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

July 22, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Was She a Widow?

Q: Nehemiah WHIPPLE was born circa 1750 in Hardwick, Massachusetts. He died in 1809 in Whipple Hollow, Rutland Co., Vermont. He married Sarah ROBERTS, born circa 1752. She died Whipple Hollow, Rutland Co., Vermont. My question is where would I find marriage records? No one has found Sarah ROBERTS' parents. I've looked in all books on ROBERTS and maybe she was a widow? Also, children were born. My Nathan was born 1794 in Vermont. I have cemetery inscriptions from Rutland County. Nehemiah's parents were Benjamin WHIPPLE and Hepzebah CROSBY. -- Gwen

A: The first thing you need to do is to completely document the life of Nehemiah WHIPPLE. I am not just talking about his main life events, birth, marriage and death. You need to trace his every movement. It is important that you determine when he moved from Massachusetts to Vermont. Was it as a child? Or was it after he reached adulthood? The answer to this question will greatly affect where you are likely to locate a marriage record for him.

The use of land records and tax lists may play a heavy role in this documentation. As they exist when other records, such as census, do not. Land records are especially useful as they often times mention those who lived on neighboring plots of land by name.

In addition to tracking Nehemiah through these records, you will want to keep an eye out for any ROBERTS that are listed. Just write down the information. Sometimes in order to pin down where someone comes from, you have to expand your scope and begin recording information on all those with the same surname.

You mentioned having searched published ROBERTS family histories and coming up empty handed. It is always possible to overlook someone in these histories when you don't yet have a good enough handle on the person.

Your thoughts on her possibly being a widow are good. In order to follow this up, you will need to better determine when she married Nehemiah. This will be aided by the searching I described above. Once you know where he was living at the time of the birth of his first child and a few years prior, you can begin to concentrate your search in those areas.

Keep in mind that vital records are not all encompassing for Vermont, if indeed it turns out that he was in Vermont before he married. A law greatly affected the Vermont records. The town clerks were required to record the vital records, and the cemetery records (though few of these were done) on cards which were then sent to Montpelier. These cards have been microfilmed and are available through your local Family History Center.

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 no. 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:

There are two associations that you will want to get familiar with:

  • 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 or 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.

Name Confusion

Q: My great great grandfather's name is listed on my great grandfather's death certificate as Charles. The information listed is my great grandmother. When I sent for my great grandfather's birth certificate, it listed his father's name as Robert. Now, I am really confused. And the worst thing is, there's no one to verify the information. What do I do next? -- Woody

A: This is an excellent example of the differences often found in primary and secondary resources. Primary resources are those records created at the time of an event, or shortly thereafter, by someone who is present. Secondary sources are those created at a much later date by someone who may not have been present. A death certificate is a primary record for the death only. All other information is considered secondary.

Your question also brings up the informant of a death certificate. This is an important aspect to a death certificate and can have a strong bearing on the reliability of the information. In your case, the informant was the wife of the deceased. However, even with this supposedly very reliable source, you have discovered a conflict in information.

Two things come to mind in this instance. The first is that the father's name was Robert Charles and that he was known by family and friends as Charles. This would explain why the deceased's wife listed him as Charles. The other option is that the father died prior to the son's wedding at the time of your great grandfather's death, his wife thought she remembered his name as Charles.

Depending on when your great grandfather was born, there may be other records to help you. I am thinking primarily of the census records. If your great grandfather was born prior to 1920, you have a good shot of locating him as a child in the family unit with his father. This would help you in determining his name. If the birth took place after 1920, do you have a social security number on your great grandfather? In which case, you could request a copy of his SS-5 form, the application form to get a social security number.

Online Research for Sweden

Q: I am trying to find information on my husband's grandfather and his family. They were all from Sweden. His grandfather, Hilding OLSON, was born 1 APR 1888. However, we do not know where in Sweden he was born. Are there any places on the Internet to find information from Sweden? -- Cass

A: If your husband's grandfather immigrated to the United States, it may be possible to locate his place of birth through records of his immigration and/or naturalization. These should be the first records sought in your research. As they are more likely to yield the wanted information. However, these records are not online. Prior to 1906, the naturalization process was usually carried out in the local county courts. In 1906, this fell under the auspices of the federal government and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Many of these records have been microfilmed, as have the passenger lists for the ports that his grandfather was most likely to have entered through. If he immigrated after 1896, it is extremely likely that you will find his town of birth on the passenger list, along with valuable clues to relatives left behind and those he was meeting in the United States.

As far as what you are likely to find online, there are hardly any records such as vital records that you can access online. However, there are some sites that you may find of use, in helping you to determine what records you are likely to be able to get from Sweden and what information you would need to know to get them. Some of those sites are included here.


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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