Finding and solving gaps in our research.

Remembering that stories are important in family history, not just the birth, death, marriage dates and places. So how do we find information to fill in the gaps in the stories was what was discussed at this #ANZAncestryTime chat.

422737 / Pixabay

How do we identify gaps in our research? Is it important to do so?

I use timelines to work out where I need to look for more info eg school records, employment records etc

If you use good desktop software it may have a way to let you know what is missing

I am currently redoing my database and have queries to help find what is missing.

I have two ways of identifying gaps: (1) is writing up my research which makes clear where I’m missing information. (2) checking against my preferred sources to ensure I’ve included them.

To find gaps in knowledge/evidence about an individual … start writing up what you know about them as a sourced biographical narrative. This soon highlights the gaps which you can then set about trying to fill

Starting with what you know is a great tip Jane @Chapja It’s much easier then to see the gaps

Yes, Jane, I can get on board with this method, because my goal is a story, not a full database.

I like to try to fill in the gaps in my research. Often when traditional family history records leave gaps you can fill them using newspapers. DNA has helped me also

Love me a good timeline! Plus checklists, making sure I’ve covered at least all the basics.

For brickwalls I use mindmaps (from FreeMind) to review and identify what I might have missed

I love creating mind maps. I picked up that tip at Rootstech a few years ago. It’s amazing what can jump out at you as missing

Mindmapping – you could do this with pencil and paper I’ve also used Freemind Mindmaps for preparing museum exhibitions What’s really nice is that you can collapse sections or open then up

Using a research log or prompt sheet can help to identify gaps


To visualise gaps in tree … the DNAPainter ‘Ancestral Trees’ function enables you to visualise tree completeness so you can decide where in your tree you may want to focus next – dnapainter.com/#trees

I create detailed timelines for individuals and families – it’s a great way of spotting both gaps and connections I hadn’t noticed before. Creating bios for Wikitree also made me go back and look for things I’d missed, so I could tell a coherent story

As Australia doesn’t have its census records available, we have to utilise different record sets and not get caught in the decennial gap trap.

Identifying gaps in our research is important if we’re to gain a full view of the lives of our ancestors. Learning what records are available for place and time, and using them, is critical.

I find using a spreadsheet to set down timelines of each person useful. Columns represent list of possible records they would be in, when I locate I tick it in the column. Records BMD parish records and census.

As with so much in family history, it’s finding what is most intuitive for each of us that helps productivity.

When looking at gaps in our research we need to look at regional, national and world events to see how they affected our families.

Ancestry’s DNA match colour coding and DNA Painter’s chromosome mapping have filled gaps for me

When new records become available work through them to ensure you have not missed someone GRO site helped me

I use timelines. I include place as well as dates. For example, is it possible that my research people were in e.g. New York for 1910 census and then enumerated in England a few months later in 1911? (Yes, it is, but confirming it opened new avenues)

Yeah Sophie’s “negative space” is basically the same idea, although her approach is more colourful. I’d like to be able to do a 3-D version that layers people on top of time/place. Best I can do for that is Visio/process maps

Visio is a lovely little microsoft package – very easy to use. I also use it for presenting smaller family trees – extracts

It was inspiration from the talk given by @ScientistSoph on Negative Space that really started me thinking more about this topic, including mapping events. Read her blog post here. parchmentrustler.com/family-history…

timelines are really helpful, as is writing up a person’s life. Often realise I’m missing something crucial.

Interesting how many of us find narratives helpful to identify missing research.

I tag my Legacy trees as I find supporting sources so I know which ones I need to find.

i do a timeline sheet in my Research Log (Excel). I add date in first column then age, event and place for each person in the family with a diff colour for each person. Then i can scroll and see where each family member was on a date.

Different formats for diff research questions, but usually just a table in a Word document – year in one column, date in next, then a text field with whatever info I want to record. I find that little bit of visual organisation just enough to work for me

Ancestry’s DNA match colour coding and DNA Painter’s chromosome mapping have filled gaps for me

Yes … Delay no further! DNAPainter has so many useful tools and functions to help find and fill gaps in our research

I have loved DNA painter since Jonny Perl first introduced it at a RootsTech conference. He is brilliant

something I do with my students often is get them to fill out a blank direct ancestor tree just to see where they’re missing bits.

viarami / Pixabay

Do you use a timeline to identify research gaps? Do you use your genealogy program, Excel or another program?

I use mainly Legacy but sometimes go with spread sheet

Funny you mention it, because I created one today about a great grandfather, using a table in WORD. I’m including citations from the many sources I have found about him. He never seemed to stay in one place for long – trying to put all the pieces together.

