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# Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Doing Genealogy With Just a Name and SSN
Posted by Diane

Q. I’m stuck on my Dad's family tree: I have his father's name, birth and death dates, and Social Security number (SSN). I can’t find anything on him. I have only his mother's first name, and I can’t get a birth certificate without her surname. Where do I go from here? Can I find out information with a Social Security Number alone?

A. Yes—you can request a copy of your grandfather’s application for a Social Security card, called an SS-5, from the Social Security Administration (that's how I found my great-great-grandmother's maiden name). You’ll find how-tos and a link with the address on the Genealogy Insider blog.

The fee is $27. In your request, provide your grandfather’s full name and SSN, and state your relationship and the reason for your request. If your grandfather is living, you’ll need his written consent.

Where do you go from here? A lot of people start with about as much information as you have, so it can be done.

First, fill out a pedigree chart with names, and dates and places (including counties) of birth, marriage and death. Then search an online census database, which you can do free at libraries offering Ancestry Library Edition (you also can subscribe to its sister site, Ancestry.com, for $155.40 per year) or HeritageQuest Online. The 1850, 1860, 1880 and 1900 censuses are free at FamilySearch Labs. Start with the most recent census during your grandfather's lifetime and work back.

Depending when your grandfather was born, his record might be on microfilm at the Family History Library. Run a place search on the county name and look for a vital records heading, then see if any films cover the right year. You can rent the film by visiting a local branch Family History Center (see our list for locations).

Do you know the year and county where your grandfather died? (If not, look him up in the Social Security Death Index.) Death records are often easier to get than birth records. They also may be on microfilm, or by request from the state vital records office.

Was your grandfather an adult during any wars? If so, check military records. Look for WWI and WWII draft registrations on Ancestry.com or Ancestry Library Edition. The National Archives and Records Administration keeps military service records—see the research guide on its Web site.

This is all just for starters. Details you uncover and resources you learn about will lead you in new directions. You can get advice and stay up to date on new resources by reading Family Tree Magazine.


genealogy basics | US roots
Tuesday, May 27, 2008 8:17:29 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Finding Your Ancestors' Cattle Brand Registrations
Posted by Diane

Q. How would I trace cattle-brand registrations? I have the names and sketches of some brands my great-grandparents used, and I'd like to see if the documentation would provide any genealogically relevant information.

A. Ranchers such as your great-grandparents had their own marks or brands they usually burned into cattle hides to show ownership. Most states have livestock boards that regulate the movement and branding of livestock, says Robert Gant, curator of the Old West Museum in Cheyenne, Wyo.

It'll help to know when your great-grandparents used the brands, since records of brands are kept in annual brand books. The books are often available in county libraries or state archives; some state livestock boards may search their records for a fee.

If you're lucky, the state will have digitized historical brand books. Search Utah's Division of Animal Industry's brand books from 1849 to 1930 on the state archives Web site. Records show the brand symbol, name and county of residence of the person registering the mark, location on the body of the animal, and date the brand was recorded.

A Google search on your ancestors' state name and livestock board or cattle brand should point you in the direction of the records. Montana, for example, puts records of 1873-1950 brands in the Montana Historical Society Research Center. Once you find the repository with the books you need, you can visit or submit a research request.

You also may be able to find a book about brands in the state, such as the 1936 publication Texas Cattle Brands edited by Gus L. Ford (Cockrell, out of print).


printed sources | US roots
Wednesday, May 07, 2008 10:39:11 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Wednesday, April 30, 2008
All About Census Enumeration Districts
Posted by Diane

Q. What's an enumeration district?

A. An enumeration district (ED) is an administrative division of a particular county or township for the purposes of census-taking. Each census taker would be assigned one or more EDs, each of which was designated with a number.

At one time, to find your ancestor's census return, you’d have to identify which roll of census microfilm contained the right ED. Now that US censuses have been indexed by name, people don’t have to identify EDs the way they used to.

