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

June 3, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Getting SS-5 Forms

Q: I have requested several SS-5s in the past, but always with social security numbers. Do you know if it's possible to get a copy of an SS-5 for someone when the SSN is not available (someone who died prior to 1961 and whose d/c does not contain the SSN)? Just thought I'd ask before I send a request off to SSA and wait months for a response. -- Judy

A: Yes, it is possible to request the SS-5 form for someone when you do not know their social security number. You can write to the Social Security Administraiton, Freedom of Information Officer, 5-H-8 Annex Building, 6401 Security Blv., Baltimore, MD 21235.

You will need to include a copy of the death certificate as proof that the individual is deceased. And when writing for the form, be sure to request both the printout and the original SS-5. If you don't, you are likely to only get the printout, which does not include all the information from the original SS-5 form.

The fee for requesting the SS-5 form when you do not know the social security number is more. You will be billed for what they find.

Researching Common Surnames

Q: I'm new to genealogy and also computers. Seems that most of the things I see are for the USA. My grandparents (on my mother's side) emigrated to Canada from Wales, via Liverpool , England. I have my mother's and one of her sister's birth certificates from Liverpool and a marriage certificate for my grandparents, also from Liverpool. With the common names of Thomas and Edwards I feel it's a lost cause. What do you think? -- Yvonne

A: While it is true that there are many sites that appear to be devoted to research of United States ancestors, it is more probable that those researching your specific lines are not prominent.

While the Internet is a great tool for genealogists, it is still necessary for us to do much of our research using original records and microfilms. And while common names do tend to require additional time and effort, the pay off feels all the sweeter.

You mention that you have the marriage certificate for your grandparents. This should give you some information that you can work with:

  • Name of the bride and bridgegroom
  • Age of bride and bridegroom
  • Maritage status
  • Profession
  • Residence at time of marriage
  • Fathers' names
  • Fathers' occupations

So you should have an idea of when your grandparents were born as well as the names of their fathers. That is a great deal to begin working with. Depending on when and where they were living before marriage, you will want to work in the census records. While there is probably not a name index for the census you would be working in, it is possible there is a street index. By using the residence information from the marriage certificate you may be able to pin them down in the census.

Jamaican Research

Q: I am tracing my roots. My family went to Jamaica from England. The archives in Jamaica are not even in order. Is there any other way I can track it back with out the archives in Jamaica? Perhaps a book? Do you have suggestions for looking up Jamaican Ancestry. -- Jazi

A: There are many records available on microfilm through your local Family History Center. However, it could be that you would find a similar lack of order in the microfilmed records as you found in the Archives.

Because you did not mention any dates, I have included records from the early colonial time period up through current records. Vital records, or civil registration as they are known on the island of Jamaica, were begun 1 January 1878. To request copies of births, marriages or deaths you would need to contact the Registrar General at:

Registrar General
Registrar General's Office
Spanish Town, Jamaica

However, there are indexes to these civil registrations available on microfilm through your local Family History Center:

Index to Births, 1878-1919 (on 2 microfilm reels)
Index to Marriage, 1878-1930 (on 8 microfilm reels)
Index to Deaths, 1878-1930 (on 9 microfilm reels)

The problem with these indexes is that they appear to be alphabetical for each separate parish. This may have been what you were referring to when you said the archives were not in order.

For those events that took place prior to the start of civil registration, there are parish register transcripts on microfilm. Again, these are broken down by parish. They cover the time period from 1664 to 1880. There appear to be indexes to most of the parish registers. These registers are for the Church of England.

Bounty Land Records

Q: When I check old deeds (dating back to early 1800s) is there a notation on the deed or some way to tell whether that land was awarded to a Revolutionary War veteran as bounty land? -- Carolyn

A: You will not find bounty land warrants intermixed with the regular deed regulars in the county records. Bounty land warrants are federal records. In order to receive them, the soldier or his heirs had to apply for the land.

The warrant applications are separate from the final bounty land warrants. The applications are part of National Archives Record Group 15, a part of the Records of the Veteran's Administration. The land patents themselves are a part of the General Land Office (GLO) records. The researcher needs the warrant number, the acreage claimed and the Act used.

The original patents for the bounty lands as well as the other public domain lands are all in the Eastern State Office of the Bureau of Land Management. Over 2 million title records of the Bureau of Land Management that were issued between 1820 and 1908 have been cataloged and scanned. They are searchable on the Internet at the BLM site. The information supplied here is enough to order the land entry case files.

Once the patent has been issued and the owner of the land turns around and sells that land, it then appears in the regular deed records.

Getting Vital Records Online

Q: How do you find state birth records, death records and the such over the internet? -- Denise

A: At the present there are very few of these records available on line. In fact, for the state level records the best you are going to find is indexes to the records. The following states have an index to their records online:

None of these sites actually has the certificates scanned in and available. The closest is the Western State Marriage Record Index. The information they supply is very complete.


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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