Big changes have come to — all content is now read-only, and member subscriptions and the Shop have been discontinued.
Learn more
New? Start Here
Genealogy How-To
 Getting Started
 Getting Organized
 Developing Your Research Skills
 Sharing Your Family's Story
 Reference Guide
 Biography Assistant
Free Genealogy Classes
 Beginning Genealogy
 Internet Genealogy
 Tracing Immigrant Origins

Family Finder
First Name:

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

February 03, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Can't Get Started

Q: I cannot seem to get started. I have my father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, grandfather's mother's married name and cannot go any further. Are there any databases on the net which could provide me with information. I have searched a few of the trees, but the information is too far back and not connected to my immediate family. I am interested mostly on my father's father's side. He told me his mother was Native American but I do not have her maiden name. -- Laura

A: Actually, you may have more information than you realize. Many people begin their research with a lot less than you currently have. So you have a good base to begin your research.

While the Internet is a great tool, and should be checked often, there are times, especially when first starting out that you lack enough information to connect to individuals found in various online databases. The same can be said of CD-ROM databases.

Without dates, it is hard to recommend specific records. However, if you know when and where your grandparents were born, and it was prior to 1920, then I would encourage you to turn to the 1920 census to begin gathering information on your great grandparents. If you don't yet know that information, then you may need to step back and look at either getting death records or talking to living older family members to try to get this information.

Finally, while you may not find actual databases available online that you can connect to, there are some great resources available online to help you in learning what is available, especially for your area. If your family is from the United States, then you may want to begin with the USGenWeb Project. If they were born outside the United States, then you may want to start at the WorldGenWeb Project.

From Slovakia

Q: Hopefully you can give me an idea of where to look for answers concerning this problem. I'm trying to find immigration & naturalization papers for my wife's great grandfather Andrew Cupka. He immigrated from Slovakia in the 1880s & arrived at Ellis Island. I've contacted the National Archives & Immigration and I keep coming up empty. I know he was naturalized, because a relative of my wife has the document, but for some strange reason repeated requests for a photocopy have fallen on deaf ears. I think he was naturalized in either PA (the Pittsburgh area) or NY. Where do I turn from here? -- Michael

A: The best way to begin a search of this kind is to begin with the census records. Because of when Andrew CUPKA arrived, it is possible that he was already in the naturalization process by the 1900 census. However, you will want to locate him in the 1920, 1910 and 1900 census to see if the information changes at all.

This will also help you in determining where he was in 1900, which may help in narrowing down whether he was naturalized in New York or in Pennsylvania. It is likely that you will need to find those records before you can locate him in the passenger lists. The time of his arrival is in that unindexed period of the New York passenger lists.

To begin the search for the naturalization records, you will want to turn your attention to the available indexes. There is a WPA index for the naturalizations in New York up to 1906. You can find these microfilm through your local Family History Center. There are 82 films in all and it covers the naturalization petitions in New York from approximately 1792 through 1906. Though there are some gaps in the years, they are prior to the time period you are interested in. You can find these in the Family History Library Catalog under New York County Index to Naturalization Records, 17921906.

Similar records exist for the Pittsburgh area in the form of an index naturalization docket that covers the years 1799 through 1906. This docket also includes declarations of intent for the years 1883 to 1906. These can be found on microfilm through your local Family History Center under Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. There is also an index to these records that was created by the Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society.

Then armed with the information from the naturalization records, you can locate Andrew CUPKA in the passenger lists. However, the passenger lists of that time period may not show you any additional information that you don't already have from the naturalization records.

A Change of Name

Q: My grandmother's side of the family came to Ellis Island in 1903. The last name was Vadja and when they arrived here they changed there last name to Weidert. They came from Austria. My great great grandmother's name was Dora Vadja, maiden name was Petric, my great great grandfather was Martin, and my great grandfather's name was Paul. I'm not sure if that's their original first names and I wanted to know more about my heritage. How would I do so? -- Dustin

A: The good news is that there is an index to passenger lists for those arriving in Ellis Island after 1896. However, you have a few questions in your research that may need additional research before you can locate the families in the index.

If you haven't already done so, you may want to do some research in the census records. These will tell you additional information in regards to when the family arrived in this country and whether or not they were naturalized. You mention that they arrived in 1903, so they were probably naturalized by 1920, if they went through the process. If they were naturalized after 1906, then you will need to contact the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Washington, D.C.

While you are waiting on the forms from the INS, you can try looking in the index to passenger lists for Ellis Island. You will want to look under both surnames since you are aware of both.

Researching in Peru

Q: I've just started to research my paternal and maternal family roots in Peru. I've noticed the majority of the genealogy websites concentrate on US and European ancestries. Could you suggest any sites and links that could give me the information I'm looking for or perhaps the sources that I would need to contact? -- Monica

A: It is true that a majority of the web sites are currently being created by those researching their American or European ancestry. However, there is a special project that will be of interest to you.

The WorldGenWeb Project was developed to help coordinate web pages for the many countries around the world. These sites are intended to support the research of those with family in a variety of countries. The WorldGenWeb Project is broken down by regions. Included in this project is a site devoted to Peru. You may want to investigate this further.

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

Back to Top of Article

Home | Help | About Us | Terms of Service | PRIVACY
© 2011