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Rhonda's Tips: Genealogy Questions Answered
by Rhonda R. McClure

January 10, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Baffled by Erroneous Information

Q: I am stuck, a dead end. I'm still relatively new of course, but this is a baffler. I cannot find any background on my maternal grandfather simply because no one knows where he came from, etc. I knew him as William Earl Burton. I have his SS# and his death certificate which has erroneous information. It states that he was born in Indiana. But my Maternal Grandmother claims that when they were married (they have both passed) she found a papers of his listed under the name Earl William Blythe and that he was born in Ohio. I don't know where to turn. No one in my family has ever met or heard of any of my grandfather's relatives. Strange! Can you please help -- Cindy

A: Every so often we are faced with something like a drastic name change and no one to turn to in our effort to solve the problem. Basically what you will need to do is to research both identities.

If you haven't done so already you will want to get all records that may have his name on them. You will want birth records on all of the children. You will want to write for the marriage record. You will want to search for your grandfather in the Social Security Death Index, and then request a copy of his SS-5 form.

When requesting a copy of the marriage record, you may want to approach it as requesting it for your grandmother and then list both names for your grandfather, saying you have found records under both names and do not know which he married under. If there is an index to marriages for the county that are available on microfilm, I would encourage you to do the searching yourself. You will go through that index with a fine tooth comb in your search, whereas the county clerk, who has other things to do in addition to answering our requests, may search the index for just the names you supply.

The SS-5 form, the application for a social security number, may list your grandfather's parents with their real names. The SS-5 card may list both of his names. For instance, in the case of actor John Wayne, he listed his birth name, and then made a note that he now went under the name John Wayne. This may be the one document that proves or disproves what you have been told.

If your grandfather was born before 1920, see if you can find him in the census using the Soundex. Ideally you want to find the census that is as close to his birth as possible. For instance, if your grandfather was born in 1917, then you would search the 1920 Soundex for both Ohio and Indiana searching in both states for both surnames you have for him. If he was born in 1907, unfortunately you have a Soundex for just Ohio, as there was not a Soundex done for Indiana for that year. In this case you would want to search the 1920 census as well, as he would still be a child and likely living at home.

It is likely that if you exhaust all records always looking for both names, you will eventually put the pieces together and get beyond your grandfather and his name change in your family tree.

Looking for Family

Q: My father is a holocaust survivor who lost all his family except for one family, who moved to the USA. They came to the USA from Sutumareh, which is now in Romania, then it was Hungary. All I know is that they lived in the Bronx, NY in 1962. We have one letter from them with a picture of their 8-year-old daughter (I assume she was born in 1954). I think the parents are no longer alive but I am hoping their daughter is. The problem is that I don't know how to begin searching for her. I used the USearch services using her maiden name but they came up with thousands of names and she might be married and have a different last name now. -- Tami

A: If your grandfather remembers anything about the parents, you will want to write it down. See if perhaps he knows how old they were when they immigrated to the United States. This would help you with an approximate date of birth. Then with this information, you could try searching for the parents in the Social Security Death Index to see if you can pick them out of the possible results that are displayed.

It is possible that you will need to hire a professional genealogist to search published city directories in an attempt to determine if the family remained in New York, and more specifically in the Bronx. Some city directories include the names of the spouse, the only way in which this type of a search would prove fruitful.

Another possible method of researching this family, and finding out who the daughter married, would be to turn attention to obituaries. There are some indexes to obituaries, including those in the New York Times. A professional researchers who has access to both the index and the newspaper could perhaps locate an obituary for one or both of the parents, assuming they have passed away, and that may mention the married name of the daughter.

Unless you know a little more about the parents, it is possible that you will find yourself shooting in the dark or that the search will require a great deal of time and effort. If you are prepared for that though, you may find success at the end of the tunnel.

