Genealogy Problem Solving: 6 Strategies That Helped Me

By Diane Haddad

Our Feb. 27 webinar Genealogy Problem Solving: Creative Ideas for Overcoming Research Challenges got me thinking about the strategies that have helped me solve problems in my family history research. I looked back on some old posts and came up with these six before I realized what time it was:

1. Tracing family and friends, aka “cluster genealogy.” This approach helped me discover my third-great-grandmother Mary Frost’s maiden name, which wasn’t legible in her divorce case file. You can read about it in this blog post.

2. Looking for alternate sources of missing information. Six or seven years ago, my request for records of my great-grandfather’s 1913 bootlegging trial in Texarkana, Texas, came back with a “found nothing” note. Not long after, at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, I scrolled and scrolled through microfilmed Bowie County, Texas, court records. Like the county clerk, I came up empty.

But while attending a genealogy conference in Little Rock, Ark., in 2009, I jumped at the chance to use microfilmed Texarkana newspapers (Texarkana straddles the Texas/Arkansas border). They didn’t provide the level of juicy detail I’d hoped for, but several articles had updates on the trial.

3. Using multiple sources for the same data. Using the Ellis Island passenger search, Stephen P. Morse’s One-Step search form for the Ellis Island site, and passenger records on eventually led me to my Haddad great-grandparents in passenger list records of ships arriving in New York.

4. Formulating a theory. When I found two mystery men in a family cemetery plot, I looked at what I knew about them and then came up with a theory about their identities. From there, I could come up with steps to see if my theory was correct, which you can read about here.

5. Researching a potential relative forward in time. I do this often when I’m not sure whether a record I find is really my ancestor. For example, I’ve found online trees with my great-great-grandmother in a different family. I understand how it happened: She was born just after the 1880 census and her 1890 census listing is, of course, toast. A similarly named person lived in Indiana in the 1900 census.

What if I was the one with the wrong lady? I researched the other person forward, and she ended up in northern Indiana—so she couldn’t be my great-great-grandmother in Covington, Ky. (I later found my ancestor in 1900, listed under a nickname as a servant for an unrelated family.)

6. Keeping on keepin’ on. Continuing to research an ancestor—not necessarily focusing just on my problem or question—has probably been the most helpful strategy. It also requires the most time and patience.

As an example: It was after I found my great-grandfather Mike Haddad’s passenger list that I requested his alien registration record (AR-2), which gave his first name as Fablo. Later, I found a son’s marriage record, which gave his father’s name as Fadlow. A few years ago, I ordered microfilm of the baptismal register listing my grandfather. The register named his father as “Daddlod.”

Had I found these records before beginning my ship’s list search years ago, I would’ve looked harder at the passenger named Fadlo Hadad—who turned out to be my ancestor. But as it was, not realizing my great-grandfather Mike had used that name, it took me several more years to identify him in passenger lists.

What genealogy research strategies have you used to solve questions? In our Genealogy Problem Solving webinar, taking place Feb. 27 at 7p.m. ET, Gena Philibert Ortega will share creative techniques she and other professional genealogists use to overcome difficult problems. Anyone who registers will receive access to download the webinar for future viewing, as well as a PDF of the presentation slides.

Click here for more details on Genealogy Problem Solving: Creative Ideas for Overcoming Research Challenges.