Big changes have come to — all content is now read-only, and member subscriptions and the Shop have been discontinued.
Learn more
New? Start Here
Genealogy How-To
 Getting Started
 Getting Organized
 Developing Your Research Skills
 Sharing Your Family's Story
 Reference Guide
 Biography Assistant
Free Genealogy Classes
 Beginning Genealogy
 Internet Genealogy
 Tracing Immigrant Origins

Family Finder
First Name:

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

May 30, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Looking Toward Certification

Q: How do you become a certified genealogist? I have been trying to gain some insight into this but haven't had a whole lot of luck. -- Ed

A: The first place to begin your research on certification is the Board for Certification of Genealogists. Their Web site offers insight into why there is a certification process and the different types of certification available.

Depending on how long you have been researching your family history, you may want to look into some type of educational opportunities. There are a number of online avenues that will lead you to a variety of educational classes for genealogists. Some of them are connected to genealogical societies, such as the online courses available through the National Genealogical Society and others are available through universities in the United States and Canada.

The certification process begins with the application packet. You are encouraged to get this and look through all that is required for the type of certification you are interested in. It is a good idea to do as much of this as possible before submitting your preliminary application. Once the preliminary application is sent in, you will have one year to complete the certification process.

The application packet will include the BCG Genealogical Standards Manual along with the application booklet. This is only part of the final certification packet you must submit. Also included in the application packet is your preliminary application. After you have completed the majority of the steps in the application booklet, then you will want to submit the preliminary application. At this point, the BCG will send you certain documents that you must transcribe and abstract and then compile certain research strategies about.

Certification is a detailed evaluation of your genealogical knowledge. There is a reason they give you a year to complete the process. There are a number of areas that you must show experience, and many reports and essays that you must complete and submit. However, once you have completed the process you will know that you are knowledgeable in those areas of genealogical research.

Missing in SSDI

Q: My mother passed away in 1964,and my father passed away in 1987. I know their Social Security numbers. I can find my father's social security number on the Internet and Social Security CDs. Now my mother is nowhere to be found, even though she passed away in 1964. My question is why can't I find her name or social security number? I know both my parents' social security numbers. Why can I find my dad's and not my mom's? -- David

A: There is a big misconception about the Social Security Death Index. While you apparently are aware of the fact that the death index does not begin until 1962, though there are a few entries that precede this date.

There are other misconceptions though. The biggest one is that if the individual died after 1961 that they should be in the SSDI. The SSDI is not a countrywide index to deaths. There are a number of reasons why a person may not be included in the SSDI. By far the most common is that the Social Security Administration was not notified of the death.

In the case of your mother, it is possible that she never worked outside the home and, thus, didn't have social security. If your concern in her omission in the SSDI is that you cannot request a copy of her SS-5, this is also a misconception. While the form letters generated by those sites that have the Social Security Death Index do mention it, it is possible to tailor a letter and state that you are including a copy of her death certificate. The Social Security Administration just wants to verify that the individual in question is deceased before releasing the information on the SS-5 form.

Understanding Dit Names

Q: I am researching my husband's family tree. Most of his ancestors settled near Quebec, Canada in the 1700's. We have a great deal of information, but keep coming across the word dit'. What does this mean? Does it have the same meaning as nee'? This is making me nuts. -- Norma

A: Dit names are an alias of sorts. Unlike a true alias, though, dit names are given to entire families. The dit name helps to identify individuals and separate them from others of the same surname living in the same area.

There are a number of ways a dit name may have been created. The name following "dit" could have been taken from a surname in the military, a place of origin, the name of land owned by an ancestor, the full name or partial name of an ancestor, to name just a few.

One thing to remember about dit names is that they can be changed. Through the generations, names can be switched around, or sometimes one name is left off. As a result, when you look for dit names you must not only look for spelling variations but also variations on which names are used. You may want to read Genealogy of Quebec: What are dit names for more information as well as examples of different dit names.

Great-GrandPa Came Through Ellis Island

Q:According to Census records for 1920 my great-grandfather came here in 1905. I know dates sometimes get mixed up. I know my great-grandfather came here first before sending for his mother and siblings. I also know that my last name was changed upon his arrival, so my grandfather tells me. I've entered both spellings and then some and still nothing. Since he has a very unusual first name, I even tried searching on an initial along with his last name and still nothing. I've spent hours upon hours looking for him in the Ellis Island web site but haven't found anything. I know he existed and that the name I have is correct. I have a copy of his death certificate, a copy of the 1920 census page and a copy of his social security application. I'm desperate to find when he came here and on what ship. I know he was about 14 or 15 and no one in my family seems to know who he stayed with or if he was on his own. Can you help me find him? -- Lisa

A: You are correct that many of our ancestors do not always remember the correct year of arrival, especially when the information is found on the census. After all, the enumerator did not need to talk to the family that actually lived in the house. If the family was not home, when he or she came by, then the enumerator was allowed to get the information from neighbors. So while your great-grandfather may have known his exact date of arrival, perhaps the neighbor didn't.

You mention that your grandfather said that his named was changed at Ellis Island. This is a big misconception about Ellis Island. The clerks who were processing the immigrants were actually working from passenger lists created at the port of departure. The names of the individuals were placed on the pages and an identifying card was placed on the immigrant. If the name was indeed changed, it was changed either before getting on board or after being processed through Ellis Island.

With that said, though, spelling variations of the surname are quite possible. Seldom was spelling the issue that it has become in today's society. As a result it is not uncommon to find spelling variations in all the records we, as genealogists, are researching.

The spelling variations are probably the biggest problem in your search on the Ellis Island Web site. The site requires you to put in an exact spelling of the surname. Unfortunately there is no way to specify a Soundex search on the Web site. This means that most of us will put in the more common spellings for the surname that we know and then give up.

What you might want to do is to look at the 1920 census again and see if your grandfather was naturalized. If he was, then you should get a copy of his naturalization papers. This should supply you with the date of arrival along with the ship he arrived on. Armed with this information you could then get the appropriate microfilm of the New York passenger lists, and would then be able to find him on the passenger list.

If he was not naturalized by 1920, you might want to visit your local Family History Center and order the index for the New York passenger lists. The index that begins in 1902 is a Soundex. This means it groups the like sounding names together, so you should find many of the spelling variations for your grandfather grouped together. The Soundex cards are arranged first by Soundex code, then alphabetically by given name, and then numerically by age of the individual. Once you find your grandfather, you can then turn to the passenger list and find his entry into the country.

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

Back to Top of Article

Home | Help | About Us | Terms of Service | PRIVACY
© 2011