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

September 07, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Finding the Impossible

Q: My great great great grandfather died in Nebraska in 1900, had he not died until 1904, his death certificate would be attainable, I'm told that I cannot get a copy of anything, I've contacted the courts, I've contacted all historical societies, there is no obit for him either to verify his parents. I have everything in my possession that I can attain about him, will, children etc. I know he was born in PA, where I don't know, his parents I don't know either, there are 23 variations on the spelling of that last name, so what does a person do to find information that is almost impossible to find? -- Sheila

A: Unfortunately there are times when we will just never get the easy answer. There are individuals on our family tree for whom we cannot find the basic records. It could be a similar situation as you are experiencing, where the records just were not created, or it could be due to a disaster, such as a fire.

Instead of having one record that states the relationship between your ancestor and his parents, you will have to build a case that proves your conclusion. While you do not have one at this moment, as you dig further into the records, you will begin to formulate one.

While you didn't mention the surname, it sounds like this will not be an easy journey. This happens at times. You may be able to narrow your search by reexamining the records you already have. Approach the records as though you are looking at them for the first time. Take each record, extract all pertinent details. There is always a chance you overlooked something that will help you.

Then you will need to begin the difficult task of eliminating families. You know that your ancestor was born in Pennsylvania. Now you will have to turn your attention to the records for Pennsylvania to see what families of your surname exist. The census records will probably be the first step. It may seem daunting, and it will take some time, but as you begin to work in the census records, you will start to see patterns in the families. Evaluating these will help you to eliminate and narrow the number of families you will need to continue to research. You will also want to look at other families in Nebraska in 1900 that share the same surname as your ancestor. It could be that they may be related in some way.

Once you have narrowed the families, you will turn your attention to other available records in the counties and towns where the families are located. This means working with probate records, newspapers, land records, city directories, and vital records if available.

Born in Mexico

Q: I have been searching my mother's side of the family for about 6 months now and have acquired quite a bit of information, but recently came to a stand still after ordering my grandfather's obit I found out that he was born in Chihua, Mexico. I have found some web pages for Mexico but can you lead me to a site that may have info as to where to send for birth certificates in Mexico and preferably one in English? The ones I have found have been in Spanish and unfortunately I can not read Spanish. -- Glendora

A: The Internet has given us a number of useful pages, some with family history, others with abstracts or transcriptions of records. Still others offer us indexes that allow us to locate our ancestors and then request the necessary records.

Right now though, the Internet does not supply everything. There are still times that it is necessary to visit libraries, historical societies and other repositories. And there are still times that we need to contact government agencies for the records that will help us.

You have also discovered one of the biggest hurdles when researching in foreign countries - the language barrier. Because your ancestor was born in Mexico, it is likely that you will need to get a fundamental understanding of the Spanish language. English-Spanish translation dictionaries can be useful. And there are some wonderful word lists available through the Family History Library. These word lists may be available at your local Family History Center also.

To order a copy of his birth certificate, you will need to write to the town itself. You will want to address the letter to:

Oficina del Registro Civil
(Town, State), Mexico

The cost varies and there are some forms you can find by getting a hold of Thomas Kemp's International Vital Records Handbook. You will also want to visit your local Family History Center and see what might have been microfilmed for the town in question.

World War I Help

Q: I have been researching my father's side for a year. I got stuck on my great grandfather. His name was Robert Taylor m. Jean Dodds. All I know is that Robert fought in World War One and died overseas. He lived in Alloa, Clackmannanshire, Scotland. I cannot find any information on him. -- Norm & Teresa

A: World War I, also referred to as the Great War, took its toll on many countries when it took the lives of so many soldiers. The hardest part of this for many families is the large number of soldiers who were buried in the foreign countries where they fell during battle.

In the past I have discussed the avenues available to those researching their American World War I soldiers. Through the Draft Board cards and the American cemeteries abroad, there are avenues available to the researcher.

In your case, you are researching an ancestor from Scotland, which means that your resources will be found among those of the United Kingdom. Because of this, it may be necessary for you to read up on the record types and their availability.

The first thing you need to keep in mind is the limitations placed on some of the contemporary record types in the United Kingdom. This includes military records. The second thing you need to keep in mind is how they have their military records organized.

To give you an idea of how the military records are organized, the surviving records of the noncommissioned officers and other ranks can be found in 33,000 boxes in the Public Record Office in Kew. This is only 40% of the records. When you consider the number of those who served from the United Kingdom, a total of 6,200,000, which was 1 out of every 7 individuals, it becomes easy to see the number of records that have been generated.

Because your ancestors died during the Great War, you can make use of the Soldiers Died in the Great War volumes, if you can find them. There are 80 volumes to this set. The downside to this set though is that you need to know the unit in which he served.

Recently, this set was placed on CD-ROM. By using the CD-ROM, you are no longer required to know the unit in which your ancestor served. You can search for him by name. The CD-ROM includes 635,000 soldiers and 37,000 officers. This CD-ROM is available from Naval & Military Press. You will want to check for this resource in libraries. This CD-ROM is available from England, and has a £220 price tag.

Dawes Commission

Q: My father was listed on the Cherokee rolls. How can I find the Dawes commission listing on the Internet? I'm new at this and would appreciate your help. -- Patsy

A: The Dawes Rolls are not presently available online. However, there are some informative sites online that will help you in understanding the research involved.

The Dawes Commission records, which deal with tribal enrollments of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole tribes, are available on microfilm through the Family History Library. There are published indexes to some of these rolls, particularly the Cherokee rolls. One index is the Cherokee by Blood series.

GenRef has also published a Native American Collection CD-ROM that includes a searchable database for the Dawes Final Rolls, and you may want to see if you can get access to this CD-ROM, published in 1998.


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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