But you may find EDs handy for a few reasons:
  • If you can’t find a household in records for a database site such as Ancestry.com, you can browse by ED (in Ancestry.com, choose a census year, then scroll below the search box to pick a state, county or township; a ward; then an ED).
  • Enumerators didn't always proceed through their EDs in orderly fashion: Rather than go down one side of the street and up the other, they might cross back and forth or double back to places where no one was home. But you can compare a census return to a map of the corresponding ED to plot the neighborhood and see who lived next to your relatives.
  • When the 1940 census comes out on microfilm in 2012, a name index won’t be available right away—but while you wait, you'll be able to find the records using the ED. Update: Good news! Name indexes may be available immediately after all. Click comments (below) for details.
To identify your ancestor's enumeration district, you’ll need to know the state, city and street name, and possibly a street number. Then, try these tools:
  • Stephen P. Morse’s Web site has an ED finder for the 1910 to 1940 censuses (mostly for urban areas). Scroll down to the census section of his home page to find it. 
Morse’s site also offers a tool for translating among EDs from 1910 through 1940.
  • NARA has put ED descriptions for each census on microfilm. Series A3378 has EDs for the 1900 through 1940 censuses; series T1224 goes back to 1830. Update: Click comments for details on ED microfilm, too.
Learn more about EDs from the USGenWeb’s Census Project page.


census records | genealogy basics
Wednesday, April 30, 2008 1:41:22 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Friday, April 11, 2008
No Heirs? How To Save Your Genealogy Research From the Dumpster
Posted by Diane

Q. What can someone who has no heirs do with photos, birth certificates and other family heirlooms so they won't be thrown away? Is there any organization they could be donated to?

A. Many libraries, historical and genealogical societies, historical museums and state archives accept donations of family papers, genealogical research and heirlooms.

Consider giving your items to a repository in the area that figures most heavily into your research. The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), for example, seeks family diaries, Bibles and other documents related to New England research.

A local genealogical or historical society may be interested in your pedigree charts, records, photos or published family history. Or look for a museum or library with a collection—say, WWII ephemera or Italian immigrant photographs—that would make a fitting home for your treasures. Once you have a list of potential recipients, call each one to ask about its donation process.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Family History Library in Salt Lake City also accepts materials it considers helpful to researchers. See its online donation guide for information on what the library can use and how to prepare your donation. 


No matter which facility you decide on, make your wishes clear in your will and designate a genealogy buddy to help your executor carry out your desires. You can't expect a repository to take everything you've collected over the decades, so include instructions for that person to weed through your papers to separate what can be pitched from what should stay. Or better yet, get organized now, while you have a say in the matter.
 
A new generation of Web sites gives you another option: Sites including Eternal Star and Story of My Life let you digitize and store photos, records and heirlooms forever. You’ll need to consider whether the material will be readily available to researchers (if that’s what you want) and what happens if the site goes out of business, and you’ll still have the originals to deal with.

For more tips on donating your research, see the Society of American Archivists' guide and Katherine Scott Sturdevant's Organizing and Preserving Your Heirloom Documents (Betterway Books, out of print).


Preserving Heirlooms and Photos
Friday, April 11, 2008 2:35:33 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Strategies for Finding a Death Date and Place
Posted by Allison

Q. It seems that my great-grandmother is still living! (She was born about 1863!) I can't find where she died and is buried. I know about where and when.  I've heard through the family she was cremated and buried with her husband. I've searched the Internet at home and the county library. All I've been able to come up with is seeing her name on the 1910, 1920 and 1930 censuses. She's listed below her husband in the 1910 and 1920 censuses and as widow in 1930. I've even tried to search her by her maiden name and still come up with no matches. Any ideas?

A. If you've done all your searching online thus far, don't worry about being stuck: You still have plenty more avenues to explore.

If your great-grandmother died after 1936 and had a Social Security number, she should appear in the Social Security Death Index, or SSDI (search multiple versions of this database simultaneously from Steve Morse's One-Step site). The SSDI lists the deceased's last residence, where you can check to see if she died or was buried.

Try to request a death certificate from the vital-records office of the state where you think she died. Every US state was issuing vital records by the 1920s, so you wouldn't need to know the specific town or county to get the record. See the National Center for Health Statistics' Where to Write for Vital Records Web site to learn the address, fees and ordering information for each US state.

Check Great-grandma's hometown newspapers for obituaries and death notices in the time frame you believe she died. You can identify newspapers published during that time, and which institutions have them on microfilm, at Chronicling America.

Research the husband. You know from your census research he died between 1920 and 1930, and I’m guessing you also know where based on where they lived. Use this information to try to get his death certificate. Check newspapers for his obituaries, too. By identifying the husband’s burial location, you can find out if husband and wife are indeed buried together.


birth/death records
Wednesday, March 26, 2008 7:16:32 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Tuesday, March 18, 2008
How to Find Your Ancestor's Will
Posted by Diane

Q I'm not sure if my grandparents ever had a will drawn up. They died 10 years apart. How would I go about checking to see if they ever filed a will? Whose death should I check first?

