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

October 3, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

In Search of a Maiden Name

Q: I found my great-great-grandfather Klaus in 1853. He immigrated from Bavaria, Germany. According to the ship's log, he was alone. I found him again on the 1860 census in Virginia. He had wife Alice and 4 year old John who was my great-grandfather. I'm wondering how I find Alice's maiden name? -- Doris

A: While your research has probably given you enough evidence to know that Klaus's entry in the 1860 census does include his wife Alice and a son John, I wanted to point out to our other readers that the 1860 does not list the relationship of those living together in a household. As genealogists we often look at such a census entry and make an educated guess, but we could not say that the 1860 census proves that Klaus and Alice are married. With that said lets look at what you know and where you might be able to find additional information to supply you with the needed maiden name.

First, Klaus immigrated in 1853. The bad news is that the passenger lists for 1853 do not list the marital status of the immigrant, though like census records you often find families traveling together and you can often make an educated guess as to their relationships. However, it appears that Klaus came to this country on his own and was most likely single when he did it.

You did not indicate what the 1860 census listed for the place of birth for Alice and John. If it was Germany, then you can assume that at some point after arriving here in the United States that he returned to Germany to marry Alice and they had their first child there. I suspect, though, that John at least is born in Virginia. The odds are then that Klaus and Alice were married in the United States and this would definitely be true if Alice was born in Virginia or some other state.

While other vital records were often not recorded until much later, marriage records were usually begun at the time a county was created. They were needed to prove heirship of the widow or widower during the probating of the estate. Given that John is only four years old, I would suggest you begin by searching the marriage records for the county in which the family is living in 1860 and see if you can find the marriage of Klaus and Alice. These records are likely to not be available online, and may require that you visit your local Family History Center to order microfilmed marriage books.

You may also find Alice's maiden name listed on the death record for John. Usually this is the first step in such a research project, but given that you know the names of John's parents and when Klaus immigrated, the marriage records may be a more direct path for you. Traditionally though it is good to work from the known to the unknown as you work backwards along the pedigree.

Probate records, obituaries, church records, and published family histories may also offer you the information that you are seeking. It is possible that Klaus' or Alice's will may indicate siblings or grandchildren of Alice, and hopefully they are the male siblings or children of her male siblings. Land records should be searched to see who Klaus purchased land from and who he sold to, paying close attention to the land descriptions. The land descriptions are often dismissed as boring legal descriptions, but often you will find relationships mentioned hidden within the legalese.

Unfortunately it is often difficult to find a woman's maiden name. Unlike the records of some other countries, where a woman retains her maiden name regardless of the record type, when researching in American records you often run into frustration when trying to discover this all important piece of information.

Where Did She Die?

Q: Our great-grandmother came from Ireland sometime before 1850 to New York. She married my great-grandfather and gave birth to my grandfather. On 11 Nov 1850 she became a widow. She moved to Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, married a second time, had a baby daughter, and was widowed a second time. She married a third time and had another son. The family then moved to Minnesota in 1860 and had another son in 1869 . In the 1900 census she was living in North Dakota. She died in Sept 1902, somewhere in one of those three states. All resources have been checked to no avail. Her name was Ellen Flynn Fleming Britton Gage. We have checked all cemeteries, death lists, church records. Where and what have we missed? -- Ross

A: The first thing I feel I must say is that we can seldom deal in absolutes in genealogy. Making statements about having checked all resources actually means you have checked all resources that you are aware of or that are currently available to you.

It sounds like you have limited your search of her death to the three states, which I assume are Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and North Dakota. You have not indicated why you are certain that the death took place in one of these three states, and you may have evidence that you feel is compelling on this point. While it would be natural to assume that she died in North Dakota, given that she was living there in 1900, the reality is that she could have been anywhere at the time of her death. She was apparently not against picking up and starting over.

You did not indicate if husband number three was still alive in 1900. If he was, you may want to look at land records and see if you can find what is often referred to as an "exit deed." The exit deed is the last deed where the individuals sells his or her land upon moving. Sometimes the individual in question has already moved on and the new county or state is listed on the deed. Those of course are the most helpful. At the very least if husband number three was still living you want to see if he was still living after she died, and where he was living. It is often easier to find males than it is to find females in the records.

As all of her children would have been adults by 1900, and living on their own, you'll want to locate all of them, including the daughter, and check the records of these states as well. It is possible, if she was widowed, that she had gone to live with one of them and died there.