Those wanderers can be a lot of work to trace. I have a few of those. Timelines do help to see where they’ve been

I have a bigamist who disappears after he serves time in Victoria. Not found anywhere yet.

I suspect some bigamy with my American born Adams 2xgt gddad too. Disappears from Grafton & NSW. Then emerged close & shared DNA matches descended from Tassie man of same name who appeared in Tassie little after Grafton man disappeared. Same man or close family?

I find that now I am writing up the family histories (part of my downsizing project) I am finding gaps and then I just fill them as I go. If I can

Yes writing narratives is a great way to find gaps in information … it also helps to spot inconsistencies in the information you have too

I can be in the middle of a blog post about an ancestor and realise I have a gap. Then it’s off down a rabbit hole before I finish the blog post. That’s where I am now

Writing is the best way to spot gaps! Writing seems to trigger all sorts of analytical processes in your brain that regular research does not.

Yes, and why it takes me so long to finish a blog post, let alone a research report for myself (loved your presentation on that!)

I found an infant death in Ireland following naming patterns and a gap in the births.

Tracing 19th century Aussie wanderers, it’s helpful to put the gold rushes on the timeline. A ‘missing’ person may have gone to try their luck. Check other colonies.

Good tip Brooke to add to the timeline. Also perhaps expansion of an occupation eg railway construction?

Gold rushes impacted just about everybody’s family – follow the gold. One of mine moved from Sydney to Victorian goldfields then up to the Gympie rushes in Queensland and finally over to the Western Australian gold rush. Over generations and not all moved.

Yes, my West Coast NZ gold rush ancestors all started mining life in Victoria. Most of them left family there, though contact has been mostly lost. I hope to re-establish some one day!

Another one of my mining families ducked across to Reefton for a while then back to Queensland. Have to look both sides of the Tasman

I realised one of mine did when I mapped the births of all his (many) children. Another way of spotting gaps. Map the babies.


This timeline was created for a specific research question: where was she living when she got pregnant with her children who were born out of wedlock? The timeline helped me formulate a hypothesis about the probable father, later confirmed with DNA.

My genealogy program allows you to export any query to a spreadsheet so you can work on it outside the program


Freemind is what I use for MindMaps thewindowsclub.com/freemind-free-…

Timeline but also my online tree with Ancestry where I can see on their facts or story what might be missing

Also when I write my biographies I have particular sections of their life to include which means I might need to do more research with newspapers etc to find that info

combination of Excel for checklist and offline family tree program for timeline. This then helps with writing up in more details in a blog.

If I’m looking at a timeline, I will use Excel to analyse what I have and what I’m missing. I always use date, month, year in separate columns. Alternatively I use Word document gaps. I don’t use my genealogy program for this.

my genealogy program is good for seeing gaps in the research plus you can add notes and reminders. I used to have lots of sticky yellow notes but using a program helps keep me focused.

I will write or look for other queries to identify other gaps once I have added census information

While I don’t always use a timeline I do identify gaps as I write up my research. I am using a timeline for my troublesome McSherry family. I also compare my checklist of record sources to see what I might have missed.

I’m constantly using timelines and use Legacy family history software. Occasionally I use excel for timelines

I look at my genealogy software & files for reference, but I create it in MS Word.

Pexels / Pixabay

What key facts do you include in your timeline? What records do you use to fill the gaps?

vital records (including addresses/occupations on children’s births), the census, any known migrations.

after looking at all possible records I then look at newspapers and overseas records. Sometimes the ancestor could be a witness or informant in a record.

BDM, children, grave or cremation, residences, any info from Rolls or Census records, newspaper stories

It depends on time period – early 19c Irish ag lab/working class leave very little trace in records so there are often big gaps, especially if they never married/had kids. Newspapers/migration/institutional records may fill gaps but often have to accept gaps

If I could just fill in the gaps in my lots of Irish ancestry I would be very happy. Wills have been useful

If you can find them, if they survive – I’ve yet to find more than a calendar entry and that for only a handful of people. The swines!

So inconsiderate of them! 🙂 I got my English 4GGF’s will. One line sums it up: “to my beloved wife, executor of this will, all my assets” – thanks Grandpa!! 😀

I like to record as many facts as possible in my timelines from cradle to the grave. I also include major events like war, famine, depression, pandemics. These events can trigger ideas for more records to search

If I am trying to find someone who is missing I will search in Newspapers or look for them travelling

Censuses and BDMs are the anchor points. Otherwise it could be anything – church records, entries in the street directory, newspaper reports, appearances as witnesses/registrants on other BDMs, court records – as long as it can be tied to a date

I like to track my ancestors’ locations, and kin, where possible to get a full picture of their lives. For immigrant ancestors I also want their immigration records – where available.

