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

September 23, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Where to Go?

Q: I have no information on my family. I know that some of my family lives in Bucks County Pennsylvania. My question is; what is my first piece of info to get me started on my family tree? My father (James Francis Sharkey has passed,Where do I begin? -- Vince

A: It is important to begin at the beginning. You need to get information on yourself. Information found on your birth certificate will hold information about your father and mother. You will also want to get a death certificate for your father, if you do not have one already. Depending on who the informant was, you may have additional information on that about your father's parents.

With each record you get, you are looking for specific information:

  • Names of other family members
  • Dates of events you may not have
  • Locations you may not be aware of

Your birth certificate will have some information about your father on it. It is likely that it will have his age at the time of your birth. This allows you to estimate his birth year (if you didn't know it already). His death certificate should supply you with information about where he was born and possibly list the names of his parents. If it doesn't, then you will want to turn your attention to his marriage certificate, actually the marriage application. It is the application that offers information about the bride and groom.

While you may already know the information on your father, this is training for those times when you do not know the information. You need to train yourself in the methodical steps that you will use continuously as you move from generation to generation.

He Didn't Die There

Q: I searched the Social Security Death Index and found my father's name and his birth date listed. I called the social security department and they verified his middle initial. At this point it lists his "last residence" as Bristol, Sullivan County, Tennessee, date of death, August 21, 1995. I called all of the newspapers in the area for an obituary and none were found. I called all of the funeral homes in the area and none took care of the arrangements. I had the librarian look up old city directories for his name and address and none were found. Bristol lies on the border of Tennessee and Virginia. My question is: Is there any way to determine what state he died in located in any other place other than the social security department (who says they don't have the actual state he died in) WITHOUT writing to each and every state, accompanied with a check, for a copy of a death certificate? I have been searching for 40 years. -- Marlene

A: As you have discovered, the Death Residence does not always mean the place of death. The Death Residence in the location that the Social Security has on record as the legal place of residence for the individual. If a person is on vacation, as happened with my own grandfather, then their Death Residence will be correct from the legal standpoint, but will not help with the actual place of death. In my grandfather's case this was a matter of over 1200 miles.

Your message didn't mention whether or not their was an address in the "Location of Last Payment." Depending on where the final payment was sent, it may offer you a possible contact, someone who may know the place of death for your father.

Because he shows up in the Social Security Death Index, the Social Security Administration has received his death certificate. This is a necessity, they will not just issue a death benefit check based on word of mouth from a phone call. So it is possible that you need to contact the main office in Maryland about this.

Also, it is possible that the librarian may have overlooked the entries of your father in the city directories. You mentioned old city directories, which to me is further back in time than what we are talking about. However, you might need to visit this library yourself. Perhaps consider alternate spellings. City directories are usually in strict alphabetical order, and many people only look for the specific spelling they have in mind.

Born in Ohio

Q: My gr. gr. grandfather John HENDERSON b abt. 1820 in Ohio m. 1845 in Clermont County, OH d. 1902 in Clermont County, OH. Because birth records in Ohio didn't start until the 1860's, and prior to 1850 only head of household was listed on the Census records, how do I find out his parents' name. They were not listed on his death certificate or marriage record. Thanks for your help. -- Lisa

A: It appears by your letter that John HENDERSON seemed to spend the majority of his time in Clermont County, Ohio. This would be where I would concentrate my initial search. A search of the 1850 census for Clermont County for other HENDERSONs that are living nearby. It is possible that one of these individuals is likely to be John's parent.

Once you have extracted all the HENDERSONs in Clermont County, from the 1850 census, you will then need to begin researching these specific families in an effort to put them together and rule them out. Much of what we do as genealogists is to locate enough evidence to build a case for the parentage of a given individual. Sometimes this is easy, because we have a birth certificate. Other times it requires locating records that allude to, without actually saying straight out, the possible parentage of a given individual.

It may even become necessary to do a search of all the HENDERSONs in the 1830 Ohio census, extracting those with a son aged 10. You will then need to do the same thing with these families as you did with those above. Get to know them. Find out what happened to them. Follow them through the census, locate them in vital records, find out when they died and trace their probate records.

Probate records can sometimes be your best resource. They are the record most likely to include relationships of those who are named in the document.

Catch 22

Q: The following is the only information I have on my great-great-grandfather. The wording of this short paragraph does not change from mother to daughter. "He was killed by a New York trolley while on his way to board the ship that would have taken him back to Scotland to get his wife and five-year-old daughter. Anna and her mother came to America in care of the captain." The five year old daughter was Anna McNamara, Mom's grandmother. I do not know what year Anna was born but she died a mature woman (from photos) in 1947, Paterson, Passaic Co, New Jersey. USGenweb.com for New York needs additional information before they can suggest places to *obtain* additional information ... catch-22! Please, where do I go from here to find information on my elusive Mr. McNamara? -- Barbara

A: If you haven't done so already, you will want to get a death certificate for your grandmother. This should have some clues about Anna's father. You also have an approximate year of death for Anna's father, since she was 5 at the time. If you are not sure exactly when she was born, the death certificate will supply you with this information.

A search of newspapers for New York for the time period in question might also reveal a story about the accident. You might be able to find these on microfilm, or it may be necessary to hire a professional genealogist to read through them, if you are not living in New York.

Another method to pick up clues about Anna's father would be to locate Anna and her mother in the census records. Find out when they arrived in the United States and then locate the passenger list for them. It might give you some further clues, depending on when Anna and her mother arrived.

Farm Census Schedules

Q: Where do I go to find farm schedules in Russell Virginia,I have found a census record for 1910 Russell County Va. that lists my grandfather as having owned a farm and it lists the farm schedule number, but have no idea where to look. -- Lillie

A: Farm schedules were recorded along with the regular census. They include information pertinent to the farm in question. They do not give you any more information about the individual. Each farm schedule lists the name of the head of the household, and then there are columns with tally marks for the number of different livestock raised on the farm, and the amounts of various produce, grains and other items being produced on the farm. While it won't give you any more personal information about the individual, it can give you an idea as to how large a farm he had and how successful it was.

Some of these farm schedules are on microfilm. You will want to begin your search at the Family History Center to see if they have them on microfilm. Then turn your attention to your local library. If they are a member of Heritage Quest (or you are) then the farm schedules may be on microfilm through them. Finally, if this doesn't pan out, you may need to contact the local genealogical or historical society as they may either have the schedules in their holdings or be able to direct you to where the schedules can be found.


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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