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

January 27, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Looking for Great Grandparents

Q: My father died when I was very young and my mother recently passed away, so I have no other way to trace my paternal lineage. I know only the name of my great grandfather, David King CLAYTON and the name and date of birth and death of my great grandmother, Lula (PITTMAN) CLAYTON. I am at my wit's end trying to find them. -- Martha

A: Very often, when we know the names of the parents, we don't stop to take the time to fully research the child we descend from. In this case, your grandfather was their son. And while you know a partial date of birth and his date of death, there may be room for some more research.

If you haven't done so already, you will want to request a copy of his death certificate. In addition to verifying the date of death you already have, it should also supply you with a complete date of birth and very possibly a place of birth. Depending on the informant, it might also include the full names of his parents and their place of birth.

Based on the partial date of birth for your grandfather, I suspect that you may have already searched the 1900 census for this family. If so, and you still have no date of birth for your great grandfather, then I suspect that he was dead by 1900. If you haven't researched this family in the 1900 census, then you definitely will want to pursue this avenue. It will offer you the names and ages of each person in the household along with the month and year of birth. It will also tell you how many years they had been married.

Death in Washington

Q: My grandfather was named Nels MITCHELL and I (think) he was born in Washington (the state). His parents changed their name from MICHELSON to MITCHELL. Nels, my grandfather, died in Everett, Washington about 1946. -- MerrilieH

A: The first step to working on this family is to get the death certificate for your grandfather, Nels MITCHELL. You will need to write and request a copy of his death certificate from

Vital Records
PO Box 9709, ET-11
Olympia, WA 98504-9709

In order to request the death certificate, you will need to include the following information:

  • Name at death
  • Name of spouse of deceased
  • Date and place of death

You will also want to look into the 1920 census for your MITCHELLs and don't forget to keep a look out for MICHELSONs. Just because your great grandparents changed their name, doesn't necessarily mean that other relatives that may have immigrated with them followed suit.

Conflicting Information

Q: I found my ancestors on someone else's homepage. All the names, dates, and places match with the information that we obtained from my grandmother before she died. But there's one problem. This other information shows my ancestor as being married to someone else other than who my great grandmother was. We are assuming that they were either married for a short time with no children or she died early on, which would explain why my grandmother never talked about it. How can I go about finding information on this other woman when all I have is her name? When I've run a search for her, all I come up with is that she was married to my great grandfather. I can find no dates or anything. I can speculate that they were married in the same town that he married my great grandmother, would that likely be correct? -- Marlena

A: It is not unusual to find conflicting information between researchers. After all, we are all human and prone to possible mis-evaluations or misunderstandings when dealing with the records.

While you mention finding this Web site, you did not mention contacting the researcher who has posted the information. If you haven't done so already, you will want to. And you will want to ask them about the records they have and how the information of the union they have listed was obtained.

It appears that the page in question just lists them as being a couple without supplying you with an actual marriage date. If this is so, then the answer the fellow researcher supplies may prove very valuable for you. Also, if it is possible that they were married close to a census, you may want to check the census records and see if you can locate this family as a couple or if you can locate the other "wife" living with her family. It may offer some idea as to what might have happened.

It may be that you will need to better pin down the whereabouts of your great grandfather to determine where he resided, especially during the time prior to his marriage to your great grandmother. If it appears that he stayed put, then you will want to check the records in the town where he married your great grandmother. However, if it appears that he moved around, then you will need to check the records for each place where he lived.

Family from Italy

Q: How can I learn more about relatives born in Italy? I have my grandfather's home town, but I know nothing about his brothers and sisters and their families. -- MaryAnne

A: Well, believe it or not, you have the hard part already. You have determined the home town from which your grandfather emigrated. For most genealogists researching their Italian roots, this is the stumbling block.

Why is it so important to know the home town? This is essential because the records that you will be using are found at the town level. However, you don't want to jump the ocean too soon.

If you haven't done so already, you will want to locate your grandfather in any available records in the United States. Because you have not supplied dates, these suggestions may or may not be of use to you. If the family was alive and had migrated in the early 1900s, you will want to search all pertinent census records. You will want to look in the soundex for anyone who shares the same surname with your grandfather who may have been living in the same vicinity. It is possible that these individuals may be related to your grandfather.

Once you begin researching in Italy, you will want to keep a look out for others with the same surname as your grandfather. While not everyone is likely to be related, by extracting all those with the same surname you will begin to see patterns of families emerging. One final note about the records in Italy, they will be in Italian.

There is an excellent book out that you will want to look into. A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your Italian Ancestors by Lynn Nelson is published by Betterway Books. You can find more information at the author's 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

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