Starting to lose hope with my family tree search, any advice?

+10 votes
WikiTree profile: Jodie Willoughby
in Genealogy Help by Jodie Willoughby G2G1 (1.3k points)
When I first started I started with what I knew, my grandfather on my mother's side.  I knew he was born in Arkansas, and that was all I knew. I had heard of my mother speaking of Uncle this and Aunt that, so I put 2 and 2 together. Then I found his father. Then I knew I was on my way of discovering the rest of my family. I found his family because he was born in 1849 so I knew he would be on the 1850 census. So when I found out that he was born in 1812 I kinda stalled and then this girl help me, she said that when you get close to 1800 or 1700 then sometimes you can go thru and sure enough I found my 4th great grandfather. She also said that when you get to looking for ancestors in 1700 to 1800 more than likely they have been researched before. And she enough she was right. So don't give up, there are plenty of people to help you if you come to a road block. And there are some sites that are free, and if you live near a genealogy center which I do, then you have your whole state of books to go thru. A genealogy center will have county books according to your state and I just love mine. I found lots of information then I would use a computer to print out anything I need. So I have been a genealogist for about 9 or 10 years and I know how to research. So you can always look me up and I can help, or post a question here and then someone will help you. Good Luck. Nancy
As has been mentioned most English surnames are based on place of origin, followed by  occupation, or 'nick' names.  pre 1200 very few surnames. Loss of population after that date because of climate change and later the Black Death reduced population by first 25% then about 50% Most of population of Southern England had surname by 1300. Disruption of Manorial system of agriculture in which bulk of population were tied to the land [serfs]. Many villages abandoned and massive movement of population to find food.  Because they were not known or identified in new location had to provide additional identification.  Surnames not permanent at first.  See Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames By Reaney & Wilson Oxford Uni Press[ Paper Back]

Do not confuse above book with new Dictionary price at about £300

Best of Luck  Barry Rideout
Please don't give up. It'll take a little longer but you will get what your looking for. As you find them they will start coming together. I know i have some smiths in my family in distant cousins as soon as i can i will see if they can help.Maybe with a little more info i can help you. Are you looking for smith or willoughby
Don't forget variant spellings, I have ancestors (in Northamptonshire, England) who are called Willoughby from about the mid nineteenth century  but before that in parish registers the name was recorded as  Wilby or Willby.
Please dont give up!  I wanted too a few weeks after I started in 2016and I did stop for like a week. Then I suddenly wnted to try again so I did and I only found a few things at first. The site that has helped me a lot is My Heritage as it gives you links to other peoples trees which have people that are also on yours, from there you can get a lot. Thats what really started to boost my tree. I also use family search a lot as the provide free records. Picture and written.

Wiki tree is also a very useful source, it just takes some digging to get  there.

Good Luck, I hope you're successful with you're genealogy reasearch in the near future

14 Answers

+9 votes

Some with the Willoughby surname fought for the South during the Civil War. 

Are there any specific questions you want answers to regarding Willoughby. 

Here's what has on the surname history. 



This distinguished surname, borne by the Barons de Broke, de Eresby and de Parham, and having more that thirty individual Coats of Arms, is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is a locational name from any of the various places named with the Olde English pre 7th Century "wilig" meaning "willow", plus the Olde English "by", from the Olde Norse "byr", a settlement or homestead. These places include Willoughby in Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire, which all appear as "Wilgebi" in the Domesday Book of 1086. One branch of the Lincolnshire family trace their descent from William de Willoughby, witness, whose name is recorded in law suits of that county, dated 1200 - 1202. They hold the titles Earls of Ancaster and Barons Middleton. Among the several notable namebearers listed in the "Dictionary of National Biography" are Sir Robert Willoughby", first Baron Willoughby de Broke, (1452 - 1502), Admiral of the Fleet, 1490, and Marshal of the army, 1492; Francis Willoughby, fifth Baron Willoughby of Parham, (1613 - 1666), Lord-lieutenant and Commander-in-chief in Lincolnshire, and Sir Nesbit Josiah Willoughby, (1777 - 1849), naval Aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria in 1841. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Robert de Wilgebi, which was dated 1175, "Early Yorkshire Charters", during the reign of King Henry 11, "The Builder of Churches", 1154 - 1189. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.

© Copyright: Name Origin Research 1980 - 2016

by Frank Gill G2G Astronaut (2.1m points)
+14 votes
Sometimes a brick wall is a brick wall. I've had at least one that drives me crazy for 45 years.

Advice: Work on some other branch. OR

Start a new question. Let us know one person you're stumped on. Give us a name? Do they have a profile? List it. Give us as much information as you have, dates, places, children, siblings anything you might know, because a name alone is not enough information. Sometimes it will ring a bell, or some person will just jump in and give the problem new eyes.
by Anne B G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
+11 votes
Have you hit a brick wall? Is there a certain individual you can't find? Give us some more detail and maybe we can get you past your roadblock.

