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

August 23, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

America as the Foreign Country

Q: I have a somewhat reversed problem compared to most doing genealogy research. I am searching for more information regarding a relative (my great-uncle Gunnar Johnson) who emigrated from Sweden in 1922 and immigrated to America. In other words I know his start but would like to know more about his life in America. We don't think he ever had any children but I would like to know for sure. I would also like to know where he lived and worked from 1922 to 1970. What information will I be able to obtain about him? I have found him in the Social Security Death Master File and I know his SS#. Can this help me? Can the censuses from 1930, 1940, etc. be of help? -- Tomas

A: While we often read more about those tracing ancestry from America back to Europe, your research is probably not as uncommon as you may think. In addition to tracing from Sweden to the United States, you are also tracing forward in time rather than backwards. While your search is a little more current, you'll want to do some of the same things as people who are compiling a book about an individual's descendants.

You will want to write for your great-uncle's SS-5 form. This was the application he filled out to receive his social security number. Most of the online SSDI databases have a feature that will generate the necessary letter. I do not know if these letters have been updated to reflect the changes in the costs for requesting the SS-5 form. Recently the Social Security Administration raised the rates. A search, when the social security number is known, is now $27.00.

While the SS-5 form won't tell you about his children it will give you an address where he was living when he applied. Armed with this information, you could then turn your attention to city directories which will give you his occupation. City directories are published yearly for most larger cities. If he remained in Chicago, then you should be able to follow him in the city directories for some time.

The census is another possibility, though you will need a little patience. In order to protect privacy, the United States doesn't release census records until 72 years after they were taken. The 1930 census was taken in April, so it will be released in April, 2002. If you decide to look into these records, you'll be joining a large contingent looking forward to the release of this data.

Is There a Relationship?

Q: Is there a name for the relationship between my niece (my sister's daughter) and my sister-in-law (my husband's sister)? -- Phyllis

A: Relationships of cousins, whether second cousins or fourth cousins three times removed, denote some blood connection. In each instance, the individuals can trace back to a common ancestor.

The difference between second cousins and fourth cousins three times removed is the number of generations that separate each individual from the common ancestor. In the first example, each of the second cousins must trace back three generations to reach the common ancestor. In the second example, fourth cousins three times removed, one cousin traces back five generations to reach the common ancestor. The other cousin traces back eight generations to the common ancestor.

In your particular case, there is no blood relationship between your niece and your sister-in-law. If you were not married to her brother, there would be no connection with the sister-in-law.

However, with that said, many individuals use the term "shirttail" to denote a relationship through marriage. So your niece and sister-in-law are shirttail cousins.

It is always possible that you progress in your research, you may discover that indeed you and your husband share a common ancestor way back when. If that happens, then your niece and sister-in-law would have a common ancestor, and therefore would be real cousins.

Where Is He?

Q: I recently purchased Family Tree Maker (24 CD set) being very interested in my family history. I can find my grandmother who passed away in 1999. But I cannot find my grandfather who passed away in 1957. This will stop me from finding my great-grandfather etc... won't it? -- riodream

A: The Social Security Death Index is one of the most misunderstood tools that genealogists routinely use. Most think that it is an all-encompassing database of deaths in the United States. While it is an impressive collection, it does not include everyone who had died in the United States.

Social Security began in 1937 and made its first payments in 1940. The Social Security Administration did not begin to computerize until 1961. The majority of the entries found in the SSDI cover the years 1962 through to the present. However, even in that time span, it is possible to have someone omitted. For instance, railroad employees have long had their own pension plan, complete with a unique social security number, thus excluding them from the SSDI.

With that said though, you are not stuck. Since you already know your grandfather's social security number and you know when he died, you should still be able to progress with your research. First, if you haven't done so, you will want to write away for his death certificate. This may even include the information about his parents. Most contemporary death records have fields on the form for the names of the parents' of the deceased and their place of birth.

If you have the death certificate already and it either doesn't have these fields or has the dreaded "unknown" in those fields, you can still use it to pursue your ancestry. You can write to the Social Security Administration and request a copy of his SS-5 form. The cost for this service is $27.00 and you'll need to include a copy of the death certificate with your request (since you can't find him in the SSDI). Once you receive the SS-5 form, you'll learn the names of his parents along with information on his birth. This should put you back on the trail of this line.


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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