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

February 15, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Keeping Costs Down

Q: I am relatively new to family history. I am wondering if there is any way to keep the costs down when ordering birth and death records? -- Vince

A: Once you begin researching your family history, you will find yourself telling your spouse or family things like "I just need one more death certificate." And then after that one arrives, you will find you need another birth certificate and death certificate. Remember, for everyone one person you find on your pedigree, you create two new questions — the name of the father and the name of the mother of that individual.

As a result this hobby has a few expenses involved. Most civil repositories will charge you some sort of a fee when you request copies of vital records. Many of them though now offer two versions of that copy, a certified copy and a plain copy. The difference between the two copies is the presence or absence of an official seal and the cost. A certified copy can run you anywhere from $5.00 up to $18.00 depending on where you get it from (county courthouse, state vital records, etc.). Some courthouses are now offering uncertified copies for genealogical requests. This is good news to researchers. If you are given the option, go ahead and accept the uncertified copy.

For those counties and state vital records offices that do not offer uncertified copies as an option, visit your local Family History Center and see what vital records they offer on microfilm. Currently the cost to rent microfilms to your local Family History Center is $3.25 per film for 30 days. By ordering microfilms, in addition to helping to offset your expense a little, you also have the benefit of knowing for sure that you have checked for each variant spelling possible when you do not find an individual you expected would be in the vital records.

Mortality Schedules

Q: I overheard another researcher talking and he mentioned finding an ancestor in the mortality schedule. What is that? -- Lisa

A: Genealogists are always turning their attention to census records. In fact they are especially happy when they get to work in the 1850 through 1920 census as those listed everyone in the household. However, there is another valuable source that can help you in locating certain deceased individuals during those same years. The mortality schedules were created by an act of Congress. Their purpose was to document those who died within the previous twelve months prior to the date of the population schedule.

Ideally the mortality schedule is supposed to include name, age, sex, race, occupation, birthplace, cause of death, number of days ill and other details about those who died during that specific time frame. And it was supposed to include all those who died during the time period. Of course, as we have discovered from working with the population schedules, this isn't always the case. In the case of the mortality schedules, it appears that only 60% of the deaths were actually recorded in this special census. Nonetheless, if you know of an ancestor that may have died within the twelve months prior to the taking of the census, you will want to try and access the mortality schedules.

Locating these schedules can be a problem as well. Your first stop should be your local Family History Center for a search of the Family History Library Catalog. While they do not have all of them on microfilm, they do have a good collection. If you do not find the state or year you need in the catalog, you will need to turn your attention to other repositories such as the National Archives and state archives and the DAR library. To determine which mortality schedules exist and in which repository, you will want to see Greenwood's The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy This book is available from Genealogical Publishing Company.

Finding the Right Church

Q: According to his obituary, my great, great grandfather, Alexander MULLIN (or MULLEN) was born in Philadelphia, PA on 2 Nov 1834. He came to Rockford, Winnebago Co., IL about 1854 and was married there on 20 Jan 1864 to Mary HOLT. He died 13 Apr 1900 in Rockford. His obituary does not name parents or siblings. I contacted the Methodist Historical Center in Philadelphia. I thought if I could find a baptismal record, it may list his parents. They answered that in 1834 there were 21 Methodist churches in Philadelphia and they would need the name of a church to begin a search. Do you know how I could narrow down the number of churches? Or is there some other way to find out who Alexander's parents are? -- Kay

A: If you haven't done so already, you will want to write to the county clerk for Winnebago County for a copy of his death certificate. You can reach them at:

400 W. State Street
Rockford, IL

When you write to them, be sure to be as specific as possible. Also include a check to cover the cost. I do not have an exact cost for vital records from Winnebago county, but usually including a check for $10.00 covers the cost. It is also a good idea to include a self-addressed stamped envelope.

Just as the death certificate may give you information about his parents, so too, will the census records. Often times we tend to overlook records because we know the individual was there. However, searching the census records may prove profitable in your research. First, it may include family members that you did not expect. Second, the census records beginning in 1880 also began to include information about the parents, in regards to place of birth. While this won't help you with their names, it will give you one more piece to the puzzle about who they are. And sometimes genealogy is more about putting together the pieces than it is about finding names.

Alexander should show up in the 1870 and 1880 census for Rockford. The 1900 census was taken too late for Alexander to show up in, as he was deceased before it was taken.

After you have found him in those census records, you will need to turn your attention to the census in Philadelphia. In the 1850 census, Alexander would be 16 years old. That means he will not show up in the 1850 census index. Perhaps the best way to do this would be to go through the index and write down all those that are listed as being in one of the wards of the city of Philadelphia. The ward will be listed in the index under the "township" listing. Also might be listed as "location" depending on which census index you are using. The easiest way to get the MULLINs and MULLENs that you need to concentrate on is to go through the index for MULLEN and then MULLIN looking for those in Philadelphia county. Then look at the location and write down those that have one of the wards for the city of Philadelphia which are: Cedar, South, Lombard, Pine, Spruce, Walnut, Chestnut, Middle, Locust, North Mulberry, South Mulberry, Lower Delaware, Upper Delaware, High Street, North, New Market, and Dock.

Once you have an area in Philadelphia and possible names, you can then look in city directories and see what Methodist churches are nearby to where the family was living. With this information you will then be able to approach the Methodist Historical Center with names of churches and an area in specific.

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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