Posted by Ancestry Team on February 10, 2015 in Website

By Lorraine Bourne and Dani Edgar

Alison Marcoff recently won Ancestry’s Branch Out sweepstakes, with a prize of 20 hours of research time from Ancestry ProGenealogists. Alison’s tree had already been thoroughly researched back to a tricky brick-wall problem: who were the parents of James C. Ogden, her 4th great-grandfather?

Map of Lancashire
Map of Lancashire, Credit: Roots Web

We knew James C. Ogden was born in 1804 in England and that he married Ann Heap in Prestwick Cum Oldham Parish, Lancashire County, on May 16, 1824. James and Ann immigrated to America, and they had four children in Pennsylvania. James died in 1890 and was buried in the Great Valley Baptist Church Cemetery in Devon, Chester, Pennsylvania. His headstone inscription from Find A Grave gave a birthdate of February 1804. Alison also gave us a list of ten possible baptismal records for James Ogdens baptized in 1804 in the Lancashire area.

When dealing with a difficult research problem, it’s important to start with what you know and build from there. Records from James and Ann’s marriage gave his place of residence as Royton, but no birthplace or names of relatives were given. After that, starting with what we knew meant starting in America.

Learning more about James’s relatives, especially siblings, could help narrow down the list of possible candidates for James’s parents, so we created a timeline of James’s life in America using census records to plot his life every ten years, looking specifically for possible extended family living with or near him. This research revealed that in 1850, a man named Abraham Ogden lived in the same town as James. Abraham had been born in England and was working in a cotton mill. Abraham was only 11 years younger than James, and since he and James were both born in England, both employed in the cotton industry, and living in such close proximity, Abraham was a possible candidate as a brother, cousin, or another relative.

Ten years later, in 1860, James’s household included a young man named William Ogden, age 23, who was born in England. Since James was 35 years old, William was another candidate to be a brother or other relative. By 1880 James had married a woman named Mary; other records placed his first’s wife, Ann’s, death in 1863.

Although Alison’s 20 hours didn’t give us enough time to trace all of these clues, the census records did open the following possibilities for further research:

  • Abraham and William Ogden can be traced further in U.S. records to find information on their relatives and places of birth, which may lead to the discovery of any relationship they have to James and the identification of his parents in England.
  • The record of James’s marriage to his second wife, Mary, can be searched for to find what information it might include about his birth and relatives. Since James was buried in a Baptist cemetery, searching local Baptist churches for this marriage record could be a good place to start.

Difficult research problems take time to solve, but a careful analysis of the information in records created during our ancestors’ lives can yield many clues to help us break down the brick walls in our own family trees.

We wish Alison luck in her future attempts to identify James C. Ogden’s parents and continue to trace her Ogden ancestry!


  1. Sha

    Very disappointed.
    I find a lot of the ancestry is wrong. What’s going on?
    They seem to group together any first name to the last name with wrong information. I don’t like ancestry at all using the trial version.

  2. Sue Mullane

    When did the contest start up again? Wish you would do a better job of announcing the contests to those of us who have been members for years.

  3. Allan

    Wow. I misread the prize as 20 hours of work, but it must have meant 20 minutes. I was considering hiring a “pro” genealogist to help with my brick wall, but, I am not sure that it would be worth the cost if this is a typical result.

  4. Alison

    I agree with your comments Big T and Allan… when I won this prize I really thought they’d be able to find a lot more new information that I didn’t know before, but that really wasn’t the case. The worst part is that I had to pay something like 40% taxes on this “prize.” The “value” of the 20 hrs of research plus 2 DNA kits, 1 year Ancestry membership and the Family Tree software was something like $2500, so you do the math on what I owed the IRS… I’m sad to say it really wasn’t worth it at all. I honestly wished I hadn’t entered the contest– I should have just bought myself a 1 year Ancestry membership and done the research myself.

  5. Jeanne

    That’s a real shame. Clearly, their genealogists are not the place to go for help with an actual genealogy problem. If that’s the best they could come up with in 20 hours, then the value of being a “professional genealogist” must have become almost as dicey as those “experts” they have for every conceivable topic on news discussions these days.

  6. B.G. Wiehle

    Why weren’t the 10 baptismal entries researched forward? That might have allowed some be ruled out as having stayed in England or emigrated elsewhere. No mention was made of the James’ children’s names as possible clues to his and Ann’s parents’ names (assuming the family followed a regional pattern). Research in English records that are less accessible to researchers in the U.S. would have probably been more valuable to Allison.

  7. Ranbo

    It sounds to me like Ancestry should pay the winner another $1000 to pay the taxes. Of course, then she’d owe $400 on that. And if she got paid that, then she’d owe another $160 on that…. If Ancestry paid her $1666.66, then 40% of $2500+$1666.66=$1666.66 and she would finally be able to break even. The contest should have been more clear that the winner was going to be out $1000.

  8. Bill Hodgson

    We don’t call it ‘Lancashire County’ here in England. The ‘shire’ at the end means county, and the correct name of the county is just ‘Lancashire’.

  9. Sharon

    Is that the actual report on 20 hours of research by professional genealogists? I sure hope not! Where are the copies of the documents they located? Where are the source citations for those documents? Where is the list of sources they searched where they did not find what they were looking for? Geez, they didn’t even bother to get the exact birth date from James’s headstone! I’m glad I didn’t win.

  10. I’d like to see the actual report in order to know how the analysis was done. This is just a brief summary, and I don’t know why Ancestry would send me an email touting this entry as a good example of a genealogy report. It doesn’t appear to be.

  11. Sherry

    A year or so ago I hired Ancestry’s pros to research a brick-wall. After sending the genealogist all the info I had, I received back as their research the same info I had sent but reworded. Nothing new!
    a very disappointing and expensive experience. Don’t waste your money.

  12. Lori Samuelson

    My 2nd cousin hired a genealogist to find info in Croatia about our shared great grandmother. Don’t know how much he paid but the info received missed 3 children I knew about. He tried to tell me my records were wrong but I had gotten them directly from my great grandmother and she would know how many kids she had and what she named them! He recontacted the genealogist who then “discovered” the 3 children. On a happier note, I did use the FREE genealogists at the Family History Library in Salt Lake last month and was really impressed with their help on my 10 top brick walls. I came prepared with 1 question on each brick wall person and listed where I had looked, what I had found and wanted to know where I should go from there. I had my Swedish line’s first and middle names backwards and this wonderful woman used a Swedish database I would never know about to find the emigration record. Another genealogist used her personal subscription to to find my husband’s gggrandma’s baptism record (and that she emigrated with her STEP sister!). Two other genealogists showed me tricks to find the info in the catalog that I needed on for my New York and Ohio families. A French genealogist showed me how to find online records in France (I was looking in Germany – the area is now French!) and I was able to use google earth to tour the area – houses look like they were there at the time the family emigrated in the early 1800’s! Trip cost about $1000 for 5 days but I also did museums and parks. I did split the cost of the hotel with a travel partner. I am not Mormon and no one in the library cared – they were just the most helpful, professional people I have ever run across. I’d highly recommend this. My next bucket list wish is to go to Fort Wayne’s library! Hoping they are just as helpful.

  13. Jeanne F

    A GOOD pro genealogist is worth every penny, but sometimes a local researcher or “look-up” person is even better: 1.Study pro genealogists carefully before hiring. 2. Make sure the pro specializes in the locale and time period in which you need info. 3. Send them all the info that you have and ask them not to repeat your own research. If they find nothing, they should explain why and list the sources that they consult. The pros that I’ve used sent me a bound booklet of all the research they had done, including photocopies of British documents that I could not have found and could not access.

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