Sibling Research


Can brothers and sisters of your ancestor help you knock down those brick walls? Absolutely! We all have those brick walls where our direct ancestor has very little to tell in terms of leaving documents behind. They do not have a birth or death certificate, they left no will. We can only find them in the census or maybe only in one or two censuses. Maybe the timing of their birth is such that they only hit the 1900 census and they are married at this point. How do we go back further in our tree? Maybe siblings can help.

First, you have to find the siblings. Most of us go to the census first. Even if they are not listed in the family look around. They might be with their own family but living very near to your ancestor. It might even be a page or more before or after your ancestor. You might find siblings in court records and probates as well. They might have sued each other. Check the inventory of estates to see who is in charge or receiving items. Who are the witnesses in marriages? These could be siblings of your ancestors.

Once you have the sibling names you can begin to research them just as you have been researching your direct ancestor. Don’t get distracted by adding children and grandchildren at this point, it will only take you off track of the mission. Take a look at the sibling’s death certificates. They might mention the parents birth locations and maiden name of the mother. Check and see where they are buried as a possible burial site for your ancestor. See if they have a will, who is mentioned, look at every page even the inventory. You never know where a name will pop up. Not only might you find information on parents but also proof that these are indeed siblings.


Other places to look are birth certificates, delayed birth certificates, funeral records,  newspapers, guardianship papers, deeds, and other court records. You can always search for their children and grandchildren and make connections to see if these new cousins have any documents that might help in your research. Reach out and connect to your new family and you might just find a fellow family historian who can use your help as well.



3 thoughts on “Sibling Research

  1. Hello, I always enjoy your podcast and feel like you are kindred spirits. My name is also Amy.
    I am not very tech savvy and haven’t figures out where to contact you. My family is all from the Shenandoah Valley or the Chesapeake bay are of VA. I have been working on my Mothers side, Shenandoah Valley (Luray) and have strong circumstantial evidence that her father was adopted by his Uncle Theodore some where during the missing 1880 to 1900 census. I believe his birth Mother was Theodore’s sister Frances. Joseph (my grandfather) would have been her 4th child, probably born in Rappahannock Co. almost in Madison Co. Nothing was ever said about this, but Theodore’s obituary states he had 3 daughters and 1 adopted son. I can find no records of his adoption. I have been to the Court house in Luray and to Richmond. I spoke with a Lawyer who happened to be at the Court House who told me adoptions were sealed. Are adoptions sealed forever. He would have been adopted in the late 1800’s. Do you have any idea how I could find these records if they exist? I have been to Rappahanock court house and looked at the birth record. He isn’t listed, only 3 children are. I have since found a distant cousin who is the descendant or a 5th child of the marriage between Joseph Coates and Emily Frances Smith Coates. My mother’s name was Frances. Joseph’s only daughter. Joseph’s middle name was Oscar (Joseph from his father I believe, and Oscar from Joseph Coates’ brother). Unfortunately Theodore (maybe-Crawford) Smith, and Joseph Oscar Smith are not notable names. Sorry to go on. But I am unable to go further facts. I have more circumstantial evidence I won’t bore you with.
    I have heard you speak of the Shenandoah Valley before so was hopeful you may be able to help.

    Thank you,

    1. Hello Amy,
      Sorry for the long delay in a response. First of all, thank you so much for listening to our podcast. Amy has been super busy with work and family but has read your email and is looking to see what she can offer to help. Stay tuned.

    2. Hi Amy,

      All Virginia adoption records are sealed records and not available to researchers. It is so aggravating to have that missing 1890 census!

      When you searched the birth records in Rappahannock County did you find any children with the same birth date as Joseph or compare dates with all children born to Frances? I would also check surrounding counties’ birth records as Frances may have left the county to have a baby if it was illegitimate. If Joseph was the son of Joseph and Frances Coates, but Theodore had no son of his own, he may have taken in his sister’s son and raised him as his legal heir.

      If a family member adopted another’s child it may not have been legalized through the court as this would bring unwanted attention a private family matter. My great-grandparents raised their grandson as their own son because he was born out of wedlock in 1898, but there was never a formal court adoption. His name is written in the family Bible as though he was their son, rather than grandson. I eventually found the birth record in another county with a stamp “illegitimate” next to the record.

      Did Theodore or Frances have a will or probated estate identifying Joseph as a son or adopted son? Did you check the Rappahannock Chancery Court records for Theodore, Frances, Joseph Coates, or Joseph? If Joseph Coates is Joseph’s biological father, I would check his probated estate papers, if there was a will or probate, too. Check the grandparent’s estates, too, if they died after Joseph was born as they may mention him in their estates. Although a legal adoption would not be available to you in the court records, there may be clues in other court proceedings that may support your suspicions.

      Chancery Court index is available from the Library of Virginia’s Virginia Memory online at You can then request any records from the county clerk’s office.

      Unfortunately, this may be a private family matter that was never codified in writing, but common knowledge to the contemporary family and community.

      Thank you for your kind words about our podcast.

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