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

January 06, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

First Families of Virginia

Q: How does one establish membership in the "First Families of Virginia"? What is the criteria? I know my ancestors were there before the Revolutionary War. -- Dorothy

A: First Families of Virginia is the shortened name. The actual name is the Order of the First Families of Virginia. Like other such societies, it is considered a lineage society. Lineage societies, for those who may not know, are those that require you prove descent from an acceptable ancestor. The criteria on which an ancestor may be considered acceptable will vary from society to society.

There are lineage societies to represent such groups as:

  • Earliest settlers to a given state
  • Military service or support given for certain wars
  • Certain professions, such as tavern keepers
  • Mayflower passengers

As I said, each lineage society will have different criteria for joining. In the case of the First Families of Virginia, they will have a cutoff date by which your ancestor would need to be able to prove residence in the state. And based on publications from this society, I would say it is 1624/25.

The introduction to the third edition of Adventurers of Purse and Person, Virginia, 1607-1624/5, which states "Incomplete records do not permit a statement of the exact number of those who came to Virginia from 1607 to 1624 but it is believed that a fair estimate would place the number at one or two hundred more than 7,000. Of this number about one-seventh survived. At least when the muster or census of January, 1624/5 was taken, the number reported to be living was 1,232...."

You will want to contact the society directly at:

Order of the First Families of Virginia
5055 Seminary Road, #439
Alexandria, VA 22311

They appear to not have a web site at the present time as I was unable to turn up anything in regards to this.

Married in New York

Q: I have tried to locate my grandparents Claus H. W. DOSCHER and Wilhelmina PAASCH on a marriage certificate in either Brooklyn or Manhattan between 1872 and 1877. I have sent to the New York Archives in both areas and have been told that no record exists. All records show that they were living at either borough during that time frame. Where do I go from here? -- Ken

A: Unfortunately your time frame seems to fall in between two laws requiring the recording of vital records. There was a law passed in 1847 that required school districts to keep records of births, marriages and deaths. To say this was an overwhelming success would be an exaggeration. And the latest these records continued is 1852. Another law was passed in 1880, and that is the basis for the requirements today for the recording of vital records.

You may want to see if you can get access to Historical Records Survey volume, Guide to Public Vital Statistics Records in New York State (Including New York City) in three volumes. It was published in 1942 in Albany, New York by the Historical Records Survey. This guide includes information on what records existed as of the 1940s and where the records could be found.

In addition to vital records, you will want to turn your attention to church records and newspapers. These are very often the only alternatives when vital records prove not to be in existence for the time period being searched.

Finally the 1875 New York State census may be another resource that offers you insight. At the very least it will help to determine if they married before or after 1875. Among other information, this census also includes an enumeration of those who married within the year.

One final approach to your research problem would be to visit the New York City USGenWeb site. There you will find researchers concentrating on the areas in question who may have access to some of the resources you need.

Looking for Naturalization Records

Q: My great great grandfather, William WINTERS, came from England. According to the 1900 census for Yellow Creek Twp., Linn County, Missouri, he came in 1848 and he had been in the U.S. for 52 years. I can't find out where he came from, what port he came in through or on which boat he arrived. He died in Linn County in 1901. I don't know if there was a letter of intent or where he applied for citizenship. I believe he married first in 1850 in Linn County, Missouri which would be only two years after arriving. -- Paul

A: Since you have found William WINTERS in the 1900 census already, you have some major information at your fingertips. In addition to the Year of immigration and the number of years in the U.S., the 1900 census had another column under Citizenship labeled Naturalization. This column will tell you whether or not William had completed the naturalization process.

There are three possible abbreviations that will appear in this column:

  • Al - abbreviation for Alien (means that he never began the naturalization process
  • Pa - abbreviation for Papers (means that he was somewhere in the naturalization process, but had not completed it)
  • Na - abbreviation for Naturalized (means that he had completed the naturalization process)

If he did in fact complete the naturalization process then you will indeed want to look for those records. They may be the only ones that will contain where in England he was born. They will also tell you what ship he traveled on and what port he came through. However, the passenger lists for the mid 1800s are not going to offer you any more information than his name, gender, age, occupation, and the country he is emigrating from.

Prior to 1906 the naturalization process could be carried out at any county courthouse. As a result, the records may not be all in one repository, especially if William migrated from the eastern states to get to Missouri. So, it is important to be able to accurately display his migration from his arrival in the United States (or as close to then as possible) on up to 1900. Because any time in that period of time is when he could have been naturalized.

Naturalization laws have varied over the years as have the jurisdictions. A valuable resource for determining what court may have been in charge of naturalization records at the time he could have been going through the process is A Directory of Courts Having Jurisdiction in Naturalization Proceedings which was originally published by the U.S. Dept. of Justice in 1963. It has since been microfilmed by the Family History Library on FHL #1730286.

Ideally you will be looking for his second papers. They are the ones that are most likely to have information about his place of birth. To find out more about naturalization records, you will want to see Donna Przecha's article Notes on Naturalization.

Going Home to Ireland

Q: I will be taking my children to Ireland this summer and wanted to see if I could find any info about where my father's parents came from. They immigrated by ship some time in 1890?-1896 and came through Ellis Island. My father's sister was born in Philadelphia in 1897 and my father was born in 1903. Both of my grandparents died in Philadelphia sometime in the late 1930s or early 1940s. We have no idea where in Ireland they originated from or what family they left behind. I'm looking for any record which might have listed a point of origin - ship passenger list, 1900 census (don't know what was asked), etc. -- Don

A: Unfortunately your grandparents' arrival falls in what are known as the unindexed years as far as ships arriving in Ellis Island are concerned. From 1847 through 1896 there is no index to the passenger ships that arrived at New York City, which does include Ellis Island for a small period of time. Prior to 1892 passengers disembarking at New York City would have done so at Castle Gardens.

So, your first step is going to be to try to narrow down when your grandparents arrived in the country. This is done by first locating them in the 1900 census. You will want to start with the soundex for the 1900 census for Philadelphia. Once you have located the family in the soundex, you will have the necessary information to locate them in the census. And as was mentioned above, the 1900 census included three columns of information about citizenship:

  • Year of immigration to United States
  • Number of years in U.S.
  • Naturalization

This will give you needed information about the family. You will learn when exactly they arrived in the United States. However, because it is possible that they had only been in the United States for a couple of years, it is likely that your grandfather had not yet begun the naturalization process. You may need to locate the grandparents in the 1910 and 1920 census as well to determine just when your grandfather was naturalized.

Armed with the date of naturalization, you will then want to turn your attention to naturalization records. If your grandfather was naturalized after 1906, then you will need to contact the Immigration and Naturalization Services in Washington, DC. If he was naturalized prior to 1906, then you may need to look at the records in Philadelphia. It will be these naturalization records that will tell you when your ancestor arrived, what port, and what ship. You are also likely to find his place of birth in the naturalization records.

Some additional information may be found in Myra Vanderpool Gormley's Locating Ship Passenger Lists and's All About Immigration and Migration.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

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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