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

March 29, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Getting Started Online

Q: Please give us some guidance to help us research our family tree. We do not know where to start. We have spent hours on the Internet but cannot seem to get anywhere. We know the dates and locations of birth for our mother and father. We also know this information for a few of our family members that are now deceased. -- Kim & Tammy

A: While it is true that the Internet is offering many Web sites devoted to genealogy, some researchers discover that these sites have their limitations when it comes to researching twentieth-century ancestors.

If your parents are still alive, you will certainly want to talk to them. Ask them what they remember about growing up. Write down the names of family members that they mention. Try to get an idea of how old they were at the time of the events they share.

You will also want to order their birth certificates. You may be able to order these online through While some states are allowing orders online, others have legislation that protects birth records for a set number of years. For those states, you may need to go through the county where they were born in order to get a copy of the birth record.

If your parents were born prior to 1920, you will also want to begin to look for them in the census records. If they were alive in 1900, you may be able to find them through's 1900 Census Subscription. If they were not alive that far back, then you will want to turn your attention to the microfilmed census records for the 1920 census.

Finding Families

Q: I have found the name of my grandfather, Barrett Ingram and where he died. How can I find out if he had any children other than my mother? -- Linda

A: In researching your grandfather's life, you will come into contact with a wide variety of record types. Many of these will hold clues as to the names and possibly the ages of his children.

Depending on when your mother was born, you will want to search the census records. A search of the 1920, 1910 and 1900 census may give you information about additional children born to Barrett Ingram.

Also look into probate records. If he left a will, he probably mentioned the names of all of his children in it. If there isn't a will, it is possible that the probate record will include receipts of a published newspaper item that mentions the names of the children.

You might also want to see if there are microfilms of birth records for where your mother was born. At the very least there may be an index to the births for the area. Usually such indexes list the names of the father and mother allowing you to perhaps identify additional children.

Early Immigrant Arrivals

Q: I am new to the art of genealogy searches, I am very interested in tracking my father's family and I've made it as far back as the mid 1600s. I want to delve deeper and try to pinpoint the day my ancestors came to Philadelphia. I think the family was a part of William Penn's party, but how do go about looking for ships and the travelers there on? -- Karen

A: Passenger lists for those arriving in the United States were not begun until the year 1820. At that time the government required that the customs agents take a list of those individuals traveling on the ships that stopped at the various ports. These early passenger lists only included the names of the individuals, his or her gender, and age. Once in awhile you would also get the occupation and the country from which the individual came.

Information on our ancestors that arrived prior to 1820 will not be found in a standard passenger list. You may find information in a published volume though. The best resource for this is the compiled index done by P. William Filby, and now available online through The Immigrant and Passenger List Index, a multi-volume work compiled by Filby is now part of's International and Passenger Records Subscription.

This multi-volumed work may also be available through your local public library if they have a good genealogy department. This set is generally considered part of the reference collection, and therefore is not allowed to be removed, you may have access to it without realizing it.

Massachusetts Research

Q: I am seeking birth and death dates for Mary Bass who married Captain John Capen in Braintree, MA 20 Sept. 1647. And her parents. -- Pepelegs

A: Research in New England, especially Massachusetts, can be made easier or more difficult by the great number of records and resources available. It is because so many records and resources exist, that it can also be difficult. Many families had generation after generation of individuals with the same names for the children. This can make it difficult to pin down a particular child in a family as definitely being the right one.

You will want to search all available Massachusetts resources such as those available on CD-ROM and on the Internet. You will want to start by visiting's Family Finder search page. By searching on your ancestor's name, you'll be able to find out what pages and CD-ROMs may include information on Mary Bass.

If you know where she was married, you will want to concentrate your research on that town. It is likely that she was living with her parents in that town before she was married. Searching land and probate records for BASS men may prove fruitful.

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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