Find a Missing Ancestor by Searching for the Children

If you are stuck on an ancestral line in your genealogy finding more information on that person's children may help

If we think about the way people's lives progress, we all share a common human experience: birth and death. Our direct ancestors must have survived long enough to have children or we wouldn't be here. A standard pedigree chart shows four or five generations, with specialized charts going back to ten generations or more. This is the framework of the structure upon which you build your genealogy.

There is a difference between claiming a "brick wall" for one of your direct line ancestors (grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents etc.) and claiming a "brick wall" on a collateral line such as the sibling of a grandparent, the spouse of a sibling or whatever.

Collateral relatives are those to whom you are related by blood but are not your direct-line ancestors. Therefore, your ancestors are your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc., and your collateral relatives are your cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, siblings, etc.

As you build your genealogy on a direct line you take advantage of the research that you do at each generation. For example, as I investigate the lives of my parents I find information about their parents and so forth. If you try to skip a generation you may get lost. First, you are ignoring the information you could have obtained from the descendants of the direct-line ancestor and second, you are making an assumption that the person you are investigating or researching is the correct person.

As an example, let's say I have inherited a pedigree chart from someone in my family. I notice that going back a couple of generations there is a blank space for my paternal great-great-grandfather. I immediately decide that I want to find him and start doing research.

I cannot tell you how many times this occurs. Unfortunately, the person doing the research has no idea who the great-grandfather is and does not even know if the right person is recorded. This is like trying to build a bridge from the middle out from the two shores. There is no anchor or foundation for the bridge or for your research. Now, what you do when you start researching the spouse of a collateral relative is exactly the same thing: you are building a bridge in the air. You have done no research at all on the children of that spouse and you have no idea if the spouse is correctly identified. So don't start with the missing spouse, start with the children or grandchildren.

You can not start doing effective research without the foundational research that provides a base for the investigation. You may find the person or you may not. But if you have failed to do foundational research by examining in detail the children of this collateral relative and his or her spouse then you are building a bridge in the air. Why do you think I find so many of the children of my ancestors assigned to the wrong wife of my collateral relatives? It is because the researchers start doing the research with the spouse and ignore the research on the children.

Come forward. This is one of the keys to finding an ancestor. It may seem like a waste of time to do the research on each child and each grandchild but this is exactly what needs to be done. You have to know who you are trying to research in order to research.

Written by James L. Tanner. Used with permission.

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