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

September 14, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Missing from SSDI

Q: I have been using the Social Security Death Index for information on various family members. I have an individual's full name, birth date, death date and place, and social security number. I know that this information is correct because of correspondence with the National Personnel Records Center (Military Personnel Records). The individual served in the U.S. Air Force. With all this information I am unable to retrieve the individual from the SSDI. What alternatives do I have? -- Karen

A: The Social Security Death Index, while certainly extensive, is not the all-encompassing index to deaths in the United States that genealogists sometimes think it is. We are so used to the government somehow having a finger in every pie of our life, and death, that we naturally assume that everyone is in the Social Security Death Index.

This is a fallacy that often results in frustrated genealogists near and far. They are so sure that their individual should be in the SSDI that they just keep searching after they come up empty-handed.

While Social Security has been around since 1937, the computerized death index contains entries that begin primarily in 1962. There are also certain occupations that will not show up in the SSDI, including railroad employees and teachers. These individuals had their own pension plans and did not rely on social security payments and benefits.

While it is natural to want to complete all research on an individual, you have extensive information already on your individual. The Social Security Death Index would not supply you with anything additional. However, you can still get some additional information from the Social Security Administration.

With the information you have, you can contact the Social Security Administration and request a copy of your ancestor's SS-5 form. This is the form that was filled out when requesting the social security number. This form was filled out by your ancestor and will include their name, date of birth, names of parents and their signature. This is a great resource as you can then scan that signature into your computer and enhance your family history with the digitized image.

You can write to them at:

Social Security Administration
Freedom of Information Officer
5-H-8 Annex Building
6401 Security Blvd.
Baltimore, MD 21235

He Didn't Exist

Q: I am searching for my great-grandfather Windsor Castle McIlvain. He was either born on 1 June 1896 or on 1 June 1899. He was born in Johnson County, Indiana. His parents were named Thomas Mills McIlvain and his wife Flora Smyser. I know he was in W.W.I and that he was on a destroyer (in the Navy) and that he was a bugler. His birth record doesn't even list his first name. My grandpa's cousins swear it was Windsor Nathan McIlvain. I am not sure what they used for identification to get into the Navy. The Navy can't find records on him either. He moved to Oklahoma after he got out of the service and married Clara Belle Deshazer in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He had two sons but one died at 6 hours old. The other one is named William Mills McIlvain. It really seems that he never existed. -- Kellie

A: It was not uncommon in that time period for a birth certificate to be filed where the child was not listed with a given name. Unfortunately, as you have found this makes it difficult in proving your case.

You did not mention locating this family in the federal census records. The 1900 census, in which he would be either one year or three years old, would show him in the family structure. In addition, it would include his month and year of birth. Finally, it will list the number of children born to his mother and the number who are still living.

When combining this information with the information found in his birth certificate, it may be enough to prove that the birth certificate that you have is for this individual. It is possible that the certificate will indicate the order of birth for that individual. When combined with the number of children living in the household in 1900 and the number of children born to, and still living, of the mother, you may be able to make a case. Though I do wonder why the discrepancy in the year of birth. Did you find two McIlvain children born on those days that were not listed with given names in the birth records? If so, then the 1900 census would help you there as well, as it should show both children in the family, assuming they were both still living.

You do not mention how you are so certain that your great-grandfather was in the Navy during World War I. However, it is possible that his records may have been overlooked. There are some records, available on microfilm through the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, that pertain to World War I and the Navy, though it is important to remember that the U.S. Navy ships did not see battle during World War I.

  • Abstracts of Service Records of Naval Officers, 1829-1924
  • Index to Officers' Correspondence Jackets, 1913-1925

However, from the description you included, it is likely that your ancestor was not an officer. You may need to contact the National Archives in Washington, DC. They have in Record Group 24 "Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel" a few record sources may prove useful:

  • Index to Rendezvous Reports, Naval Auxiliary Service, 1917-1919 (T1100) is available on one microfilm through the National Archives. It gives the full name, ship assigned, enlistment date, and date detached or reassigned.
  • Index to Rendezvous Reports, Armed Guard Personnel, 1917-1920 (T1101) is available on three microfilm through the National Archives. It also supplies full name, enlistment date, ship attached, dates of service.
  • Enlisted Personnel Correspondence Jackets, 1904-1943; Discharges and Desertions, 1882-1920; Enlistment Returns, 1846-1942 are not available on microfilm. It also may be necessary to hire a researcher to access these records.

Finally, if you haven't done so already, you will want to get a copy of his death certificate. The information supplied on the death certificate should help in building the case as on your great grandfather.

Early Indians

Q: I can't find resources for Indians in the 1600-1700s . Would like to know the tribe of Lydia Karenhappuck born about 1679 in VA, married Edmond Basye, Jr. about 1704 and the tribe of Cynthia Ann Buck born about 1787 in SC, married William Biggers then moved to MS. Help on getting any early records would be greatly appreciated. -- Marjoe

A: Unlike the Europeans who moved into America, the tribes did not stick to single areas. They did not have boundaries to the land based on their tribe. They were migratory, often following seasons or food.

With that said though, a look at a map of Indian "nations" circa 1600 found in Mapping America's Past; A Historical Atlas, shows the following possible nations in the area of what is now Virginia:

  • Powhatan
  • Monacan
  • Mosopelea

Also unlike their European counterparts, the Native Americans did not keep written records such as the ones you are hoping to find. However, it may be possible to find the information you are seeking.

The best way to find out which of the tribes were in the area of Virginia that your ancestors were in is to read the county and town histories that have been published. Those published in the 1800s, especially, detailed information on the early tribes that were in the area. This was important information as it was these tribes that the earliest settlers were dealing with.

Remember when looking for published resources, that the smaller the community being discussed the more likely you are to find details about specific individuals. The broader the locality being written about, the less space can be given to specific individuals.

Spelling Variants

Q: I spent quite a bit of time trying to find information on my father through the Social Security Death Index, and finally checked what I thought to be a common misspelling of our surname and there was the information! How is that going to affect my search for additional information on my father and family, and how do I go about getting it corrected? -- Gina

A: Spelling has become a major issue in today's society. Based on how an addressed piece of junk mail arrives to me in the mail, I can usually guess at which company sold my address. However, spelling has not always been the issue that it is today.

What this search has shown you is that you must always search all variant spellings when searching for ancestors. You will know that you need to include this variant spelling when writing for records. You will also need to keep it in mind whenever you are working in any index or searchable database.

Before assuming that the Social Security Administration has the record entered incorrectly, you may want to first write to the Social Security Administration, at the address above, and request a copy of your father's SS-5 form. This is the form that he filled out when requesting his social security number. This could be where the difference in the spelling took place.

To have the record changed in the SSDI, you would need to contact the Social Security Administration.

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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