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

February 22, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Where in Switzerland

Q: My great grandfather (Johann Heinrich Rieder) was born in Switzerland in 1820. I found record of his marriage in Greenville, Ohio 1863, Darke Co. as Henry Reeder. He and his wife Elizabeth Knee, who had been married to R. Wall of Rose Hill, Darke County, Ohio, are listed in the 1870 census in Jay County, Indiana and later in the 1880 census in Grundy County, Tennessee, where they lived until their deaths. I cannot find his birth place in Switzerland. I have been to Berne, Zurich and Basel in search of his place of birth. I am a novice. Do you know how I could find the town or village of his birth? -- Donald

A: While you have gathered some records of Johann's life here in the United States, it is possible there are some other records you can search that may hold the clues to your ancestor's place of birth. It is too tempting sometimes to try and jump the ocean and head back to the country of birth. As you have found, however, this is not always that simple. In fact, when dealing with most countries, it becomes necessary to know the town of birth. In some instances, you need to know the parish, a much smaller division.

It appears that you have exhausted census records and located the marriage record. If you haven't done so, you will want to get his death certificate. It is possible that it may list the town of birth, though don't be disappointed if all it lists is "Switzerland." It may list his parents' names. This would give you another piece of the puzzle, offering you additional names for which to search. And while posting queries on the various online bulletin boards for Johann came up empty, asking about his parents may prove useful.

You will also want to look for naturalization records. While his naturalization, if he did get naturalized, was early, it is still possible that you can use the records to find his place of birth. Naturalization was a three step process. You want to find his second papers, or his petition for naturalization. This is the set of papers that is most likely to list his place of birth. The first papers, known as the declaration of intent, is another record you want to get. Finding these records will require searches in the counties in which you have established Johann as living. Your message mentioned at least three counties and all three of them should be checked for these records.

Another possible avenue may be a Swiss newspaper. Depending on how many Swiss were living in the communities along with your Johann, it is possible that a Swiss newspaper, with information about the inhabitants of the area and where they came from, may be available.

Finally, if Johann was something other than a farmer, you may be able to find a directory of individuals in his profession. This may supply you with the much-needed town of birth.

Early Land Grants

Q: I need to know how to find land grants that were issued on the east coast in the early history of this country. -- Patsy

A: There is no blanket answer to this question. The early land grants and records will vary depending on the state in question. The first thing you will need to do is to learn the history of the state in question. Understand who the early settlers were and how they came to be there. Few people take the time to read the history of the area in which they find their ancestors. The history may help you in learning how certain records came to be in the area you are researching.

Many early records for most of the states are now found in the state archives. This is certainly one of the first places you should check. Some state archives have searchable catalogs available online.

If the land records you are looking for are not the initial land grants given to the earliest of the residents in the state, then you will want to turn your attention to counties. If the land grants were for some sort of service to the state or country, then you will need to understand the history of those grants. For instance, Connecticut offered grants to soldiers for their time in the American Revolution. This land is found in Ohio, in the northeast section of the state. Known as the Western Reserve, this land was given to Connecticut soldiers. The records pertaining to the land though are found in Connecticut in the state archives.

Stuck in Baltimore

Q: I am searching for Abraham Manning who died in Baltimore, Maryland in 1835. I have a copy of his will, with the names of his children, so I have the right man, but I cannot find anything before that except his second marriage to a Sarah Elliott. This does not give me information on his children or his first marriage. I have been digging for five years and have not come up with anything. -- Lola

A: While it looks like you have been digging in the records of Baltimore, it is possible there are some records you have not yet used. Land records are often the record that holds the clue to where a person came from. If you haven't done so yet, investigate the land records. Make sure that you can account for all of the land that Abraham purchased and sold.

If the acres coming in and the acres going out do not agree, then you have some further digging to do. If you have more acres sold than bought, it is possible that he got land either through an inheritance or through a land grant. If the land was received through inheritance, then your search may require you to examine the probate records. You may need to research all of the Manning entries, working to determine how each of those Mannings may or may not connect to your Abraham.

This research in land records will not give you the first marriage or the childrens' information. What it may do, however, is give you a clue to where he came from before settling in Baltimore.

Protecting Privacy

Q: I've just bought Family Tree Maker, and I'm new to genealogy. I have been looking at the CDs. Can you explain why details for living people are listed as 'private'? -- Garry

A: Privacy in this online world has become a buzz word of sorts. Some people feel that their privacy has been thrown out the window. Others think it is silly or just don't think about it when displaying their family history either online or through CD-ROM databases.

When you see the word Private, either on a CD or the word Living in the FamilySearch Ancestral File database, it lets you know that the person is living and their information has been privatized. This is done to protect the privacy of those who do not want their information to be shared.

Most genealogy programs now offer some method to protect information on the living individuals that may be in your database. I encourage everyone to take advantage of these features when sharing information online or when submitting to one of the many databases made available on CD-ROM.

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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