A We asked Christine Crawford-Oppenheimer, author of Long-Distance Genealogy (Betterway Books, out of print), to weigh in on this question:

Your grandparents didn’t necessarily have one will in common. While that's possible, a will is usually made for one person. In pre-feminist days, any land probably would've been in your grandfather's name, so he might've been the only one with a will—but your grandmother might've had a separate will. It's also possible neither had a will.

Your ancestor’s will would be in his estate file. An estate file might exist even if neither ancestor left a will. They're often more interesting without a will, because they could include papers listing names and relationships, filed to prove the heirs’ identities.

Estate files may contain many types of documents other than wills, including:
  • letters of administration
  • list of the deceased's heirs, including their relationship
  • list of who bought what at the estate sale
  • final account of the estate (who got how much money), which can help you deduce relationships from the differing amounts each person received
  • petitions, which may state the relationship of heirs to the deceased
Check for an estate file for each ancestor. If a female ancestor remarried, look for her under her the last surname she used.

To locate estate files, write to the probate court in the county where the ancestor resided at death. Give the name and death date of the ancestor, and ask for photocopies of the estate papers for that person.

Several books list addresses for probate courts, including:
You'll find more on researching wills in the September 2008 Family Tree Magazine, on newsstands in July.

birth/death records | court records
Tuesday, March 18, 2008 2:56:09 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Monday, February 25, 2008
Research Canadian Pacific Railway Workers
Posted by Diane

Q. My great-grandfather supposedly helped build the Canadian Pacific Railway. Is there any way to find out more about that part of his life?

A. Canada was still a sparsely populated country when the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) incorporated in 1881. Building that first cross-country rail link took thousands of workers and a massive effort.

In 1885, CPR worker Donald A. Smith altered the course of the country’s history by driving the final spike into the transcontinental railroad, which ultimately opened up the Canadian West to settlement. You can read a brief history on the CPR archives Web site.

If your ancestor worked on the railroad, you’ll be especially interested in the archives’ collection of historical images, documents, publications and artifacts, plus materials on topics such as tourism, immigration and colonization.

Although it’s a private collection, the CPR archives in Montreal provides researchers with fee-based services or on-site access on a case-by-case basis. You’ll need to submit a written request to arrange a visit.

You’ll find more online resources for researching rail workers at RootsWeb and Cyndi’s List.

Canadian Railway Records: A Guide for Genealogists by Althea Douglas and J. Creighton Douglas (Ontario Genealogical Society, $26) offers a glossary, chronology, and an introduction to online sources. See more history in Canadian Pacific Railway (MBI Railroad Color History) by Tom Murray (Voyageur Press, $36.95).
Lisa A. Alzo


international research | occupational records
Monday, February 25, 2008 8:47:02 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Land Records: What Are Metes and Bounds?
Posted by Diane

Q. In my land-records research, I’ve come across the term “metes and bounds.” What does it mean?

A. Metes and bounds is an old method of surveying territory for settlement, used in the original 13 Colonies. “The indiscriminate survey system, or metes and bounds, dates to England,” says Ohio genealogical speaker and writer Jana Sloan Broglin. “This system used objects for marking property lines, such as trees, rocks, or bends in streams and rivers.” Errors were common: Trees fell, rocks looked alike, river bends moved, compass directions were off. Also, land plots could end up with odd shapes.

The United States passed the Land Ordinance of 1785 to rectify this situation and establish a system for political organization of the mostly unmapped western lands won in the Revolutionary War. The more-reliable rectangular survey system divided land into ranges, 24x24-mile tracts, 6-square-mile townships and square-mile sections, all based on a north-south meridian and east-west baseline.

Each section could be subdivided for sale. Within each township, section 16 was set aside for school revenue.

A rectangular survey land description, or aliquot parts, for your ancestor’s plot might be “NE ¼ NW ¼” or the northeast quarter of the northwest quarter of a section. The description also would include a section number and the township’s position in relation to the range line and baseline.

Broglin’s home state was the first surveyed under the new system. “Ohio was surveyed in several major subdivisions, including the Congress lands, US Military District, Connecticut Western Reserve, Virginia Military District, French Grants, Ohio Company First and Second Purchases, Donation Tracts and Refugee Tracts,” she says. Early surveyors created 5-square-mile townships rather than the later 6-mile standard. (Get help with Ohio research in Broglin's July 2008 Family Tree Magazine Ohio State Reserch Guide.)

