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

April 6, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Early German Ancestor

Q: My ancestor came from Germany on the "Townsend" in 1737, before he was permitted to leave the ship at the port of Philadelphia, he was required to take an oath of allegiance. Was this oath to the king of England, or who? -- Don

A: It sounds like you have located your ancestor on the list found in Pennsylvania German Pioneers by Ralph Beaver Strassburger and edited by William John Hinke. This three volume work has been published by Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc.

There are actually three lists for the Townsend. The first is the list of the male passengers taken from the Captain's list. The second and third lists are actually given when disembarking and appear to have been given at two different desks.

It is the third list for the Townsend that you are referring to. This was the list of signatures for the oath of allegiance. Those who signed the oath of allegiance were denouncing any claims to the throne of England. They were also denying the right of the Pope to outlaw a Protestant monarch. This was a loyalty to England, because at this point Pennsylvania was still a colony of England.

The second list was a similar list. This was an oath of fidelity. This also was a statement of loyalty.

What's the Next Step

Q: I received a copy of my mother's application for social security and found that her mother's name was Farcie Sloan (maiden name). I do not know where she was born, but she was married to James Isom Hughes, employed by WPA #1880. My mother was born in Rocky Ford, Co. in 1905. -- Ernest

A: The social security number application, or SS-5 as many recognize it as, can be a wealth of information as you have discovered.

You have a good clue already. You have when and where your mother was born. If you cannot get a copy of her birth certificate, you may want to begin by searching the 1910 census. If the state in question was soundexed, then you can search the soundex for a family of the right name with a daughter aged five years old.

If the state in question is not soundexed, then you can begin by trying the 1920 census. Your mother would have been 15 years old then.

The census records will supply you with the state or country where your grandmother was born. Also, you may want to search the Social Security Death Index for your grandmother. Unless you know from personal experience when she died, it is possible that she will appear in the SSDI as well. And then you could write for her SS-5 form.

Products to Figure Relationships

Q: I'm fortunate in that much of my family genealogy was pretty easy to trace through previously published family trees. But one of the questions I keep getting from relatives is about family relationships. These questions are of the kind: What is her relationship to me? or What was the relationship between these two people? Is there a tool on the computer that can look at a genealogy file and construct those relationships to answer such questions. Is there something that will tell me that I am the 9th great grandson of Richard Hicks, or that Admiral Dewey is a 23rd cousin or something? -- Stan and Lucile

A: There are many genealogy software applications that will allow you to figure out relationship. However, to figure this out, you must first type in all of the information not only about yourself but also about the other individual.

Relationships of cousins are figured by first determining who the common ancestor is and then charting your direct descent from that individual. The same thing must be done with the other individual. The software programs can do this for you, but must first have the necessary information entered in order for it to make the computations.

You can find some additional information about this by reading What is a First Cousin, Twice Removed?. This also includes a chart that allows you to plot a relationship manually.

A Change in Spelling

Q: I have a very large family (at least to me it's large). My father has seven siblings and himself. We as a family do not know much beyond that, we have the name of their grandfather but when we search for information on my grandfather or my great grandfather we run into a lot of problems. My grandfather's name was accidentally changed while he was in the service from Hemingway to Hemmingway and I just don't know where else or what else to do. -- Betsy

A: One of the hardest things for newcomers to genealogy to realize is how little spelling counts. It has only been about one hundred years or so that we have been so insistent on correct spelling. Prior to that it was not unusual to find multiple spelling variations for an individual.

To give you an example, I have a deed record for one of my ancestors that has three different spellings for the surname in the given document. But this is hard for many to understand.

I look at the different spellings that arrive in my mail box. People hear a name over the phone and if they do not ask you how to spell it, there is no guarantee that they will spell it the same way that you do. This is very similar to what happened in years past. However, instead of talking over the phone, you had a clerk asking for names. You probably had a farmer with minimal schooling. As a result, researching such lines requires that you keep an open mind and look for all variant spellings.

Specifically when dealing with your research, it sounds like you may have jumped a generation. You may want to begin by getting copies of the birth certificates for your father and his siblings. See what information is consistent. If the grandfather was born prior to 1920, begin to search the census records. Again, just remember to keep an open mind as to different spellings.

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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