20 Things to Do When You Are Stumped

1. Explore Name Variations in Your Findings

Often U.S. ancestry records contain misspellings due to immigration or with birth dates.
Name Variations: Tips and Tricks by findmypast expert David M. Lynch explains how to bypass challenges when the family history records you find seem to dead end.


Take time to analyze your findings and give everything another look. Specifically look for any conclusions you might have made that cannot be verified from the records you have found. Avoid making any assumptions and ensure that each name, event, and place can be verified before continuing your research.

2.Browse Record Collections

Although the U.S. Census and birth, marriage and death records are a great way to start looking for your ancestors, they can only take you so far. Here are some often overlooked records collections that will add depth instead of just names and introduce you to family members who may otherwise be left unnoticed.

Pro tip: If you are unable to find an answer in a specific record, consider browsing through its pages. In some cases names might be misspelled or incorrectly indexed and can only be found by browsing through a collection online. It is also possible that the first or last name you are searching for is different than what was recorded in the records and might only be recognized when browsing the records.

3. Find Family Stories in Newspapers

Findmypast’s exclusive collection of nearly 200 titles of British newspapers will open a treasure trove of family history to explore. British Newspapers provide a vivid window into the past – you may be able to find details about your ancestors and discover what life was like on their street, their town and their time period from 1700 to 1950. Use the largest digitization project of British newspapers in history to capture the pulse of your family history.

findmypast newspapers

Our 120 million pages of U.S. and Global newspapers are another resource to find ancestors in the United States and seven other countries, including Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Jamaica and China family history. Learn the details to your ancestors life events.

4. New Records = New Opportunities

Some families are much easier to find than others. Family history is a lifelong pursuit for many as there are always another set of parents or siblings to discover as your family tree continues to branch out. As more records become available online and are discovered across the world it is possible that the answers to your toughest research problems can still be solved.

5. Create a Family Tree

Chart out a chronological timeline of a family helps to organize a family identify missing information. Include significant dates for each family member, such as birth marriage and death records, length ofmilitary service, findings in U.S. census records, and other details. You can also add historical events by using our collection of British Newspapers to see how your ancestor's might have been impacted by what was happening in the world around them, and what other records might be available to search.

Your Family Tree
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6. Search for Siblings in Family Lines

Focusing your search on an ancestor's siblings often yields additional records that benefit your research. For example, a brother or sister might provide the names of their parents in a record while your own direct ancestor did not. Tracing wide instead of deep into family lines can also identify distant cousins, aunts and uncles who might have useful information.

7.Go Social with Other Family Historians

Multiple resources exist for asking other genealogists for ideas and advice when you are stumped. You can look for record updates or easily post a query about any family on the findmypast blog, or join the conversation on findmypast's social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter. Include information (names, dates, and places) that would be useful in assisting someone answer your question.

Listen every week to findmypast's podcast exploring common issues, new events and tips for search.

findmypast podcast

8.Don't Let "Brick walls" Break You

Before becoming too frustrated with your brickwall take a short break from your research and focus on another task or family. Being able to put away your research for a few hours, days, or weeks allows you to approach your research with a fresh set of eyes. Many genealogists find that taking a longer break can be beneficial as new record sets may appear online that provides important information that either solves the brickwall or moves the research forward.

9.Consult a Professional Genealogist

Professional genealogists are available to assist you with your research and can often work with you to tackle brickwalls. Many professional researchers work at an hourly rate and often specialize in a specific record type, locality, time period, or subject matter. The Association of Professional Genealogists provides an online directory searchable by specialty to assist you in finding a professional.

Some professionals have achieved credentials from the Board for Certification of Genealogist and the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists, whose online membership directories can also be used to locate a suitable genealogist.

10. Locate the Original Record

In some cases you might be looking at a transcription or abstract made from an original record. While every effort is made to ensure transcriptions are accurate, it is essential to examine a copy of the original record. In some cases you might only have an abstract or abbreviated version of the record and the original record might yield additional information for your research.

Pro Tip: In order to locate the original record, keeping track of your findings is imperative. Citation: the importance of citing your sources by findmypast expert Debbie Mieszala offers basic tips on how to keep track of source citations for use down the road or when transcipts can only take you so far.

11. Attend a Class, Webinar, or Conference

Several opportunities to learn more about researching your family history are available online and in-person. Potential events include individual classes on a specific record or strategy, an online webinar, or a day-long seminar on a variety of genealogical topics. There are also multiple week-long conferences and in-depth institutes across the United States relating to genealogical research that you can attend, including the National Genealogical Society's Annual Conference, the Federation of Genealogical Societies Annual Conference, and the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy.

Join findmypast at the annual family history conference, Rootstech, in Salt Lake City. Designed for both novice and experienced genealogists, Rootstech is the place to learn about new resources, mingle with fellow enthusiasts and meet the findmypast team.

12. Find a Genealogical Society Near You

Thousands of genealogical societies exist throughout the United States and the world. Societies offer a wealth of resources for those researching family history and might even have local volunteers who can assist you in your research. Visit the Federation of Genealogical Society's online directory to locate a society in your area.

13. Visit a Genealogical Library

A few key libraries for family history research exist in the United States, each with a dedicated staff of professionals and volunteers who can assist you with your research. The world's largest genealogical library, The Family History Library located in Salt Lake City, Utah has a worldwide collection of over 2.4 million rolls of microfilm and thousands of books.

Other prominent libraries for genealogical research include the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Library in Washington, DC, the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Missouri, the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research in Houston, Texas, and the New England Historic Genealogical Society's Library in Boston, Massachusetts.

14. Visit a Public Library Near You

Your local library might have access to databases and records that can help you expand your search. In some cases you might be able to access materials remotely (without visiting the library). Contact your local public library and inquire about their family history and genealogical resources.

15. Participate in a DNA Study

The science of DNA analysis can have great benefits for genealogists. Many individuals participate in DNA surname studies which combine genealogical research and DNA results to prove relationships between individuals and potential origins of particular surnames or groups.  Several resources for DNA research exist, including the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation and FamilyTreeDNA.

16. Write a Family Sketch

Begin writing a family sketch, focusing on the family that has you stumped. Include each detail you have uncovered about the family as you write, and look for any patterns or potential contradictions in your data. Documenting each name, date, and relationship as you write helps to ensure your research is accurate and can often identify areas that could be researched further.

17. Search Family History Publications (Expand your knowledge)

The answers you are seeking could easily be available in records you have yet to discover. Learn more about family history at findmypast or through other resources, such as the National Genealogical Society's online courses or the FamilySearch Wiki. You can also subscribe to family history magazines including FamilyTreeMagazine, American Ancestors, Family Chronicle, and others.

18. Subscribe to a Genealogical Journal

Scholarly journals for genealogy and family history can include record abstracts and published family sketches that demonstrate the research process and even solve some of the toughest brickwalls. Even if an article has not been published on your family, these articles provide sources and techniques you can apply to your own research.

Journals published in the United States include The American Genealogist, the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and The New England Historical and Genealogical Register.

19. Search for Printed Resources

There are thousands of records not yet available online that include important information for family history research. Printed resources include printed genealogies, local histories, record transcriptions and abstracts, and other materials. Search for these materials in libraries and other repositories through WorldCat to locate sources close to your own home.

20. Think Outside the Record Set

Many records for research are available offline at libraries and archives across the United States and the world. Manuscript collections can often be a goldmine for research as they can contain unique personal records, such as letters, diaries, and photographs not found anywhere else. Use resources such as ArchiveFinder and ArchiveGrid (both available at many public and university libraries) to find other collections to continue your research.