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

September 19, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Researching 20th Century Ancestors

Q: I am looking into finding my ancestors and having no luck on the Internet. I'm looking under my grandfather's name Harold F. Turner. He was born in 1924 in Millbury, Massachusetts and he passed away May 16, 2000. I'm looking for my great-grandparents' names and don't know where to look. Do you know where I could get some information to get started? -- Michelle

A: It is not unusual to be having trouble finding information on those born after 1920 on the Internet. While we would like to believe that as genealogists we can find anything, the reality is that you are more likely to find information online for those who were born before 1900.

A search of the Social Security Death Index should reveal the entry for Harold. When I did the search I discovered that the Social Security Administration has Harold's date of birth as 4 Jun 1923. If you have been putting in 1924 as the year of birth and his death date as well, this could explain why you have not been able to find him.

Because you do not have his parents' names, and the 1930 census is not Soundexed for the state of Massachusetts, I would suggest that you write away for your grandfather's SS-5 form. This is the form he filled out to get his social security number and it will list his parents' names.

Many web sites offer a form letter for requesting the copy of the SS-5 form. However, you could write to them yourself. It is just important to remember to point out that you located your grandfather in the Social Security Death Index. You will need to supply them with your grandfather's full name, his social security number, his birth date and his death date. Send the letter to:

Social Security Administration
Office of Central Records Operations
Attention: FOIA Workgroup
PO Box 17772
300 N. Greene Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21290

It takes anywhere from two to eight weeks to get the copy back.

Farming in Minnesota

Q: My great-grand aunt was born in Ireland shortly after 1835. She went to Minnesota and spent years farming there. She also had a niece born 1866 in Ireland who joined her in America for about 17 years. Both returned to Ireland where they later died. Could you help me locate these farmlands in Minnesota and where I could get some information? -- John

A: If you haven't done so already, you will want to search the 1880 census index on CD-ROM by the Family History Library to see if you can find your great-grand aunt and her niece listed. The census is your best approach to finding these family members.

Most of the Irish immigrants to the United States seemed to settle in the North Atlantic states. In 1860, Irish made up 12 percent of Minnesota's population. When compared to the rest of the country this number was rather small, but compared to the rest of the population in Minnesota the Irish were second only to the Germans.

According to They Chose Minnesota, A Survey of The State's Ethnic Groups edited by June Drenning Holmquist (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1981) the biggest concentration of Irish in 1860 could be found in the counties of Dakota (1,153 Irish born inhabitants), Hennepin (955 Irish born inhabitants), and Ramsey (1,903 Irish born inhabitants). A look at the map at Minnesota will show that these counties all share borders and can be found in the southeastern section of the state.

If you cannot find your great-grand aunt in the census index, then it would probably be a good idea to go through these three counties and see if you can pick her up that way. You might also look at the land records for those counties. Finally, a search of the Bureau of Land Management for your great-grand aunt's name might prove useful as well.

Non-American Research

Q: I am just starting to research my family who live in Canada and Scandinavia. So far, I am only able to come up with matches from the United States. How can I access other country's information? -- J.

A: While it is true that there is an abundance of information for those researching their American ancestors, there are also many non-American sites on the Internet. Little by little they are also coming out with their own databases, some of them free and others carrying an access fee of some sort.

If you haven't done so already, you will want to start by visiting the WorldGenWeb Project. The purpose of this volunteer project is to gather information about specific counties in the given countries. You will also find links to what is available online through these sites.

The genealogical societies in the various countries are also beginning to put information online. Of course, keep in mind that when you are dealing with non-American research that there is often a change in language. Some sites offer an English translation as well as the native tongue, but not all of them do that. Sometimes you can use the translation services of the various online general search engines to do a rough translation of the site.

For Canada there are a number of interesting databases available through including

Another place to look for such databases is through the appropriate country heading at Cyndi's List.

Understanding Relationships Between Cousins

Q: I am confused about relationships between cousins. For example, what's the difference between "once removed" and "two times removed?" Can you explain this to me. -- Lolly

A: Cousins share at least one common ancestor. Determining the relationship depends on knowing who that common individual or couple is.

When two individuals share a common great-grandparent, for instance, then they are second cousins. This is factored by counting the generations from the common great-grandparent. The first generation is the child of the great-grandparent. The second generation is the grandchild. The third generation is the great-grandchild for both individuals descending from the common great-grandparent. Now taking each of those generations for both people, the first generation the two people are siblings. The second generation they are first cousins (children of the siblings from the first generation). The third generation are second cousins.

When one line of descent has more generations than the other, that is where you get the term "removed." In the case of your first cousin once removed, the common ancestor for you is your grandparent. For your cousin that same individual is his or her great-grandparent.

You count in cousins as long as there are descendants for both from the common ancestor. When you are left with just one line of descent, you count in terms of removed.


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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