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

September 06, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Looking in Census

Q: I have the address of 1934 Morris St. for my grandmother (deceased) in Philadelphia. She lived there in 1920. Do you have any idea how I might find the ED (Enumeration District) for that address? -- Lee

A: When working in the 1920 census, the easiest way to locate an individual is to work with the Soundex. The Soundex is an index that is based on phonetics rather than exact spelling. Based on the surname, a code is derived. Like sounding letters are grouped together under the same code, so a spelling change of SMITH to SMYTHE will not affect the index.

There is an informative article, complete with the chart showing the numbers and accompanying letters, available on the National Archives web site. The Soundex Indexing System explains more about how to Soundex a surname.

Once you know the Soundex code for your grandmother, you can begin to look for her in the Soundex films. They are often recorded by head of household, with the family members listed under the head of household on the Soundex card. In some instances, where a person is boarding or not the son, daughter or wife of the head of household, then the individual will be separately enumerated on a special card.

Soundex films can be found at some larger public libraries with good genealogical departments. You can also get the one you need through your local Family History Center. These are branches of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Through an FHC, you have access to most of the holdings of the Family History Library.

While Soundex is the easiest manner to locate a person and thus the enumeration district, you can always use the city directory in conjunction with the enumeration maps published by the National Archives to narrow your search. For more on this, see Overheard on GenForum: Census How-To.

Looking for a Death

Q: I am trying to find the date of a particular individuals death, where he is buried, etc. He lived in Cleveland, Ohio, was born in N. Ireland in 1888, came to America about 1908, died in Dayton, Ohio, possibly in a VA hospital. If he was a veteran can I contact the cemetery association and ask them to tell me if he is buried in their cemetery along with the date of his death? Would the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland offer any help? I really don't know where to start. -- Helen

A: Vital records in Ohio are open to the public. It is possible that your ancestor's death is available online through the Ohio Death Index. You can search Ohio Death Certificate Index for the years 1913 through 1937. For years beyond 1937, unless you live in Ohio, you would need to hire a professional researcher or see if you can find someone who lives in Ohio that might be willing to do you a favor.

You won't be able to contact the cemetery association until you know what cemetery your ancestor was buried in. There is no all encompassing database of burials. Once you know the cemetery, you will then be able to contact the cemetery to request additional information.

Depending on the cemetery, you may be able to find out more about the individual in question. Some cemeteries have books in their offices with more information on the individuals than you would find on the tombstones.

You may also want to visit the Virtual Cemetery here at It is possible that a picture exists of the tombstone, or perhaps you can request someone to get a picture of it once you know a little bit more about where he is buried.


Q: Can you tell me why there are so many intermarriages within the Boam surname? And when did the U.S. outlaw this? -- Kathy

A: The United States as a country has not governed this. The marriage laws are found on a state to state basis. Most states have determined that the closest relationship that may intermarry today is second cousins.

Depending on where your Boam family resided, the intermarriages may be traced to a lack of options. As we research our ancestry, we often get to a point in the research where our ancestors have immigrated from another country to an untamed new country or region where only a few people are now living.

Those who have traced their ancestry to some parts of the American West or who have traced their family tree back to colonial New England or the South discover that the siblings in their family married the siblings in another family. Those individuals whom one could choose as a spouse were often limited to those of the opposite sex living in the town or county where the family was residing.

Such intermarriage is not limited to the United States though. Many countries, especially those founded by daring immigrants to a previously uncharted area had the same issues. Such marriages have taken place in Canada and other countries for instance.

Sealed Records

Q: My father was adopted by the only man he knew as his father. My father has since passed away and my grandmother has asked me to try and get a copy of my father's original birth certificate. What is the best way to obtain this for her? -- Cheryl

A: The sealing of records when an adoption takes place was designed to protect all the parties involved. It is now a hotly debated item though and some legislatures are taking another look at this subject. Some are even beginning to open the records or at least help facilitate communication between birth mothers and the children they gave up for adoption.

A lot will depend on the state in which the adoption took place. Each state has different laws. It is those laws that will affect the ease or difficulty of your quest.

In many states it still requires that you work through the courts. Usually you must petition the court to open the records. When many of the parties involved are deceased, it is sometimes easier.

You will want to visit some of these online avenues to find out about the specific laws and potential obstacles that await you. Learning from those who have gone before can save you much frustration.

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

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