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

October 31, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Not an Original Birth Certificate?

Q: We are trying to research the my husband's family tree (in particular, his father's side of the family). My father-in-law passed away last year and he was the only known relative on that side. When he was alive, he said that although he knew who his mother was, he wasn't raised by her. He also said he never met his father. After he died, we got a copy of his birth certificate from my mother-in-law. She said it was a copy he had gotten in 1942. According to the certificate, my father-in-law was born on May 21, 1917 in Williamson County, Illinois. The strange part is that the woman listed as his mother on the birth certificate was the same woman who raised him. Another weird thing is that the age of the father is written on there as "50-some." Since this wasn't the original document, I sent off to the state of Illinois for a copy of the original and received the exact same certificate that we already had! This certificate is the only shred of evidence we have of my husband's "would be" grandparents. It tells which state each of them was born in, but no cities or counties are given. I have searched for birth records, SSDI records, cemetery records, and online census records to haven't been able to find anything. -- Dana

A: First, it sounds like one of two things has happened when it comes to the birth record of your father-in-law. Either he had a delayed birth certificate filed or the original has been sealed and replaced by an amended certificate. Each option offers a different scenario to explain how that record is now the only record you have.

If the birth record was a delayed birth certificate, then it is possible that a birth record was never filed for your father-in-law when he was born. Illinois counties are usually pretty good about the recording of births and deaths, especially by the early 1900s. Most counties were recording their birth records in 1877 and kept pretty good records. Usually delayed birth certificates are stamped as such, and they include affidavits from those supporting the claims of the person for whom the delayed birth certificate was created.

Your message wasn't clear if you had written to the state office of vital statistics or the county courthouse for Williamson County, Illinois. It is possible that the county courthouse has a different birth record, though this is conjecture. One way to investigate this further is to visit your local Family History Center and order the birth index for Williamson County. The index from 1877 to 1966 is available on microfilm. The actual volumes of birth records are also available on microfilm from 1877 to 1917. So it is possible that you can find another birth record for your father-in-law this way.

If the original certificate has been sealed and this one with the 1942 date has replaced it then you may be unable to find another certificate. I suspect this is less likely, though, given the story shared by your mother-in-law.

There may be other records that could help you with this search, though they are likely to be offline searches. The indexes to the census records that are available online are usually limited to the head of the household. You might want to try looking for your father-in-law in the 1920 Soundex and see if perhaps as a three year old he was still living with his biological mother. This may require looking through all of the cards for the surname of your father-in-law, to see if you can locate the child in question. This of course assumes his surname did not change when he was raised by the other woman.

Another approach is to look for potential guardianship records. If the woman who raised your father-in-law took legal responsibility for him, it is likely that there is some sort of a record appointing her as his guardian. These are often found at the county level, though they may not be available on microfilm.

Researching Sarah Ann Cook

Q: I have been trying without success to find the parents of Sarah Ann Cook. She was married to Daniel Thomas Lavoie, who was born November 1, 1899 in Nouvelle, Bonaventure, Quebec. They had four other children. Leonard born 1917, Kathleen born 1923, Theresa born September 12, 1928, and Vera born 1926. All of them were born in England. It is understood that one or both of Sarah Ann`s parents were Iroquois Native Americans. As an adoptee, my knowledge is a little sketchy, so it would be very helpful if you could point me in the right direction. -- Peter

A: Based on the information you have described it appears that Daniel and Sarah were living in Quebec, where they met and married, and then moved to England. I have made this assumption based on the information about where Daniel was born and about Sarah's parents. There are a couple of resources to search, though, both in Quebec and in England in search of the marriage of Sarah to Daniel.

It looks like Daniel Thomas Lavoie was born to Alexandre Lavoie and Marie Anne Esther Fallu who themselves were born and married in Bonaventure County, Quebec. It appears that the family had strong ties to the area. So it is likely that this is indeed where Daniel met Sarah and where they married. Based on the information you supplied, it is unclear why the family moved to England, but it looks like your first search for a marriage records should begin in Quebec.

A search of the Family History Library Catalog for Nouvelle, Bonaventure, Quebec did not reveal Catholic parish records that go into the 1900s. This is not unusual, though, since most of the church records that have been microfilmed by the Family History Library end in 1900. There is a book for Nouvelle though that lists baptisms, marriages, and burials from 1869 to 1970. It is possible your Daniel's marriage might be listed in this book. Usually when it comes to abstracts of marriage the parents' names are listed in such books. The book is Bona Arsenault's Les Registres de Nouvelle (Saint Jean L'Evangeliste), 1869-1970: Incluant les Actes Religieux de St Jean de Brébeuf

Unfortunately, while other counties in Quebec have county wide lists of marriages, Bonaventure does not appear to have this available through the Family History Library either in book or microfilm versions. In order to access the above book of Nouvelle baptisms, marriages, and burials, you will either have to find the book at a local library, get the book through interlibrary loan through your local library, hire a professional researcher or research firm in Salt Lake City to access the book for you and get you the copies you may need from it.

