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

August 16, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Census Records Online

Q: Where can I find census records for 1910 census in Pittsburgh? Are there any online? I also need information on Kings County, New York in 1920. Can you help? -- Johnalee

A: The very nature of census records requires that a lot of work goes into the creation of digitized pages of the census. Census records are handwritten documents. In many instances that document is difficult to read, blurred, faded, or blotchy from the ink.

Census records are available on microfilm at many libraries and other repositories around the country. It is possible that you have a public library nearby with a genealogy department. Depending on the size of the genealogy department they may have the census films you need.

Family History Centers are another source for these microfilms. Since the areas that you have asked about are on multiple rolls of microfilm, you would probably have to order the appropriate microfilms (and this may require that you first order the Soundex films).

If you were hoping to locate a Web site with an index and the census on it for the years and places you mentioned, you may be disappointed. While there are both commercial and volunteer projects to make the census available online, these projects are ongoing and, therefore, not complete.

At the present time Genealogy.com offers a searchable digitized version of the 1900 census. You can search an index to the head-of-household first and then view the original census page in a scanned image. Currently, this is the only "complete package," so to speak, with the exception of some 1850 census records that have also been completed.

Ancestry has also been working on a similar project and has released digitized images for both the 1910 and 1920 census. Unfortunately, at the present time there is no searchable index. You already need to know where you want to look in order to take advantage of these images.

Due to the massive expense involved in the digitization process, you must pay a subscription rate to access both online census projects. If you have easy access to the census, you might wonder why you would want to pay for online access. For those who do not have easy access or who need flexibility, the online subscription offers the chance to view the census at more convenient times.

You may want to visit the USGenWeb site and then visit the specific sites for your areas. They would know of any available online avenues. They may also have some people willing to do simple searches in the census for you.

Searching for Brown

Q: I am researching my Brown family tree and wondered if this might be a link. This is what I have... Obediah Brown born 1806 / Fallsburgh, Sullivan, New York. Does this information match as being one of the children of your Obediah Brown that married Mary Barton (taken from your posting at Genealogy.com: Ancestry of Clara Barton: Fourth Generation) on 6 Dec. 1766? -- Phyllis

A: One method of research that many of us rely on is to look for similar names and then look for a connection. Generally this method works at the least in making us aware of the other families and individuals that share the same surname within a given area.

Usually for this method to be effective, there must be two ingredients. The first is the name itself. This method is more effective when researching an uncommon surname such as Standerfer or Sickafus. The number of possibilities is limited with an uncommon surname. Unfortunately you are researching a very common surname. It would be entirely possible for three or four Brown families to be unrelated and yet living within the same county.

Speaking of location, that is the other ingredient. Usually this research method is most effective when the individual you are looking for is living in the same area as the individual found. Again, in this case your Obediah Brown is in New York, and the Obediah Brown you have referenced in the Clara Barton tree was married in Massachusetts. This does not mean it isn't possible, but it increases the likelihood of there not being a match. However, the fact that Mary did die in New York makes the connection more plausible.

Finally, when doing any kind of research, it is a good idea to look into the time period in question. Obediah Brown married Mary Barton in Sutton, Massachusetts in 1766. Your Obediah Brown was born in 1806. That is a forty year gap between events. Mary Sutton was born in 1742. She would have been 64 at the time of the birth of your Obediah Brown. This is not possible.

It is likely that you are looking for parents who were born about 1780. This would be another generation removed from Obediah and Mary. Unfortunately because of the commonality of the surname, the relationship is unlikely.

Which Name Do You Use?

Q: I have a relative who was born Conway. His parents divorced when he was a baby. His mother remarried a Wilson. His stepfather adopted him and his name was changed to Wilson. He goes by Wilson. How do I record his information in our family tree (Conway), so that future generations can follow his line. His children are named Wilson as well. If this is not recorded somehow, the Conway will be lost in this line of the family. -- Gene

A: The loss of a birth name is of concern to many genealogists. After all, it is the identifying name that will assist a researcher back to the next generation. While this is often a concern in generations further back, when it happens in a recent generation there are special considerations you may want to keep in mind.

First, it is important to keep in mind the feelings of those involved. There is the mother and the stepfather who was willing to adopt the boy and give him the new name. They may prefer to have him recorded in the family database with his adopted surname. This is something that you would need to talk over with them.

If they do not have a problem, then the preferable way to record this individual would be under his birth name. You would then want to include an adoption event and include a note of some sort as to the name change so that the path can be followed.

If the family would prefer that he be listed with his adopted name, then you would enter him with his adopted name. I would then encourage you to include a note as to his name at birth and to the activities that led up to the name change. This way the information has been recorded, but you have also honored the requests of the family.


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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