Posted by Ancestry Team on December 4, 2013 in Ask Ancestry Anne, Website

We get the most interesting questions from our members at, and please keep those questions coming! While we can’t get to all of them, we have found some really challenging and interesting questions to share this year.  Here were your favorites:

image13My Ancestors Don’t Want Me to Find Them

This was the most popular column this year, and I suspect it is because we all have ancestors who don’t want to be found.

The searches for this article centered on the census records and our readers came up with a lot of good suggestions to help finding those elusive ancestors:

  1. Look for your ancestors using their initials.
  2. Think of possible misspellings, like Hull instead of Null and see if that pulls up anyone interesting.
  3. Try transposing the names; search for Smith John, instead of John Smith.
  4. Search for neighbors in other census record to see if you can find them, then look on those pages for your ancestor.
Occupation Concubine

The title alone made this one popular! And the question was a good one – why was this woman listed as a concubine, and how do you sort that out.  My favorite comment on that post was from Roxie Moreland:

I had a relative that showed up on a census with an occupation of “harlot” It was during the Civil War and she was a widow. Not the most desirable occupation but you have to do what you have to do to keep body and soul together.

Roxie, you have a very practical approach to the past. We have to report  the facts that we find and not whitewash our history. And these types of ancestors are somehow just a lot more interesting than all those farmers, aren’t they?

Finding Women Who Have Vanished into Thin Air

Identifying your ancestress’ maiden name can be tricky. In May, I walked through an example with some suggestions on where to start.  Member Linda Bartlett came up with an excellent suggestion: Read through local and county histories for clues about the people, family histories and migration patterns that may lead you down the right track. She also gave us these words of advice:

SOLUTION: noodle, noodle, noodle with curiosity & patience. And enjoy the finds!

Couldn’t agree more! Sometimes walking away from a problem and thinking about it will help you come up with a new idea or approach.

Pittsburgh Post, January 25, 1906, page 6, column 1Did My Ancestor Sign the Declaration of Independence?

We started with a wonderful newspaper clipping and a family story that our member was a descendant of one of the signers of the declaration of independence.  And although we didn’t completely solve the puzzle we did move it a few steps closer to an answer, making the family legend seem likely.

We also discovered that it is possible for sisters to be sister-in-laws; they just have to marry brothers. This happens more than you might think.

From October, My Ancestor Moved Around a Lot and Didn’t Leave Many Records – Now what?

Some ancestors don’t seem to leave much of a paper trail.  I recommend starting with:

  1. Make a timeline, so you can easily identify what you know, and when and where you know they were.
  2. Create a research plan for each location, and make sure you investigate records other than census and vitals. Clues are everywhere.

I hope you all have smashed a brick wall or two and uncovered a great story about the past along the way.  And hopefully 2014 will be even better!

Happy Searching!


  1. Billie Eacret

    On the Sister or Sister-in-laws. My grandmothers younger sister is also her sister-in-law. They married brothers. I also have two great uncles who married sisters and i have other such relatives. I don’t think people realize that years ago many families had double in laws. In doing my research in my family I came across it a lot. Especially since my family lived in small towns.

  2. Jay

    I recently found the birth date of a mystery fellow whose birth had not been registered, by reading the children’s pages of the local newspaper! He wrote a letter to the organiser which was published – it gave me the magic date and confirmed by mentioning his brothers by name.

  3. DrDanV

    I have been trying to find my step-mom’s ancestors, namely her grandfather. He came from Germany, and it is believed that he married step-mom’s grandmother and not long after they divorced.
    I have found tons of records for her GMa, but nearly none for her GPa. Only one entry in a local city directory giving the info that the GMa is the wodow of the GPA. I have tried Ellis island listings, etc. I don’t know much else. Any suggestions?

    Also, speaking of city directories, I have found a huge amount of info for ancestors in these after I tried the census’ and other resources – so mabe people should search these also. In advance – thanks Anne!! DrDanV

  4. Patricia M. Ford

    Lately when I Look @ family trees and try add info to my family tree it freezes up and none of the info is transferred to my tree. This has been going on for more than a week. Can you help me?

  5. John Winter

    I have Family Tree Maker 2012. What is the normal protocol for entering data about adopted people? I assume that you should put the birth name first then the adopted name as AKA, is this correct?

  6. Vicki Reynolds

    What is the status of getting Norwegian records (census, parish, etc)? It is also difficult with the language barrier. I don’t know what the words or abbreviations mean because a translator program does not always translate the word or abbrivation. Also, is there any information regarding the farms since some of my ancestors have added the farm to there last name. Any help would be awesome.

