Flummoxed - Town of Origin (2)

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Back to: Family History for the Flummoxed Flummoxed - Extending Family LinesFlummoxed - Town of Origin

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.


  1. You are trying to find the town of origin of an ancestor who immigrated from a foreign country, and
  2. You have decided that you do not have sufficient unique, identifying information about the ancestor to recognize them in an extracted record.
  3. Also, being that you're here, we assume that you have already searched all the usual places (see the above note).


Recognize Your Unique Disadvantage

Do not quickly jump to accept someone with a similar or even the exact name name as your ancestor. A person once came into the Family History Library whose ancestor settled in the Western United States. The only record of the place of origin they had said "Berlin." Berlin, Germany, is a huge metropolis where directories list even uncommon names multiple times. Further research in American records revealed that it was the very small town of Berlin, Worcester country, Massachusetts. The image of the birth record was easily found in an online database.

One More Look?

Many of you have done this over and over. If you really believe you've looked all you can, please just skip to DNA below.

For More Unique Identifying Information

The littlest things you can gather about your ancestor will help you to know when you have really found them. Even better are specifics like date of birth, parents names, etc.

For a Place of Origin

Ultimately the simplest and most direct solution is to find one more record in the country where your ancestor settled that identifies the city or town of origin. There are many good "how to" articles in this FamilySearch Wiki, such as Determining a Place of Origin in Germany. Search the Wiki to find others.

For Proxies

Consider the possibility that someone else might be easier to track to the very same town of origin. People to identify and research in addition to your own ancestor might be:

  • Known relatives.
  • Close associates at work, church, etc.
  • Other persons with the exact same rare surname.
  • Other people that came on the same ship.

For Help

Post information about the relative you are seeking on one of the Internet based family history message boards or upload a GEDCOM of what you have to a public family history repository. However, never take another researcher's assertions at face value. You know so very little about your ancestor. Carefully verify how the other researcher make a positive connection.

Consider genealogical DNA Testing

This may be your best avenue for making progress, even if it takes some time.

One way to find the town of origin is to find another relative the already knows where that town is. DNA testing is a new family history tool to link relatives together. Be sure to carefully study out what it can tell you and what it cannot, but genealogical DNA testing of your DNA by a reliable laboratory will probably help you and your descendants for generations to come.

Test the Y-DNA of Male Descendants

Y-DNA is passed from a father to his sons only. For generations to come, it remains identical and unchanged, except for random mutations that occur at a statistically predictable rate. Genealogical Y-DNA testing can determine whether two men have a shared paternal-line ancestor and approximately how many generations have since passed. Learn more about Y-DNA at the non-profit Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation by clicking here.

Test the Mitochondrial DNA of Female Descendants

Mitochondrial DNA is passed from a mother to all her children. However, her sons do not pass it to their descendants. The children of the son get their mitochondrial DNA from the son's wife. Thus, an unbroken female line is needed to assure that the genealogical value of Mitochondrial DNA. Like all other DNA there are random mutations that occur at a statistically predictable rate. Learn more about Y-DNA at the non-profit Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation by clicking here.