Throwing the gates open: Doing a broad family name search on ancestry websites

Most of my family research activity is quite specific. I tend to spend a great deal of time tracking down specifics about an individual or a particular family group. My time is usually spent tracking down individual dates and county of birth, dates and county of deaths, marriage dates, maiden names of mothers, etc. However, just to shake things up from time to time, I’ll do a general search using the broadest search terms available.

Armed with an increasing list of mothers’ maiden names, I’ve started to do broad searches on marriages between two family groups. So how does this work? Page 1 in the document below is an example.

While Ancestry.com is an amazing resource for intricate and detailed searches, I find (for me) that Familysearch.org is an amazing resource for broad searches.

The surname Byrd/Bird was a name which cropped up in connection with the Sheffeys in Wythe and Smyth Counties in Virginia. I had spotted a few marriages between the two families from the 1870s through to the turn of the 20th Century. So I was naturally curious to see how many marriages occurred between the two families.

I decided to search for all the individuals born in Virginia with the surname Sheffey (no first names are used in this kind of search) who had a spouse with the surname Byrd (again, no first names used). The record shown above gives a glimpse (death certificates and baptism records provided more). You’ll also see that alternate spellings for each surname are returned in the search results (Sheffy, Bird, etc). Each record that this search returned also gave details about parents – Page 2 in the document above shows the mother of Dennis Byrd (Josephine Sheffey’s husband) was a Sheffey.

I could (and have) made the search even broader at times by omitting the state of birth. And the results were no less illuminating…showing direct marriages between the Sheffeys and Byrds between 1920 and 1935 occurring in Delware, Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland. And, as to be expected, there were also marriages between both families via their shared Richardson, Hill and Carpenter cousins.

It’s a brilliant family history exercise to do – but definitely one where you have quite a bit of time to process the results! The results from this search kept me busy updating the family tree for the best part of a week!

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