  7. Ralph D. Oxendine

    In 1920, my Aunt gave up her four children for adoption. I am aware of the 72 year time restriction on getting information where adoptions are concerned; but this is now over 90 years. In research, I have been able to find that three of those siblings are no longer alive. One died at the age of 18. I have found children of the remaining two of those three, and communicate with them. I feel like I have found the fourth one. However, when I sent for Birth, Marriage, Death information, I was denied that access via the statement that “I was not a Direct Descendant”. That is true of course. I would be a first cousin to her and a second to any children she may have had. How can I get the involved State to release that information to me. These other above mentioned family members would like to know what happened to their would be Aunt also; and if they have other cousins.

    Please contact me through my E-mail address in some manner assureing me that it is safe to open.

    Respectfully yours,

    Ralph Oxendine

  8. Don Knupp

    Re: #6

    I don’t know if this is correct protocol but FTM 2012 has the ability to enter alternate names. With this in mind what I’ve done is to list the birth name as one name entry and the adoption name as another name entry.

    There is also the option of choosing which is the preferred name in your research although both names will be saved. I’m not sure what a good answer would be for preferred name. I have jumped back and forth since I found some information using birth name as preferred and other information using adoption name as preferred. I would not use aka as this would not allow you to choose which name to search by.

    Another thought: If you know the names of the birth parents as well as the adopted parents you can create families using both sets of parents and attach the adopted child to both sets of parents. From there you can define the relationship to the respective parents as “biological” or “adopted”.

    I hope this helps somewhat.

  9. I enjoyed the article and comments. You could have also touched on the topic of adopted children and the special efforts needed to find their identity. I was adopted when I was 2 1/2 years old. I was 60 when I found my mother’s side of the family. Through court records and social workers’ reports, I was finally able to find my father’s information. I have found heroes galore with a skeleton in the closet every so often. It’s been an amazing on-going search. I, too, would love to get past a few brick walls, but I’m not very good at finding where to look for old records. I also get very frustrated matching other Trees to mine when so many people don’t check dates and locations for accuracy. Nothing like finding a ‘child’ born after the parents death or worse yet, before the parents are even born! #9 addressed the adoption question; My situation is even more complicated; my mother’s first husband got into trouble with the law and split the scene. My father moved in. Later, my mother got divorced and married a second husband (not my father) and ultimately, she had 3 husbands. I still haven’t found out where my father went to – he doesn’t show up on census records but I found out he died at 81 years old.

  10. Jane Twombly

    What do you do when you are stuck in one generation that came to n. America. I have four family names that cannot find.?

  11. Monte Engel

    To Vickie Reynolds:

    Norwegian parish are very difficult. My first attempts drove me to despair, even though I had taken Norwegian in college. There are web sites that explain the abbreviations (Google Norwegian geneaology). I was able to find the baptism record of my great grandmother (1865). Farm names are different issue, there is no ‘master’ list because there there are many that used common names (e.g. Bakken (hill), Strand (beach), Dahl (valley).

    Good luck.

  12. Linda Moorehead

    I have hit a brick wall with my husband’s grandfather. He was born in 1881 in Ohio and adopted by a family who chose not to change his last name. I know the name of the adoptive family. What I really wish I could see is the 1890 US Census but alas it was destroyed by fire in the early part of the 20th century. Any suggestions on where to look for my husband’s granfather’s biological parents?

  13. HJ Albanese

    TO: Did My Ancestor Sign the Declaration of Independence?

    May I suggest that the Virginia town mentioned in the Mary E. Dawes death notice should be WINCHESTER, VA (not Westchester). It’s in the Shenandoah Valley, and home of White House Applesauce. An old, old city, too. Several of the main thoroughfares in Northern Virginia were originally toll and log roads, so that farmers from the Shenandoah Valley could get their goods to market in Alexandria, VA, where the port and docks were located — below Great Falls in the Potomac River.

  14. I have not been able to get any info. of my grand father on my fathers side of the family. his name was frank Williams . he was married to my grand mother , esther surran, (maiden name). I am at aloss asi have tried many sources to find out his birth and death records without any success. can you help me or give me some direction as to what I can do to get this information? frank Williams was the father of my dad, and he lived in Cumberland county, Bridgeton, new jersey. my dad was born there in Hopewell township, Cumberland county, in 1911. any info or leads will be much appreciated. thankyou so much, gene williams

  15. professor iqbal hussain

    my dear Anne, i am bilogist but study also geology, there are 05 ara in gelogical record my family came 03 ara, i mean 5,000 years ago. i am muslim but basically non muslim fron 03 ara. actually this ara not we muslim but all nation in the world have their originality changed from geological record i so may times use geological time sacale but result came same that am i from begnning muslim/non muslim OR some thing else, i am telliing y family tree,
    iqbal hussain s/o hussain bux by cast panhwar, my mothers name is Aaminat but family called her Motan My fathers name is Hussain bux panhwar son of Mohammad usaman son of mohammad musa son of Sabab khan, my mothers fathers name is Bihraee daugher of Aree faqeer her husband name was sanghar, kindly resolve my probleom,
    kind regards.
    professor iqbal, sindh, pakistan

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