Flummoxed - Middle Period

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Back to: Family History for the Flummoxed Flummoxed - Extending Family Lines

Note: This page is part of the Flummoxed series and made to help those who haven't found family history information in the usual places. More information about searching the usual places is on the Flummoxed - Extending Family Lines page.


You've come here because you're not finding family records from the middle period.

Most Common Reasons

Records Not Yet In FamilySearch Collections

After years of effort, FamilySearch has been able to collect only a fraction of the world's vital records. The records you need are probably being safely kept somewhere in the world. Writing and emailing for records will always be an important part of doing family history. Suggestions for getting records from other jurisdictions and archives are below.

Records Mis-Indexed

Perhaps the reason you haven't found your family is that someone along the line from the recorder to the records extractor made a typo. Wild cards and fuzzy searches are a searcher's best friend! Learn the proper use of wild cards like "*" and "?" in each search envirionment. Fuzzy means searching for inexact spelling. Soundex was the first fuzzy search mechanism, but now there are more sophisticated alternatives. Try going back to searching the usual places listed on the Flummoxed - Extending Family Lines page and using a variety of wild cards.

Records Never Existed

Even when record keeping was common or required during the middle period, it often did non happen. Here are some of the reasons:

  • Babies born at home were sometimes never reported. New York City reports, "Approximately 25% of all births prior to 1910 were not reported to the city. Births often took place at home and the doctor or midwife sometimes failed to report the event to the city."
  • Gaps exist when records were just not kept, particularly in religious records. Sometimes whole towns were devastated by war or disease. Sometimes there was simply no one there to make a record. Review reliable, published records inventories that cover the area you are searching.

Don't spend an inordinate amount of time searching for a single record from the middle period because it may never have been created. Instead, move on to find other supporting evidence.

Records Destroyed

We may mourn the accidental and deliberate destruction of records during the middle period, but do not let this deter your family history efforts. Just move on to alternate sources.

"As far as can be ascertained by German archivists, lists of emigrants sailing from Bremen were kept beginning in 1832. These lists were used to compile statistical reports for the govenment and port authorities. Owing to a lack of space, the lists from 1832 to 1872 were destroyed in 1874. Thereafter the list were shredded every two years. From 1907 the original lists were again kep on a permanent basis, but with the destruction of the Statistical Land Office on October 6, 1944, all remaining lists perished. Transcripts of some twentieth century lists (1907, 1908, 1913, 1914) were recently discovered at the German State Archives in Koblenz--the product of a college study--but no nineteenth century transcripts have as yet been uncovered." Quoted from German Immigrants:Lists of Passengers Bound from Bremen to New York, 1863-1867, by Gary J. Zimmerman, Marion Wolfert, p. vii.


Write For Records

Religious Records

Religious organizations like parishes and synagogues worldwide are often on the Internet today. Contact them directly by email or by letter. Often they do not have set procedures for obtaining recent records, but most will try to help you find information about your immediate family members and direct ancestors in the middle period.

Governmental Vital Records

Governmental vital records were kept in some jurisdictions during the middle period. If they are not in the FamilySearch collections, then you must determine where the records are kept and how to access them:

  • Records still being kept by the original governmental jurisdiction. Instructions for getting vital records from the government agencies of most countries can usually be found easily on the Internet. Records from the middle period are often classified as "genealogical records" and available at a lower cost without providing verification of relationship. Example: Cook County Genealogy (Illinois).
  • Records moved to an archive. Laws and practices for archiving vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and country to country. It is common for older records to be move to an archive. Example: U.S. National Archives and Records Service.

Letter Writing Guides

If you need information from a foreign country, search this FamilySearch Wiki for "Letter Writing Guide" along with the name of the country in which you are searching.

Use Alternate Sources

Other sources also have much information about the middle period:

  • Local newspapers, including foreign language newspapers.
  • Other governmental records like census (not all areas), naturalization, license, land, and probate records.
  • Histories, genealogies, and collections available only through local libraries, societies, and archives.
  • The Internet is quickly acquiring older records, including digitized book collections from the middle period.
  • Search out other databases of primary, extracted, and secondary records. Examples are, respectively:

Search Other Jurisdictions

Often there were good reasons for your ancestor's records to be in another nearby jurisdiction--and sometimes even afar. These might be:

  • The ancestor worked in an occupation requiring travel such as the military, the railroad, migrant farm work, etc.
  • Your research has moved into a period of time before the jurisdiction you have been following existed (e.g., before the creation of your county or parish).
  • Movement was precipitated by war, disease, catastrophe, religious persecution, or ethnic cleansing. You may get important clues by studying local history, particularly in areas and times not covered by periodic census taking.