Written by Family Tree Magazine Editorial Intern Patrick Phillips
If you read my last blog post, you already know that I am a genealogy newbie. I’m happy to report that my fiancé’s grandfather appreciated my beginner’s tips on researching Scottish ancestry so thank you all for your support. After this little genealogical success, I thought I’d take the time to delve into my own family history and see what I can find. And fortunately, I got my hands on a copy of the Unofficial Guide to Ancestry.com and got to searching.
I have always been interested in my Irish roots, namely my mother’s father’s extended family. I have never met any of my grandfather’s brothers or sisters nor have I seen a picture of my grandfather’s family. However, I feel an unspoken obligation to find out more about my grandfather’s family because I am fortunate to share his name. Well, for the most part…
My parents named me Patrick Earl Phillips. Patrick is the name of my mother’s father, Patrick Moran, and Earl is my dad’s father’s name, Earl Phillips. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to meet Earl Phillips or his wife, so I have always felt a greater sense of connection to my mother’s parents.
So I set out on my first, epic genealogy quest to find the names of grandpa Moran’s siblings and parents. I set off on the recently updated Ancestry.com and made my profile. I started digging through census records, obituaries and marriage licenses and discovered an interesting tidbit about grandpa Moran’s history.
I knew my grandfather was born in 1919 so I was very interested in finding the first census form where he appears. To my surprise, I didn’t find a Patrick Moran but a McLellan Moran. I confirmed this McLellan was my grandfather since the older siblings had the same names and birth years and the parents were also correct. In every subsequent census, my grandfather is named Patrick Moran. The reason as to why my grandfather was listed under his middle name on his first census is unknown to me, but it is was my first lesson in name changes in genealogical research. I could have easily passed this census up and ignored an interesting tidbit in the life of my greatest role model. And, who knows. My name could have been McLellan as well!
Here are some other quick, useful tips and reminders from the Unofficial Guide to Ancestry.com for ancestors’ whose names may be inconsistent in records:
1. Play with the “Exact” box when searching. Try a search with exact-spelling search to lower the number of results and do another with a non-exact search.
2. Use initial for a middle name with one search and spell it out in another.
3. Use wildcards. Using a special character such as an asterisk (*) or a question mark (?) can help search for ancestors when you are unsure of the spelling of their name.
4. Adjust the search filters to narrow down or broaden search results.
5. Add the names of known family members such as parents or siblings to searches to tailor your search.
I am very excited for the upcoming Family Tree University course on Ancestry.com, Become and Ancestr.com Power User. This is one of many genealogical challenges I’m sure to face as I research more!