Genealogie Bos

This is my English-language Genealogy & Ancestry Blog.
(Mijn Nederlandstalige blog is

21 Nov 2023

How I search for ancestors in a structured way

Genealogy is the study and tracing of lines of descent. Ancestry refers to a person's ethnic origin or descent, someone’s "roots" or heritage. A lineage is a line of descent. The persons comprising a line of descent are the ancestors.

By now, I’ve been searching for my ancestors for over 20 years. In the early years, I had to visit different archives at different locations to research my predecessors. Since then, loads of genealogical sources have been copied or transcribed, and made available over the Internet.

When adding or editing ancestors, I use an optional, internal field * to note special features of a person like “short marriage”, “longevity”, an index number in a publication about the family, or an alternative surname when the person was known by more than one surname. In recent years, I’ve developed an additional use for this optional, internal field, or “label”.

Genealogists use the term “Brick Wall” to describe a point in their research where they are unable to move forward with something — a kind of dead end. They break through a “Brick Wall” when they make a new discovery that helps them move past this dead end.

When I get stuck with an ancestor, the so-called “Brick Wall”, I mark that ancestor’s “label” with the word  “BRICK-WALL”.  When - in the future - new sources should become available for the area where that ancestor is living, I could take a new look at that ancestor. Basically, the  “BRICK-WALL”  label means that I’m currently stuck.

Another improvement in the way I research ancestors, also involves the  “label”.  When I’ve found both parents of some person, I decide which one of the parents I will research first, and then I label the other parent as  “TO-DO”.  I do this with every new couple of parents I find, until I hit - and mark - a  “BRICK-WALL”.  Then I can start researching one of the people marked earlier as “TO-DO”. This way, I can also focus on people in a specific area with a specific set of sources, until I’ve finished researching all persons in that area, marked with “TO-DO”.

My genealogy software does have a feature to generate “all ancestors without ancestors”,  but that’s a long list of names with birth years. The main list, including ancestors without surnames, too, currently comprises of 2158 persons. When I generate a list of ancestors without ancestors, but with a surname, then I get a list of 740 people. Using the software, I can try to work on an ancestor with recent birth years, but usually there’s a reason why a fairly recent ancestor is at the top of a branch, like missing sources, or the person was a foundling. With my “TO-DO” system I can easily find ancestors to work on.

* In the Dutch genealogy software program “Aldfaer”, I use an optional, internal field named “Code” for this purpose.

For an explanation of common genealogy terms see:

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