According to Webster's Dictionary, profiling is "the act or process of extrapolating information about a person based on known traits or tendencies." In other words, to infer unknown information from trends in what is known about a person.
You probably know more about an elusive ancestor than you think. Most likely you at least know their name, and based on that, their sex. You may know to whom their related–which side of your family they come from. You may also have a general idea of where they lived, based on where that side of the family originated. Their last name may give you clues to the main occupation of that branch of your family tree. And, chances are, they may have followed in their father or mother's footsteps, as in the old saying, "Like father, like son."
The religious affiliation of that side of the family may give you clues as to what religion this particular ancestor practiced. And while individuals to break from the family religious tradition and seek out other religions, most family members stay with the traditional one, even though they may not practice it.
If the members of that side of your family were immigrants to America, where did they emigrate from? Most likely, your elusive ancestor would have lived in the at least the same region. The great migrations around Europe and Asia had ceased by the 19th century. However, perhaps your relative migrated to the West coast in the United States.
And while most people generally think of Europe when speaking of immigration, many individuals came from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Some groups, like the Chinese, have a strong tradition of keeping ancestral records. Others, like African Americans, have a much harder time tracking down ancestors since ancestral records usually are non-existent.
If your ancestor was a soldier or sailor, which war would he have fought in? When and where did he die? Could he be buried in one of the U.S. Armed Forces cemeteries?
By asking yourself questions like those above, you should be able to begin drawing some conclusions which will help you know where to begin looking for additional information on your elusive ancestor.
Once you begin an ancestral profile, create a separate file for it on your computer, then place that file in a folder called "Ancestral Profiles." Avoid putting any hear-say information into your profile. Keep it factual. But don't hesitate to follow leads that may be generated by family legends and stories. Eventually, you'll begin to discover additional information about your ancestor that will lead you to compile a more complete picture of him or her.
Answer as many of the following questions as you can about your elusive ancestor to create a detailed profile:
1. What is the ancestor's full name? (Knowing the name will help you search through census records.)
2. Was this person male or female?
3. What was their ethnic origin?
4. Did this person have a spouse? If so, what was his or her name? (Look for name variations, even within the same family.)
5. List those members of your family possibly related to this person.
6. When was this ancestor born, and when did they die?
7. Where did they die?
7. Did they have any children?
8. What was their occupation?
9. What was their economic status? (Poor, middle class, wealthy)
10. If an immigrant, where did they emigrate from? (Check the census to find out where particular ethnic groups settled.)
11. If an immigrant, were they ever naturalized?
12. Could they have been adopted?
13. List previous places where this ancestor may have lived.
14. Were they ever a soldier or sailor?
15. Did they own land? (If so, you may be able to check tax records.)
16. What was their religious affiliation? (This will enable you to check church records.)
17. List the documents you possess concerning this person. (List each by date, city, state, and issuing agency)