Understanding Online 1900 Census

Q: I was told to contact you in the reply to my online request for help in finding information on the 1900 Census. I have been unable to locate 18 out of my 21 families who resided in the U.S. in 1900. I have tried various spellings, but none of these families have been found. There are 15 different surnames, and a total of 62 people including children. These families are located in Brooklyn, NY; New York City, NY; and in the vicinity of Boston, MA. Is there some special way to search the 1900 Census, other than just searching on a person's name? Surely most of these people must have been counted in the Census. With 15 different surnames, they can't all be missed because of spelling. What should I try next? It was suggested that I try looking page by page at the Census for the desired county and state. However, I don't know how to retrieve by county and state. Also, for large places like Brooklyn, NY and Boston, MA, this type of search would be practically impossible unless I knew the District or Ward, which I do not know. There is also another problem with the search. Sometimes a Census cannot be retrieved by searching for a particular name that has been found previously another way. For example, among the people I have found are two people named Mary J. Broome. However, when I search on Mary Broome (or Mary J. Broome) only one of the desired names appears on the list of matches. The one found is a head of household in New Jersey; the one who is the child of a George Broome of New York is not on the list of matches, and can only be found by searching under George Broome. Both of the Broome, Mary J. names are clearly spelled on the two Census records. This led me to believe that only searches on heads of families will result in matches. But I have found matches for children in some cases! And then, of course, my main problem is that I can't find people who are heads of families! -- Barbara

A: First, an understanding of the index you are searching online. You are correct that the index is a head of household index. What this means is that the index lists those individuals who are listed on the census as head of household. It also includes those individuals living in a household who have a different surname from the head of the household. This could explain why you have found some children when running your searches.

When the 1900 census was indexed originally, and the source used to create the online database that you are using, the index was based on Soundex. Soundex is a practice of coding surnames based on phonics. Certain like-sounding letters are grouped together under the same numerical character. So SMYTHE and SMITH would be grouped together. Unfortunately, when working with a database such as the one of's 1900 Census, you have to try to come up with all of the variations possible for the spelling of the surname. Even something as simple as the given name Harry can be different. For instance, the father of football coach Vince Lombardi is Enrico Lombardi, from Italy. Enrico though goes under the name Harry in the United States. However, in the census, the name is written Hary.

If you still haven't found your names and you are convinced that they should be in the census, you may need to turn to the microfilmed versions of the Soundex. These are available at some larger libraries. This would allow you to see all the variant surname spellings together, with given names listed alphabetically. However, remember that in the case of a child, if you do not know the father's name, you will need to look at each family card looking for a child of the correct age. The Soundex cards used are either the family card or an individual enumeration card, for those individuals who are not living with their immediate family.

If this is not an option, you may want to see if you can get access to microfilmed city directories. These alphabetical listings would help you in determining the ward and the street where your ancestor lived. You could then use this information in searching the digitized images page by page because you could narrow your search first to a specific ward and then second by looking at streets before you had to concentrate on names. This approach makes going page by page through the census much quicker.

One Family File or Many

Q: I have puzzled over this question and been asked this question. Please advise. There are 530 individuals in my tree. Do you recommend a single file with the four grandparents, two maternal and two paternal all in one file such as Miller.ftw or do you recommend a separate file for each of the grandparents such as Orr.ftw, McFarlane.ftw, Miller.ftw, Kellett.ftw. I have tried both ways and need some expert advice/recommendations. -- Lloyd

A: The simple answer to this question is to do what works for you. Some people just feel better if they have their tree in separate files, such as you have described, one for each grandparent.

However, let's look at the program for a moment and understand what it is capable of. This may aid you in your decision.

First, size is not an issue. The present crop of genealogy programs are designed to handle thousands of entries. I know some people who have put together family files with 60,000 people in them. One name surname studies, or family associations often track everyone in a single file. So, if you think you need to split the files for space issues, you can rest assured that nothing bad will happen to your database if you have them all together.

Others split their database because they want to share parts of their ancestry with fellow researchers. Again, if you do not feel comfortable with a computer, you may want to have someone help you split them up as you describe and that way as you share your information there is no fear of sending something you didn't want them to have. However, sending a part of your database is easy to do in Family Tree Maker. Through the use of the various reports and the File menu, you can create a GEDCOM file or new database to share with another. The Family Tree Maker Knowledge base has an excellent article on this subject.

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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