We all have them: an ancestor with birthdate and marriage “known” to everyone in the family. But we cannot find other details on any registration document, and we have not been able to find their birth certificate. We are stuck – we can’t go further back in the line, because we have no identifying information to search on. What to do next? Use siblings.

As a beginner in genealogy searching, you will have learned the basic rule: work backwards from what you know, to be sure you are finding the correct ancestors. But once you are two or three generations back, it may be useful at times to go sideways at times rather than in a straight line backwards.

For example, if you know your great-grandmother’s full name (wonderful information), and you have a birthdate (1864) and possible residence, hold that information on a piece of paper while you look at other details of the family. The problem may be that you do not have her mother’s name, and therefore you cannot go further backwards. You would like to find her birth certificate which would have both of her parents listed, with her mother’s maiden name as well. Luckily you may be able to find a later Census record with other siblings names and ages listed, for the same district.

If any one of those individuals has a somewhat unusual name, or is the only one listed in a search of the area at the time of his/her likely year – you have hit treasure! For example, your great-grandmother may be Elizabeth Eileen Felty, born 8 Oct 1864 in Barrow in Furness, Lancashire England. And when you search, you find there are 4 Elizabeth Felty births! How to get the correct birth registration without paying for four of them! Ah, but you find that she has three siblings listed with her on the 1881 Census, and two of them have less common names: Sophia aged 13, and Beatrice aged 9. (note: these are examples only, not actual persons)

Using those two girls’ details, search backwards for their birth registration in free BMD (Free birth, marriage, death records). This site is a database which can be searched by name, date range, and place, and consists of records which have been transcribed by volunteers; you can also look at the actual records once you find someone. Or, you can search on the FamilySearch website for their database records of birth registrations for the area, as well.

You may find that there is only one of either Sophia or Beatrice Felty in the correct place and year. Goldmine. You can request one of those children’s birth certificates, sure that they are in fact your great-grandmother’s siblings, and there will be your next generation back.

Now that you have your great-grandmother’s mother’s maiden name, you can search again for her birth registration with the correct parents’ names. Once you have that wonderfully detailed document, you are ready to continue searching. You can now be certain of the correct marriage registration document, and can request a copy of that as well. And with the marriage document, will come both bride and groom parents’ names (or at least, the father’s name).

Each correct document you find will provide you with more clues to find other elusive ancestors in your family tree. Whenever you seem to be hitting a brick wall – as we all do – try the technique of searching sideways for more details. You will be amazed at the great wealth of information you can find on your ancestors, by doing so.

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