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

May 03, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Prison Records

Q: I have a deceased great uncle who was sent to jail during the Depression for counterfeiting money. How do I go about getting prison records? This would probably be a federal prison. -- Paul

A: Prison records are found on many levels from local to federal. They are also found under military jurisdictions as well. After you have done some more research, and determined where it is likely that your ancestor was jailed, you may need to turn to Directory: Juvenile and Adult Correctional Departments, Institutions, Agencies and Paroling Authorities which was published by the American Correctional Association in 1995. You may need to contact them if you cannot find a copy through your local library. You can reach them at 8025 Laurel Lakes Court, Laurel, MD 20707-5075.

Of course, first you need to determine where he was incarcerated. This is perhaps best done by turning your attention to the newspapers in the locality where he was living at the time. It is likely that such a trial was publicized in the newspaper and that you may be able to learn where he was incarcerated and, at the very least, when his trial took place.

If the newspaper does not offer you the information about where he was sent to serve his sentence, then you may need to go to the actual court record. With the dates from the newspaper, you can then seek out the court records. It may require searching the docket books of courts from the local to the federal level in the area in which your ancestor was living.

Looking for Tanners

Q: I started researching three months ago. At this point, I have very little to go on. I do not have money to buy anything to do the research. Could you please help me. Where can I go to do research for free? My grandfather's name is Jeffery T. Tanner, b.1895, d.1955. My father is Woodrow, b.1930, d. 1989. Grandfather Jeffrey married Lillian Sheppard. Grandfather Jeffery's father was Tom R. Tanner. He married Mary. Tom's father was named Isham Tanner. All were born and died in Johnson County, Georgia. -- Janice

A: While there are ways to do the research on your own, there are costs involved. Some of them are to cover the hard costs experienced by the different repositories that offer services, microfilm, or other resources. However, when researching on your own, there are ways to cut down on the costs and to space those costs out so that they better fit into the budget.

If you haven't done so yet, you will want to locate these individuals in the census records. You can get these records through your local Family History Center. Family History Centers are found in local chapels of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They are open to the public. While there is a fee to cover the cost of mailing the census record microfilm to the FHC, this fee is nominal.

I would suggest you order the 1900 census microfilm for Johnson County. This is found on one roll of microfilm along with the counties of Jefferson, Jones, and Lee. A line-by-line search of this county may reveal not only the family of Tom Tanner, with Jeffery Tanner listed as a boy about five years old, but also other Tanner families that are likely to be related. Also keep an eye out for Sheppard families as well. These may have a direct connection to Lillian.

You will also want to search the Family History Library Catalog to see what other records exist and are available on microfilm for Johnson County. You may find probate, land, cemetery or more. Each of these films should be ordered and thoroughly researched as you begin to piece together all the information on your Tanner line.

What Records First?

Q: Could you help me in the right direction. I am searching for my Markham, Terry and Pease families in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Also they were from Enfield, Connecticut. Many were born in Enfield. Should I try for birth and death records first? -- Dee

A: It is important when working on your lineage that you work from the known to the unknown. While you may know that they were born in Enfield, Connecticut, you will want to make sure you are not jumping over other records that would offer you further information.

If you have not done so already, be sure to put the information you currently know either in a genealogy program, such as Family Tree Maker or on paper forms including family group sheets and pedigree charts. Look to see what information you know and then begin to get the records to verify and prove this information.

When getting such records, it is best to begin with the most recent life events. This generally means searching things like the Social Security Death Index, and getting death records for those you know are deceased. Request copies of the SS-5 form, the form submitted when requesting a social security number, and then begin to look at what other records may help you.

As you get each document, cite that as the source of the information that is either on the forms you filled out or in your database that you entered. As you begin to cite the sources, you will see what gaps are still open, and this will help you to focus your research on the next records you need.

If you are certain that family members were born in Enfield, then you can indeed begin to write off for these records from the town of Enfield. I encourage you to request a single document per request letter. You will find you get better response this way.


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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