At the moment I’m including day, month, year, event, location, notes and citation. I’ve used newspaper articles, police records/gazettes, BMD certificates, electoral rolls. The guy I am researching went interstate and overseas enough to confuse us all!

Birth, Deaths Marriages, other key events in the life of the person. Also historical events at a certain time, for context

Trove is great for filling gaps we didn’t know we had – totally unexpected events and activities. I like to use Education, land, occupation, military records, immigration, clubs/societies inter alia.

I include every event for which I know a time and place for that ancestor. So vital events, military service, prison time, births of children, etc.

My excel sheet columns include for the names such First & Mid Name, Last Name, Full Name then vital record dates. The ID for the person. I split the dates to a columns for date, month and year. Finally the columns for the specific data I’m working with

vital records (including addresses/occupations on children’s births), the census, any known migrations

www_slon_pics / Pixabay

Can you give examples where you or others have successfully plugged research gaps?

One thing that timelines can hide is contradictory activities. eg An ancestor is recorded being in one place for his child’s birth, & having a business. a legal case showed he was also working on the gold fields a distance away: there were regular coaches.

lots of those for my Dickson family. Currently working on Rev Dr David Dickson’s children A few more than in official bios

I used timelines to disprove a family legend (two men) but extending the FAN (family, associates, neighbours) research actually demonstrated there was a foundation for the legend – multiple timelines.

another TL piece: sometimes, not often, RC priests recorded both birth and baptismal dates. RC baptisms usually took place ASAP but there was a 6 week gap. Made me look more closely at godparents. They’d travelled quite a distance, another chink in brickwall

I used timelines to disprove a family legend (two men) but extending the FAN (family, associates, neighbours) research actually demonstrated there was a foundation for the legend – multiple timelines.

Our genimate @luvviealex wrote recently about her life in 12 censuses. It made me think more closely about my own presence in the records and how I wish I’d been able to see my parents’ and grandparents’ census returns.

Tried this today in a timeline but discovered it left out great chunks of our lives even our overseas postings, seems we were always in Aus. Made me think of ancestors gaps

Exactly! I don’t want to share all the nitty gritty but I think it can help highlight the challenge for the next couple of generations while privacy rules apply.

How cool! I have never been enumerated in a census in my life. The Netherlands stopped taking them in 1971 since we have a continuous population registration and they know where we live. 👀

Using DNA Trove BDMs to help adoptees to find their bio families and Collins Leeds method too

My longest running project is the collection of Electoral Data from NZers in my tree. Add another cousin to my tree creates gaps for Electoral Roll entries. Having such a large collection of addresses helps with a diverse range of other research questions

Trying to find out what happened to a woman from when she returned to Scotland in 1868 until her death. For that time period looked at censuses, deaths in her family & mapped them in time & space. Found her. Went to live with her son in England & she died there.

Timelines have been very useful me to find out where ancestors were fighting during WW1. I start with enlistment date and place and then do a timeline of their war service

I hadn’t thought do to a wartime timeline. what a great idea @SharnWhite I intend to do it

It helps to know what battles to research Jennifer and what war diaries to look for

It is always worth looking to see if there were births before a marriage one turned up this week not a relative but the person they married was

I have been trying to find out how a man in Bathurst met a woman in Hill End and how she had 4 children to him. There were no family connections between the places. Today I found on Trove his license to drive a coach from Bathurst to Hill End.  Yes unfortunately he never married her. I must do a timeline to see if his coach trips coincide with the births! I expect they did

Doing a timeline of where members of a family were in census records helped me to find a missing person

I find researching between the census records for missing children has turned up a few who died young

using census records – when I can’t find them I try all variants – Price was indexed as Grice – sometimes gaps are caused by indexing errors, bad handwriting or human error

Or search by a family member with the most distinctive first name. That worked for me.

All of my ancestors start in UK. When they emigrated to New Zealand, I found them passenger lists and rest of the information in the newspapers, even when they then moved to North America, especially the journalist ancestor, which was the subject of my blog

I’ve set up web pages with blog post sections for all my ancestral lines- sometimes cousins read these and make suggestions that I’ve missed something or drawn a wrong conclusion

My ancestors lived in a place in the Netherlands that kept mill tax records in 1700s that listed everyone in the household. I used these to see when children entered the household and prove that one child was baptized under a different name than used later.

