When You've Done Everything to Find Your Ancestor

Ideas for expanding your genealogy search

Sometimes I hear a complaint I hear from people looking for their ancestors goes something like this, "I have looked everywhere for my ancestor and still haven't found what I'm looking for. I've been looking for x number of years, I've searched on all the websites, I've done my DNA, I've done everything." But in reality almost never have these people actually done "everything" and there is still a lot that can be done. Here's why.

All Records are Not Online and Indexed

If you have only searched on the big sites like Ancestry, FamilySearch, and FindaGrave, you have only begun your search. While very helpful, the big genealogy sites have only digitized and indexed a fraction of the world's genealogy records. Many more records are either not indexed, meaning not searchable by name, or are not yet digitized online.

Many more genealogy records can be found among the unindexed records on FamilySearch as explained in our article about using the FamilySearch catalog. Also, there are thousands of smaller websites out there with genealogy records (many are identified in our records directory).

Additionally, more records are still sitting in archives, courthouses, libraries, and other locations in hard copy format that requires an in person visit to view them.

Identifying More Record Sources

If you really want to search all of the possible records for your ancestor, it's time to stop only doing searches in large databases online. Instead, focus in on the specific places your ancestor lived, such as town, city, or county. Then identify which records are available for the time and place.

Our records directory and ancestor source finder tool can give you a good beginning for locating U.S. records. The FamilySearch wiki is another useful source for helping you to identify which records exist for a particular place and where they can be found.

Once you have identified which records exist, then search in those specific record sets.

Indirect Evidence

There are some cases where you will not find a magic document that will name your ancestors family members, particularly in times and places where vital records are not available and records are limited. This does not mean it's impossible to find your ancestor, but it does mean that more work on your part will be required. Gathering sufficient indirect evidence can often lead to the answers you are looking for. Sometimes better analysis of your existing records and the ability to interpret and use them is still needed as well.

Cluster Strategies

In some complex research situations, a cluster research strategy may be needed. This means that you don't only search just for your ancestor, but you expand your search include other family members, associates, and neighbors to lead you back to clues about your ancestor. See our article on cluster research strategies for more information on this.

DNA Testing

In some cases, you may need to use DNA testing and know how to effectively use the results of your testing to find the answers you are looking for. Using your DNA results effectively will require learning and effort on your part.

More Learning May Be Needed

The reality is that there are more records to explore and strategies for using them than anyone can learn in a lifetime. Even professional genealogists who spend their career doing genealogy research are still learning new things regularly.

All of us have to learn to do our genealogy work more effectively. If you want ideas on how to learn more, our article on 5 Free Places to Learn Genealogy can get you started. Another excellent site for learning better research strategies is FamilyTreeWebinars.com.


In summary, if you feel you have done everything, you probably haven't yet. There are still have ways to locate your ancestor if you're willing to put in the time and effort required.

Need help finding more records? Try our genealogical records directory which has more than 1.3 million sources to help you more easily locate the available records.

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