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

October 24, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Getting Dad's Military Record

Q: After my father died, my family discovered that he had been awarded a bronze medal in World War II. I have his discharge papers but we would like to find out more information about his war record. He was stationed in Alaska and my mother thinks that he must have received his medal there. Do you have an advice on how we can learn more about his record? Any help would be appreciated. -- Marsha

A: Unfortunately it is possible the records you want may no longer exist. On 12 July 1973 the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri had a terrible fire that destroyed approximately 16-18 million personnel files for the military. For those who were in the Army and were discharged between 1 November 1912 and 1 January 1960, about 80% of the records were lost in the fire. For the Air Force, those who were discharged from 25 September 1947 to 1 January 1964, alphabetically after Hubbard, James E., approximately 75% were destroyed.

With that said, it never hurts to ask. The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) has some alternate records that may prove useful if your father's file is one of those that was destroyed. When corresponding with them though, you will want to be as thorough as possible with the information you supply. Having his discharge papers offers you much of the identifying information that you would need to supply on the form. The Form-180, is available online.

The form requests the following information:

  • Name used during service
  • Social security number
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Service, past and present (with space for active service, reserve service, and national guard)
  • Whether the person is deceased
  • Whether the person retired from military service

Additional spaces are made available for the type of records sought and the reason for seeking the records in question.

These military records are often subject to restrictions, depending largely on the information wanted and whether or not the veteran is alive or deceased. For those who are deceased, the NPRC has defined the next of kin as "unremarried surviving spouse, father, mother, son, daughter, sister, or brother."

Be sure to print out both sides of the Form 180. Depending on the branch and the current status of the service member, you will find that the address varies. There is a chart on the back page of Form 180 that details all of this and supplies the many different addresses.

You will not need to send any money at the time of your request. They will contact you if there are fees involved in supplying you with copies of the records in question.

You will also need to be patient. It can take upwards of six weeks to hear back from the National Personnel Records Center, though it can take longer. And remember that due to the fire it is possible that the records you were interested in did not survive.

What is an "Issuing State" in the SSDI?

Q: I was looking at the Social Security Death Index search results and I was wondering if you know what this means, "Issue State-RR." I am not sure what the RR means. If you could please help me I would be grateful. -- Candice

A: The Social Security Death Index has used abbreviations for many things, and sometimes those abbreviations are not clear. First, the Issuing State does not always mean the state in which a person was born (especially for those who received their Social Security numbers back in the 1930s on up to the 1980s), before the federal government required that parents apply for a social security number for their newborn before the child reached the age of one. In most cases the issuing state is the state in which the person was living at the time he or she applied for the number.

In your example, the abbreviation is not to a given state. Instead this indicates that the individual for whom you found the entry was working for the railroad when he applied for the social security number. It is likely that the social security number begins with a 700 number, as these were the numbers reserved for those working on the railroads.

Those who worked for the railroads usually received their pension through the railroad and as such did not get social security. Usually these individuals are not even included in the SSDI, though as you have discovered there is always an exception to the rule.

If you know where this person worked, you might see if you can learn more about his time with the railroads. If he was working for the railroads after 1935, and was employed by the railroad for more than ten years, it is likely that the Railroad Retirement Board may have a file on him that includes some information to help you in your genealogical research.

A similar misunderstanding is often found with the last residence. Many researchers assume that their relative died in the place of the last residence. This is not always the case. The last residence is the last official residence that the Social Security Administration was aware of for the individual.

Respecting Privacy When You Publish

Q: I have been doing research for about a year and have been asked by several family members to write a book about names, dates, pictures and those types of things. I have read about copyright laws (not that I understand them), but I've been unable to find anything on privacy issues or information on what I can put in this book without going to court with some family member. I have sent out some questionnaires for them to fill out and sign giving me permission to include information and photos. There are those few family members who may not get one for what ever reason, or may not want the "skeletons" brought out. Any suggestions or know of any places that I can look up for help? -- Susan

A: It is a shame, but today we must indeed be cognizant of the privacy issue and the possibility of identity theft as we are publishing our family history. It sounds like you have thought this out those by requesting that those who share information with you sign a waiver of sorts that allows you to include the information in the book.

Generally speaking, the information that we tend to publish in our family history books can be found via public records so there is not a legal limitation about publishing the information. Common sense law, however, should certainly be applied when sharing information.

When publishing to the Internet is any form, whether it be a narrative, or a message to a message board, I strongly advocate not posting information on living individuals. The Internet makes it a little too easy to find this information. However, when it comes to a published book, often a person won't purchase the book unless he knows that he and his family is in it. So bringing lines up to the present is sometimes an incentive to selling the book. I usually suggest stopping about 1920. Most people can get their line back to 1920 and then they should be able to pick up their line in your book from that point on.

Photographs are another issue though. You must first make sure that the person giving you permission to include the photo has the right to give you such permission. If the photograph was taken by a professional photographer, then the photographer retains the copyright. If the photo was taken by Cousin Joe at the family barbecue then Cousin Joe is the one who holds the copyright.

Skeletons are another matter entirely. You must first weigh the skeleton in question and determine how much damage the information you have uncovered could do to the family in question. Even if the information is available in public records, I have often found that it is sometimes better to err on the side of caution. Perhaps put the skeleton in footnotes so he or she is not as prominent. Time is another factor when it comes to whether or not to include the skeleton. If the event in question took place 300 years ago, then it is probably okay to include it. There has been enough time and distance that you will not find that anyone is shocked or upset by the inclusion of the information. If the event in question involved a grandparent, then it is possible that the wounds are still too tender for the publishing of such information.

Of course with all your planning and concern it is possible that you will find that one family member is upset by what you have included or omitted from the book. Unfortunately we cannot please everyone.

When Did They Come to America?

Q: I would appreciate your help. I am trying to find out when my grandparents and my mother came to America. My grandfather, William, was born 1878 in Hartlepool, Durham, England. My grandmother, Nora, was born 1878 in Hartlepool, Durham, England. My mother, Susan, was born 1899 in Hartlepool, Durham, England. I believe they came after my mother was born (probably in 1901 or a little later). They settled in Quincy, Massachusetts and I'm not sure if they disembarked at Boston or New York. The only record I have found is the 1910 Census where all the family were living in Quincy, Norfolk County, Massachusetts. -- Tony

A: The 1910 census should tell you the year that your grandparents arrived in the United States. You didn't mention if you have tried to locate the family in the 1920 census. If you haven't, then you should. This may help you to verify when the family arrived in the United States. If you have looked in Massachusetts for 1920 and not found them, you may need to look at the surname again and see if there are any variants that might alter the Soundex code, which might explain why you didn't find them before. There are times when I have used the city directory for 1919 to 1921 to see if the family is still living in the city in question and then I use the address to locate the appropriate enumeration district to narrow my line-by-line to just one or two enumeration districts.

The 1910 census should also indicate the status of your grandfather's naturalization. If the second citizenship column has "Al" then your grandfather is still an alien, and has not begun the naturalization process. The abbreviation "Pa" indicates that your grandfather has taken the first step in the naturalization process, by submitting his first papers. The abbreviation "Na" indicates that your grandfather has completed the naturalization process. In the 1920 census, if your grandfather has completed the naturalization you will find that there is a column for year of arrival, the naturalization status and if naturalized the year the process was completed.

Because your grandparents arrived in the early 1900s, it is likely that if they went through the naturalization process, it took place after 1906. This is good news, given that the records of this time are more thorough and you'll be able to access more information. The records are also found in a single location - through the Immigration and Naturalization Service. You can find out more about what they have and how to request copies of naturalization records by visiting the INS Web site.


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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