Four Ways to ‘Freshen Up’ your Search

Posted by on

Family history research can happen in waves. When research is going well, it’s easy to keep on digging.  However, when searching is less fruitful, research slips down the priority list.

Not long ago, I was at a low point in my research. In desperation, I cast a wider net in hopes of hitting something that could provide motivation in my research quest.

Courtesy San Antonio Express 1938

Here’s what happened: I attempted to look for anything remotely related to the family I was researching. I wanted to jumpstart my research. Logging into my account at, I typed in the surname and location.

Despite feeling discouraged at the time, I found nearly 200 matches in the newspaper collection.

I had seen these records before. This time I approached them with an open mind, hoping to find a clue toget better results. With a new perspective I quickly discovered several newspaper articles about a football guard at Texas A&M University.

As I read the articles, I recalled mention of a great-uncle who played college ball. Could this be the person mentioned in the Texas newspaper? I had never heard of the town where the article was published.

Described in those articles was a football player with my surname. The article lists the position he played and shares a quote that spurred a rally to the winning touchdown. “Big boy, John Kimbrough is coming through here this time, and I don’t know what you’re gonna do; but I’m going to get the h— out of his way.”  If those were my uncle’s words I wanted to find out – my desire to keep searching was spurred on.

Curious to know if this was truly my great-uncle, I pulled out a photo and talked with family members. Through my discussions with family, I determined that this was my great-uncle and he played the same position as my brother. They even resemble each other!

One fascinating story details a time when my newly found uncle spent some time in the hospital after a particularly grueling game.

The article describing a post-game hospital visit confirmed for my brother his decision to turn down offers to play collegiate ball.

This experience shows that valuable finds can be realized even when those records aren’t easily discovered. There are still treasured details about your family history yet to be revealed. In my case, it took a bout of discouragement to open my mind to alternative ways of approaching

Here are four tips to help you search. Keep this list readily available when you need to overcome research fatigue.

  • 1. Start with a general search. Run a very general search to start, entering the following information:
    • Surname (Try the surname pages)
    • Location
    • Try Soundex or DoubleMetaphone (even if you know the spelling is correct) see more
    • Browse results with an open mind
    • Narrow the search as needed
  • 2. Keep an open mind. Think about the search not just as names and dates. Research the whole family. Don’t discount the possibility that extended family can provide clues to your research.
  • 3. Think of the big picture. Compiling an ancestor’s story can be the most rewarding research for you and your family, if you look for more than just names and dates.
  • 4. Remember to share what you find. Genealogy has the power to strengthen connections among family members. What you find can change someone’s life, perspective or provide insight   into making life a successful experience. (Common tools for sharing finds include: Facebook, a   family reunion, MyHeritage family sites, a telephone call, make a voice recording of the story,     Email or Twitter the results to relatives)

Broadening my search opened my eyes to the sports section of an old newspaper. A bit of history came back to life and it brought my family closer together.

No matter how successful – or not – research has been in the past, this experience can teach us to remember to be open to new research techniques or to change our perspective to find that unique family history gem that’s been there the whole time.

"Jim Kimborough of the Texas Aggies plows into the line" Courtesy San Antonio Express 1938

Tara McIntosh began researching her family history at a local church over 15 years ago, when CD-Roms and microfiche were the best technology available. Tara has worked for WorldVitalRecords for two years, previously in Customer Service, and now in Quality Assurance.

Leave a comment