This is the first of what I hope will be many discussions of research problems. Those brick walls of genealogy!
I do my searching on FamilySearch.org, Google, and various state and library databases, but feel free to try any search engine you like. I've had pretty good success in finding my misspelled, erroneously listed relatives, many of whom told little white lies about their ages, because, what the census taker doesn't know, won't hurt him, right? ;-)
I've worked out a lot of tricks to use on the search engines, but it's not an exact science for me. I am methodical up to a point, but I never can stick to a list, or think of every conceivable variation. I often get side-tracked, and sometimes even wind up tracking down someone else's line, just for the fun of untangling their briar patch, or breaking down their brick walls. I feel I do it pretty well.
Today's misspelling really shouldn't have presented much of a problem, but it certainly did. It took me over an hour to find this relative, and I did get side-tracked.
Margaret McAllister, born 1929 in Georgia, was my "known" quantity. Her parents were Charles Clifford McAllister and Nancy Clemmie Green. I expected to find them in Catoosa or Walker County, Georgia. Here are some of the things I tried...
I started out with Margaret Margret Maggie Mattie (given-name field); "McAllister" in the surname field; 1927-1934 in the year-of-birth field; "Georgia" in the birthplace field; and "Catoosa, Georgia" in the residence field. I also put in the parents' names (without the mother's maiden name). I got nothing. I quickly dropped some specifics, and searched for the same name in Georgia and in Tennessee (North Georgia people often end up in East Tennessee). I still couldn't find her, and tried widening the birth range, dropping the parents' names, then the birth state, and finally the residence. I then varied the residence (places where I thought they might have lived briefly). I even dropped the state.
For surname variations, I began with wildcards: "Mcalister," "Mcall*r" and "*lister." I must have left out "Mca*r," because it seems to me it should have come up at the top of the list, unless the extra "t" in "Margarett" stumped the search engine. My broadest search (surname of "Mc*" with no birth state or residence) was just useless. It brought up thousands of records, including some in the Midwest who looked like twins of this Georgia family, and some in Pennsylvania, North Dakota, and other places I would never expect to find them. Some were such mismatches I had to look back at my wildcards to find out why I was finding such oddballs.
I saved my broadest search for last, because putting in the wildcard surname of "Mc" brought up a tremendous lot of results, even with the county in there; and "*ister" brought up quite a few as well.
I tried again using "Mc,*" but narrowed down the places again: birthplace of Georgia, residence of Catoosa, Georgia. That was the search that worked. Even so, it brought up a lot of results (because so many surnames start with "Mc." I had to scroll through pages of results to find them. Here's what I finally found:
US Census, 1930, Militia District 0930, Catoosa, Georgia: Margarett Mcallester, female, aged 1 10/12, daughter of Clifton C Mcallester (and wife, Nancy). Birth: [est. June 1928; indexed as 1929], Georgia. Date of Census Enumeration: 21 April 1930.
It appears that the age, birth state, and residence were not the problems in this frustrating search, but the misspelled surname of "Mcallester" and the wrong given name on the father "Clifton C" instead of "Charles Clifford" caused a lot of trouble! The search for "*ister" was a good try, but missed "Mcallester" because of the "e." I don't know if the extra "t" in Margaret messed anything up. I may have used "Marg*" at some point.
Each census year has its own search problems, due to the different ways the indexes were compiled, and I will discuss some of those problems later. I hope that some of my successes will inspire someone else and help tear down that brick wall!