Why is all this important for genealogists? If your ancestor purchased land from the government in a public-land state, you know to look for General Land Office (GLO) records of the transaction.

Start by searching the Bureau of Land Management’s GLO database of land patents. Land entry case files are at the National Archives and Records Administration, which has a guide on its Web site.

If your ancestor bought land from a private party (not the federal government), or lived in a state-land state (the 13 former Colonies, Kentucky, Tennessee, Maine, Vermont, West Virginia, Texas and Hawaii), look for land records in county courthouses and at state archives.


land records
Tuesday, February 19, 2008 2:16:29 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Belgian Waffling
Posted by Diane

Q What advice can you offer on genealogy in Belgium? My husband’s family came from there, and I would like to know where I can go to find information—no one even knows when or how the family got from Belgium to the United States. All I’ve found so far is it was in the late 1800s.

A
Based on the problem you’ve described, it sounds as though you really should be focusing on researching the family in the United States rather than Belgium. In order to cross the pond, you first have to pinpoint the Belgian immigrant. 

So first, you’ll have to learn who the immigrant was, when he came to America, and the specific town he came from. To do that, you’ll need to thoroughly trace each generation of the family in America, starting with your husband.

You might try asking your husband’s relatives if they know any family stories that might provide additional clues, or if they have any family papers that could contain leads—a naturalization record or a family Bible, for example.

A good next step would be searching federal census records for each generation of your husband’s family: Beginning in 1850, censuses list each person’s place of birth. So if a family member did in fact immigrate during the late 1800s, census records should indicate that. Later censuses even tell you  parents’ birthplaces.

If your husband’s ancestor became a citizen in the late 19th or early 20th century, his naturalization documents will likely tell you the town where he last lived in Belgium. Obituaries often provide clues, too.

Your best bet is to check every source you can about each previous generation, as you never know where a lead is going to turn up. That includes records about the siblings of your husband’s ancestors: Maybe your husband’s forebear didn’t apply for citizenship, for example, but his brother did. (See our  feature on naturalization records in the May 2008 issue.)

I’d also recommend you look to Belgian genealogy organizations and networks, such as the Belgian Roots Project, for help. Since immigrants tended to settle in the same places as their countrymen and leave their homeland for the same reasons, these groups could provide historical and social context to help guide your search. You may also be able to connect with cousins through these organizations’ queries and databases. Browse our online Belgian Toolkit to find more resources and Web sites.

By following all these leads, you should be able to find clues to your husband’s Belgian ancestry—just don’t try to cross the pond prematurely.


Belgian roots | immigration | international research | naturalization
Wednesday, January 30, 2008 5:51:55 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Finding Birth Dates and Parents' Names
Posted by Diane

Q My great-great-grandfather Edwin Lemon was born in Chester County, Penn., in 1818. This is all I can find about him. How do I find his parent's names and the month and day of his birth?

A When you boil it down, finding parents’ names is what genealogy research is all about. Make sure you've taken the basic steps to talk to family, search for home sources, and research your more-recent Lemon ancestors.

You don’t say how you know Lemon’s birthplace is Chester County. Family stories and even later records identifying birthplaces sometimes turn out to be wrong. Look into Chester County history and see if boundary changes could have affected where you should look for records on Edwin. 

Assuming Chester County is the right place, you’re not likely to find a vital record from 1818, and unfortunately, no magical record is guaranteed to give you the information you need. Instead, search for records on all the members of the Lemon family and create a timeline of their locations and dates. Eventually the clues will add up to answers. Here are some records to search for:
  • Baptismal and other religious records. Lutheran, Reformed, Quaker, Moravian and Roman Catholic were common denominations in Pennsylvania. Check the Family History Library (FHL) online catalog for microfilmed records from churches in Chester County. (Run a place search on the county, then click the church records heading.)
  • Tax records. Everyone had to pay taxes, so search for Lemons in Chester County tax records (alson on FHL microfilm) when your ancestors lived there.
For more ideas, you'll want to use the Pennsylvania State Archives genealogical records guides. Here, you can see the types of county records available and what the archives has on microfilm for each county. As one of the three original counties William Penn created in 1682, Chester County is the subject of a lot of microfilm.

For more helps researching Pennsylvania ancestors, see the February 2007 Family Tree Magazine Pennsylvania State Research Guide.


birth/death records | court records | genealogy basics
Wednesday, January 23, 2008 8:44:45 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]