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

December 5, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Maiden Names

Q: What is the best way to find a woman's maiden name? This has been an issue for me as well as others tracing their roots. -- Betsy

A: Finding a female's maiden name is often the hardest question we are faced with in our research. In so many published family histories, we find that wives are mentioned only by their given names. It can be so frustrating as you try to determine just who the woman is, especially when that woman is in your direct line and you can't get back any further on her line without the surname.

Finding a maiden name depends largely on the time period in which the woman lived and record availability. If you have access to death records or marriage records then finding the maiden name of a woman is much easier. If you haven't done so already, you will want to look for death certificates on all those in question. While these often were not kept until the late 1800s or the early 1900s, even if your direct ancestor did not live long enough to be recorded on a death certificate, you may find that a sibling was and that you can find the woman's maiden name that way.

There are other records and resources that you will want to exhaust as well. You will want to get these for your direct ancestor, the woman in question, the spouse of the woman, and the siblings of your direct ancestor. You never know when one of these resources will hold the clue you need, and you never know which individual will have the necessary records. Make it a point to get death records for everyone for whom one was generated. There are other alternatives, though, including church records and obituaries.

As an example, in researching a line, I knew that the woman's first name was Rachel. I knew she was married twice, the first time to a man with the surname Wheeler. The second time to a man named Woodworth. My problem was that I did not know where the first marriage took place, the marriage that would reveal her maiden name. In researching her daughter Lucinda, I discovered an obituary on her that mentioned a brother Doris who survived her. In researching Doris, I was able to find a death record on him, which listed the maiden name for Rachel.

Other records that might help you include cemetery records, letters, and diaries, though these may not all be easy to find or exist for ever person you are researching. This is another reason that it becomes necessary to research all children, siblings, or others related to the person you are seeking information about.

If you haven't done so already, you will want to read Sharon DeBartolo Carmack's A Genealogists's Guide to Discovering Your Female Ancestors. Published by Betterway, this book, in addition to discussing some of these records mentioned today, offers strategies for uncovering information about your female ancestors.

European Roots

Q: Where would I find data on Norway and Germany? Most of the data I have found seems to be devoted to those living in the U.S, Britain, Native Americans, and Canada. -- Sylvia

A: It sounds like you are hoping to find Web sites with genealogical information on those from Norway and Germany. As you have discovered, there is an abundance of sites for other countries. This does not mean, though, that there isn't anything available for you when it comes to Norway and Germany. It sometimes means you have to dig a little more. Usually, though, it probably means you have been using a general search engine and searching in England. The sites you need are probably going to be in the native language of that country.

There are many how-to sites on reading old German script and such, as well as links to various archives and libraries. You will want to visit Cyndi's List - Germany to find more than 600 links dealing with sites devoted to German genealogy. Some of the available online databases of German records have to do with emigration from Germany and are subscription sites, that is you have to pay to access the data. This is becoming more common and should be expected given the costs involved in computerizing many of the types of resources that as genealogists we need to search.

For Norway, you will likewise want to see the various links that are found at Cyndi's List - Norway. One database that is of particular interest for Norwegian research is the searchable database available from the national Archives of Norway, which includes census records, tax lists, military rolls, church registers, emigrants, probate registers, fire assessment registers, and citizenship records. This is presently searchable for free and can be accessed by visiting their Web site.

You will also want to learn what is available on microfilm through your local Family History Center. The Family History Library has traveled around the world searching for and microfilming records that will aid genealogists. Through your local Family History Center you have access to most of what they have found and microfilmed.

Delayed Birth Certificate

Q: I would like to know how I would find a delayed birth certificate? My father was born Jan 2, 1898 in Pacific, Franklin County, MO. I have written to the courthouse there and they said birth records were not made in those years. My father was in World War I and his papers state his age. When he retired about 1962 didn't he need something to confirm his birth? I tried Social Security but all I got was a small form telling me his birth date and his parents names and on his death certificate the information was the same. I tried Vital Records in Jefferson City, MO but they didn't find any birth records either. I am assuming he must have had a delayed birth certificate but I do not know how to find one without the correct date. -- Patricia

A: A delayed birth certificate would have been filed in the state where your father was born. You mentioned contacting the courthouse and that they told you that they didn't have any record. Depending on how you worded the request, they may not have thought to search delayed certificates. It may require that you send another request and specifically mention delayed birth certificates. It is also possible that the county does not have such records, but the state might. Again, a letter to the state vital statistics office may shed some light.

It is possible that your father never had to file a delayed birth certificate. We like to think that everyone had to prove their age, especially when we are talking about the 20th Century, but that was not always the case. Oftentimes other records were used as proof. For instance, he would have been alive and listed in the 1900 census. In some instances the census record was accepted as proof of age, after all, it was a federal record. The 1900 census also listed the individual's month and year of birth. It was the only census to do this. Given that he was a 2 year old at the time, he should also show up living with his family, for whom you should be able to find birth information listed as well.

Because you mentioned having the SS-5 form from the Social Security Administration, which listed his birth information and names of parents, I am unsure why the search for the birth record. If it is because you like to have a solid document for every piece of information you find, while admirable, it is not practical. So many of the records we want either were not kept or have been destroyed, that we often must rely on less than perfect records, such as those like the SS-5 form, created some time after the event in question that we are trying to document.

If your reason for looking for the delayed birth certificate was to find out information about the parents, including when and where they were born, then again the 1900 census is going to supply you with this and should jump start your research. After locating the family in the 1900 census, you will also want to track the parents in the 1910, 1920 and 1930 census as well to see if their ages and places of birth remain constant.

Without knowing exactly what you were hoping the delayed birth certificate would tell you, it is hard to suggest other records and resources. Think, though, about what you are hoping to find and then see what records might have this information, such as a marriage record for your father or an obituary for his parents. Their marriage record may hold the clues you are seeking. I always try to ask myself what piece of data I am hoping to find and then what records and resources would supply me with such data. I then seek out the sources I have come up with to see if they do indeed answer my question.


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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