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

April 13, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Birth Record Alternative

Q: My grandfather died recently, and some of the family have been trying to track down his father's name for the records and our own info. Some family members have forgotten it because his father died before he was born, and he didn't talk about him much. My grandfather's name is Avery Horton Pruitt, he was born on Jan. 15, 1909, in Avery county, North Carolina. As far as we know, he didn't have a birth certificate, so it's been hard to find out anything about his ancestry. Are there any other avenues we could employ to find out more about his family history? -- Chris

A: An alternative that might reveal the name of your grandfather's father would be the 1910 census. Because Avery PRUITT was born in 1909, this census would show Avery as a one-year-old child and it is likely you will find him living with his family.

The 1910 census has an index to it, referred to as the Soundex. This index is arranged by a special code, that allowed like-sounding surnames to be grouped together (to help overcome issues of spelling). And while it was not done for all of the United States, North Carolina is one of the states that was soundexed. The code you would need to look for is P630. Once at this code, you would need to scan through each PRUITT family looking for one that has a child named Avery.

The soundex and census films can be found at many libraries with genealogical departments and also through local Family History Centers (found in local LDS - Mormon - chapels).

Meaning of Old Words

Q: I keep coming across the word freeman in 1635 and other words like it or similar. Where can I get a dictionary on these words? I want to note the meaning of the time in which it is to be known. Webster says it is a person freed from slavery. Is this like an indentured servant? -- Dawn

A: There are actually two different words that appear to be getting confused and used interchangeably. There is a freedman and a freeman.

A freedman is a man released from slavery.

A freeman is a word from Colonial days. A freeman was a male over the age of twenty-one who owned personal property or real estate. Generally there was a set limit that had to be owned by the individual. It was also necessary that he be a peaceful man, and other Freeman in the area had to endorse him. If he met all of these requirements, he was then entitled to take the Freeman's Oath at a meeting of the town's selectmen.

Being a freeman brought with it certain duties including:

  • The right to vote
  • Required to pay taxes
  • Ability to elect deputies to the General Assembly
  • Ability to elect new Freemen

An excellent dictionary for genealogists is The New A to Zax by Barbara Jean Evans. This dictionary deals specifically with the types of terms that genealogists are up against as they go further and further back in their research.

Internet Limitation

Q: I am trying to find some information on my Grandfather. His name is George Oscar Gurley. He was born in Valley Mills, Indiana in the late 1800s and I have looked at a lot of sites and have come up with nothing. Is there anything that you can suggest to help me out on this? -- Loretta

A: Valley Mills is in Marion County, Indiana. Whenever you are beginning to research a new area, it is a good idea to make the USGenWeb Project a stop on your research trail. From that page you can work your way down to the state or county USGenWeb page that you need. These pages will help you in learning about record availability and repositories. In some instances you may even get some immediate answers through the resources that the county coordinator has made available on the site. There is a page for Marion County that you may want to visit.

However, there are times when you will find that the answers you are seeking cannot be found on the Internet. Even when there are answers on the Internet, it is a good idea to turn your attention to primary documents, such as birth, marriage and death records. These records are seldom available online.

Marion County, Indiana began recording birth and death records in 1882. If you need help in narrowing down exactly when your grandfather was born, you may want to locate the family in the 1900 census as this will supply you with a month and year of birth for your grandfather. You can then write to the Marion County Courthouse at the address below.

Marion County Courthouse
City-County Building
Room W-122
Indianapolis, IN 46204

A Search for Evidence

Q: My ancestor Elcana WILLIAMS moved to Texas from Tennessee. The legend was that he was a horse thief and had to leave Tennessee. I went to the library and found a book of Carter County, Tennessee families and his name was in it. He was born in 1803. It showed his father to be George D. WILLIAMS. In order for me to feel comfortable about the connection. I need more concrete evidence. Can you suggest to me where I would go from here? Is there something that would show me that this is really his father? -- CHILIDEN1

A: What you will need to do is to begin researching George D. WILLIAMS. You need to establish his whereabouts during the life of your ancestor. You will need to look for possible interaction between the two individuals. Very often, fathers would sell land to their sons as they came of age, for instance.

You will also need to try to locate a will or probate records on George D. WILLIAMS. Your ancestor may be listed by name in the will. Or you may find a payment made to your ancestor as part of the estate's settlement.


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 rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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