I’m using a spreadsheet of every single event I can find for my McSherry family in the hope of breaking down my mysteries. Very clear for a 25 year block, then nada.

Timelines + checklists = winner!

Blog posts relating to the topic

Kerrie Anne – using mindmaps,

Alex – my life in censuses,

Legacy – mindmaps webinar,

Sue – examples of biographies written,

Readers: How do you find the gaps in your research? How do you find the info to fill those gaps?

Private Roy Graham COLGRAVE

Roy Graham Colgrave was born 12 April 1896 at Pipers River in the area known as the East Tamar, Tasmania, Australia. His parents were Samuel and Jane Colgrave (nee Duncanson). He was the eldest of 7 children, 4 boys and 3 girls. Keith, his youngest brother was only 14 months old when Roy enlisted for World War 1.

Roy was 5 feet 6.25 inches tall and weighed 136 pounds. He had a fair complexion, blue eyes and fair hair. He was a Methodist. One way to identify Roy was by the mole on his left shoulder.

On the 27 March 1916 he was considered fit for service but there may have been something wrong with his teeth as this is mentioned on the form.

When Roy enlisted on 1 May 1916 he was just 20 years old and was a labourer. He had never been in the military before but mentioned on his attestation papers is the following as an extra added to question 11.

Attestation paper Roy  Graham Colgrave

Does this mean he was a regular in the 92nd Infantry?

On 7 August 1916, he is appointed to 19th reinforcements in the 12th Battalion.

Regimental number 5996, departed Hobart on 8 August 1916 on the OC Troopship “Ballarat” and disembarked over a month later at Plymouth, England on 30 September 1916.

HMAT A70 Ballarat

Image Source: Courtesy State Library of Victoria and Flotilla Australia  Thanks John.

On 19 November 1916 he proceeded to France via Folkestone on the SS Onward. He had been with 3rd Training Battalion prior to this departure. The 19th reinforcements then marched to 1st Australian Division Base Depot at Etaples, France. This was the largest of the training camps in France and had British, Canadian and Australian soldiers training there. It also had many hospitals and cemeteries at Etaples.

Below is an image of the 18th Battalion practicing in the ‘Bull Ring‘ at Etaples.

Image copyright: Copyright expired – public domain

Trying to read his service record and casualty record, the dates are quite confusing as to when he was taken on strength or struck off strength. In other words when he moved from reinforcements to battalion to hospital and back to battalion.

On 5 December he was taken on strength with the 12th Battalion AIF but was in hospital sick on the 11th December. In this period, 94 of the reinforcements under the leadership of Captain LE Burt were on duty and could have been employed in carrying equipment to the front lines and in improving the lines of communication. Trenches were also being improved and A frames and hurdles were taken to the front line.

According to the war diaries for the 12th Battalion, on December 11, a fatigue party of 13 men were taking hot tea to the front lines but lost direction and ended up at a German trench. They immediately withdrew but were fired upon. One soldier killed, two wounded, two missing and one arrived back 2 nights later. The rest got back safely to their lines. On the 12 December they were relieved by the 9th Battalion and 18 reinforcements were reported as casualties, 1 killed and 6 wounded. Here is a link to the trenches map of the area they were in.

On 14 December Roy  was admitted to the 25 Stationary Hospital at Rouen with mumps. He was then moved to 5th Field Ambulance and the 39th Casualty and Clearing Station still at Rouen. By 3 January 1917 back at the Stationary Hospital and then transferred to the No 2 Convalescent Depot. Back to base at Etaples on 6 January.

Rejoined his unit with the 12 Battalion on 17 January and headed into camp at Bresle where a heavy snow had fallen the previous night. On 24 January headed to Fricourt A Camp for more training. As they were going through Albert, there was a casualty from a bomb dropped by a hostile plane. On 28 January they moved on to Bazentin le Petit making improvements to camp lines, latrines and doing more training.

According to the syllabus of training, it included physical training, rifle exercises, bayonet fighting and route marches. Often a Commanding Officer would arrive for  company or battalion in attack drills. Here is two weeks training. If a member of the intelligence platoon, this was your typical training. If in the Lewis Machine Gun Reserves, your training looked like this. Bombers trained differently including throwing grenades.

Here is a set of operation orders from 21 January 1917, including a map of the trench area involved. Note the typist always get K and L mixed up.

