When compiling your family history, one of the first things every single genealogy resource tells you to do is ask elder family members about names, dates, and relationships within the family.
What if you don’t know any more than a name on a family line? What if you’re the product of an adoption and only know the name of your biological mother and father but nothing else? Or just an Aunt or Grandparent? How does this work when you have limited information without any family to begin helping you to fill in the pieces? Can it be done?
…Actually, yes it can. There’s a few options depending on whether or not the person you’re looking for is still living, when they were living, and where they lived. You’re basically going to find out every single tiny detail you can about that one individual , because there will be something that will lead you to another name and their relationship with that person.
This is going to be entirely too long if I go into all of the ways you can get a lead with one name, so this topic will be several blog posts long. In this post we’re going to talk about how to search for ancestor connections when they’ve already passed away.
Some of the things I will mention might sound familiar, but other ways might surprise you.
The first way is probably the most well-known and used method: census records. If you know where your ancestor lived and in what time period, this can produce results. Be sure to account for name variations or, if you know their date of birth, variations in year of birth. There can be an almost twenty year variation in birth year and the ancestor listed will still be the correct person. With the census records, your ancestor would most likely be listed with family members (not always parents and siblings (or husband/wife and children); could be cousins,aunts/ uncles, or grandparents as well).
I would imagine that if the census records worked all the time, then there wouldn’t be such a problem with finding ancestors for so many people, so while this is the most popular method, its not as successful for many people when they are unsure of year of birth, city of residence, etc.
Another method is social security records. If you have their social security records, you can send off for a copy of those records from the SS office. Those records will have their date of birth, Parents names, where they were born, where they’re residing at the time they filed their application, who they were currently working for( if they were of working age), and the date and age they applied for their Social security number (on older social security applications at least for the underlined; I am unsure if that is on the more recent versions of the applications).
If you don’t have the social security number, then there are ways of finding it. If you have an Ancestry.com subscription, it’s possible to search within their database for your ancestor’s Social Security death index. If it pops up in the search, the index will have their social security number listed. You may also get lucky and find the transcription of the information from your ancestor’s application on Ancestry. com as well, but many records are not available there, so it may not be available.
If you can’t find your ancestor’s SSN on Ancestry, there’s another method: Google.
Nope, not a joke. Google your ancestor’s name and “social security death index” or “social security number” along with the state of death (make an educated guess if you aren’t sure) and you may get a match on some of the smaller and lesser known sites that list the Social Security numbers of people who died from the beginning of the use of Social Security numbers to present day.
…you would be surprised how many times that helped me find a SSN I couldn’t find anywhere else.
Hone your “Google-Fu”. 🙂
Speaking of Google, that is pretty much the next resource you have. If you’ve tried to use Google before without any luck, here’s a few tips to use Google more efficiently:
- Always put “” around words or names you absolutely need to come up in your search. When you use “”, you are making Google specifically pull up websites and blogs that have those names and words in them, while excluding the others that don’t match. It will minimize your search results, which means more efficient research.
- Keep the number of words in your google search to a minimum. Think of the briefest way of phrasing what you want and put that into the search bar. The more search terms you use, the more bogged down and jumbled your google results will be. Less is best.
- Try searching in google books. You may come across an old book with your ancestor’s name mentioned in it. Many of the older books have previews so that you can decide if its a book worth finding in a library or purchasing outright.
- Add “newspaper” to your google search to look for your ancestor’s name in older newspaper articles. They may be mentioned with family members or if you’re looking for confirmation on where they resided, an old newspaper article (or that google book search) may help confirm it for you. Even better if you know what time period is relevant (just remember to still keep your search terms relatively short).
- If you know that your ancestor lived in a major city, then look up *insert city or state here* directories with your ancestor’s name on Google. City directories are gold mines, and sometimes will be the only place you ever find an ancestor listed with their family members. Depending on the city , the directory may also tell you what street they lived on, their age, and may also list who their neighbors are (who could also be relatives, so definitely do not over look the neighbors!)
This post is getting a bit long, so I’ll end it there.
“See” y’all later~