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

December 28, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Finding a Birth Certificate

Q: I am stuck on my Family tree. I come from Kent in the UK. I found my grandfather's birth certificate on my father's side. Can you please tell me how do I go about finding my great-grandfather's birth certificate? My grandfather was Jack Veal and my great grandfather was Tom Veal. -- Brian

A: Vital records, or civil registration as they are referred to in the United Kingdom, are a product of the 19th and 20th centuries. Some states in the United States did not begin recording these until the 1900s. Civil registration for England and Wales was begun in 1837 and for Scotland in 1855.

When looking for a birth certificate on someone born in England or Wales after 1837, the first step is to refer to the General Record Office Indexes. The GRO Indexes are available at The Family Records Centre in London. These are the originals and they are large heavy books.

Microfilm versions of these volumes can be found in many places, including local record offices, libraries, and the LDS Family History center. Once you determine which of these is closest to you, and that they do in fact have the years you need, it may be necessary to book a time period for viewing them. They are in high demand, and some places have a waiting period of a number of weeks.

Once you have searched the indexes and located your great grandfather you will then have the necessary information for ordering the certificate. There are a number of ways in which to get the certificate including going in person, hiring someone to go in your place, requesting the certificate through mail, e-mail, phone, or fax. For more on this, please see GENUKI's Civil Registration in England and Wales.

If your great grandfather was born before 1837, then you will need to turn your attention to the church records. This becomes a little more difficult as you need to establish the religion, then determine what parish the family was living in and then see if you can gain access to the records.

Prison Records

Q: How does one go about researching for a criminal record on an ancestor? A great Uncle of mine was a lawyer, practicing in Illinois (established) in the late 1800s early 1900s. After a yearlong illness, he moved to Colorado and for my branch of the family "dropped out of sight". Recently, a newly found cousin (granddaughter of a different uncle that was a brother to the lawyer) stated that it had long been told in her family that uncle Newt had shot a senator on the courthouse steps in Colorado and had spent the rest of his life in prison. How can I verify or disprove this? I know his death date, 17 Nov, 1949 and place, Pueblo, Colorado. -- Peggy

A: The first step would be to get a copy of his death certificate. It should indicate where he was living at the time of his death. In the past I have seen individuals listed as living in the nursing homes and housing for the poor. So it is likely if he was living in jail, that would be listed as his place of residence at the time of his death.

Another method for verifying this story would be to look at newspapers from the time. If Uncle Newt did indeed shoot a senator on the courthouse steps, that was news. It would have made the newspapers locally and even beyond.

Finding the court records if it turns out that the story is indeed true will begin in the county where the event took place. It is likely that you will need to go there in person to do this research, or hire a researcher in the area. In order to get the court record you must first locate it in the docket. Dockets are arranged chronologically. If you have found information about this in the newspaper, then it will be easier to locate it in the dockets and then request the court records.

Out of Print Books

Q: I am interested in buying a copy of the Sketch of Price County, Wisconsin by Col. F. A. Sackett, pub. c 1918-20, with photos by S. A. Johnson and C. O. Johnson of Phillips, Wisconsin and (photos by) E. E. Whiting of Prentice, Wisconsin. I am also searching for a copy of the Phillips, Wisconsin Centennial publication. Can you give me any help with ideas for finding these publications? S. A. Johnson was my grandfather. -- Liz

A: Looking for out of print books has become easier. Sometimes you get lucky and a genealogical or historical society reprints the book in honor of something like a centennial. More often than not though, it becomes necessary to look at book sellers that specialize in out-of-print books.

In the past it became necessary to seek out these companies through phone books and word of mouth. However, with the Internet, it has become a lot easier. Many of these companies will allow you to submit a request. Then as the company gets new books or goes in search of new books they will keep your request in mind.

Here is list of possible sites that you will want to investigate:

Many of the online bookstores, like Amazon.com, also offer out-of-print book searches.

Finding Social Security Numbers

Q: I want to obtain my father's application for a social security number. He died before 1954. When I go into SSDI there is no listing for John Holden from Killen, AL. I called the TVA where he was employed and they stated that he had to have had a social security number and that I will need it to get the info that I want from TVA. Please tell me what to do. -- Faye

A: The Social Security Death Index was begun in 1962. While there are a few pre-1962 entries, these are few. However, before giving up entirely on the SSDI, you may try running your search with just his name. It may be possible that you are supplying more information than the Social Security Administration knew when it created the entry on him.

The computer is too literal. It will ignore anyone who does not fit all of the search terms that you supply.

If he still does not appear in the SSDI, you may want to request a copy of his death certificate. In addition to the death information, there is often a space for the individual's social security number.

You can still request a copy of your father's SS-5 form, which will include his social security number by writing to:

Social Security Administration
Freedom of Information Officer
5-H-8 Annex Building
6401 Security Blvd.
Baltimore, MD 21235

The cost will be more than if you knew his Social Security number, at $15.00, and they may request a copy of his death certificate as proof that he is deceased.


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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