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

August 31, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

From New York to Ohio

Q: Can you suggest how my Bavarian ancestor and his wife and four children probably got from the port of New York in July of 1837 to their destination of Cleveland, Ohio that same year? They seem to have made their way there quickly, as they are documented in an early settler's association as having arrived in Cleveland in 1837, and shortly thereafter were established in the business of brewing German lager beer. -- R.A.

A: By 1837 travel was faster than we may suspect. After all, your ancestors were going to an already organized area. By the time your ancestor arrived in the United States, there were roads that were being traveled. This allowed for a quicker migration from New York, where they got off the ship to where they settled in Cleveland.

By 1837, the National Road was completed. This is probably a little south of the possible trip your ancestor took. However, for many who arrived in the country in Baltimore, this is likely the road that took them further on in their travels, especially if they settled in the mid-west.

It is likely though that your ancestors followed the Erie Canal. The Erie Canal was completed in 1825 and it connected Albany in the east to Buffalo in the west. Once your ancestors arrived in Buffalo, it is likely that they traveled on Lake Erie or took one of the trails that followed the lake until they arrived in Cleveland which is right on Lake Erie.

Early Birth Record Options

Q: I am looking for a way to find out when my 4th Great-Grandmother was born. I have her date of death, being June 7, 1812. But I cannot find anywhere her date of Birth. I am working on this with several other genealogists in my family and no one can find any documentation on her birth. Is there a way to find this out? -- Marsh623

A: As you are discovering, vital records do not go back to the time period you are researching. In fact, for many, this is a darkened time period, where even the records that do exist seem to lack the necessary information for determining the date of birth of an individual.

It could be that you will never find a document that states unequivocally that your 4th Great-Grandmother was born on this exact date. You may be able to estimate her date of birth based on what you can find about her death.

You mentioned that you have her date of death, but not what records or resources supplied you with this information. It could be that you need to expand your search in this area. One of the resources that may supply you with the date of birth, or an age at death that allows you to calculate the date of birth is the tombstone. If you have not found this yet, you will want to put some effort into it.

Another aspect that directly affects this research is the region where your ancestor lived and died. Records vary greatly from state to state. The New England states, for instance, often have birth and death records back into the 1600s. Other states did not begin to record these records until much later, usually the latter half of the 1800s.

Clearing the Confusion

Q: I am so confused. I have no idea how to trace my family history and find out who my ancestors are and who I am related to. I was wondering if you could tell me how? -- Jennifer

A: Researching your family history is very much like putting together a 1000-piece puzzle. When you dump out all the pieces it is overwhelming and confusing.

When you put the puzzle together, you first begin to organize the pieces. Those with similar colors are put together in the hopes that they will be used in the same part of the puzzle and go together. Similar organization is needed to research your family history. However, instead of separating the pieces, you need to begin by placing them on a pedigree chart.

A pedigree chart is very much a roadmap to your basic family history. The pedigree begins with yourself and includes a place for the names of your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Also you will have spaces where you can record the dates and places for births, marriages and deaths.

It is also a good idea to read up a little on the process. You can find a number of good web sites with information on getting started. These include:

There are also a number of good books that you can find that will help you get started. A trip to the local bookstore or to Amazon.com will reveal a list of them.

Age Calculations

Q: Are you aware of a method that allows one to calculate accurately the number of years. months and days between known Birth dates and death dates? Many of my old death certificates have such entries. Or better yet a computer program that can do it. -- Jerry

A: There are a number of different formulas that will help you to do this. And some genealogy software programs have a tombstone or birth day calculator built in.

However, I have found a couple of web sites that allow you to plug in the date and age of death and then the site will supply you with the age at birth.


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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