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

February 28, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Surname Spellings

Q: My grandfather's name was Philander. Do you know of any other names for Philander? His last name was Wisely. Are there any other ways this could be spelled? I know it's out there, I just can't find it. -- Linda

A: Often times when we are researching a particularly difficult ancestor, we need to think beyond the Internet. If we have run searches for the individual and come up empty handed, then we need to look at what we have on the individual and see if we have missed an important step in our research. Sometimes this requires our concentrating on the child of the couple. Other times if we search for the wife we may pick up clues to the husband.

For instance, a search of the 1880 Census Index on CD, available through the Family History Library, for Eunice Wisely, born 1844 revealed one Eunice J. WISELY living in Illinois who was born ca 1843 in Illinois. In viewing this family, of Sumpter, Cumberland County, Illinois, page 569D, I discovered that it is the family you are looking for.

Philander Wisely is 38 years old, probably born ca. 1841, and he was born in Ohio, as were his parents. In the 1880 census, he has four daughters, Luvona (b. ca. 1866 in Illinois), Ardilla (b. ca. 1870 in Illinois), Sarah A. (b. ca. 1875 in Illinois), and Elizabeth (b. ca. 1877 in Illinois). Philander was listed as a farmer. There are some records to look into, including death records for the county of Cumberland. To get ahold of these records, you'll probably have to write or visit the Cumberland County Courthouse because these records do not appear to be on microfilm through the Family History Library.

As for possible nicknames and spelling variations of the name, Philander could be shortened to Phil, and keep a look out in records for anyone with the first initial P. The Wisely surname could be spelled Wizely. Also write out the surname and see how many different ways you can make the W and then what other letters it could look like. With indexes, an elaborate or particularly messy letter at the start of a surname can forever obscure the surname in the index.

In the end, your quest may require that you visit libraries, courthouses and other repositories in addition to using online resources. While the Internet is bringing more and more information online, including newly digitized and reindexed census records, there is still a lot that we must access in more traditional methods.

Elusive Passenger List

Q: My grandfather, Alberic Georges Beysselance, came to the USA in either in 1865 or 1866 from France. Since 1982, I've spent much time both in France and the US searching for information about him and the family "Beysselance." I have obtained a wealth of information, but in spite of searching passenger lists in archives on both sides of the ocean, I still don't know what ship he sailed on or when and where he arrived. -- C.J.

A: I am assuming that your research has concentrated on those United States ports that have already been indexed. Limiting your search to indexed records would exclude the major port at New York City since the records for 1865 and 1866 are unindexed. Indeed, it would be difficult to search through those records without more information given the number of ships that came into New York City each day during that time period.

If you haven't done so already, you will want to see if your ancestor was naturalized. If he was, you may find that his naturalization record will supply you with the information you seek. With information such as the exact date of entry into the country and the port, you'll at least be able to narrow down your search.

Another avenue may be a biography on the man. Depending on his profession, you may be able to locate him in a biographical dictionary. Among other things it may indicate when he arrived or through which port. If he lived in a small community and was well thought of, a similar biography or write up may exist in the newspaper for the area. Have you found his obituary?

One thing to keep in mind is that he may not have come directly from France to the United States. Consider that he may have boarded the ship somewhere else. For example, perhaps he traveled to Canada first and then entered the United States that way.

You may want to take a look at where he settled. Begin to investigate other French who settled in the area and see if any of them arrived in the same time period as your ancestor. While they may not have traveled together, it may give you a indication of the migratory route followed by the French immigrants to that area.

Linking Disappearing Family Page

Q: I started out researching my grandfather Arthur Ralston and when I wasn't able to find anything on him I entered my father's name. I was surprised when I found both of my parents' names and a brother John White that I never knew I had. How can a get his e-mail address? I found this information on a Web site and assume that he wouldn't have put it there unless he wanted to be found. I'm 58 years old and our parents are dead. -- Helen

A: Unfortunately you have experienced an all too common event on the Internet, the disappearing family history Web site. It gets found, indexed in a search engine, and then is removed. It takes the search engines a long time to update and discover that the site has moved or is no longer available.

The Web site you discovered was originally housed in the family tree sites of Parson Technology, who at one time marketed the Family Origins software. Parsons no longer exists, and Family Origins is under now. One possibility is that John's pages have been moved to the site. I didn't find him when I did a search for his name but you still may be able to locate him by browsing through the family home pages. You would want to access the individual family home pages and look for all the John White family Web pages available. This is done using the Community menu at the top of the site and then selecting Family Home Pages from the sub-menu that appears. Then you will click through the various links from the letter W until you get the listing of those individual's whose last names begin with "Whi."

Unfortunately, it may turn out that the page is gone and that he has decided not to upload it anywhere. A search using one of the Internet's general search engines,, did not show a Web page for John out on the Web somewhere else.

A word to those who are finding the pages of their family and viewing them. If the information you find is important, be sure to print out the page in question, because as we see here, there is always the possibility that the page or the entire site will disappear.

Author of a Family Tree

Q: How do I find an author or the person maintaining a family tree? I found a tree that contains links to my Aunt and her husband. I curious because I have descendants on my tree that I think they might want to add to their tree. -- Del

A: A lot depends on where you found the family tree in question. If it was on a Web site out on the Internet, look at the page in question and see if there is a Home button or link at the bottom. Clicking this should take you to the front of that person's Web site, and there you should find the name and hopefully the e-mail address of the person who compiled the site.

If you found the Web page on a Family Home Page, then again, you will want to look for the link that takes you to the front of a given family history Web page. Specifically, you are looking for the Home Page link that is at the top of the Web page you are viewing. Clicking the Home Page link will take you to the front of that person's User home page and you will usually find a postal and e-mail address for the individual.

If you found the information in the World Family Tree, then you will need to go through the steps for getting the contact information. You will be sent, via e-mail, the name and address of the submitter of the information, which you can then use to contact the person.

If the information came from a compiled database somewhere else, then you will probably need to look around. Some of the databases will include the e-mail address of the individual sharing the data. Others you may have to go through something similar to the World Family Tree to get the contact information.

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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