On February 11, the 12th Battalion relieved the 4th Battalion at Eaucourt l’Abbaye sector. The thaw then set in rapidly and men were working in muddy conditions improving Pioneer Alley and Pioneer Support. The enemy began firing ‘Pineapple bombs’ and the front line had to be moved out into No Mans Land by 50 yards to avoid the fire. This caused the death of one officer and 4 other ranks O/R and the wounding of one officer and 6 O/Rs.

On 24 February the enemy began retiring from their front line, so the ANZAC Battalions moved in and cleared up trenches and villages. The main opposition was a strong post on the junction of Misty Way and Warlencourt Road. Three of the enemy were killed and 8 more shot by Lewis Machine Gun fire while retreating.

On 1 March 1917, the battalion moved to Dernancourt for more training sessions. On 23 March, 39 officers and 958 O/R moved to Baizieux, where they adopted summer time on the 24th. Report for the month from Lt Col H Elliott:

The whole of the month has been spent in training: the first half in attacking under barrage fire and the second half in open warfare and tactical schemes. The results obtained have been very satisfactory and most encouraging.

The health of the battalion has been good and their morale excellent.

The reinforcements obtained have been of good physique, intelligent and well trained.

On 1 April, the divisional commander attended the church parade at Baizieux. On 4 April at 0900 they left Baizieux and marched to Montauban then onto Fremicourt the next day. They relieved the 9th Battalion in the lines and on Sunday 8 April they attacked and bombed a windmill at Boursies. The Germans open fired with machine guns but the Aussies advanced, and the Bosche retreated, two of them had been bayonetted then six surrendered but threw a percussion bomb so were immediately killed. For the remainder of that day under cover of a blizzard, the Germans tried to gain back the mill but were driven off. There was an intense bombardment of pineapple trench mortar bombs and smoke bombs but by Wednesday evening the remainder of 12th Battalion were back at Morchies after having taken two machine guns and many trenches from the enemies. Here is a quick report of the casualties and end of the fight.

On 14/15 April, the 12th Battalion relieved 9th Battalion at Lagnicourt. The companies were increasing and consolidating extra picquets and posts; enemy guns were silent and flares absent, when at 0400 they were attacked by the Germans. D Company were attacked from front, left and rear; A Company forced back by numbers 10 to 1 in the front and sniping from the rear. Begin reading the account of this fighting on this page and continue for many more.

On 15 April 1917, Roy was one of 37 reported as missing in action since the fighting at Lagnicourt.

By 2 June this has been changed to POW (Prisoner of War) captured at Lagnicourt and interned at Limburg in the state of Hesse in western Germany. From what I have read, Limburg was a registration camp. Conditions there were terrible and many died of shellfire, disease or starvation.

Looking at Roy’s Red Cross file at the Australian War Memorial website, he was transferred to Friedrichsfeld on 16 November 1917.

On 18 December 1917, his next of kin Samuel and Jane Colgrave were notified he was now a prisoner of war. Sometime between June 1917 and January 1918, he is moved to the Kriegsgefangenen Lazarett at Fuhlsbuttel in Hamburg, Germany. A Lazarett is a military hospital for POWs.

On 19 January 1918 he dies from tuberculosis and meningitis.   During the last part of his life, he was unconscious. Roy was buried with military honours at Ohlsdorfer Cemetery in Hamburg on 22 January.

By 6 March 1918 the War Office in London had been notified of his death.

On 10 April 1919, Jane Colgrave signed for a package being the effects of Roy sent from Germany via the War Office. It included: post cards, photos, a canvas bag, 8 coinsand a paybook handed to Estates Branch at AIF Headquarters London. It also included a will written by Roy on 5 March 1917 where, upon his death, he gives all his effects and property to his mother.

On 17 April, 1920 a photograph was sent to Sam and Jane of Roy’s grave.

On 16 April, 1921 his father received Roy’s British War Service Medal.

On 28 July, 1921 Samuel signed a receipt for a memorial scroll and King’s message.

On 24 October  1922, Samuel again signed a receipt for a memorial plaque for Roy’s grave.

On March 28, 1923 his Victory Medal was given to his father.

In a letter dated 4 December 1924, Samuel Colgrave was told his son’s body had been exhumed and re-interred at Plot 1, Row C, Grave 4 still in the Hamburg Cemetery section now under the control of the Imperial War Graves Commission.

Readers: All information in this post is found in the service records of Private Roy Graham Colgrave and held at the National Archives of Australia. They can be found at the website Discovering ANZACs which also includes soldiers from New Zealand. I also included some research of particular places mentioned and read the war diaries for the 12th Battalion which can be found in the Australian War Memorial website.

Readers: What do you know about any of your relatives who served in World War 1?