Discovering the Real McCoy (Part II)


Last week I gave you steps 1-4 to successful ‘Haystacking’ – an elimination technique we use when there are just too many people with similar names and details who fit our client’s ancestor – when we feel like we’re looking for a needle in a haystack.

Here are the final steps:

Your haystacking form should by now look something like this:


5. Start to fill in the gaps

The aim of this exercise is to be able to bridge the gap between all the adult Charlie McCoys on your sheet and them as children, with their parents.

Find births, marriages and deaths if you can, and try to work out which belong to which man.

The key censuses are the earliest ones — in my example the 1861 and 1871, when I would be hoping to find my Charlie McCoy living with his parents.

6. Consolidate the information

Once you have filled in as much as you can, you may find that you have some duplicated columns. Closer investigation might reveal that Charlie McCoy number 3, for example, was the same as number 6 and you can see that he simply moved counties or changed his occupation. Remember that duplicates will never appear on the same census twice, so if you have gaps in the real McCoy’s column that can be filled by another candidate, consider the possibility that they are one and the same person.

7. Eliminate the red herrings

Sometimes you will find treasure that will enable you to eliminate someone straight away – for example, they may have lived on the same street all their lives, or maybe they have their elderly father staying with them on a census. If you know your ancestor’s father was called Charles, and you find them with a James, you can cross them off the list.

You might have to see a marriage certificate of one of your red herrings, in order to eliminate them. Yes, this can be time-consuming and add some time to your project, but for those of you that have been searching for the real McCoy for a long time it might be worth the investment.


8. Reveal the real McCoy

Hopefully by now all the data you have amassed will have started to make some sense. There will be some definite red herrings that you can confidently cross off and maybe one or two ‘possibles.’ What you are looking for now is some definite evidence that you have found the right person. This might mean ordering in a birth certificate or tracing a set of parents backwards and forwards through the censuses to try and rule them out.

On some occasions we have been absolutely convinced that we’ve found the right person, on others, as with Charlie McCoy, we now have three birth records to obtain and another haystacking exercise to do on his mother. Such is the life of a Family Detective – some of you will appreciate how exciting it will be when we can shout ‘Eureka! We’ve found the real McCoy!’

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