Find a Minneapolis Ancestor

By Emily Anne Croom Premium

Q. I’m having extreme difficulty trying to track down my great-grandfather Martin Doran. According to family information, he left Minneapolis in 1917 or 1918, and the family never heard from him again. Do you have any suggestions on where to begin looking?

A. To plan and evaluate your research on any elusive ancestor, first create a documented chronological timeline showing everything you know about him and his family, including the date and location of each event. Update the timeline as you learn more.

An essential strategy for researching ancestors like Martin is to work back in time to identify his spouse, children, siblings, parents and even grandparents, especially in family records and censuses of 1910 and before. Then work forward again, studying all the relatives you can find and watching carefully for clues about Martin. Look especially for relatives’ obituaries: Sometimes people who had little contact with their families returned home for funerals or were mentioned in obituaries.

Look for Martin’s relatives, as well as Martin himself, in the 1920 and 1930 censuses using a nationwide online index—available on the subscription site , or at a library that subscribes to HeritageQuest Online or AncestryPlus (soon to be switched to Ancestry Library Edition). Consider that a Martin Doran listed in the census may be your ancestor, even if details such as birthplace or age don’t match the facts you have. Also search census and other records on his middle name (instead of his first) as well as alternate spellings of his surname.

Another approach is to survey broad record groups. City directories can help you identify Martin Dorans in various cities. If your Martin left home about 1917 or 1918, perhaps he served in World War I. If he attended college, check into alumni records. Search the Social Security Death Index at, FamilySearch or RootsWeb, and consult online state death indexes. Then research some of the Martins you find to determine if one is your ancestor.

Finally, online surname databases and message boards, such as Genforum’s, may provide more clues—but carefully evaluate and document anything you find in these sources.
For more help with “problem ancestors,” us these resources, available from Family Tree Shop:

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