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

January 20, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Born in London, England

Q: I have been attempting to trace the birth of an ancestor in London England. His name is Henry George Tight and he was born about 1843 in London England. Can I access this information on line? Online searches such as the Mormon data base have been fruitless -- Peter

A: When beginning any research, it is important to know the record availability and history for any given area. Such knowledge assists you in properly formulating a plan. Unfortunately, most people immediately head out to the Internet assuming that all that they need will be there. While the Internet is indeed growing by leaps and bounds, there are still some areas of research that cannot be done online.

Another important aspect to searching on the Internet is to know what databases are available, and what limitations there may be to those databases. You mentioned searching the FamilySearch database of the LDS church. And while this is an excellent database that should be turned to, it is not an index to everyone who was ever born (and I mention this for those who may be frustrated because they haven't found their names in this database).

At the present time, you may not locate your Henry George TIGHT in an online database. You will want to visit the FreeBMD web site. This is a volunteer project to make available the indexes to the births, marriages, and deaths from the Index to Civil Registration of England and Wales. If you cannot find Henry in this online index, then you will need to visit your local LDS family history center to order the correct microfilmed volume of the index for the year you are searching.

Once you have located Henry in the index, you can order the certificate online. You will need to supply them with a credit card, and supply the pertinent information from the index, but it is possible to order from them via e-mail at

SSDI Explanation

Q: I have been looking up family members in the SSDI. I cannot find my grandfather, in Nebraska, who worked on the railroad, and died in 1957. He would have had to have a SS#, wouldn't he? I found many other names of people his age and even older, who also worked on the railroads and had SS#'s. Why am I unable to find him listed? I am having the same problem with an aunt of mine in Phoenix, who died in 1969, who worked all her life; and with my husband's mother, who died in 1975. I found my maternal grandfather who had to give up farming in the 1940's when he became crippled with polio. He had one job for approx. 2 years at Goodwill Industries, before becoming injured, when he was in his late 60's early 70's. Yet they do not seem to have my other grandfather listed, who worked his whole life until his death at the age of 68. -- Colleen

A: There are a number of reasons why an individual does not show up in the Social Security Death Index. As more and more genealogists are coming online, especially those new to genealogical research, more and more people are questioning this resource and how to use it and what they will find.

One of the biggest misconceptions about Social Security was how long you had to work to receive payments. Another misconception is that if an ancestor received monthly payments from the Social Security Administration that individual should be in the Social Security Death Index.

The Social Security Death Index is a computerized index of those individuals on whose behalf a death benefit check was cut. This database is not all encompassing. Those included in the database have died primarily from 1962 on up. However, even in these years not everyone who has died will appear in it.

Some of the reasons that you may not be able to find your ancestors include:

  • They worked for the railroad and as such had their own pension through the Railroad Retirement Board.
  • The SSA did not know they died, and therefore a death benefit check was not cut.
  • The SSA did know that they died, but for whatever reason they did not qualify for a death benefit check.
  • In searching the SSDI you supplied too much information in the search form, thereby omitting the very individual you were searching for.
  • They were inadvertently left off the most recent release of the database files, which has been known to happen.

School Project

Q: I am a junior in High School and I have to do a family tree for my final in my U.S history class. I only have a couple names of my great-grand parents and two surnames of my family. I've tried looking for information but I can not find what I'm looking for. How do I get started and how do I go about creating my family tree? -- Kari

A: I am always so pleased to see that the schools are using genealogy as a way to interest people in history. For many it will spark a life long passion to seek out their family history.

You mention already having the names of great grandparents. This is actually a good start. While you did not supply any dates, it sounds like the people you are looking for were living prior to 1920. This is important, as it means that you will be able to turn to census records, which can be a major help.

One of the best sites online that can help you in understanding the records you may need to use, which of those are online, and how to put it all together, is RootsWeb's Guide to Tracing Family Trees. These lessons are devoted to individual aspects of the research of family history and creation of a family tree.

Beginning in New York

Q: After clicking till I was "blue" I finally found someone on this Internet thing that might be able to help me begin my search. I would like to locate and research my father's family. I know my grandfather was Michael W Nolan, living at 286 Sterling Place, Brooklyn NY. He died around 1927-8. My grandmother was Charlotte Nolan, and there were siblings Adriance Bush Nolan, William Nolan and Charlotte Douglas Manning Nolan My father was John Joseph Nolan, born about 1907 (ish). There were five other 'brothers' of Michael W Nolan. How do I start this process. I've tried, and But no luck. I can't afford to pay in the beginning, but as I get further into the search, I could afford to join a genealogy group. Can you help get me started with some Internet choices? -- MaryAnne

A: It sounds like you may want to begin your research with the 1920 census. Your grandfather died in 1927 or 1928, and should therefore be living and listed in the 1920 census. The 1920 census will tell you the age of Michael and Charlotte at the time of the census. Armed with this, you can begin to estimate their birth dates.

Also included on the census is the place of birth for the individual, his father and his mother. This will tell you if the family had remained in New York, or if they had come from somewhere else to settle in New York.

Few census records are currently online, and of those available, I know of none for the 1920 census. The good news though is that in addition to the census itself, there is also a soundex to the census. Soundex is an index based on phonics. And without it, working in census records can sometimes be very frustrating.

Once you have some additional information on your grandparents, you may be able to begin to branch out and pin down the parents of both Michael and Charlotte. Also, when searching the census, it is a good idea to keep your eye out for others of the same surname that are living in the same county, especially those that are living nearby to the primary family. Very often these individuals turn out to be family.

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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