When we first begin the journey of researching our family trees, we learn that the process involves starting with ourselves and working backward. This concept is a cornerstone of good genealogical research. Though it can be tempting to begin a few generations back — say, with the great-great-grandfather rumored to have immigrated from Europe or the great-grandma you think is related to someone famous — we need to resist the temptation and begin at the beginning: You.
But this isn’t perfect for all situations. When you drive a car down an alley and you come to a dead end, what do you do? Throw the car into reverse, of course.
The same is true when you hit a research dead end–a brick wall. You need to throw your research strategy into reverse and find an alternative route to get to where you want to go. For instance, after you’ve harvested the low-hanging genealogical fruit, consider tracking down relatives who might possess ancestral information and heirlooms that will take your search further.
How do you pick up a relative’s trail? Let’s review the most helpful strategies for tracking down a long-lost cousin or unknown relative.
1. Write down everything you remember or know about the person.
Start your three binder and using the worksheets provided with this class, write down what you know. Then keep careful notes along the process. This will keep you focused and help prevent time-wasting duplication of effort.
2. Look for for people hidden in plain sight. Check telephone directories — is your target listed? Try calling information (411). Remember that the information in both printed and online phone directories is, on average, anywhere from one to eighteen months old.
3. Run basic online searches. Private investigators run an average of five searches with five different search engines for each person they’re looking for.
4. Check social networking websites. Search on the persons name in at the major social networking sites. Post your family tree and search others’ family trees to try to make connections.
5. Try sending mail to an old address. The post office or the current occupant might forward the letter for you. Or the post office might send it back to you with a corrected address.
6. Try contacting the local churches in the person’s hometown (if known).
The church office might know of relatives to forward the request to. Churches often will allow you to place an inquiry in the parish newsletter, too.
7. Look for licenses.
Does your relative practice a profession that requires a license? This includes doctors, attorneys, private investigators — the list goes on. Check state-level public records databases for an address you relative would’ve had to register to obtain or renew his license.
8. Check campaign contributions.
By law, these records are public, and you can look them up in several online databases described in the next section.
The big difference from traditional genealogy is that you’re dealing with modern records and stricter privacy laws and guidelines. But don’t let this deter you. People who at one time seemed to vanish from the face of the earth are located every day.
Beat your brick walls
In this course, you’ll a huge number of secrets to busting through the brick walls that keep you from furthering your genealogical research. If you have ancestors who seem to have beamed down from outer space, this course is for you!
Sign up today for Family Tree University’s First Steps: Tear Down That Wall! course to get started.
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