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

October 04, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Grandma's from Finland

Q: I am having a hard time finding any information on my grandmother Selma Marie Angerman, born 9/13/1891 in Vasa, Finland and came to America in 1910 on the Lusitania. She married Karl Henrik Rosenback and lived out her life in Cascade Locks,Oregon. I've tried the new Ellis Island site and the Genealogy site but no luck yet. -- Jim

A: The Ellis Island Records database includes those immigrants who arrived in New York for the years 1892 through 1920. While this is a large number of individuals, it is not everyone who immigrated to the United States. There are many other ports through which an immigrant could have entered, thus explaining why you cannot find her in the database. Another possibility for your not being able to find her could be related to the spelling. Transcribing those documents is difficult most of the time and near impossible once in awhile. So it is possible she is in there, but the surname has been misread or is partially illegible.

You may want to turn your attention to the microfilmed index for New York if you are certain that she did go through the port of New York. This allows you to see the individual cards and make your own evaluation of the surname in question. Be warned that some of the microfilm is extremely hard to read.

It does appear though that you have already gleaned much of the information from the passenger list. You know when and where she was born. This is usually what people are hoping to find when looking in the passenger lists.

It is likely that you will need to turn your attention to other microfilmed records. You will want to look in the Family History Library Catalog (FHLC), through or at your local Family History Center to see if there are any records for Vasa, Finland. If you do discover that they have microfilmed vital records, which may be listed in the catalog under the heading of Civil Registration, or church records, then you will need to visit your local Family History Center to put in a request for those films. There is a nominal fee to cover the cost of duplicating and mailing the microfilm to your local Center. You would then be notified when the films have arrived and would have thirty days from that time to view the films.

A final word on the records from Finland, they will not be in English. You will need to look at getting a Finnish-English dictionary to help you.

Lost at Sea

Q: What department in the Massachusetts Archives would I contact to find out information about sailors lost at sea? This would be the early 19th century records. I have a name but no exact date. Is this a lost cause? -- Marcia

A: Not knowing more about the individual, such as a name and area in Massachusetts from which he came, it makes it a little more difficult. However, there are some avenues that you should consider pursuing.

First, while the Massachusetts State Archives does not have a searchable catalog on their website to their holdings, you can contact them via e-mail. You can write to them at When contacting them, be sure to give them as much information as you know, including the name of the person, the ship (if known) an estimated date, and where in Massachusetts he left from and where he was living. Then ask them what records on shipwrecks or ships lost at sea they may have. They ask that you include in your message your full name, mailing address, and telephone number.

In addition to contacting them, there are some other Web sites and resources that might prove useful in your research. One of particular interest is an educational pamphlet published by the U.S. Department of Commerce through the National Ocean Service, a department of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Possible Sources of Wreck Information is Educational Pamphlet #8 and it was published in June, 1983. In addition to talking about charting of wrecks for the safety of other vessels, it has a good list of institutions, museums, and libraries that might be of help.

One of the most important aspects of your research is the type of vessel your ancestor was on. Was it a military vessel? Was it a sailing vessel? The purpose of the ship will alter where some of your information is found and what repository is likely to have it. There are a couple of web sites though that you might find of interest, some of them have searchable databases.

FBI Records

Q: I am researching an aunt who died in 1939. Her body was identified by the FBI via fingerprints, and was found to have been arrested in Newark, New Jersey, December 1934. Do you have any suggestions as to how I might obtain a copy of those records? -- Lynn

A: First, you will want to investigate at the local level before assuming that the arrest was by the FBI. I would suggest seeing what newspapers exist for Newark, New Jersey for the time period in question. If she was indeed arrested it is probable that the event was reported somewhere in the newspaper. This may give you some more information about why she was arrested and by whom. Before contacting the FBI you need to have a little more information.

Another place you need to look is the State Archives and the repositories for the city of Newark as well as any county archives and repositories. You may need to search for court records after locating any newspapers. The more information you can amass before turning your attention to the FBI, the better.

Once you have exhausted all of these avenues, you should have enough information to know how and if the FBI was truly involved. At that point, you will want to turn your attention to Unlocking the Files of the FBI, A Guide to Its Records and Classification System by Gerald K. Haines and David A. Langbart. It is because this book is organized by classification system, that you need to have more information on your aunt before you can turn to the FBI files. For each classification of files you will find the following:

  • Classification number
  • Name of the classification
  • Volume of materials (both at the main headquarters as well as field offices)
  • Dates of the records
  • Location of the records
  • NARA disposition recommendation
  • Access to the records
  • Related records

The access information is the important part. This is what will tell you if you can have access or how to request records for a particular classification. Many of them require that you file a Freedom of Information Act request.

You may find additional contact information by visiting the FBI's Web site as well. They do not presently accept e-mail requests, and when you contact them you should have as much information as possible about your aunt's case. Then be patient. As you can imagine they are quite busy, especially now.

Are They Related?

Q: What would I call my cousin's wife's sister? -- Falcon

A: There is a misconception about relationships of marriage. Many people feel that there should be some sort of name for these relationships. Basically your cousin's wife's sister would be a "shirt-tail" cousin as the relationship is riding on the shirt tails of the marriage.

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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