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

November 16, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Castle Garden

Q: I know that the KRAUSE family came to America in the spring of 1870. I have checked with "Germans to America" references with no luck. Where and how can I access the Castle Garden records? A relative claimed to have a pencil rubbing of the family from Ellis Island, but the time period doesn't seem to line up. Also, where would I look for emigration data for this family leaving Germany. I only have a reference of a child born in Pommeren, and one possibly born in Bremen. Are these both references to a Polish area? -- John

A: I suspect that the rubbing that your relative made was of the plaques that were put up at Ellis Island as part of a fund raising system. Those who wished to "register" an ancestor could do so for a set fee and a plaque in the name of that ancestor would be placed at Ellis Island. However, I am unsure what proof was required for the information on the immigrant that was placed on the plaque.

As you are already aware, Castle Garden was the predecessor to Ellis Island. In 1855, this old fort was designated an immigration station. At this time it was still under the supervision of New York State. In 1882, a change in the laws allowing immigrants into the country resulted in Castle Garden coming under the jurisdiction of the US government. It was in 1890 that the tide of immigrants became too much for Castle Garden and the US government began to look for a more suitable site, ultimately settling on Ellis Island.

Unfortunately, the records for much of the time that Castle Garden was in operation are unindexed. The New York City passenger lists from 1847 to 1896 are unindexed. This means you need to know more exactly when an ancestor arrived. A year can easily result in searching an incomprehensible number of films line by line.

If you haven't done so already, see if your ancestor was naturalized. It is possible that in locating his naturalization records you will be better able to narrow down the arrival time of your ancestor. And if you are lucky, you will learn the name of the ship he arrived on.

French Ancestry

Q: I'm a new member and I'm a history and family tree buff. I don't know a lot about some of my ancestors because I'm an African American of African, French, and Native American descent. I really want to know about my French ancestry. My great grandfather's name was, Pledge Ramsour. I don't know where he was born but, he spent most of his life in Rusk County, Texas. Please tell me how to get started on getting some information on him. -- Sam

A: If you haven't done so already, you will want to locate him in the census records. These will help to give you an idea of when he was born. If he was still alive in 1900, the 1900 census will supply you with a probable month and year of birth. I say probable because you will need to verify that the information is correct. Enumerators didn't always talk to someone in the actual family who would know all that type of information. In fact, sometimes they talked to a neighbor if no one was at home when the enumerator came by.

Once you have located him in the census and established everywhere that he lived, you will then want to turn your attention to the county records themselves. If you know when he died, you will definitely want to request a copy of his death certificate. This may not only include his full birth date, but also may list the names of his parents along with their place of birth.

You will also need to keep an open mind about the surname. It is possible that the spelling was changed or Americanized. So don't be surprised to find out that once you get back to France that the surname is slightly or completely different.

If the census records tell you that Pledge RAMSOUR immigrated, then you will also want to turn your attention to naturalization records. Prior to 1906, these are often found on the county level.

U.S. Military Buried in England

Q: I am trying to locate the name of the cemetery in England where the USA soldiers were buried during World War II. I would like to have the name and location in England. A friend of mine has offered to take a picture of my brother-in-laws headstone but I do not know where to tell him to go. -- Cheryl

A: The American Battle Monuments Commission is in charge of the burials of those American military that are buried in overseas cemeteries. There are 134,548 American servicemen buried in the overseas cemeteries. Unfortunately not every serviceman that fought overseas is buried in one of the cemeteries with a headstone. The remains of over 78,000 servicemen were not recovered. These people are listed on the Tablets of the Missing. The Tablets of the Missing are at each of the overseas cemeteries as well as on the East Coast and West Coast Memorials in the U.S. You can write to the commission directly.

You will receive information about the exact location of your brother-in-law's grave or his listing on the Tablet of the Missing. You can also request a photograph of the cemetery with the veteran's marker or his name on the Tablet of the Missing superimposed. You can contact the commission at:

American Battle Monuments Commission Operations
200 Massachusetts Ave.
Room 5127 Casmir Pulaski Building
Washington, DC 20314-0001

You mentioned that your brother-in-law is buried in England. The American Cemetery in England is the Cambridge American Military Cemetery, Cotton Cambridge C83 7PH, England, UK. When contacting them from the United States, you will want to use this address: Cambridge American Cemetery, Box 882 PSC 47, APO AE 09470. This cemetery has 3,812 American soldiers buried there and another 5,126 that are listed on the Tablets of the Missing. Most of these soldiers were involved in the Battle of the Atlantic.

Probate Records

Q: I understand that the probate process could provide information about the family of the decedent. The obituary listed some relatives only with initials and no reference to gender. I haven't seen much about how to examine those records. Do I just walk into the county courthouse and ask for probate records for my great grandfather who died March 6th, 1916? This seems the only way I can locate the names of his heirs. Every census from four years after his marriage in 1866 in Missouri until he died in Missouri just doesn't show him. If they moved out of state I don't know where. -- Bob

A: Probate records are an excellent resource for genealogists in trying to locate heirs and the names and relationships of people in the family. Like all other records that we use, it is important to know how best to access them.

Generally, probate records are held on the county level, in the county courthouse. While you may wish to experience the unique adventure of visiting the courthouse and accessing the original records, there are other ways to access those records in most cases. I suggest alternative methods for one reason - record preservation. Unfortunately if we all visit the original records and all of us handle them, turn the pages, make copies, etc., we run the risk of destroying the very records that we need.

One of the alternative ways to access these records is on microfilm. When the various microfilming crews, working in conjunction with the Family History Library, go into a repository to microfilm, they have certain records that they always try to microfilm. Probate records are one of those records. As such, for many counties the probate records have been microfilmed. You will want to search the Family History Library Catalog to see if the records you need have been microfilmed.

Probate records consist of wills, inventories, dowers, receipts, bonds, newspaper posts, and other miscellaneous pages. The probate of the estate for your ancestor could have all of these documents or just a single one. Sometimes the records are in bound volumes, which usually include only the wills and inventories and bonds for those acting as administrators or auditors for the inventory. Other times the records are bound in packets. It is the packets that can be the most useful as they include the miscellaneous bits and pieces such as the receipts and the newspaper notifications.


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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