Another possibility is the available records through the New England Historic Genealogical Society's library. While you would need to access their records in person or through a professional genealogist, they have many records relating to French Canadian research.

While unlikely, the other place in which you can search for a marriage of Daniel is through the Index to Civil Registration for England and Wales. You would need to search for both Daniel and Sarah and be sure they appeared on the same page. There are two marriages per page, but usually if you find the husband and wife you want listed for the same volume and page, it is a safe bet that the record is the one you want. The index is available on microfilm through 1981 through your Family History Center. If you find Daniel and Sarah in the index, you would then need to contact England's Public Record Office to order the record needed. The English marriage record will list Sarah's father's name and occupation, but not her mother's.

Record of a Death by Train

Q: I'm searching for records on my great-grandfather who was supposedly killed by a train in Katy, Texas somewhere after 1902. The story goes that he was buried by the tracks where he was killed, which I find strange. Shouldn't there be a record of his death somewhere? Also supposedly a telegram was sent notifying the relatives of his demise, since my great-grandmother was killed sometime in 1902, and the minor children were left the farm. I'm trying to clear this up for my 80 year old mother. -- Theresa

A: There are a couple of repositories that you will want to investigate. The first is the Family History Library, through your local Family History Center, and the second is the newspaper for the town of Katy.

The Family History Library has microfilmed death records for Texas, as found in the state vital records office, from 1903 through 1975. An index to the 1903 to 1945 death records is also available on microfilm, arranged alphabetically by surname on 15 rolls. If a death certificate was filed for your great-grandfather, it is likely that you can find it using these resources. It should have a coroner's involvement because of the nature of the death.

The other option is to investigate the newspaper records for the time in question. Your first stop would be the town of Katy. Katy is in the county of Harris and has The Katy Times. You will want to contact them to see if they have an archive of their past issues that goes back to 1902 or thereabouts. If they don't, they may be able to tell you what newspaper was in existence at that time and where it is available now so that you can either view the newspapers yourself or hire someone to view them for you. You can contact the newspaper at

The Katy Times
PO Box 678
Katy, TX 77492-0678

Another repository that might hold the newspapers you need could be the Texas State Library. They have some Texas newspapers available on microfilm. It might be possible to get the microfilmed newspapers through Interlibrary loan through your local public library. Interlibrary loan offers a way to get books and microfilm from other libraries for use in your local public library for a set amount of time. Generally interlibrary loan means you must use the book or microfilm on the library's premises, you cannot check it out like would other books for use in your home.

Finally, there are two published resources that might give you additional information about the availability of newspapers both on microfilm and through the publisher of the newspaper.

  • Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media lists current media published in the United States and Canada along with radio, television and cable companies. The directory offers contact information and date of first publication, which would help you in your search for possible newspapers published at the time of the event.
  • Newspapers in Microform, United States, 1948-1983 offers a list of a variety of newspapers that are available on microfilm. Pay no attention to the years of the title as the newspapers included are not limited to those years. This volume will supply you with the years of the newspaper available on microfilm and where you can find those microfilm.

Missing U.K. Birth Certificate

Q: I have my grandmother's death certificate and it says she was born in Southampton, U.K on March 6, 1884. When I wrote to the B.D.M. in London, they said they cannot find it. Do you have any suggestions as to how I can find it. -- Lindsay

A: While it is possible that no birth certificate exists for your grandmother, there is something you can do first to assure yourself of this possibility. I know I always feel better when I have exhausted the possibilities myself because I can then say that I have searched for any variant spellings and feel more confident that I really have exhausted the record in question.

What you will want to do is to visit your local Family History Center and order the appropriate microfilms of the Index of Civil Registration for England and Wales. The index is divided into quarters, March, June, September and December. You will find for 1884 that the quarters ending in March and June are found on the same film, FHL #951128. You will want to look at both quarters given the date of birth of your grandmother. It is possible that her parents didn't record her birth until April, which would put her in the next quarter.

If it were me, and I didn't find her listed in the year suspected, I would probably look at the index for two years before and two years after the date listed on your grandmother's death certificate. While we often accept the date of birth as found on the death certificate, there is always the possibility that there is an error in the date as recorded since the informant was usually not present at the time of the birth of the individual and is only passing on what he or she has been told. You want to make sure you have exhausted all possibilities before saying for sure that the birth record is not there.

If it turns out that the birth record is indeed not in the civil registration records, you might see if you can find a church baptism alternative. You would need to determine what parishes are in Southampton and the work from one to another. Not all of them are microfilmed, though, so you may need to find out more by visiting the Genuki Web site. You may find a researcher willing to do look ups or who has some suggestions for you.

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

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