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

June 7, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Seeking a Passenger

Q: My grandparents emigrated from Sweden in 1892. Is there a way to check the manifests on the net without spending $60.00 for a book? -- Jim

A: I am not sure what book you are referring to. Passenger manifests, or passenger lists, as they are more commonly known as, are found on microfilm.

In order to effectively locate the passenger list in question, it is necessary to determine which port your ancestor came through upon his arrival in the United States. There were many ports in the United States and many along the Eastern coastline.

It is likely that your ancestor probably came through one of the three main ports along the east. In addition to the well-known Ellis Island, which opened in 1892, replacing Castle Garden as the place of entry for New York City, two other possible ports are Baltimore, Maryland and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

If your ancestor came through Ellis Island, you will need to do some more research to narrow your search period. Many ships came through the Ellis Island port in a given year. Unfortunately, 1892 is still within the fifty-year gap from 1846 to 1897 that was not indexed as part of the WPA projects. Additional information that would help in narrowing the search include the exact date of arrival and the name of the ship.

If your ancestor came through either Baltimore or Philadelphia, then the records for 1892 have been indexed.

These records are available on microfilm. You can get them through your local Family History Center. A Family History Center is a branch of the Family History Library out in Salt Lake City. Through the branches, located in local chapels of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you have access to most of the microform holdings of the Family History Library.

Also, while it is generally quite busy, the Ellis Island Records project is another option. According to information posted, you can search a database of 22 million immigrants who passed through Ellis Island from 1892 through 1924.

Degrees of Relationship

Q: Please explain again how you define 4th cousins twice removed? -- Norman

A: Degrees of relationship are sometimes a little difficult to perceive, especially if you are new to such extensive relationships. Most of us stop when we reach first cousins. It is only genealogists that begin to delve into the tangled relationships that go beyond the immediate family.

First a look at the generations of cousinship. In your example above, fourth cousins, you begin counting from the common ancestor. The common ancestor is generation zero. Generation one are the two siblings from which the individuals descend. Generation two are the grandchildren of the common ancestor and they are first cousins to each other. Their children, the third generation, are second cousins. Two more generations are required to get to the fourth cousins. So, from the common ancestor to the fourth cousins, is five generations.

There are times when one descent continues for more generations than the other. When one side is longer than the other, this is where you begin counting removeds. For each additional generation that the one side needs to reach the final person in question, you add one removed. So, in your example above, there were two additional generations on one side before reaching the final individual.

There are charts that have been designed that allow you to follow a row and a column, until the two meet. This is an easy way to figure out the relationship between two individuals, provided the chart extends the necessary number of generations for both generations.

In addition to these charts available online, most genealogy programs are now equipped with the ability to determine the relationship between two selected individuals. Provided that the common ancestor has been entered along with the lineage of each selected individual to that common ancestor, the computer will be able to tell you what the relationship is.

Getting Started Online

Q: I have one simple question, if you don't mind. How does one get started searching for family records on the Internet? -- Linda

A: Every day we discover more and more information on the Internet. Through this vast amount of information, it is easy for us to forget that not everything we need is available online. I mention this right up front to remind us all that while there is a lot online, what is available is far from complete. There is much that will probably never be available online.

To use the Internet effectively, you must first understand how best to find Web sites that might prove useful in your research. Directories, such as Cyndi's List, Genealogy.com, and search engines, such as AltaVista are your first step.

Directories arrange the links in some fashion. The links are usually alphabetical by the title of the Web site, but then they may be further arranged under category headings. Search engines allow you to enter your criteria and then display a list of links that included the words, phrases or other conditions you placed on the search.

Of course, in order to use either of these tools effectively, you must first have a research plan. Which ancestor are you going to search for? What do you know about that ancestor already? It is not effective to simply find a site, such as Genealogy.com's World Family Tree, and plug in the name of an ancestor when you know little else.

Also, it is important to understand the types of resources that are likely to be found online. In most instances, the Web sites include compiled family histories or transcribed records. You will find few original records. What few original records do exist are generally found at one of the various subscription sites such as Genealogy.com. This is due to the costs involved in maintaining the original record in a digitized format.

What the Internet can do is offer you clues to further your research. Through online library catalogs you can prepare for a research trip ahead of time, thus devoting all of your time at the repository for working with the records rather than having to search the catalog. Through online databases, you can gather a possible pedigree to point you in a direction when your research has reached a dead-end. Through compiled family history web pages, you can find potential cousins and fellow researchers


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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