AncestorNews: Backdoor Genealogy

By Nancy Hendrickson Premium

Sometimes the only way to crack a tough family line is through a backdoor—an indirect route to your direct ancestor through siblings, friends or a spouse’s line. A recent example of backdoor (or cluster) genealogy came in an e-mail from my Internet cousin, Judy Richardson.

While visiting the genealogy society in Princeton, Ill., Judy found a biography of her great-great-uncle William Knox. What set her (and me too!) off on a new research trail was the biography’s mention of the Civil War incarceration in Libby Prison (Richmond, Va.) of two of our ancestors. But the best discovery was that William’s grandfather (our fourth-great-grandfather) had been a Quaker and a judge. That little tidbit sent us scurrying to the reference books. Isn’t it interesting that sometimes the clues to the toughest research problems come through the back door?

Other common indirect research avenues are neighbors on the census, witnesses on wills or other official documents, in-laws, or families who moved from place to place with your family. When you’re using the big online databases like FamilySearch or the WorldConnect project, be sure to search for those “peripheral” names—you never know when they’re going to provide the one clue you’ve been waiting for.

Want to learn more about backdoor genealogy? Click to these Web sites:

Analyzing Wills for Useful Clues

Clues in Census Records, 1790-1840

Genealogy Research Tips

Group Thinking

Neighbors in the Census

Overheard on the Message Boards: How Do I Find Siblings to My Great-Grandparents?