Must Be Out There Somewhere – People Tracing
Family history research is often full of interesting and all-consuming puzzles. Not least when you are trying to find missing ancestors and family members. In this historytracings blogpost we continue our series on researching your own Jewish family history by exploring people tracing for Jewish family history research.
Our previous blogpost Location Location Location – Locating Your Jewish Family History explored how to go about identifying and researching the locations where your ancestors’ lives played out. In particular where ancestors formerly lived in continental Europe before migrating to other places around the world.
The more ancestors you put into your family tree the more frustrating the evasive ones become, prompting the exclamation “well they must be out there somewhere!” If they existed and exist they must have done, then, in most cases, so too should some historical proof of their existence. But gaps in your ancestry can be present for various reasons. Perhaps the gaps are actually known individuals whose whereabouts are unknown only during certain periods of their lives or who are not visible in very specific historical sources. Gaps may also be unnamed and completely unknown individuals with no apparent records. There may be single parent family or orphan situations, where parental and paternal identity may never be unravelled due to the absence of records made at the time, but where DNA research may assist. Or perhaps there are gaps and absences in your own generation and amongst your close relatives. The methods for bridging these historical and contemporary gaps are similar, but the types of sources and personal considerations are considerably different.
Searching for Ancestors
When searching for absent, missing or unknown deceased ancestors and relatives you will often begin with a set of questions:
- Why are they not visible in the historical sources, for example if other family members are?
- Are they there but under another name or spelling?
- Were they not actually in the search country at the time?
- Are there any other historical sources which might reveal them?
Most frequently individuals who are only invisible in one single historical source or a set of sources can be found by searching for them using broader search terms. Alternatively by focussing on specific pieces of known personal information other than name it can be possible to find a match in the case of transcription errors or original inaccuracies. In some rare cases a set of sources in which an individual should have theoretically appeared, such as a batch of census returns, may be lost or illegible. Furthermore an individual may not have been recorded due to clerical omission or deliberate evasion.
Go back over what you have already researched, check there are no errors or pieces of information which you may have overlooked previously. Broaden your search remit and vary the types of life experience information you look for and the kinds of historical sources you use. Trace your direct ancestors’ siblings and their descendants to see if they can lead you to new information. Keep an open mind, an ancestor could have started a new family somewhere, re-emigrated or ended up in prison.
Searching for Living Individuals
The massive increase in easily accessible historical resources over the last decade, coupled with social media and DNA databases have made it much easier to identify and locate family members who are deceased as well as living persons. Perhaps you wish to trace living relatives with whom your family has lost contact over time or the descendants of common ancestors. Perhaps you have been adopted and wish to trace your birth parents or just your birth ancestors.
People tracing using 20th and 21st century sources is often limited by data protection regulations. The limitations as a private individual without a legal claim to confidential information held by government or private institutions mean that you can only access information which is in the public domain or available through the freedom of information act. However the internet can help find individuals and contact details from the few public records which are in the public domain. For example electoral roll records, private planning applications or correspondence submitted to local councils or government bodies regarding public matters which have been published online. In the main however, it is self-generated information put on the internet via social media by an individual about themselves which can identify them and reveal their whereabouts, although this is heavily dependent on the levels of privacy control they have set. This contemporary phenomenon has a range of risks and results.
Birth Family Searches for Adopted Individuals
For adopted individuals who already know their birth parents’ details and who may or may not have established contact, searching for birth ancestors allows a person to gain significant knowledge of their family background whilst bypassing the absent generation. This takes the initial focus away from searching directly for a birth parent, although it can lead to information which makes this process easier at a later stage.
Searching for birth parents, birth ancestors or missing close relatives may come after a long period of consideration. If you are considering obtaining your adoption paperwork or pursuing seeking your birth parents and contact with them, there are a number of useful specialised organisations in the country of your adoption or residence. For example in the UK presently (2015) among several agencies working in this field are After Adoption and the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, now CoramBAAF, which has a very useful Adoption Search Reunion website with valuable guidelines for private individuals thinking of using social media as a search tool and recommendations for safeguarding privacy and making contact.
Whilst it may be an intensely private decision to look for missing persons, it can be helpful for the searcher to ask a close and trusted friend to be an impartial research partner along the journey. Someone who can be a listening ear with whom you can share the ups and downs and who can provide ongoing support.
Ed., historytrace, 21/12/2015
Historytrace specialises in tracing Jewish and non-Jewish family members in the UK, Europe, North America and Australia.
Our expertise can help you research missing ancestors and trace family members. We have experience tracing birth families and ancestors in adoption situations and also inheritance cases. If we could help you in these areas of family research do get in touch using the Contact page of this website.
Our research is discrete and confidential and we only obtain information available in the public domain. Historytrace adheres to UK data protection requirements and is registered with the ICO.
Links to external, or third party websites, are provided solely for visitors’ convenience. Several alternative adoption search support agencies and their websites can be found online using internet search engines. Links taken to other sites are done so at your own risk and historytrace accepts no liability for any linked sites or their content. When you access an external website, keep in mind that historytrace has no control over its content. Any link from us to an external website does not imply or mean that historytrace endorses or accepts any responsibility for the content or the use of such websites.
You have been reading the historytracings blogpost “Must Be Out There Somewhere – People Tracing for Jewish Family History Research RYO #5”. Copyright text www.historytrace.co.uk, 2015. Copyright image www.freeimages.com / Peter Ong.
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