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

May 08, 2003
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Finding Father of Richard Pomeroy

Q: I'm looking for information on Richard S. Pomeroy born 4/15/1853. I know that he had 8 children and was born in Pennsylvania. Can you point me in the right direction? -- Samantha

A: There are a few things you can do to try to find the name of Richard's father. You'll want to spend some time searching for records about Richard S. Pomeroy as well as records with the Pomeroy surname.

You mentioned that you know that Richard S. Pomeroy was born 15 April 1853 in Pennsylvania. Since there are a number of counties in Pennsylvania, getting further with your research will require that you have some idea of which county Richard was born in. This information might be found in a record of Richard's death or in the birth records of his children.

The first thing that you'll want to look for is Richard's death certificate. From the death certificate, you may learn everything from the name of his children to place of birth. With the date and place of death you may be able to find an obituary for Richard as well. The obituary, if it is more than just a notice of death, might supply you with where Richard was born and names of surviving relatives. This would give you additional individuals to look for in similar records to see if they supply more information about the parents or where in Pennsylvania the family came from or lived.

While you are looking for the death certificate or obituary, you might check an index to the 1860 census. See how many Pomeroy families are listed in the index. If it is a manageable number and you have access to the 1860 census for Pennsylvania, you may want to look through these entries to see how many families have a son named Richard who was aged 5 to 7 years old.

Also, if you haven't done so, you will want to locate Richard S. Pomeroy in the census records. Through the census, you can trace when he married and how his family grew. You may find that his parents lived with him. If you have identified his siblings, you would also want to search the census for them to see if they were responsible for taking care of the parents. Also, knowing some of his siblings makes weeding out families in the 1860 census all the easier.

Once you have identified families in the 1860 census who have a son named Richard that is in the correct age range, you would want to research those families to see if you can prove, or more likely disprove, them one at a time. Eventually, you'll end up with only one family left. Don't assume, though, that this is your ancestor's family. Instead you would need to research that particular family as thoroughly as possible.

One other resource may hold a clue to the names of Richard's parents. If you haven't done so yet, you will want to locate his marriage record. Information recorded with a marriage record varies from state to state but usually the marriage application will name one or both parents.

World War I Military Records

Q: I sent for my father-in-law's military records on form 180 but they sent it back to me and told me that no information could be found on him. I know he was in World War I and that he was in the Army, 35 Service Co Sig. from 1917 to 1918. It is even inscribed on his tombstone. I have his Social Security number, date of birth, and date of death. What should I do now? -- Myra

A: It is possible that your father-in-law's military records were among those that were destroyed in the fire that took place at the center in St. Louis. It is possible that no record of his 1917-1918 service exist at the National Archives. You may be able to find some other records, though, or military histories that mention his unit or group. This would give you an idea of the battles he participated in and the actions he took. For information on finding World War I records, you may want to begin by reading Mitchell Yockelson's They Answered the Call Military Service in the United States Army During World War I, 1917-1919. Mark C. Mollan's Honoring Our War Dead: The Evolution of the Government Policy on Headstones for Fallen Soldiers and Sailors may also offer some guidance to additional records that may help you with his military service.

If you are trying to locate information about his ancestry, though, you may find that other records are more useful to you. You can begin by getting a copy of his death certificate which should supply you with his place of birth and even the names of his parents. His obituary may also offer insight into his action during World War I and may also supply you with his place of birth.

If you haven't done so, you may also want to request a copy of his Social Security number application, more commonly known as the SS-5 form. The cost, when the social security number is known, is $27. The SS-5 form will supply you with his date and place of birth, along with the names of his parents, including his mother's maiden name. You can search the Social Security Death Index on this page.

Immigrant to Boston

Q: Are there any immigration records for Port of Entry Boston for the year 1882? My grandfather arrived in Boston on May 22, 1882. I keep looking for a Boston passenger lists CD that would include him but haven't found one yet. My grandfather was only 16 when left England (Yorkshire area, so he may have departed from Liverpool) so he may have worked his way over. -- Grace

A: While there are no CD-ROMs of the passenger lists for 1882 for those arriving through the port of Boston, there are microfilmed passenger lists. The microfilms are housed in the National Archives and are available at many other repositories including the Family History Library. You can view an online listing of the passenger lists for Boston and you'll be able to see what is available.

The good news is that there is an index to these passenger lists and this should make ordering the films easier for you. First you'll want to order the appropriate index film and identify your ancestor in the index. Then, you can order the appropriate film for the actual passenger list.

If you are hoping that the passenger list will supply you with his place of birth, I fear that you will be disappointed. Before 1906, passenger lists didn't include any indication of where a person was born. You will find that the 1882 passenger list only recorded basic information. Beyond his name, you will find columns for his age, sex, occupation and country from which he came. Not much to aid you in tracking him back further in England, unfortunately. If he traveled with his family, though, you are likely to find them grouped together on the passenger list. This may supply you with enough information to find him in England.

Remember that since he did not emigrate until 1882, it is likely that he can be found in the 1881 British census. This census is available through your local Family History Center. Be sure to check the index for this census before ordering films, though, since the index should help to narrow down your search.

Finding a Death Date Online?

Q: What are the best online sources to find and document when a person died? I keep running into dead ends trying to find, for example, when a certain soldier in the Civil War died. Other than sending away for information in the mail, is there an online source for this information? -- Richard

A: The Internet has become a wonderful tool for genealogists and you certainly can find a lot of information online. Still, not all records are available and many of the resources we should be using to verify dates and further research are not yet available online.

You may want to make it a point to visit VitalRec.com and VitalChek.com to see what is available online. Ordering records online certainly can save you some time. As you search, keep in mind that most states did not begin to collect vital records until the 20th century, though individual counties may have begun to keep them sooner. Usually, the first vital records to be kept were marriage records while birth and death records started years later.

With regard to your Civil War soldier who died, there may not be a death certificate. From your message, I couldn't tell if the soldier in question died in battle or after the war. If he died in battle, you have some online and offline options for finding information about his death though some require that you know his unit and regiment.

First, it is possible that you may find information about when and where he died through his service records. These are available through the National Archives and will cost some money. Also, they'll take some time to arrive so you'll want to be patient. In genealogy, it is important to gather any records that may exist whether they are found online or through more traditional methods. To find out how to order the service records for your Civil War soldier, visit the National Archives' site and you'll learn what is available and how to order them. These records are only handled through the mail and there are fees involved for getting copies.

If you know the unit and regiment for your Civil War soldier, you may be able to find a regimental history. Some of these military histories have been published online and often detail the deaths of the soldiers of the unit. To find, these, you'll want to use a general search engine and look for information on your ancestor's military unit.

More and more records are making it to the Internet. If you compare the records available online with all the records that genealogists use, though, you can see that it is just the tip of the iceberg that has been placed online. Resources on the Internet help us to focus our research and get a head start by offering information that we used to have to find in more traditional sources. Having the information online helps us get to the point where we need to order records or know that we will need to visit a traditional repository.


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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