I often help others find people in their tree that they have been looking for and just couldn't quite seem to find. Usually they are right there in plain view, you just gotta know how to find them.
I always joke with my husband and tell him that I love genealogy because it makes me feel like a private eye, and he better watch out cause I know how to dig up info on just about anyone, and even he can't hide from me.
Well, this is because through the years I have developed a system of finding the most difficult relatives in my tree. Some of them haunt me in my sleep, I would be willing to swear that they come to me and tell me where to find them, because when I am having a difficult time on a person, I will just stop, and make a note to go back to them later. Even though it will nag me and then later haunt me in my sleep. I will literally dream the names, and when I wake up I will sometimes have an idea of where I should go look, or how to change the variation of the name for a new search. Bingo, I end up finding them which then leads to all kinds of new trails.Who knows? It may be that just getting away from a difficult search for awhile and going back to it later is all it takes sometimes.
One thing I actually use a lot, was handed to me by my eldest son. A few years back, he says, "Hey Mom, you know what you would love? Google books." Well, I love it alright! Not for what he thought I would like it for but for the wonderful stuff I can dig up on dead ancestors!! If you go to Google books and do a search for the name you are looking for, chances are that you may find them in a book that is offered for free, or is in a library, or be able to purchase, or even read a snippet online. All these things have led me to find many, many links that would have otherwise been brick walls.
Message boards! I can't say enough about using message boards. Very few people use them anymore. Back five years ago or so, there were so many threads I could barely keep up. Use this source, there may be others out there looking for the same people as you and they may have different info to share or add! I found a whole family branch that we did not know existed because I posted queries on a message board 8 years ago, and through an internet search, the names came up and one of my new found cousins, saw it and emailed me and VOILA, instant new information!!
Ancesty.com is so wonderful with all the census records. Sometimes you will need to clarify your search. By this I mean don't just stop at Epaminoudas Stravapodi. With a name like this someone out there could not have possibly spelled it correctly. So first of all try to find out what kind of name this is, back to Google. Do a search on the name and it will probably say, Did you mean Epaminondas??? Then ask for what kind of name is Stravapodi and you will get Greek names, and it will say Stravapodis, Strasapody and so on. Eureka, now you have some ideas to go off of on the ancestry.com census. Just use a notebook or folder. I like to keep one on each name so you can go back to it later and see what you already tried and what worked and did not.
Now Google the name. Come on are you going to tell me you never Googled yourself??? Well, Google your ancestor as well, just because they are dead doesn't mean they aren't listed on Google!!
You may come up with many, many hints that you never thought of.
Fold3 is also a fantastic place to hunt an ancestor. If they were in the military, they likely have the records. Same thing however in searching on this site as any other, try variations of the name.
If you can't find Grandpa or Grandma, try an Aunt or Uncle's name. Look in the census before and the one after the one you found another family member in. Families tended to live near one another. They may be a block away with a misspelled name.
Genealogybank.com is my online newspaper source. I LOVE LOVE them! They are always adding new stuff. However same thing goes, use name variations. Also if you know the exact date of a death for instance, you can just put in the date and the state, and then search that newspaper for the obit, sometimes it is there, just not spelled the way you are searching for.
I also love the state archives.
Use your libraries!!!
Order records. I have ordered records sometimes just because I had a name for a person and was not sure, but when I ordered the record it either confirmed, or denied my gut feeling. Better to do it this way. Well, I lost five bucks for a death record of someone not related to me, but better that then I just add them to my tree and hope I was right. Now what to do with that record. Donate a copy back to the state archives from where it came, it may help someone who is related to this person. If we all would do random acts of genealogy kindness such as this we would have a fantastic online source for future generations.
Do not order records from companies claiming to find any record for you online! You will pay a fee for them to tell you where to order your record from, that is all! I did this once upon a time, so lesson learned, now to pass it on to all of you! Only order from your state archives. Many let you look up on their data base to see if the name is there and print it out and mail it in with your fee.
Family trees online. While I love that they are there, I would caution NOT to take what is on someones tree as fact unless it is sourced. You can however use it as a possible hint, and you go from there to make sure that all the names you found add up. By this I mean, when you find a tree that has Aunt Sally's marriage and her 12 children listed, and you previously did not know these names, write them down. Put a ? by them. Now, do your OWN footwork. Go to a census that they may be alive in, find it check for yourself that Aunt Sally is there with these actual children. Try to find the children in obits, make sure they have Aunt Sally listed as their mother in them. These kinds of things will help you become a better researcher as well as help you to become more knowledgeable about your family. You will also be able to PROVE to others that your information is accurate.
Facebook and other social media!! Your cousins are out there, some may think you are a crazy stalker when you send them a message saying, "Hi, you don't know me but we are related. We share the same great great grandparents. I do genealogy and was hoping that you could possibly help me with some recent family information." You may never get an answer back, or you just may get a fantastic response saying they would love to share info with you. They may have photos you don't have and vice verse.
These are just a few things I have learned through my 29 years of researching. They are there somewhere, you just need to know how to find them!! Good luck, and I know you are now going to go Google yourself :)