Family History breakthrough – Find the missing siblings

As part of a nostalgia season we’re having in the bureau this month, I thought I’d revisit some of my more meaningful blog posts. I hope you enjoy them:

Have you hit a brick wall in your family history research? Here is a very simple technique that we use at Family Detective, which can sometimes bring you a ‘Eureka!’ moment.

Hopefully you will be tracing your family history using a very methodical system (see ‘Getting Organised’) and you will have crossed every ‘t’ and dotted every ‘i’, because the key to a breakthrough can sometimes be in the details.

One simple way of going back over old ground is to turn your attention from your direct ancestor, the one person in the family who continued your family line, and look instead at all the other children in the family. This can be of benefit in several ways:

1. Was there a child missing from a particular census? Perhaps you assumed that they had died young? Always check for these children by searching for them by name and recording their death date if you find it. Sometimes they hadn’t died at all but were staying with grandparents or uncles and aunts. You then have a new lead and might be able to trace further back using these new family members.

2. Even when children in the family had moved away and started families of their own, it’s sometimes worth following them forward in time. Perhaps you might discover that they gave a maiden surname as a middle name to one of their own children? Or maybe their marriage or birth certificate might record their parents’ name differently to your direct ancestor? They may have entered a different occupation or another address you could check out. One of my ancestors recorded her father as ‘Bill, a Cattle Dealer’ on her marriage certificate. Her sister said he was ‘William, a Veterinary Surgeon.’

3. Sometimes parents used traditional naming patterns (see Naming the Baby) and christened their children after their own parents. It’s only when you have found and recorded all their children’s names that you can see the pattern emerging.

4. If a child appears with the family who should have been on the previous census but wasn’t, it’s always worth going back to see if you can find them ten years before. Sometimes this can lead to the discovery of previous marriage or relationship.

5. Go back and check that your ancestor never had lodgers, boarders, visitors or even siblings staying with them on the night of a census. Try tracing these strangers back for a little way, to see if they were actually related. Leave no stone unturned!

6. If your direct ancestor is called John or Mary and you want to order in their birth certificate, consider ordering one for a sibling with a more unusual name. Hopefully you’ll find a Marmaduke or a Constance – but even a Benjamin or Lilian will give you a better chance of finding the right certificate.

In all your research, stay methodical – document everything and keep it in order. Be rigorous, and you’ll be successful!

Discussion: Got any interesting tales of research successes? Feel free to share them below. We’d love to hear about them! You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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