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You Ancestor Did Not Just Disappear

Sometimes after you have searched and searched for an ancestor, it might seem like to you that they just disappeared when you cannot find them. You just have to remember that no two ancestors were alike, and we need to be a bit creative and witty when we hunt for them. If you are expecting to discover a hard-to-find ancestor in the exact same way and using the same records everyone else uses, you might end up pulling all your hair out. Below are a few reasons why.


Sometimes an ancestor never went by their real name. Everyone in the family knows them by a nickname. My brother’s name is Donald, but we call him Josh. Yes, even at work he goes by Josh. Is that his legal name? Nope it isn’t. Jon, Jan, Jill and Don… Jon, Jan, Jill, and Josh. At the time of his birth, we had a dog named Josh, and Mom said “No way!” We call him Josh and always have. My name is Jan, but my grandson calls me Dora.

Here are more common nicknames: Mary/Polly, Sarah/Sally, Elizabeth/Betsy/Lizzie, Margaret/Maggie/Peggy/Marge, John/Jack, Henry/Hank


When illness used to strike, sometimes loved ones came to stay with an ancestor, or an ancestor moved from their home to a completely new area where they died and were buried. My grandparents lived in Nyssa, Oregon for more than 60 years. My Mom was raised in Nyssa, some of us were born in Nyssa, yet my grandparents are buried in Pilot Rock, Oregon. Illness took my grandparents from their friends and home and they came to Pilot Rock so that my mom could help my grandma with my grandpa who had advanced Alzheimer’s.

Family plot

You could be missing the details about an ancestor’s life that could help you understand why they are not buried in the place you knew they lived. My Uncle Lawrence never lived in Pilot Rock, ever. He came to visit and hunt during deer and elk seasons with my brothers. He lived in Albany, Oregon my whole adult life. He worked there, lived there and died there. He is buried in Pilot Rock, Oregon in the family plot.


Our ancestors moved to new locations in search of opportunities. They left homestead, church and other family. It is difficult to find them if no one remembers when they moved to or where they started a new life.

“Mom! We got a new job! We are moving! I’m just so excited.”

Where,” said I.

“Texas, Mom!”


Honey, we have traded the restaurant for a house.

Awesome Dad! “Where,” said I.

Cathlamet, Washington! It’s beautiful, the Columbia River runs right through it! The fishing will be amazing! It will be such an adventure for us.

My grandmother that lived in Nyssa, then had to move to Pilot Rock was living with my parents when they wanted to go on their adventure to Cathlamet. Grandma died in Longview, Washington 20 miles from Cathlamet in hospice care. She is buried in Pilot Rock, Oregon.

Close borders

Your grandparents lived in one area all their lives. So why on earth can’t you find death certificates? Pay attention to how close they are to the bordering state resources. For example, where I live almost 90% of the people go to Walla Walla to St. Mary’s Hospital across the border in Washington looking for better facilities.

You probably think your ancestors had to be married in the same place where they were living all their lives, but what if the bordering courthouse was closer or charges lesser fees? Places that couples run away to get married are called Gretna Greens.They may want to marry at a younger age, want to wait a shorter period after obtaining a license, want to marry without parental consent, want to avoid procedures such as blood tests, want less paper work, want to avoid paying a marriage bond, want to keep the marriage a secret, want a less expensive marriage, or want to marry a closer cousin than their home district will allow. Or there may be a special romantic place to elope. Some couples wanted to wed in the same place their friends got married.” See Gretna Green.

Alternate Names

Sometimes on ancestor had so many aliases we cannot find them. James Ryan also went by James Moran

James Brown also went by Chas. Brown

Lost and destroyed records

Know your area. Does this sound familiar? “I can’t locate my ancestor in the 1890 Veterans Census. I know the 1890 United States Federal Census was destroyed, but I know they were in Iowa in 1890. I know he served in the Civil War.” Use FamilySearch Wiki to learn about lost records in an area. For example, check out Iowa Existing and Lost Censuses:

Throw in faded ink, soiled documents, missing pages, accents, being illiterate, poor penmanship, difficult indexing, not at home, not required, and my personal favorite, “no its none of your business where I live, how old I am or who my parents are!”

They have to be there. They have to be where they were. They have to be going by the names we know. No, in actuality they don’t. They were people just like you and me, living life!

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