Death place, date
  • Burial place
The researcher above wanted to know the names of Elenia’s parents. The surname for Elenia, Coleman, was discovered from an interview with her granddaughter. It was now possible to search the 1880 Census for each of the siblings and Elenia which the researcher found. Elenia was living with her mother, Sue, and her siblings. A son, Hiram, was who was not mentioned in the interview was also there. Elenia’s father was not there.

It was not until a search among land deeds was conducted later that the researcher discovered Elenia’s name in the index of Newberry County, South Carolina deeds. Elenia was helping to save the family property owned by the siblings. The deed mentioned that the original property owner was none other than their father, Theophilous Coleman!
Researching each person that you added above can lead you to finding answers too. You cannot predict which child or sibling will lead you to the missing piece of the puzzle so you will need to be patient and leave no stone unturned.

More ideas
For example, it is possible to find the death of your ancestor if you cannot find a death certificate. Research the death certificates for siblings, spouses and children to see what cemeteries are mentioned. Check those cemeteries and the funeral homes for your ancestor.

If you are not sure about death dates, begin with local death indexes where you can discover more information just by searching the name of your ancestor. Many libraries now have compiled indexes from newspaper obituaries. Look at the original obituary for other people mentioned that may provide clues.

Are you trying to figure out where your ancestor was married? Begin by searching the local marriage records where the children were born. The US Census will also provide clues. Remember these are just clues.

Are you trying to determine where your ancestor was born? Search the death certificates of the children to see if the birth place for parents was provided. Check each census for each child to see what is shared for the birth place of parent. Follow up on these clues. These few basic ideas can help you discover more about your ancestor.

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