Sometimes tracing family ties is a long, long process & involves looking at the families of siblings or cousins for clues or, particularly in the case of female ancestors, investigating possible family links with neighbours, marriage witnesses, baptismal sponsors or other people.
For these cases, I have found it helpful to chart the families together in a genogram. This gives me a visual summary of what possible connections I've found & helps me identify new strategies.
Genograms were originally designed to help family therapists see emotional & behavioural patterns in families. There are any number of symbols which can be used to identify family members & relationships. Although genograms are not 'family trees' in the usual genealogical sense, they can be very useful in picturing possible relationships between families, or portraying histories of specific family medical problems.
You can draw out your own genograms, but there are computer programmes available, too. Genopro is the programme I've used. It's available as a free download & is fairly easy to use. Genopro genograms with pictures & reports can be imported into Word & then you can add additional explanations, evidence citations or a timeline, if you like.
For more information, see these links or the book below. Even if you don't want to use a computer programme, check out GenoPro's website as their tutorials could be helpful. Apparently, GenoPro is a Canadian company. Better & better!
"GenoPro 1.91b", an overview of the programme, by Mark Lang, Family Tree Magazine, (the U.K. one), Connect Section, October 2004, pp. 48-49.
"The Genogram: A Great Way to Track Collateral Lines”, by Alice Eicholtz, on-line at
Ancestry.com, May/June 2003: http://www.ancestry.com/learn/library/article.aspx?article=8239
"Tracing Your Medical Family Tree", by Ralph Bishop, on-line at About.com
Genogram ‘Tutorial’, see the Introduction, Components & Rules. GenoPro website:http://www.genopro.com/genogram/
Genograms: assessment and intervention, by Monica McGoldrick, Randy Gerson, & Sylvia Shellenberger. (New York, U.S.A.: W.W. Norton, 1999) See the Appendix for guides for genogram format, interviews, and interpretation.