I have had this happen before where you go through a dry patch and find nothing new and it gets discouraging. Hang in there something always pops up eventually.
by Brett Rutherford G2G6 Pilot (120k points)
+9 votes

This is the 1841 English Census for Thomas H. Willoughby and his wife, Elizabeth Christina Pascoe:

Name: Thomas Willoughby
Titles and Terms: 
Titles and Terms: 
Event Type: Census
Event Date: 1841
Event Place: Illogan, Cornwall, England
Residence Note: Tramroad
Gender: Male
Age: 20-24
Age (Original): 20
Relationship to Head of Household: 
Birth Date: 
Birth Year (Estimated): 1817-1821
Birthplace: Cornwall
Ship Name: 
Schedule Type: 
Registration District: Redruth
Book Number: 8
Parish: Illogan
County: Cornwall
Page Number: 5
Line Number: 1
Registration Number: HO107
Piece/Folio: 142/6
Affiliate Record Type: Household
GS Film Number: 
Digital Folder Number: 101720111
Image Number: 00369

Household Role Gender Age Birthplace
Thomas Willoughby  M 20-24 Cornwall
Chritanna Willoughby  F 20-24 Cornwall
Thomas Willoughby  M 1 Cornwall
Jame Willoughby  F 0 Cornwall


Citing this Record:
"England and Wales Census, 1841," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 30 October 2015), Thomas Willoughby, Illogan, Cornwall, England; from "1841 England, Scotland and Wales census," database and images, findmypast ( : n.d.); citing PRO HO 107, The National Archives, Kew, Surr

I've already added her parents, please check it out.

Here's the 1851 English Census:

Name: Thomas Willoughby
Titles and Terms: 
Event Type: Census
Event Date: 1851
Event Place: Illogan, Cornwall, England
Registration District: Redruth
Residence Note: 
Gender: Male
Age: 33
Marital Status: Married
Occupation: Miner
Relationship to Head of Household: Head
Birth Date: 
Birth Year (Estimated): 1818
Birthplace: Illogan, Cornwall
Page Number: 4
Household ID: 1937174
Line Number: 1
Registration Number: HO107
Piece/Folio: 1915 / 534
Affiliate Record Type: Household
Digital Folder Number: 101795617
Image Number: 01065

Household Role Gender Age Birthplace
Thomas Willoughby Head M 33 Illogan, Cornwall
Christiana Willoughby Wife F 34 Illogan, Cornwall
Thomas Willoughby Son M 11 Illogan, Cornwall
William Willoughby Son M 10 Illogan, Cornwall
John Willoughby Son M 9 Illogan, Cornwall
Oliver Willoughby Son M 7 Illogan, Cornwall
Louisa Willoughby Daughter F 4 Illogan, Cornwall
Charles Willoughby Son M 2 Illogan, Cornwall
Lydia Willoughby Daughter F 0 Illogan, Cornwall


Citing this Record:
"England and Wales Census, 1851," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 24 July 2016), Thomas Willoughby, Illogan, Cornwall, England; citing Illogan, Cornwall, England, p. 4, from "1851 England, Scotland and Wales census," database and images, findmypast ( : n.d.); citing PRO HO 107, The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surrey.

by David Hughey G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
edited by David Hughey
+10 votes
Are you particularly interested in your Willoughby forefathers?  You should get one of your Willoughby men (father, brother, Willoughby cousin) to do a yDNA37 marker test.  You can purchase the test and join the Willoughby DNA Project from this page:

The tests are on sale now and I encourage you to get one of your Willoughby men tested.  This may give you matches to genetic cousins with additional information about the family line.

If you are interested in your other family surnames, you can take the FamilyFinder test through the same link.  The FamilyFinder test will give you genetic matches with any of the surnames on this list, including the question marks:

Sometimes DNA can put you in contact with someone who has more information about your family.
by Kitty Smith G2G6 Pilot (536k points)
+8 votes
I suggest that you find everything you can in free sources (in particular, look in FamilySearch for U.S. census records and whatever other records happen to be in Family Search), and document the details on the profiles (you never know which detail is going to be an important clue). Then sign up for a free trial on Ancestry (or a paid subscription if you are feeling flush) for additional records that aren't available for free.

I searched for Solomon Jasper Smith in and I found some good content, notably including some images of records uploaded by Ancestry members. I haven't looked in FamilySearch to see how much of it is available there for free.

His father was William M. Smith. He died some time before 28 April 1873. One of the uploaded documents is an account of the expenses of the guardian for William's minor children (children named are Solomon J., William Jr., and Francis M.) from that date until 30 May 1873. The document was filed in St. Clair County, Alabama, where the children and their mother resided. His mother's name was Drucilla. Solomon's death certificate gives her full maiden name as Drucilla Roundauf (may be a misspelling); the informant on the death certificate didn't include the mother's name.

I don't like to be a shill for the paid subscription sources, but based on my quick search in Ancestry, I think you could get a lot of good material there.
by Ellen Smith G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
According to the 1900 Census, both of Solomon's parents were born in South Carolina.
+4 votes

Here is a death record for Myrtle (Courtney) Smith w/ her parents listed.

