Strategies For Researching Non-Direct Ancestry U.S. Relatives Who We Lost Touch With #records

David Levine

Hi everyone,

I have just spent months researching my direct ancestry which included immigration, manifests, naturalization documents, etc for people whose stories I mostly knew.
My question is, what are the best strategies for researching all the cousins and relatives who also came over but where I don't know names for sure or who their children are.
Some of them have come up as DNA matches however they often have as little information as I have
These are all people who came to/lived in the US so records should be out there.
It is getting started where I am stumped
For example, my GGF had a sister who I have as "unknown" Lefkowitz. Didn't come over at same time.
And I have a few children -  Rose  "UNKNOWN"
Knowing little, its hard to start a search.

Best Regards,
David Levine
San Francisco, CA, USA
Weinstein -> Solotwina, Galicia | Frisch, Hilman, Jungerman, Schindler -> Rozniatow, Galicia | Golanski, Kramerofsky/Kromerovsky -> Kiev | Lefkowitz -> Petrikov, Belarus | Shub, Rosen Hlusk, Belarus | Levine, Weiner, Zamoshkin -> Slutsk, Belarus 

Sally Bruckheimer <sallybruc@...>

"what are the best strategies for researching all the cousins and relatives who also came over but where I don't know names for sure or who their children are."

You do this the same way you find your ancestors. You find documents for people with the hopefully not too common surname. With a common surname, like my Löwenstein ggrandmother, you keep track of the people with the same name - like another of the same surname living next door on a census. When you find where your ancestors came from, hopefully you will find brothers and sisters names which will match. Just keep working.

It took me 35 years to find the right little town in Nassau where my ggrandmother was born, but when I found it, I found she was one of 20 children of the correct parents who had moved from another little town. That town has a book of history, including records of the Jewish families that lived there: there were 3 families that were related before surnames existed. I have about a million cousins now, descendants of the 3 related families.

Sally Bruckheimer
Princeton, NJ

Lee Jaffe

I don't pretend I'm an expert but I've been focusing on this sort of research during the past year and have found some strategies that have helped me.  Many of these fall into the category of general good practices for all genealogical research but I think there is a case to be made for doubling down with "reverse genealogy" where you are often looking at an over-abundance of confusing and contradictory records.  

First, keep good records.  This should go without saying, but it's a point hard to overstate.  In the case of reserve genealogy, you will be challenged with tracing individuals and families through name and location changes. Collecting details – even down apparent trivial facts – from each record or document you encounter will help you untangle identities as you move forward.   Record even seemingly unimportant information – a street address, occupation, workplace, names of witnesses, officiants, even physical characteristics mentioned.  And record your data in a spreadsheet or database format that will allow you to search and sort the information you collect.  If you have a family with a lot of members and you really take a fine-grained approach to data collection, the list is going to get long and harder to manage.  The ability to sort can be an especially powerful strategy, associating people with dates and locations.  This is also a tried-and-true method for tackling brick walls and you should just start by assuming that you will hit a brick wall at some point: so why not build the spreadsheet right from the beginning?

Next, look at everything.  You'll be surprised where something useful – sometimes revelatory – shows up.  Sometimes it's one easily-overlooked item that turns out to be your family's  Rosetta Stone.  Obituaries, for all their faults, can be a great source for tracing extended family forward (i.e. lists of surviving members).  Newspapers in general can be goldmine, esp. the turn-of-century society pages.  City directories can provide insights, often in pieces which can be assembled to reveal a bigger picture.  Common addresses can help identify family members, while occupations can distinguish those with common names from each other.  A list of such details culled from year-by-year directory entries can help sift through other records you come across, separating your family from others, or finding your family even when they change names, locations or occupations.

Last, it's a hard rule of Jewish genealogy that spelling doesn't count.  With reverse Jewish genealogy, names don't count.  In some cases you need to work hard to link people with different names and in others distinguish among different people with the same name.  Often the most reliable way of establishing who a person is, or isn’t, is through the correlating facts that trailed them along the way.  But only by collecting and recording the related facts will you have the tools to trace and distinguish between those from your family.

Getting down off my soapbox… I hope this is helpful.


Lee David Jaffe

Surnames / Towns:  Jaffe / Suchowola, Poland ; Stein (Sztejnsapir) / Bialystok and Rajgrod, Poland ; Joroff (Jaroff, Zarov) / Chernigov, Ukraine ; Schwartz (Schwarzman?, Schwarzstein?) / ? ;  Rappoport / ? ; Braun / Wizajny, Suwalki, Poland,  Ludwinowski / Wizajny, Suwalki, Poland



I agree with other responders that records are really important. US Census records that list children with their ages can open doors to finding extended, non-direct family members. This helped me trace the descendants of my gg-grandfather's sister (who never left Germany) and I am now in contact with her living descendants. I knew the sister's name from another database I found online of the Jews from their town. When you start finding the names of siblings of your direct ancestors, you can go further in your research. 

 Google "Jews of ....." and look for hits for the towns your ancestors came from. You will be amazed at what you can find.  Smaller towns with small Jewish populations can lead to major discoveries because family names are often mentioned. The other day, I found my gg-grandfather's German obituary from 1892 by Googling "Jews of Kulsheim."

I have also been successful on Ancestry with searching public member trees for my ancestral names. It's fascinating to find the names of ancestors that I knew of on other people's trees, and then to find their siblings. There could be a slew of name changes, but now you have a strong clue to follow. You have to be very careful of errors, however, because many trees are sloppy and not based on documentation. That said, I've been able to connect DNA matches that way and discovered siblings of great-grandparents and gg-grandparents and then traced their descendants to a DNA match who may not even have their own tree, but appeared on someone else's.  Many years ago, I was told that genealogists should go from the known to the unknown, so the key is nailing down a fact, even if obscure or very distantly past, and using it to move forward.

Sandy Hahn Lanman
New Jersey