For years I have been tracing my family lines until I hit what many call "Brick Walls" on every line. I use a program called Roots Magic to record all of the information I have gathered. It allows me to make some great documentation on every bit of information I find for my ancestors. In the past, I have taken each line and searched and searched for the next clue or link in my lines. About a year or so ago I changed my tactics for doing research.
After I entered all of the information into my Roots Magic program, I then began evaluating what I had recorded. I discovered that I had overlooked many clues when I first researched these documents. By carefully recording everything found and applying that documentation to every person involved, I found subtle clues that suddenly became more clear to me.
These brick walls baffled me for far too long. After some much needed prayer and great pondering, I decided to approach my research from a completely different direction than before. One main phrase I began to use with myself was "Think out of the Box". I amazed myself at the difference I began to see.
With the wonderful information available online with websites such as family search, Cyndi's List, and Ancestry, I found it easier to go back to the original source and see what "other" information I may have missed. I began checking all of the neighbors in a particular town in a census (I found my Smith family that way). I made sure that I documented each piece of information I found for each name it applied to. That takes some extra time but it is well worth it in the end. I also entered names of people that I "thought" might belong to the family and put an (Asterisk *) in front of their name to clue me in that this may or may not be a member of this family. This way I could record all information I found about this person and keep it where I would constantly be checking to verify if this was or was not a true relationship. (Please let me know if you would like further instruction on this phase of research and recording).
Here is what happened with my Smith family. In the past, I would look at Smith and run the other way. My Smith's didn't have middle names (at least no record of middle names) and the first names were like Henry and Jacob. So one day I began poking around the neighborhood where my Jacob Smith lived (found in the 1850 census with his wife and a boy named John). I went throughout the neighborhood and wrote down all the Smith's (it wasn't a huge neighborhood thank goodness). I found several male families and an older family (John and Nancy) that could have been my Jacob's parents - but no proof. I went to the 1860 census and found Jacob but John (Junior) was now living with this couple (John and Nancy) that looked like the parents. I documented everything I found and entered all of these male kids as possible brothers to my Jacob.
The thing about the Internet is that new information is constantly being entered. Sometimes the information has been there all along but maybe we didn't look for it in the proper way. Well, I decided to check out a John Smith (Senior) with the age of the man that could have been the parent to my Jacob. What I found was a "will" listing all of these kids I had found in the town (where my Jacob lived) with this John and Nancy as the parents and MY JACOB as one of the children. Not only that, it listed all of the girls in the family by their married names and the names of their husbands. This was the proof that I had needed to tie this family together. All of this was found because I checked out the neighborhood.
Next I began researching the side lines (such as a great great great Aunt's children and grandchildren). I found some grandparents living with their grandchildren (of course under a completely different household surname). I would continue to check out each neighborhood as sometimes cousins would move close to each other. I was amazed at how just taking the time to document every bit of information for every person began to lead me to other clues that I had not either noticed or that only became available to me because of searching these side lines.
I do this documentation and side line searching for every name. I never used to keep information on these side lines, but by recording this information, I discovered that some of that information became the proof I needed to connect my direct lines. It brought home to me that this is really a very small world at times.
An example of this is our Davis line. We had a Jacob S. Davis married to Louisa. Jacob died before 1850. I knew they were the parents to our ancestor Lafayette and he had a sibling Amanda. Through research I discovered Amanda was married to a man named MH Cobb. I searched for Amanda but found nothing. I searched for Louisa and found nothing. Finally I searched for MH Cobb and found him with his wife Amanda living with her mother Louisa and her brother George. All of them were living in the home of Louisa's parents Benjamin and Elizabeth Jenkins and Louisa's brother Edward. What a find! Three generations in one house. They were in a complete different state than I had been searching. I then searched the neighborhood and found more of Louisa's brothers. This information led me to a recording of more information that someone else had prepared. Had it not been for the out of the box search for MH Cobb and the neighborhood search, this information would not have connected this family together.
Now I always check out the neighborhood for each person I am researching. It takes time but it is well worth it in the end. I document all of those possible relatives because you never know when they can take you to a direct line where you had previously had a "Brick Wall". Remember to Think Out of the Box and open your mind to other possibilities such as finding relatives by Checking Out the Neighborhood.