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

September 02, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Jail Records

Q: I am researching Enoch STEWART. He was born 1822-1823 in PA. He and his wife and children appear in the 1860 census in KY, which is his wife's birthplace. In the 1860 census, Enoch is listed as being 37 years old and his wife as 21. Their first child was born two months after she turned 15. The only Enoch STEWART that I can find in the 1850 census that is 27 years old is in Clarion County, PA. The only problem is that he is in jail for seduction. I don't know that it was actually a jail, the census lists the sheriff and his family and two men, one of which is Enoch. The other man has "swindling" where Enoch has "seduction." At that time Sarah would have only been 11 years old. Are there any records available that would show any details of such an arrest? -- Brenda

A: It was not unusual for the jail to be in the sheriff's house. When visiting St. Augustine, Florida, I had an opportunity to tour their jail, and it was a house that was divided in half. The one half being the living quarters of the family of the sheriff and the other half being the cells where the prisoners stayed. So, the scenario you described from the census is certainly possible.

Researching the arrest of the Enoch STEWART you discovered will take you to court records. It is not likely that these have been microfilmed, but do be sure to check out the Family History Library Catalog to see what records may be available for Clarion County.

Some of the records that you will be looking through include:

  • Dockets
  • Court Minutes
  • Court Orders
  • Judgments
  • Case Files

The docket books will be your first stop. They are generally an index of sorts to the court cases. As a case was brought before a judge, it was put on the dock to be heard. And as the case progresses, notations are made in the docket as to the status of the case until it is over. It may be necessary to visit the county courthouse to view these records. Some of the older volumes of court records have been moved to historical societies and archives.

Once you locate the case of Enoch STEWART in the docket records, you will then be looking into the other records mentioned above. This is truly the best way to determine what happened to this particular Enoch STEWART.

Do SS Numbers Go Bad?

Q: I have been trying to track down my grandfather's social security number and every time I have searched it, I get an error of "no match to this number." Could his number be invalid now? I have his social security card in my hands. How can I trace my line back further? My father and grandparents lived in Texas, though they were originally from Mexico. -- Pudley4

A: It sounds like you are trying to search the Social Security Death Index using your grandfather's social security number. Depending on when he died, it is possible that he is not in the SSDI and that would explain the error you are receiving. The SSDI does not include entries for everyone who has ever had a social security number who is now deceased.

Since you already have the social security number, you might try contact the Social Security Administration to request a copy of your grandfather's SS-5 form. This was the form he filled out when he first got his social security number. You can write to them at:

Social Security Administration
6401 Security Blvd.
Baltimore, MD 21234

For additional information on Social Security records, you will want to visit RootsWeb's Guide to Tracing Family Trees and read their lesson devoted to Social Security.

From Kentucky to Indiana

Q: We are searching our paternal great great grandfather, Jahugh BROCK. We were able to locate his marriage license to our great great grandmother Maranda HARPER, in Parke County, Indiana in September, 1857. The death certificate of his son lists Jahugh as being born in Kentucky. Same certificate shows Maranda being born there also. But the 1850 Indiana Census lists Maranda as being born in Indiana. I believe the census to be more correct than the death certificate. Where can we begin to look for Jahugh BROCK? -- Cathy

A: I have seen a number of families in Indiana that can be traced back to Kentucky. So don't discount as the possible birth place for Maranda. Your message didn't mention if Maranda was living with her family in 1850. If so, the birth places of the others in the family may shed some light on the possibility of Maranda's actual birth place.

While it is possible in your case that the census record is more accurate than the death certificate, I do want to point out that very often the census records are even less accurate. When a census enumerator visited a house in which the family was not at home, he or she could ask neighbors about the inhabitants of the house. So the potential for error was great.

Records that you will want to turn your attention to are land records and histories. Land records can help to pinpoint when Jahugh BROCK first purchased land in Indiana. This may hold a clue to where he came from. County histories may also hold a biography on Jahugh or perhaps a son, if he had any sons.

Vital Records from England

Q: Where would I find vital statistics for ancestors from Stafordshire, Burton on Trent, England? -- Robert

A: Vital statistics for England are referred to as Civil Registration. England and Wales started recording civil registration in July, 1837. Prior to this date you will have to turn your attention to the church records for the parish where the family lived.

Additional information about civil registration records can be found in a previous article Death Certificate in England which gives an overview of the available indexes to these records and how to access them.

Where Do I Turn?

Q: I have an ancestor's marriage, approximate date of birth and a birthplace of Tennessee in the 1850, 1860, and 1870 census records. All his children's names and approximate dates of birth, but nothing else. NO death date mentioned. Where would you suggest I start? -- Patsy

A: Depending on how close to 1850 that your ancestor married, you will probably want to begin there. You will want to search the vital records for that county. In addition to the vital records, some of the records that might give you additional information include:

  • Land records
  • Probate records
  • Additional census records
  • Church records
  • Cemetery records

It is tempting to jump back once you have located a birth place, however, the key to researching our ancestors is to work with what we know and take small steps.

Another record type that might help you in pinning down when your ancestor leaves the the picture, whether from moving or through death, would be tax lists. These are generally very helpful because they were taken every year.


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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