Most likely there is no easy answer to the problem of identifying your illusive ancestor. Some challenges stump researchers for years. Being persistent pays, but it helps to try a different approach. You cannot expect to find success using the same technique to identify each person. The strategies that bring success sometimes are as varied as the personality of each ancestor.
It helps to study ways other researchers resolve problems in their research. Perhaps the following five ideas shared may help you over your research hurdle.
1. You may have come to a dead end after too much focus on searching for one individual. Study your ancestor’s life, the community where he lived, and the people with whom he would have associated. What have you got to lose if you have no other clues? You could very well end up gleaning enough information indirectly that you are able to develop great insights. These insights may lead to further discovery.
2. Widen your search. A lot of researchers feel their excitement fade after they do not identify their ancestor using the most common records (Census, birth, marriage, death records). This is not the time to lose hope but to go forward with greater determination even if it means learning new resources and going in a completely different direction.
It takes a lot of courage to widen your search to include all other people with the same surname in an area. For example, census books are great for uncovering alternative spellings or name variations. You can easily identify all persons with a similar surname that you may have missed in an online database.
According to oral history, Beverley Vance (B. 1832) of Abbeville County, South Carolina had a brother named Andrew. No documentation of a brother has been found, however, as illustrated in the attached photo, an Andy Vance lived in Cokesbury along with Beverley and was enumerated on the 1870 Census. They were both listed as mulattoes. It might prove useful to search to see if records exist that offer any evidence that they were related.
3. Begin with, and end with reliable resources. Use original records over indexes. Do not base your research on other people’s findings that are not sourced. This shortcut may lead you to adopting someone who is not really an ancestor.
4. Research alternate ways of identifying the same event. You may find evidence of a death date from a death certificate, newspaper obituary, church record, cemetery record, will, or funeral home record. See Solving Tough Research Problems – Overcoming Brick walls: Fundamentals.
5. Study boundary changes. As you move back in time researching your ancestor, it is possible you can lose the trail. If the county or parish was once a part of a different area, you may not find any further documentation until you identify the name of the parent locality. Research that locality and surrounding areas to pick up the trail again. Use FamilySearch Wiki to learn about boundary changes for any locality.