Question: What’s the biggest dead-end you ever hit in your research where you suddenly, unexpectedly found a way forward?

It happens to all of us.  You follow one lead after another, following a thread of information that seems to link your months, or even years, of research together.  Then, suddenly, the thread is gone.  What do you do then?  For many, this is a dead-end; all that time spent working on a topic has stalled, maybe indefinitely.  But sometimes the unexpected happens, and that thread finds its way back into your research!

We want to know your biggest research dead-end turned unexpected opportunity to move forward.  Did you go back and reread some of your research?  Did the staff at an archives or library show you something you were not aware of?  Did it just come to you suddenly?  Do you have advice for other researchers who may be stuck in a seemingly dead-end?  Tell us your story!

9 thoughts on “Question: What’s the biggest dead-end you ever hit in your research where you suddenly, unexpectedly found a way forward?

  1. I had trouble researching the Klein side of my family, owing to the commonality of the last name and the fact that none of the documents listed the town. The place of origin was always “Austria”, “Hungary” or “Austria-Hungary” — quite a large area to cover! Finally, I stumbled across my great-grandfather’s WWI draft registration, which listed the town (though misspelled) of Ujhelly. For me, this was the key that opened up a whole new avenue. I was then able to obtain records from the “old country” on additional family members that I didn’t even know existed in my earlier research.

  2. While researching my own family I found that government records would simply list places of birth by country, such as “Ireland.” I learned that the RELIGIOUS copy of the same record would often go further, and name the actual location. I had several instances where a government filed marriage record would simply state “Ireland” while the marriage record filed with the church would elaborate, such as “Cork, Ireland.” This seems especially true with German Catholic records, which (in my case) gave full towns. Same is true with names of parents: a church record may name them, while the government record does not.

  3. With research you must be organized and take your time and have other researchers read your work, because sometimes you cannot see your mistakes, because they were unintentionally made by you.

  4. My biggest dead-end was a female ancestor who suddenly “disappeared” from her husband & children in England circa 1906. Family lore said she “went to Canada.” I had posted on a UK “find long-lost friends” website, looking for descendants of the husband she left in England. Five years later, a g-grandson found my post, and his mother had the name of the man that his g-grandmother had remarried in Canada. I don’t think I ever would have found her, without knowing the name of her new husband. Moral: keep your name & interests out there!

  5. for the longest time I had a major blockage trying to identify my German ancestry. After talking to my great-aunt I found out that my paternal great grandmother might have been related to Paul von Hindenburg. Apparently she was dating someone not liked (or perhaps peasant class) by the von Hindenburgs and she, along with my GGF moved to the US.

  6. Maybe this section is the place to ask. I served 8 years in the Army National Guard with NO call to war duty. Would I be eligible to request military records on a deceased family friend as a veteran of the above branch? I cannot seem to find the definition of a veteran in terms of requesting military records. In other words, my unit was NOT activated while I was in during the first Gulf war (August 2, 1990 – February 28, 1991). I served in the above Branch 1986-1994. Honorably discharged. Do I request military records on a deceased friend of the family as a veteran or under the F.O.I. act?

    1. Bill – If you were not called into Federal service, the Army National Guard records you seek should be maintained by the state in which you served. A list of the Army National Guard AFOIA/Privacy Officers can be found online at

      As a veteran you would be eligible to request copies of your own records, however all or parts of the records of a fellow veteran may be restricted to protect his or her privacy. The state’s FOIA/privacy officer will be able to provide you with more specific information on requesting records from the state in which you served.

      – Rebecca

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