I've researched one line (dad's grandmother) back to the 1700's, with very good accuracy, there's just tons of things on them. However, I'm stuck on finding a single iota of info past dad's great-grandfather. The story goes, Jim McNeal came from an extremely wealthy family, millionaires in the 19th century. He too had enough to buy several large buildings, land, the nicest horses, an early automobile, all kinds of things.
He ran off on horseback and eloped with a woman named Nancy Ann Ausburn. His father chased after them, on his own personal train. The equivalent of a private jet today.
No idea what happened in detail (might have been quite a story in itself), but he ended up disowning Jim, no longer even acknowledged he had ever had a son at all. This likely is why Jim initially (1900 census) listed his birthplace as Tennessee, but in 1910, he had Alabama listed, the same place as his wife was actually born.
Could this disowning be why I can find nothing on Jim's parents? Perhaps all records were burned? I do know that Jim was born in October 1862, and died of a stroke in 1918. I also have personally visited his and Nancy's grave, and have pictures of that, as well as a picture of Jim himself.
Very manly looking guy, I'd have loved to sit and talk with him. I may never find any more info beyond him, but I will sure as hell try. Any tips? I use ancestry.com, full paid subscription.
Disownining the 1800s was serious. Maybe less so outside of old blood lines, especially in the states, but it was very serious. Given the era, and the man's wealth, it would not surprise me if legal records were changed to reflect that James was no longer his sire's son. So until you have the sire's name, I doubt ancestry.com will be much help.
You're far from out of luck, however! You have alot of great clues you can use.
You know alot of facts about his birth family / sire.
* Millionaires during 1800s
*Owned a personal train
*owned an *early* automobile?
Not many millionaires in the 1800s US, fewer still that owned trains. And possibly named McNeal. :P
Historical automobile and train enthusiasts are probably your best lead to follow next. See if you can find lists of private train owners (perhaps from the Tenn/Alabama area?). You can try the same tactic with the car, but unless you know which car it was, you might not have much luck. Still, not many people could have owned an automobile in the 1800s.
I suspect you could read about your McNeal family history in the library, but their name likely is not McNeal. It was easy to change your identity back then without computers disciplined record keeping. Without knowing the family secrets it would be hard to find your great grandfather's true identity. I'd focus on the gifts and values he prioritized in becoming Jim McNeal vs. the ones he left behind and caused him much heartache.