Record ImageVIEW

    Name: Myrtle C Smith
    [Myrtle C Courtney] 
    Birth Date: 29 Oct 1893
    Birth Place: Texas
    Gender: Female
    Race: White
    Residence: Dallas, Dallas, Texas
    Father: W H Courtney
    Mother: Attie Nail
    Age at Death: 71
    Death Date: 23 Oct 1965
    Death Place: Dallas, Dallas, Texas, USA
    by Mary Cole G2G6 Pilot (101k points)
    +4 votes
    Did you know at least one family of Willoughby's were in New Hampshire in the 1700's?

    Page 206 of Samuel Worcestor's History of the Town of Hollis, New Hampshire, from its First Settlement to the Year 1879, lists 2 Willoughby's who were in the American Revolution:  Jonas enlisted in 1782 (N. Frontier, 6 mos.) and Samuel enlisted in 1776 (Ti., G.R.)  (Most likely Ti means Ticonderoga).  Page 216 notes that Capt. John Willoughby, born in Billerica, Mass, in 1736 removed from Hollis to Plymouth "and was a Captain in Col. David Websters regiment at the battles of Stillwater and Saratoga."  Several Willoughby families are listed on pgs 390-391.

    Worcestor's book can be found online. Of course, it will take some research to build this tree in Wiki.  Perhaps a one-name study?
    by Janine Barber G2G6 Pilot (169k points)
    +3 votes

    Jodie, you have a lot of great suggestions here, some of which I'm going to take as suggestions for my sake also. But I'll tell you what has worked for me. I belong to several genealogical family tree sites. I mostly use four of them, but do also use the others as needed. If I'm really out of options on a tree branch, I'll put as much as I know on the four sites that I use the most and also perhaps on some of the others. Invariably, sooner or later, I'll get a note from somebody, perhaps someone new, that has gotten to that particular point in their own tree. Every so often, I'll go back to the branch and see if anybody has entered any information on that person/family. I've been amazed at the helpful people I have met this way. You just can't expect anything right away. But people belong to this site and not any others, or those two but not that one, etc, which is why I find I have more luck using as many sites as are free or as I can afford. Have you been helped by any of the suggestions so far?

    by Betty Burgess G2G Crew (560 points)
    +2 votes
    Further to previous; Do you know the location in the UK from which they came.  Try the Family History Society for that County.  Try the "One Name Society" in Uk also. All on line so accessable. Good luck.


    Barry Rideout
    by Barry Rideout G2G1 (1.5k points)
    +3 votes
    Hi Jodi,Whilst I replied previously I wondered if you had found inspiration!

    Have you identified when the family went the the US ?

    If you know where in the UK they came from you may find that there is a County based  family history society with low membership fees and lots of existing records donated by members.  They often run help lines> My family came from Dorset.  The Somerset & Dorset FHS carries hundreds of family trees for the more common family names associated with the county.  You can do a web search on where the name was most common in the uk at the time of the 1841 census.

    Good hunting   Barry
    by Barry Rideout G2G1 (1.5k points)
    +3 votes
    Just keep at it.

    I have gone through long periods of finding nothing, but then something opens up. I have Smiths and Taylors and Barrys and a few other common names.

    When in the doldrums in my tree, I go help someone else with theirs for a bit.
    by Eloise Smith G2G6 (9.8k points)
    +3 votes
    Fleshing out your tree sideways can be helpful and gratifying as you get a feeling for the family as a whole, not just a line back. Sometimes you will find a record for another family member that gives you a clue about the rest - eg a child's death in a different county or even country, suggesting they possibly moved. Unleashing the sleuth in you using and even Google can often bear fruit. Try searching for the surname in various spellings and use date ranges rather than a specific date, as often age/birth year gets approximated or people make mistakes or even tell fibs on official forms. I will often search for just the surname in a certain date range and county and see what comes up.
    (Apologies if you already do all of this and I'm telling my grandma how to suck eggs!)
    by Gillian Causier G2G6 Pilot (231k points)
    +3 votes
    Simple answer, don't quit.  My mother and her siblings (4 of them) were very clear, their mother had travelled by covered wagon to Arkansas as a child.  I looked off and on for years all around Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas. Nothing, just this big gap between 1900 and 1910 when the family was showing in  both censuses in Kentucky.  Then one day I was working on her great grandparents and there on the same page in 1895 were grandma's parents and oldest sister just a couple houses away. Not in Arkansas but Arkansas City, Kansas !!  

     My advice is set it aside, then when you come back start over, as if you know nothing, not the spelling, dates, siblings. Find solid proof for each fact then move on.  The death certificate for a great grandfather clearly states he  used another name (really- Meeks alias Harris) when I had only been using the headstone as proof of birth and death dates I was missing a whole other part of his life.  AND I am still trying to find out why he used the name Harris.  Good Luck

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