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


Rhonda is taking a break this week, so this week's
column features highlights from past months. Enjoy!

May 18, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Searching for Slave Records

Q: The 1860 Shelby County slave census shows Richardson BASS owning 4 slaves, from the sex and ages this appears to be a family. Where can I find when and where he acquired the slaves and when they became free? -- Pat

A: Researching slaves often requires that you to concentrate more on the slave owner than on the slaves themselves. If Richardson BASS had only the four slaves you mention, then he would be considered a small-scale owner. The records that you will need to concentrate on will be:

  • Deeds
  • Census records
  • Wills
  • Probate records

By comparing the names and details on slaves in these records, you are likely to determine when the slaves were purchased. It is very likely that the records you will need to research may not be available on microfilm. Especially in regards to small-scale slave owners, as their personal records, if they still exist, are likely to be located in the local historical society.

If you are researching slave ancestry, you will find Finding a Place Called Home, A Guide to African-American Genealogy and Historical Identity by Dee Parmer Woodtor, Ph.D. to be of great assistance.

Germans in St. Petersburg

Q: Where can I find out more about my wife's ancestor who moved from Germany to St. Petersburg, Russia before finally immigrating to America? Specifically, records in St. Petersburg area. My understanding is that the German immigrants to Russia data is housed in St. Petersburg but contains info on emigrants to the Ukraine, not St. Petersburg itself. -- Peter

A: When we refer to the Germans from Russia, we are very often referring to a specific ethnic group. This unique group was enticed to Russia by Catherine II, former German princess and then Empress of Russia. Catherine's manifesto offered these enticements:

  • Free transportation to Russia
  • Settlement in segregated colonies
  • Free land and tax-free loans
  • Religious freedom
  • Local self-government
  • Exemption from military and civil service
  • The right to leave Russia when they wanted
  • All of these rights were guaranteed to those immigrating and their descendants as well

The first Germans to take her up on this immigrated to the Volga River in the years 1764 to 1767. The next group would be those that immigrated to the Ukraine. Still others would be sent to the Crimea and Bessarabia. An important point about these immigrants is that they all had migrated and established their colonies long before your ancestor arrived. In fact there were so many coming that in 1804, a decree was issued that did require all newly-arriving immigrants to:

  • Have money and goods totaling 300 guilders
  • Be skilled in farming or some other handicraft
  • Be a family

You may want to turn your attention to Germany for records on your wife's ancestor. You already know where he was born. However, finding out why he went to Russia may prove interesting.

For additional information you may want to visit one of these links:

Defining Census Notation Marks

Q: I have a copy of the 1910 census from Shippen Township, Emporium Borough, Pennsylvania. On it is my great grandfather, Thomas CLEARY, his wife Margaret and their daughters. In the column "Place of birth of this person" for my grandfather is the following: "Is," "Ir," or "G" with a space and then the entry of "English O." Similar notations appear in the columns listing the place of birth of the mother. The father's place of birth is listed as Pennsylvania. The year of immigration for Thomas CLEARY is listed as 1864. All of the daughters have this "O" marked under the column for the place of birth for the father. -- Robert

A: One of the requirements of the 1910 census was to track more information in regards to nativity and mother tongue. In the instructions to enumerators, it was very explicit in regards to what was to be reported in columns 12, 13 and 14, which are the columns of place of birth for the individual, the father and the mother. In the instructions are found over twenty items that deal with the recording of this information. And if that isn't enough, it is reinforced in instruction #130, which states, in short, whenever a person gives a foreign country as the birthplace of himself or either of his parents, before writing down that country ask for the mother tongue and write the answer to both questions in columns 12, 13, or 14, as the case may be, in the manner herein indicated. And then additional guidelines detail how to record the languages and the countries. Some of them are as follows:

  • Someone born in Germany - Ger. - German
  • Someone born in England - Eng. - English
  • Someone born in Ireland - Ire. - English

This was done to distinguish those who were born in a given country, but had a different mother tongue.

Without seeing the actual page, I would not want to assume anything. However, if this was the only immigrant family on the page, it could be that the enumerator didn't want to write down all that information under the father's column for the daughters. So instead he used a ditto. In many cases I have seen just a single letter, a D in place of ditto marks or the word ditto.

Based on the information you supplied, it appears that Thomas CLEARY was born in Ireland and that he spoke English and he immigrated in 1864. His father was born in Pennsylvania, thus no additional information required on him, and his mother was born in Ireland, and spoke English.

How Can I Find a Birth Date?

Q: : I am trying to find the date of birth for my great great grandfather. I have his date of death, his name, and some military records but I cannot find the birth date George S. MOSES was 33 when he enlisted in 1863. He died 22 APR 1908 in Johnsburg, New York. He was born in Clifton Park, Saratoga Co., New York. I have contacted the bureau of vital statistics for New York State and Saratoga County as well as Clifton Park with no luck. His military records nor marriage records have the birth date. Can you tell me how I might find it? -- Michael

A: Vital records were not recorded in early 1800s for the state of New York, so you are unlikely to find a birth certificate for your great great grandfather. However, you may be able to find his birth date or enough information about his age to be able to determine his birth date.

Your first step would be to order a a death certificate. You have a couple of avenues in which to pursue this. You can contact the Vital Records Section of the New York State Department of Health to request the death certificate. At the present there is a 14-month delay for requests of certificates for genealogical purposes. However, there may be a way to speed this up.

New York is one of the states that participates in the Vitalchek Network. This means if you you go through their channels it might be possible to expedite your request. You can find out more about this by visiting their web site. The cost for the death certificate is $15.00.

Another possible avenue for getting a death certificate would be to contact the Registrar of Vital Statistics in the town of Johnsburg. They may be able to get the death record to you in a quicker manner.

Why such concentration on the death record? Generally, death records include the age at time of death (in years, months and days) and also very often they supply you with the date of birth and place of birth.

Finally, cemetery records will very often have detailed information about the birth of a given individual. The tombstones will have the dates of birth and death, or they will have the date of death followed by the age, again by years, months and days.

Once you know his age in years, months and days, you can subtract that from his date of death to come up with his most logical date of birth.


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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