Genealogy research can be quite challenging when you are not able to find documentation on your ancestor. Before you get too stressed or throw in the towel, go through the following reasons that could be standing in your way:
1. You have not thoroughly researched the descendants of your ancestor.
Too often, researchers are bond and determined to get as far back on a line as they can, and they do not concern themselves with researching as much as they can on one person. They miss records that could give important details and even mention the names of parents or birth places.
You should start with yourself, as Jan Edwards suggests in "Why Me?" In the post, Jan explains, “You start with yourself; work each generation including direct line siblings and spouses.” You should research everything you can about parents, siblings and spouses for each ancestor. Following a paper trail will help keep you verify that each person is related to you, and the next generation will be mentioned on records. There is no place for assumptions when you are researching your ancestor.
2. You are looking in the wrong location.
Some ancestors moved around and did not stay in one place. When you research them, start with the most recent place that you knew them to be. If you get to the point that you run out of records for them, be sure you research their place of death and the birth places of their children. Look for marriage records, probate records, and land records for clues.
Sometimes ancestors never moved, but they are not found among the records in the area where they used to live. The boundaries where they were living changed. They were in one county, but they became part of another county or parish. That means you have to search the parent county or parish that they were a part of before being redistricted.
A great place to learn about boundary changes is at the Wiki. Search for an article on the county or parish where you know your ancestor was living. Then read the section on the parent county or parish to learn about resources in that area.
3. You are using some else's findings.
If you are using information that another researcher shared and they did not share the sources they used, the research could be flawed. If they made mistakes with names, dates, or places, you will not be able to check the original records they used. So what good is the information they put together? Not much. It could be a pure waste of time for you to build your tree from their assumptions.
Every once in a while a tree can be helpful in providing clues or identifying details that you are having trouble finding elsewhere, but be sure to check original sources to confirm or learn more. If sources, are missing then you will need to prove their work, or start fresh yourself.
4. You are searching a database that does not cover the years your ancestor lived or the area where your ancestor lived.
Have you ever searched and searched a database and wondered why you could not find your ancestor who you knew should have been there? One explanation for this is that the collections you are searching may have a cut off point and only cover certain years. Also, sometimes collections are missing records for a particular area, and it just so happens the county or parish that your ancestor was in has not been included.
For example, if you were searching FamilySearch for Alabama Births and Christenings, 1881-1930 for an ancestor born in Jefferson County, you would not find that ancestor today because no records have been added for that county yet. See the coverage table for that collection. Always study the contents of a collection that you are searching.
5. You need to vary your search criteria.
Putting too much information in the search field of a database could keep you from getting results for records that do exist. For example, if you ancestor's name is Josiah James Anderson, do not start searching the census on both his first name and his middle name. Chances are a census taker did not even record his middle name. You will be lucky if it was not recorded as J. J. Anderson.
Do nor search using the name of the local area if you are not absolutely sure that is where your ancestor is and that is what the area was called at the time. If your ancestor lived near the city of Lafayette, Parish, search using the area Lafayette Parish, Louisiana. Do not search using Lafayette, Lafayette, Louisiana because you will not find your ancestor if they lived in a town near the city of Lafayette.
6. You are only searching for records online.
If you limit your research to online databases, you may have difficulty finding records as you move further back in time. Many resources are not indexed or even online yet. You must research the records that were generated locally in an are in repositories to be sure that you are not missing records that could fill in the missing details that you are seeking.
There is a collection for Illinois Probate Records, 1819-1970 at FamilySearch, however, an ancestor born in Iroquois County, Illinois would not be found in this collection today because that county is not covered. Probate records do exist for Iroquois County in offline resources. One place that you can find probate records for Iroquois would be in the Family History Library Catalog among microfilm that would need to be ordered. You could also check with the Iroquois County Courthouse to see if they have additional probate records:
Sometimes family members may choose to withhold information that would help you document an ancestor. They may do this for selfish reasons or they may do it to avoid discussing a painful experience that happened in the past. Either way, exercise caution and patience. Do not push them. It is more difficult to start your search this way, however, it is not impossible.
Interview extended family, neighbors and friends to see what they know. Search records in the local history section at the library. Research newspapers from the time and place that your ancestor lived to learn about schools, events, and organizations. Be certain that your research starts with you so that you can identify more people who can possibly share what they know.
Reasons for not being able to find your ancestor are numerous. Have you ever been stumped and discovered why?