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

March 02, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Connecting from South Carolina Back to Virginia

Q: I have a dead end. Seven generations back a Richard HOWARD came to South Carolina after the 1790 census (he is not in the census in S.C.). He died in 1831 and the story is that he came from Richmond, Virginia at the turn of the century. How do I link him to Richmond? If he died at 60 that means he was born around the 1770s. -- Robert

A: When dealing with an ancestor who has apparently migrated into the state where you now have them, you need to be sure to exhaust all possible records. It is important to be able to determine exactly when your ancestor first arrived in South Carolina.

If you have found him in South Carolina when he dies, then you have probably found him in a county. You need to begin in that county tracing back through all available records for that county including land, court, probate, and tax records.

It is also important to research the history of the county. Many of the counties in which our ancestors lived were created from prior existing counties. The family tree of a county can be as in-depth as your own ancestors'. The reason this is important is that the records you may need will be found in the county that was in existence at the time.

What this means for you is that if you have located your ancestor in the records going back as early as the county existed, then you need to turn your attention to the county from which it was created, going on back. In some cases when an individual arrived in a new area and purchased land, that first purchase will list them as being from their original state or prior address. This is the clue you are looking for to make the connection, which hopefully will support your information about him coming out of Richmond.

Help Finding Parents

Q: Looking for my great great grandfather whose son, Isaac Nathaniel FERRELL, tells the enumerator for the 1880 Princess County, Virginia census that he was born in North Carolina and so were his parents. Unfortunately, I have no county. They only thing I can think to do is to try to find Isaac's birth certificate which may have his parents names on it. However, I need a county for this as well, right? I live in Pennsylvania, so would rather do as much research on the Web before actually going to Raleigh for state archives. -- JoAnn

A: Many states did not begin to record vital records until the early 20th century, and such is the case with North Carolina's births and deaths. These same states often have marriage records at the county level going back to the creation of the county. It was through marriage records that widows could prove they were indeed entitled to their portion of their deceased husband's estate (generally known as a dower right).

So, a birth record is not going to be easy to find in your case. However, the first record that you may want to look for is an early census. Depending on the age of your ancestor in the 1880 census, if he would have been a minor still living with his parents in the 1850, 1860 or 1870, then you will want to start there. These census records have been indexed. And many of these indexes have been put on CD and online.

While you don't have the parents' names, you will concentrate on those FERRELLs that are listed in the indexes. You will also want to keep in mind any variant spelling, such as FARRELL. Even if your family swears that it has always been spelled FERRELL, that does not mean that those recording the records spelled it that way. Enumerators seldom asked how to spell a name, they simply wrote down what they thought it should be, based on how it sounded.

Once you have all of these listed, you will then need to begin going through each of the counties. You will be looking for a son around the correct age range for your Isaac. Remember to give yourself a little latitude of a couple of years either way. While we like to think that the enumerators always talked to someone in the know at the house, if your ancestor's family wasn't at home when the enumerator came to call, he was just as likely to ask about your ancestor's family at the neighbor next door.

Births in New York City

Q: I was searching for my grandmother's birth certificate. She was born in New York City on 20 February 1886. The Board of Health has no record of her birth. Didn't all births have to be recorded? I am actually trying to find out more about her parents and I thought the certificate would have their ages. -- Ann

A: While New York did pass a law requiring the recording of births and deaths in 1880, compliance with this law was slow and there are many of the earlier events that did not get recorded. This could explain why you cannot find your grandmother's birth certificate.

It sounds like you have her parents' names already, perhaps from your grandmother's death certificate, then your next step should be to turn your attention to the 1900 census. Your grandmother would have been only fourteen years old, and it is likely that she was still living at home. Fortunately the 1900 census was soundexed. This index will be easier to search if you do have your great grandfather's name, however, if you don't have their names, then you can look through the appropriate soundex code looking for a family with the right surname and a female child with your grandmother's name and age.

The 1900 census will not only give you the age of her parents, but it will also give you their month and year of birth. This was the only census to include this information. It will also include information about where they were born by including either the state or country of birth.

Missing Ancestors

Q: My paternal grandparents don't exist. The weird thing is they've been dead less than 20 years. My father is also dead, and I'm new to genealogy research. A search of the Social Security Death Index produced nothing. I know the names are right. I knew these people in my lifetime. What I am wondering is, since my grandfather worked for the railroad for years and received a pension from them, is that the reason I can't find him? Where do I look to find information about him? -- Kenneth

A: There are many misconceptions about what can be found in the Social Security Death Index. Many people think that it is an index to all deaths in the United States since the creation of the country. In reality, Social Security did not begin until the 1930s, with the first benefit check being cut in 1937. The computerized death index was begun in 1962 and is updated quarterly (however, different companies that offer this database may have a different cut off date). And as you have discovered, not everyone who has died after 1961 is included. There are many reasons why a person may not appear in the index. One of them is if there was no death benefit check cut on their behalf. Another reason is as you suspected, they worked for the railroad.

Railroad employees for many years had their own pension system and even had their own social security number to easily identify them to social security. I bet you will find that your ancestor's social number (if you know it) began with a 700. As a result to find out more information, you will want to turn your attention to railroad records, including the Railroad Retirement Board. To find out more about this, you will want to read an earlier column I did Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Railroad Records.

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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