Sunday, August 19, 2012

An Indirect Approach

While I was puzzling over the Tully cousin issue I’ve been explaining over the last two days, I got reminded of a little research trick that has been handy in uncovering some invisible missing relatives. Instead of searching for the name I’m pursuing, I take a less direct approach.

I remembered that technique the other day when I started searching for Patrick Tully of Paris, Ontario. It occurred to me that perhaps I could uncover more Tully family members if I searched not by name but by some other attribute. And, indeed, in, I can quite capably do that.

Most of us, when faced with a search screen with boxes nearly demanding that we fill in the blanks, tend to oblige. Our first step: fill in the person’s name.

Sometimes, that first step is not the best idea. This can be for several reasons. We all know how “creative” governmental functionaries of the last few centuries can be when it comes to spelling. Or how capricious those same officials can be when it comes to completing all the required fields. (Sometimes I feel like “not my job” was a sentiment originating in the eighteenth century!)

For whatever reason this is so, I find it sometimes helpful to leave those first fields in the search box blank. In other words, if you are searching for, say, Patrick Tully, don’t enter that in the fields requesting first and last name. Leave those fields blank. Instead, provide some other data.

As an example, while I was searching for information on my Patrick Tully, I realized that FamilySearch showed results that specifically indicated his point of origin in Paris, Ontario. Wondering who else I could find from that village, I tried a different tack on searching for him: rather than entering his name at the top of the search box, I entered his place of birth coupled with “Father’s Last Name” as Tully to see how many others would come up with those records. I then repeated that scenario with only “Mother’s Last Name” listed as Tully. That technique brought up other family records from the extended family.

I’ve tried that same technique, entering a place of birth (or other event) and only each parent’s surname—or stripping the variables until I’m only using a very few. That way, I let the search capabilities flesh out the data which—though I was sure I had it correct—sometimes turns out to be recorded somewhat differently than I had anticipated.

Of course, that technique would yield tedious slogging if you were searching for results like, say, Smith in New York City. But I’ve played around with potentially sizeable yields by searching for Tully hits in Chicago, for instance. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by playing dumb with my variables in this way in much smaller locales especially, like my search for Tully in Paris, Ontario, or my Gordon line in Perry County, Ohio.

It’s not much of a trick. But it does sometimes help flush out those intractable hide-outs who you know are in there but can’t coax out into the open any other way.

Just because someone asks a question doesn’t always mean that you are obligated to answer it. Sometimes, using an indirect approach can get you more beneficial results.


  1. Good tip! When I can't find a particular person, I wonder if they were indexed by some foreign spelling, so I try a sibling's name or even a neighbor's name.

    1. Oh! Foreign spelling! I try to put on a phonetics way of thinking--yet still am never-endedly amazed at the possibilities people come up with. Coupled with wide varieties of handwriting quirks, these griefs are things I try to bypass with alternate search techniques. Sometimes it just pays to play around with the data and see what comes up. I like your neighbor suggestion, Wendy!

  2. I like this approach --- especially lately as Ancestry seems to be throwing in everything but the kitchen sink if I give it too much information --LOL

  3. Thank you for sharing your struggle in finding a new strategy that works! I have found myself working through the maze of spelling combinations and the "less is more" approach. I have found great success many times. I see that you have Gordons in Perry Co Oh. Mine are tied into the Fickle line. In fact, I have an interesting story that I will be posting soon that just happened to me! Thanks for sharing

  4. I've found searching in FamilySearch helps me find someone - and then going to Ancestry (using whatever quirky mispellings and new information I might uncover) works pretty well sometimes - then using Ancestry's "might be related" records which usually have one or two gold nuggets to lead/drive the search onwards. :)

    Of course just being stubborn helps too - and using Google Search with as little input as possible, but quoting things I "hafta have" -

    I've also skimmed page after page of census images - if I know "I'm in the right neighborhood" but can't find 'em.


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