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

January 13, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

How are They Related?

Q: I would like to know what the relationship is between my dad and his grandfather's brother's great grandson? If you could help me answer this, it would settle a family wager. -- Leonard

A: Families have been arguing over cousinships for generations and it is unlikely that this will change any time soon. Usually it is because the relationships can get confusing. Here is a chart showing the relationship of the individuals you mentioned.

Common Individual (Your Father's
Great Grandfather)
Your Father's
Grandfather
Siblings Your Father's Grandfather's
Brother
| |
Your Father's
Father
1st Cousins Your Father's Grandfather's
Brother's Son
| |
Your
Father
2nd Cousins Your Father's Grandfather's
Brother's Grandson
| |
2nd Cousins
1x removed
Your Father's Grandfather's
Brother's Great Grandson

Therefore, your father and the great grandson are 2nd cousins 1 time removed. Hope that solves the family wager.

There are also a number of useful relationship charts available online, including the following:

Looking for Virgil White's Family

Q: I am trying to find my family tree on my WHITE side. My great grandfather WHITE was named Virgil Orrin WHITE. He lived in Indiana. His sons' names were Roy and Brad. Brad was my grandfather. I am wondering how I find the names of Virgil Orrin WHITE's parents and grandparents. I want to know where I came from. -- Keith

A: You have a beginning. Now you need to concentrate on what you know. You know the names of your grandfather and great grandfather. Your message though did not mention whether or not you have had the chance to gather any records on these two individuals. Even if you already know all the important dates, like their birth and marriage dates, it is still important to get the actual vital records for these events. By getting copies of these events, you will learn additional facts about Virgil Orrin WHITE.

In getting your grandfather's birth certificate, you may learn the age of Virgil Orrin WHITE at the time of the birth of Brad WHITE. This helps you to estimate when Virgil was born. It is also likely that the birth record may allude to where Virgil was born. Armed with such information you can begin to search for additional resources and then put together the pieces of your family history puzzle.

In genealogy, the primary rule is to work from the known to the unknown. By getting records on those events and people you know about, you begin to get the clues to those people and events you did not know about. This is the only way to do genealogy. Unless you can show a consistent line of evidence from yourself back, there is always the potential for error.

You mentioned the state of Indiana. Depending on when your grandfather was born, another resource that might prove very useful to you is the census records. Census records have been taken every ten years beginning in 1790. There are records for each decennial year with the exception of 1890. The 1890 census was destroyed by fire. Some of the most useful, because of the amount of information included, are the 1900, 1910 and 1920. If it is possible that Virgil was living in 1900, then you will be able to find out his month and year of birth, his place of birth (at least the state or country) and the places of birth for his parents.

Missing from the Social Security Death Index

Q: I was wondering why I can't seem to find a record of my father, John A. SCHLESINGER on the Social Security Death Index. He died on November 8, 1970, in Eugene, Lane County, Oregon at the age of 64. Originally he was drawing disability retirement from the Southern Pacific Railroad. Eventually, the Social Security Department handled all the Railroad retirement claims. Would that be the reason I never see his name listed on the Social Security Death Index? -- John

A: The Social Security Death Index is not an index of everyone who has died in the United States. Neither is it an index to all those who have received Social Security payments over the years. The Social Security Death Index is an index of those individuals on whose behalf a death benefit check has been cut and mailed. These days the death benefit check is about $255. There are many reasons why an individual may not have had that check cut on their behalf.

One of the most common reasons is a connection to the railroads. For many years, as you have discovered, the railroads had their own pension funds. In fact, those who worked on the railroads had their own unique Social Security Number. The first three digits of anyone's social security number are a clue as to where they applied for the number. In the case of those who were working for the railroad at the time they got their number, it usually begins with a 700 number. If you haven't investigated what your father's social security number is, you may find that this is what his begins with.

If you are looking for possible records that might be of help to you, then you will want to read up on the types of records that were generated by the Railroad Retirement Board and by the individual railroad companies themselves. I recently did an article on just this subject. Railroad Records discusses the different types of records and offers some hints on where you might find records that help you to learn more about your ancestor, though in this case it is your father.

His working for the railroad is just one of the reasons that may explain his omission from the Social Security Death Index. Very often wives who did not work will not be found in the SSDI. Farmers are another group that very often are not included. This is primarily because these two groups of individuals were never paying into the Social Security Administration's accounts. Also, unless the Social Security Administration was notified of the death of the individual, it is possible that they are not aware that a death benefit check needs to be issued.

No Help at Home

Q: Can you guide me in my quest to research my family? My living family did not and will not talk about the family. Neither side of my family will so I am in the dark in seeking out my family tree. My family is from the Caribbean, Barbados to be exact. But I do not know if that is where they originated from. I know there is family located in Boston and New York, USA and England along with the possibility of Canada. Where do I start when all I have are last names, most of which I cannot verify? -- Mary

A: First, let me say that it is possible to research your family history without any help from the rest of the family. While it is certainly easier and nicer to have their input and family stories, you can usually trace a family line back despite the lack of family sharing.

If you are new to researching, then I strongly encourage you to invest in a book or two that discusses basic genealogical research. There are several good ones available. One of the better ones is The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy by Christine Rose and Kay Ingalls. You may also want to see what resources are available for you at your local library. Because of the Barbados connection, you may want to see if your library has a copy of Thomas Kemp's International Vital Records Handbook. This book includes the necessary forms for requesting vital records from all over the world. It will also let you know what records have been microfilmed by the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Some of these records may prove useful to you.

As was mentioned above, it is essential to start with what you know and work backwards. In your case this is more than essential it is is the only way in which you will be able to get further back in the family history. By getting your birth certificate, if you don't already have it, and then getting records on your parents and grand parents, you will begin to compile the family history. Each new document will hold clues to help you in getting additional documents.

While the research may seem insurmountable at this point, I can say that it is doable. I have done similar research on my father's side. I did not have the benefit of talking with any living family members on my father's side and I have taken a number of lines back to the 1800s and further, some back to the 1600s.

For some great online lessons, you will want to see RootsWeb's Guide to Tracing Family Trees. This web based lessons introduces you to a number of the resources you are likely to need and will help you in understanding how to get started.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns


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 rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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