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

October 12, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

A Basic Question

Q: What is genealogy? -- JamminJimmy

A: Genealogy is the study of the biological family lines of your direct ancestry. This is slightly different from family history. Genealogy is concerned with the names, dates and places for each individual on your pedigree chart.

The words genealogy and family history are often used interchangeably, but they do differ in their approach and their emphasis. Genealogy is designed to trace the blood lineage of an individual. Family history though tends to accept research of adoptive and other lineages as well.

Genealogy's emphasis is also on the names, dates and places. The records researched are used to find this information. Family historians use many of the same records, but they are also more apt to include family stories and seek out those stories during the research process.

Where to Turn Next

Q: My husband's father was Lance Edward Cubley. He died in Sep 1987 in Spokane, WA. His father was Vincent Edward Cubley Married to Aileen Sweeney. His father was Joseph Cubley. We don't have any more information. We've searched the SSDI index for Vincent Cubley who died in 1975 but we are not sure if this is the right Vincent. Can you help us? -- Jeanette

A: While the Social Security Death Index is a wonderful tool, it is not a database of everyone who has died since the database was begun. Rather it is a database of the death of those individuals on whose behalf the Social Security Administration has been notified.

Your first step should be to contact the state of Washington and get a copy of Lance's death certificate. This will have information on when and where he was born. If you know where and when Vincent and Aileen were born and married, then you will want to begin to write for records on them. Marriage records are often recorded much longer than births and deaths.

Once you get back before 1920, then you can also turn your attention to census records. These records, taken every ten years since 1790, will help you in getting a look at the family as a whole and possibly in locating families that would eventually connect to your family through marriage.

Researching in New Jersey

Q: I'm looking for the parents of my great great grandfather LEMUEL K. RUNYON b.1838 in New Jersey d.1913 in Trenton, New Jersey. He was transported from New Brunswick to a hospital in Trenton, New Jersey were he died on 23 Nov 1913. This information was on his death certificate from the state. This record also states the both of his parents were born in New Jersey and that's it, no town or county. Lemuel first shows up in the 1850 U.S. Census as a 12 year old living in the household of a John Vannortwick in New Brunswick or North Brunswick Twp., which New Brunswick was recorded under in that census. -- Frederick

A: Whenever we begin to research in those early years of the nineteenth century, we discover some of the biggest gaps and problems where the records are concerned, especially vital records. As genealogists, we sometimes forget that these records were not created for our use.

Vital records were designed to track specific statistics. For death records it was usually the types of deaths and the numbers for each type. The birth records were recorded to keep track of how fast a community was growing. However, because different areas didn't come up with these items at the same time, there are some states with better records than others.

You may want to begin your research by looking at the RUNYON families in the 1840 census. There are probably not as many as you think. Many of them will be disqualified because of a lack of a child in the correct age range.

Once you have your list to the probable families, you will then need to begin to research each of those families. Follow them through the census records. Look for land records, probate records, and cemetery records. See what they have for guardianship records. It is likely that if the parents died that your Lemuel was assigned a guardian. If he was apprenticed, this should also show up in the records.

Came from Ireland

Q: I have been trying for many years to find the ship that my grandfather came over from Ireland on. I know this much about him: He was born in 1844 in Athlone, Ireland. He came to America in 1860. He probably went to Stubenville, Ohio and then came to Pennsylvania. I find him on the 1870 census and the succeeding censuses until his death. All of the census merely say Ireland at the place of birth. -- Terence

A: It looks like you already have some idea of where your grandfather was born in Ireland. This is good news. That is often the hardest thing to find.

If you are hoping that the passenger list will supply you with more information about where he was born, I fear that you will be disappointed. Prior to the early 1900s, the passenger lists did not have a column for place of birth. Instead they had a column that listed the country of origin. So, like the census, it will not tell you any more than what you already know.

If your grandfather became a naturalized citizen, then you may be able to pick up additional information through his naturalization records. That process resulted in three different papers. The important one is the application. Of course, like the passenger lists the questions became more specific as the years went on, but there are some things you can pick up in the naturalization records that you can't find in the passenger lists.

If you are looking for the passenger list to add to your information on your ancestor, then you will still need to turn your attention to the naturalization records. It is likely that your ancestor came through New York. Unfortunately the passenger lists for the time that he arrived have not been indexed. Therefore you need additional information, such as the name of the ship or the date of arrival to be able to pursue this research.


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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