Sometimes in research we are so focused on the ancestral line that we neglect some of the collateral lines. It’s really a shame, too, because these collateral lines can sometimes provide excellent gems of information.
I was recently researching in the Ohio death records available on the New FamilySearch Pilot. (I’ve already gone into my thoughts on the Pilot, so I won’t go into that again.) I was researching a woman who died in 1899, which was before the state-wide death records started. The major downside of this was that I didn’t know this woman’s mother’s maiden name. I didn’t even have a clue. I had identified her in census records, though, so I knew her father’s name, and I knew her mother’s first name. Because the records on the FamilySearch Pilot have been indexed so thoroughly, I was able to conduct a search, using the advanced search fields, for anybody whose father was listed by the name I knew and whose mother’s first name was listed as Eliza. I found three possible matches, compared them to the available census records, and confirmed that they were for the right family. All three death certificates listed the mother’s maiden name as “Ross.”
It’s possible that more research would have uncovered this woman’s maiden name, but it’s unlikely any approach would have been as simple and efficient as the one I tried.
Even if you are using some other database where the search functionality is not as flexible, you can use this technique. If you know the names of the siblings of an ancestor, and you are searching for information on that ancestor’s parents, conduct searches for the siblings as well. The birth certificate for your ancestor may simply list the father’s birthplace as “Maryland,” but there’s a chance that on a sibling’s birth certificate the father’s birthplace is listed as “Washington County, Maryland.” This is an even greater boon when doing international research where the town name is crucial to locating the ancestor in their home country.