If her children were all living in one of the three states you have searched or if her third husband outlived her, then it is back to the drawing board. You would then need to examine if she might have been visiting a sibling. You may also need to keep in mind that there is no death record for her. If her third husband outlived her it is possible she had no will, thus no probate alternative to a death certificate.

You may want to keep an open mind when working with the cemetery records. I have seen other women who were buried under an earlier marriage surname or their maiden name. While it is unusual, it is something to keep in mind. Also, you mentioned you have checked all cemetery records, but you did not specify what type. Have you exhausted published cemetery lists? Have you searched those that are available on microfilm through the Family History Library? Have you looked for those online? There are many cemeteries that have not been abstracted and it is possible that your great-grandmother is buried in one of those that was not abstracted. It is also possible that, depending on the type of stone she had, that when the Daughters of the American Revolution or the local genealogical society members went through the cemetery that her stone was unreadable.

Early Italian Ancestry

Q: I am a descendant of the Regardsoe family. They came over from Italy before 1856. Where can I find details of their immigration (for example, where they came from and what ship they traveled on)? -- Anita

A: Passenger lists were begun in 1820 and were known as Customs Passenger Lists until about 1891. They were called Customs Passenger Lists because they fell under the responsibility of the Customs officials who also handled the tracking of the goods as they came into the United States. I mention this so you will understand the information you will find on the passenger list. Before 1891 there were only five columns on the passenger list. These columns listed name of the passenger, age, gender, occupation and nationality. In some instances there was a sixth column that listed their berth number and the number of bags and/or trunks they had with them.

I suspect that you were hoping that the passenger list would tell you where your Regardsoe family came from, as in where they were born. Unfortunately such information is not given in the early passenger lists, though finding them is still a piece of the puzzle, and may give you additional names of which you were unaware.

Passenger lists are now found in the National Archives on microfilm. Because they are available at the National Archives and are on microfilm that means they are also available in other places as well. These include the branches of the National Archives, the Family History Library, many public libraries with larger genealogical departments. You can also order specific microfilms to your local Family History Center for a minimal fee.

It does not sound as though you know which port through which they entered. Most of the eastern ports are indexed for the year in question, with the exception of New York City. There is a 50 year gap in indexing for the port of New York City that begins in 1846 and goes through 1896.

If you haven't done so already you may want to see if you can find naturalization records on your Regardsoe family. The men in the family may have gone through the naturalization process. The naturalization records, which will be found on the county level for the period in question, will give you the exact date of arrival, the name of the ship and the port of entry.

While you are searching for the naturalization records you may also want to begin working your way through the indexed passenger lists for the non-New York ports. The index card should give you enough information to identify the person as your ancestor, though I would strongly recommend that after viewing the index that you get the passenger list as well.

You may want to read up on passenger lists by reading John P. Colletta's They Came in Ships. He offers insight into how to work in the unindexed period of New York City and gives you some valuable information about the different passenger lists. For naturalization records, you may want to read John J. Newman's American Naturalization records 1790-1990 What They Are and How to Use Them.

Where Are the French?

Q: My ancestors are from France and all I see is information on Americans. Where can I find CDs and information on my French ancestors? -- Robert

A: It is unfortunate, but most of the databases currently available for genealogical research do have to do with those living in the United States and the British Isles. In determining why this has happened it is necessary to understand where most of the data has come from.

If you look at the databases that offers both online and via CD-ROM, you will find that many of these are digitized or computerized versions of previously published information, with the exception of the World Family Tree database. Many of the books available in the Genealogy Library, for instance, are those that have been scanned and run through optical character recognition software after the book in question has come into the public domain (that is, the copyright on the book has expired).

Many of the other books and databases are those taken from the publisher, who has now licensed the electronic rights to the book to an online publisher or a publisher of CD-ROMs. Many of these books that now makes available have come from Genealogical Publishing Company out of Baltimore, Maryland.

Here are a few databases, though, that are available online for those researching in France.

  • Geneactes - Search and help for publication of civil-status records in France
  • Migranet - A database of 45,000 marriages in France where at least one person marrying was doing so outside of their department or country of birth.
  • D'Acts d'état civil de 1539 a 1902 - Database of about 33,500 marriages with some births and deaths
  • FranceGenWeb - A volunteer site devoted to researching in France.

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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