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

June 21, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Missing from SSDI

Q: I have a strange scenario. I have my great granfathers social security number (in fact I have the actual card), but every time I enter it in the Social Security Death Index I come up with no answers. My great grandfather, Raymond Leslie Miller, who resided in Norfolk, Virginia was a blacksmith. I did write to the Social Security Administration (or at least e-mailed), do you have any other suggestions. I thought about church records, but I don't know what church he belonged to. I do know that he was Methodist and had two children, my grandfather, William and great aunt Martha. I have also tried to search on them as well and turned up nothing. -- Debbie

A: It sounds like you are trying to search for additional information about Raymond, perhaps locating his parents' names. You had hoped to get some information on his date or birth and death from the Social Security Death Index. However, when you did a search for him in the SSDI, you came up empty handed.

There are many reasons why he may not show up in the SSDI. Some of them were touched on in last week's Overheard on GenForum. One of them may apply to your great grandfather.

The important thing to remember is that you can get a copy of his SS-5 form. That is the form he filled out originally to get his social security number. You can write to the Social Security Administration, at the address included in the column referenced above, and request a copy of that form. This will give you the names of his parents and his birth information.

Finding church records first requires that you find the denomination. One way to begin is to determine what denominations had churches in the area where your great grandfather lived. Another possible clue to his denomination may be the various fraternal organizations, if he joined any of them. Finally, look to see if there are any newspapers available for the time in question. If you can't find an obituary on him, you may find him listed in other stories that give you some insight into his religious beliefs.

Catholic Records

Q: How do I locate the name of a Catholic Church in Edgartown, Massachusetts, circa 1919? How do I locate baptismal records from that Church? -- Dsrtbtrfly

A: Finding the names of churches in any given community can be accomplished by turning your attention to city directories. Even the smallest of cities and towns have compiled city directories over time. The problem may be in locating them. In some instances, this may require contacting the public library in the town where the ancestor lived. Other times you may find the necessary directory in the state historical society or the state archives.

Once you have the name of the church, you will need to determine if the church is still in existence. This can be done by checking a current edition of The Official Catholic Directory which is published by:

PJ Kennedy & Sons
P.O. Box 265
Skokie, IL 60077

You may also find the address you need by looking at The Official Catholic Directory. You can find this directory at local Catholic parishes and some larger libraries.

The first step is to contact the parish church if it still exists. The records generally remain in the custody of the parish church. Understand that access to these records is left up to the discretion of the parish priest.

If you find that the parish church no longer exists, or you discover that the records have been moved, it may be necessary to contact the diocese. The addresses for the various diocese can be found in the above mentioned books. You might also find that the records have been deposited in a historical society, either on the local or state level. They may also have been microfilmed and made available through the Family History Library.

Finally, additional information about the Catholic church and its various ecclesiastical levels can be found at Local Catholic Church History and Genealogy Research Guide and Worldwide Directory. This site will give you insight into the records that may be available along with a directory of the various present-day parishes and dioceses.

What is She to Me?

Q: I've always asked my dad about one of my relatives, but he doesn't know how she's related to me. So I tried looking on the Internet and I found you. It's my dad's cousin's daughter's daughter and I wanted to know how she's related to me. -- Barbara

A: It is not surprising that your father did not know the answer to your question. Even in genealogy circles there are many who find this aspect of genealogy confusing.

Usually the easiest way to do this is to chart it out. On the left you begin with your father, on the right with his cousin. They are first cousins. On the next line, you would list yourself on the left, under your father, and on the right, the daughter under the cousin. You and this daughter are second cousins. On the next line there is nothing listed under yourself on the left. Under the right, you list the daughter of your second cousin. Because the right side has one more generation than does the left, you begin to count removeds. So she would be your second cousin once removed.

The above description is based on the assumption that it is indeed your father's first cousin from whom the daughter descends.

Making a Connection

Q: I am desperately looking for information about my grandmother's family. My mother told me she was an original dutch settler of New York, a descendent of Anneke Jans (1603) but I cannot find her. I know her birth date, where she lived, who she married, her father's name and her mother's maiden name, but I cannot connect it with any other descendant of Anneke Jans. Where should I look for help? -- Marilyn

A: Family traditions or stories are passed from one generation to the next. They are the equivalent to a game of "telephone" which many of us played as children. Invariably the sentence as it was told at the end of the game bore little resemblance to the original sentence. The same happens with family stories. While there may be a grain of truth, it is often clouded by the inadvertent changes.

Sometimes in our attempt to fit the family story, we overlook records or individuals who are actually a part of the family history.

Instead of concentrating on Anneke Jans, you should look at where you are on your grandmother's line. Concentrate on that aspect of the research. At some point you may discover that you are far enough back in your research to make the connection to Anneke Jans.

Unfortunately, research in New York can prove difficult. Some of the records that we rely on so completely may not be available in the time period you are researching. One thing that New York does offer that is unique is town and county historians. You can find the addresses to those that pertain to your research by visiting the appropriate county Web site through the USGenWeb Project.


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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