Statistics indicate there were about 150,000 missing persons reported in 1980. Within twenty years or more that has increased to 900,000. About 2,300 American are reported missing each day. This number includes both children and adults. The National Center for Missing Adults, located in Phoenix, tracks thousands of active cases. Today missing juveniles are categorized as runaways or family abductions. Many of the missing are never found. They may be dead or they may be living elsewhere, voluntarily or non-voluntarily, and some may be assuming a different name.
Keep in mind that genealogists are working with missing people who were not featured on milk cartons or listed on Internet, let alone shown on prime-time television. They are not listed as missing on a national database. However, we can apply some research strategy to locate them.
Pull out the paper and pencil and get to work. Select an ancestor that is producing the brickwall or dead end. What do you know about that ancestor? List everything on a sheet of paper, even something you were told but that has not been proven. What document or person produced the information? Where did you obtain it? How reliable is it?
Before you begin to contemplate where you will look next for the missing ancestor, prepare a sheet of paper listing why people became lost. Was that person seeking escape, adventure, new prospects in mineral or land, or to be never discovered again? What were the conditions in his normal place of residence? Records you have available may not result in answers, so that's when you turn to your imagination along with a close look at the person's immediate family (parents, siblings, spouse, children, cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles). Were others in collateral family leaving at about the same period of time as yours? What clues do their records hold?
Look closely at the community, its geography, history and economic condition at various time periods. Was there any mass migrations out of the area? Were there deaths by disease that caused many to either die or their survivors to remove from the area? Were there crop failures, unusually cold or hot weather? Traditionally men move from one geographical area to something similar. Keep all of these things in mind when looking for your missing ancestor.
Many times I have heard people say that they cannot locate an ancestor on census. The federal census was taken every ten years, with some states taking census in between those years. In the early enumerations, before transportation such as trains and automobiles, people relied on the horse and wagon, or even by walking. When an enumerator called may not have been where they were at that given time. They may have been camped by a trail. They are missing, but only by the enumerator.
On another sheet of paper, determine where you are going to look for the missing ancestor. This should not only include new places, but a review of places and resources you have already checked. If you are not used to regularly checking Internet for new databases, you need to begin checking them now.
Does your research focus on census? That's okay, but there's a lot more, such as land records, probate records and court records. I have heard people say that they ancestor left no will. Don't isolate your lost ancestor or relative. They began as part of a family unit. Even if they drifted away from that unit, look beyond them and their name. Look at relatives and their descendants. I vividly remember a will that I found mentioning the lady's son who was estranged and if he should return to the family from wherever he was, he would be entitled to a portion of her estate. In the file was also the last letter she received from him, along with information and an address. Clues and more clues!
Your research should include newspapers and also city directories. Meticulously check city directories year by year so see who is listed and when they may have moved. There are many newspapers and city directories being digitized on Internet. They are indexed to make searching easier, but don't forget to look for your person in the least likely place. Also remember the possibility of name changes, both given names and surnames.
With a little luck, imagination and persistence, you may be able to locate that lost ancestor.