It has been discussed on many other forums about how we as family members tend to accept without question the information that is passed to us about our ancestors.
Stop that practice. Make it a point to verify, cite sources and document your findings.
The discovery that I made is actually an old one for me, but I wanted to share it here in case anyone out there is hitting dead ends in their searches.
I had always been told that a portion of my family was from Louisiana for over 100 years. I never bothered to look anywhere else, even when my search went cold.
Doing a US Census search one time, I forgot to limit the search to Louisiana. There, in Alabama was my missing family. Every single member of that family, with the correct birth order and ages! For a moment, I was willing to discount and discard my new lead. After all, my great grandmother had told me straight from her own mouth that her family had been in the state of Louisiana for "over a hundred years." I never doubted the veracity of her statement.
Years later, I was updating this family line. I cross indexed this search on Find A Grave to see if there was a photo or information of any headstones. There was. Below, you will see the photo of the actual headstone for John Marion Moore, husband of Sarah Elizabeth (nee Brittenham OR Brittingham) Moore. The headstone actually gives us a lot of information.
Let's look together at the headstone, located below this entry.
At the top, there is the emblem for his membership into the Freemasons. You can go to Find A Grave and see my relative there. I have direct linked for convenience purposes.
Something to be aware of, as is the case with this relative: The name is actually common, but if you narrow the search to Louisiana, you will quickly find my ancestor. Born in Alabama, John Marion Moore served in the Confederate Army through Alabama, he settled and later died in Louisiana. The rest of the information can be found at Find A Grave, where the information on the main page was very well done. The point that I am making here is that this grandparent--4G to be exact, was documented in family trees and so forth, but I ignored clues because that is not what my family historians told me.
After I discovered where my trail picked up, I did a further search on various websites and also conducted in person searches at various libraries and I was able to very easily and quickly pick up the cold trail on my family.
His wife is also listed. They are both listed on the stone only by their initials, so I did some sleuthing. Armed with my research, I knew the names that I was looking for was John Marion and Sarah Elizabeth Moore. The initials matched and the dates were near exact to the ones that I had listed in the information that I had in my records.
Location, location, location.
In the state of Louisiana, the French influence is felt in many ways. One of them is that we have Parishes, NOT counties. I knew where my family is generally from in Louisiana. I knew that it was the northern part of the state. That helped me when I was looking, because although I am from the southern part of the state, eliminating the common name of John Moore from New Orleans was a boon to my search. (Common name!)
Look for other relatives in that cemetery or family plot.
My great grandmother was from Caldwell Parish when I would visit her at her home, which is a short drive from Ouachita Parish. Because I also have family in Ouachita Parish, I was able to ask if we had family buried in the cemetery that I found John Marion Moore listed in. We do. I have loads and loads of family that are interred there. That helped me to make the link, especially when direct relatives of his were also interred there.
Online Photos, if there are any, can help you add or eliminate a person from your family tree. The Find A Grave listing for John Marion Moore has the same photo of him that I think we all must be issued upon birth. It is John Marion Moore with a very full beard, looking off to the side. When I saw the listing with that photo, I knew that we were related! Another person that I was looking for showed a person was assuredly not my relative as the photo made it very clear that they were not the gender that I was looking for. (It was a name that could be either male or female, so there was a reason for confusion.) Seeing that photo saved me a lot of research and I reached out to the person that had the info so that we could both clear up our family trees.
Obituaries and Funeral Cards are a BOON to your search.
I know that it can be hard to find these when you are going back a distance, but when you do find them, it can be a huge help. Often, the person that is reporting the death is a relative, and the next of kin of course is a relative. These documents will sometimes list things such as occupation, address, cause of death, name and birthplace of parents and plenty more details that can help in your search. One of the best obituaries that I ran across when I was searching listed the names of the deceased person's parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles. I am convinced that this person was a genealogist because it was extremely thorough!
Always make notes when searching. I even have a file that I call "Cold Case Files". (Because it makes me laugh is why I named it that.) Until I can either rule that person out or include them in my family, they remain in that file. If they are not related (as far as I can prove, anyway) they go into a new file "Red Herrings". I still visit my Red Herrings file about once a year. I have been able to effectively prove some of these people are not related, and surprisingly I also discovered one relative is a distant cousin.
Don't get stuck on the dates that you see in print as being right or wrong. My greatest loss of a really great file that I disregarded in a search was because the dates did not match up 100 percent with what I showed in my files. I lament to this day that I have never found that file again in any search that I have ever performed.
Leave breadcrumbs for yourself, no matter what type of research that you are doing. I now bookmark things if I am searching online. I keep paper notebooks with me and make diligent and detailed notes. I know now that I won't remember the information that I am looking at. There is simply too much. If I am searching for 4G grandfather, the bookmarks that I gather will go into the bookmark folder named "John Marion Moore". If those bookmarks can apply to another relative as well, I will drop it into their file. This has saved me a lot of time searching for information.
Make your paper trail easier to follow.
When I am making notes in a paper notebook, I write the name and then go back and highlight it if I am using a bound notebook. If I am using loose leaf pages, I divide each person with a tab or at least a piece of tape bent in half and written on with a Sharpie. It may seem extreme, but in the long run, it makes my searches more organized and makes me take the time to take better notes. By being less jumbled, I waste less time of searching within my own notes.
Let me know if any of these tips are helpful, and share your search gaffes here!