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

November 11, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Understanding Online IGI Records

Q: I have found one of my ancestors online from the IGI records. The batch number is C114372. The parents are listed but I cannot get any information on them. Nor can I go further with the batch number. Can you suggest how I might pursue the parents? -- Beryl

A: There is no denying it, the recent unveiling of the online FamilySearch.org Web site was a major cause for celebration among online genealogists. However, it is not yet complete. There are still limitations to the online databases.

These limitations will affect how you use the FamilySearch site and what you will still need to do by visiting your local Family History Center. Your question is a perfect example of this.

In searching the International Genealogical Index, or IGI, you located an entry for your ancestor. At the end of the screen showing the details for the event, which I can tell was a birth, you were given a batch number. Batch numbers are the source code to the page or record from which the names, dates and places were taken.

When you use the FamilySearch CDs at your local Family History Center, if you were to print out this particular entry, or view it on the screen, in addition to the batch number, you would also have a film number. The batch number you listed tells me that the entry came from a birth or christening record. Coming from Scotland, if the event took place prior to 1855, I would say that the entry can be traced to the parish registers for the town in which the birth took place.

If the computers are busy at your local FHC when you visit, there is another way to convert the batch number. There is a set of fiche available at each FHC, the Batch Number Index. Looking up the C114372 in this fiche will give you the film number. You can then use the Film Number search options included in the search menus for the Family History Library Catalog to locate the resource that was used.

For additional information about the batch numbers and how to tell what they represent, please see a past article, Overheard in GenForum: IGI Batch Numbers.

Grandpa Was a Mason

Q: My grandfather was a Mason, and I understand they may have kept pretty good records on members and their ancestry. Is this true? Would it do me any good to try to contact them to find out more about my grandfather and his family history? -- Richard

A: Fraternal organizations, of which the Masons is but one, are common among our ancestors. There are hundreds of them in existence, and more that have come and gone. Most people immediately think of the Masons when they hear mention of fraternal organizations. For some researchers, just knowing the group they were a member of and the history of that group can sometimes hold valuable clues to your ancestors religious or occupational connections.

Finding available information requires you to first be able to determine when your ancestor was a member and where they were living at the time. Ideally it is good if you can determine the local lodge that he was a member of. While you can contact the state's Grand Lodge, they are often overwhelmed with similar requests and you may get a faster answer from the local lodge.

The information you are likely to get from your ancestor's application may include the following:

  • Your ancestor's name
  • Your ancestor's address
  • Your ancestor's occupation
  • You ancestor's date of birth
  • The names of your ancestor's spouse and children
  • In some cases the name of the father of the applicant

To find additional information about your ancestor, you may want to visit a Masonic library in the area where your ancestor lived. This will allow you to do the research yourself. You can find out what libraries exist and where they are by visiting the Masonic Library & Museum Association Web site.

Working on the Railroad

Q: I have a great grandfather who worked for the railroad in Pennsylvania. I have no Social Security Number on him. He died in 1943. Are there railroad records I could access? -- Jane

A: Railroading was a major force in the United States. In fact, at its peak, about 1920, it is estimated that some 2 million people worked for the railroad. Up until 1964 those who worked for the railroads were given special Social Security numbers.

Social Security numbers actually had a method to the number scheme to some degree. Each group of digits represents something. The important ones are the first three. These first three digits are the area numbers. It is the area numbers that tell you what state the social security number was issued in. It can also tell you if the person was a railroad employee. As mentioned earlier, up until 1964, those who worked for the railroads were assigned a social security number that had an area number of 700-729.

Railroad employees did have their own pensions, and generally do not appear in the Social Security Death Index because of this unique situation. Researching a railway employee requires you to turn your attention to the unique records of the railroad itself and to the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board.

The U.S. Railroad Retirement Board is concerned with the pension and other benefits of railroad workers after 1936. It is important to note that the employee had to work a minimum of 10 years in order to qualify for benefits from the Board. The records of the Retirement Board are organized under the employee's social security number or a Board assigned number that is prefaced by a letter. Fortunately for genealogists, the Railroad Retirement Board will supply information on deceased individuals. However, when corresponding with them, you will need to supply a copy of the individual's death certificate. You will also need to include the employee's name, position, railroad, and when and where they worked. You can contact the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board by writing to them at 844 N. Rush St., Chicago, IL 60611-2092.

There are some excellent articles that you will want to locate and read to help you further with this research. One "Railroad Records for Genealogical Research" was written by Wendy Elliot and can be found in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, in volumes 75 (Dec, 1987, p. 271-77) and 79 (June, 1991, p. 140 - an addendum).

Protocol on Using Others' Family Trees

Q: I can find nothing on protocol of using data put on the Internet of a family history. It doesn't seem right that I should just copy it into mine as if I did all the work. The ones I've seen don't have any provisions for crediting others. -- DRBARTHEL

A: You have hit the nail on the proverbial head. This is a major issue among genealogists. These days, it is so easy for us to "borrow" other's research that many times we don't give it much thought. So it is nice to see that someone is actually pondering this.

What many seem to forget about family history Web sites, is that they are sources themselves. Just as we cite the source of a book or census microfilm, we should also be citing any Web site from which we find information on our ancestor.

If the information you are taking is a family story or other text, you might want to preface that story with a sentence about where the information came from, including adding the URL so that people visiting your Web site can surf on to the site where you got the information originally.

There are people who will point out that the names, dates and places cannot be copyrighted. This is true. However, genealogists should pride themselves on documenting sources. The source is whatever gave you the name, date, place or story. As such, that should be what you cite. And by citing these other Web sites as your sources, you will be giving credit where credit is due.

Mayflower Connections

Q: I am descended from Robert PARKE who came to Massachusetts with Governor Winthrop in 1630. His descendants lived in New England for several generations. I would like to see if any of the spouses are descendants of Mayflower descendants. What is the best way to accomplish this? -- Larry

A: Your request is not an unusual one. Many researchers who have traced their lineage back to early Massachusetts begin to look for a connection to the Mayflower. Of course, like all other research, you need to continue to work from the known to the unknown. Determine the place of birth for each of the spouses along with their parents. You will want to trace these families back just as you did your direct line.

However, there are some useful resources that you may want to search for the individuals you know. These CDs offer you some excellent records of Mayflower passengers and their descendants.

Genealogies of Mayflower Families, 1500s - 1800s is Family Tree Maker's CD #171. It includes digitized versions of Genealogies of Mayflower Families in three volumes and Mayflower Source Records. Both of these sources were originally published by Genealogical Publishing Company.

Vital Records: Mayflower Vital Records, Deeds and Wills, 1600s - 1900s is Family Tree Maker's CD #167. This CD includes scanned images of the books by Susan Roser that were originally published by Genealogical Publishing Company. Mrs. Roser compiled these books from the "Bowman Files," the files of genealogist George Ernest Bowman. The CD includes Mayflower Births and Deaths, Volumes I and II, Mayflower Increasings, Mayflower Marriages, and Mayflower Deeds and Probates.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns


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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